Higher Ed Accessibility in 2020

The month of September not only marks the start of a new fall term, but it’s also International Deaf Awareness Month. First observed in the late 1950s by the World Federation of the Deaf, the month culminates in International Week of the Deaf, which is “dedicated to promoting a greater understand, and celebration, of the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community.” COVID-19 has made things more challenging for everyone, including the deaf and hard of hearing community, despite deaf and hard of hearing being pre-pandemic early adopters to video chat platforms that many others are only just now getting comfortable with.

Yet, the deaf and hard of hearing community still face everyday challenges during COVID-19. Those who are deaf or hard of hearing not only rely on sign languages to communicate, but also hand movements, body language, facial expressions, and lip reading to convey nuances in conversation. As individuals wear masks in public, communicating with a face covering proves challenging. Oftentimes, those who are deaf and hard of hearing have to remove their masks in order to communicate, or an interpreter has to do the same. Creatives across the globe have come up with inventive ways to help the deaf and hard of hearing community by developing masks that are clear so as to effectively communicate, however those masks aren’t yet widely available.

As universities across the globe move all services online, deaf and hard of hearing college students are at risk without the support of their campus leaders. According to the National Deaf Center research, 200,000 deaf and hard of hearing students enroll in college every year.

What can your university do to be inclusive to the deaf and hard of hearing communities in a virtual world?

  • Be sure that in your communication, whether it’s through video or audio conferencing, that you enable closed captioning which allow for those who are deaf or hard of hearing to follow along to audio by reading it;
  • For any presentations or lessons, be sure to have a separate screen for a sign language interpreter can help students fully follow along with classroom instruction;
  • While you display a presentation or notes, be sure to have your presentation video still on so that a student who needs to read lips can still actively engage with your content; and
  • Effectively communicate with your campus that accommodations are available for any and all students as many students may have not previously needed an accommodation.

With Symplicity Accommodate, faculty and staff can easily manage the accessibility needs and requests for all students. Having all student accessibility information in one system allows for staff to proactively engage and support the students that need help. This includes instances such as a student requesting an ASL interpreter that they may not have needed before the pandemic as well as effectively communicating with faculty when it comes to advice for teaching remotely that’s inclusive for all students.

Interested in hearing how universities are currently utilizing Symplicity Accommodate? Join us for a webinar on Wednesday, September 30th to hear current clients discuss how they have shifted student services from in-person to online with the help of Symplicity Accommodate. Three institutions will be sharing best practices and lessons learned regarding higher education accessibility since the Fall 2020 semester began. To learn more and register for the webinar, click here.

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