Building Accessibility Culture on College Campuses
Supporting students with disabilities is more than just providing them with the accommodations they need to succeed. Higher education institutions have to build a culture of accessibility on campus that extends outside of the disability services office. A lack of accessibility greatly affects retention, as reported by the American Institutes for Research which found that “46 percent of students with disabilities who graduated from high school enrolled in a postsecondary institution, and only 40 percent of those individuals completed their degrees or certificates within eight years.” Without a strong accessibility culture, students with disabilities may not feel like they belong at their institution and are less likely to attain their degree.
The question then becomes how institutions can create a culture of accessibility. The natural first step is to develop a university-wide training program for faculty and staff. Faculty and staff may not have the tools needed to assist students with disabilities which is why training is essential. The article, How to Support Students with Disabilities in Higher Education, noted that referencing training exercises that other institutions implemented. For example, “The University of Texas at Austin compiled a variety of online trainings for their staff and faculty that can be accessed at any time. They pooled resources from different associations and peer institutions… to give faculty and staff a holistic view on supporting students with disabilities.” This can be helpful for institutions that want to provide more training for their staff members that may not have providing training before and want to follow an example of success.
The culture of accessibility doesn’t begin and end with the institution’s faculty, however; the culture needs to be supported within the student body as well. Sometimes there is a lack of social inclusion which results in “students with disabilities participating in fewer extracurricular activities” and stems from many programs that “focus mostly on academic and physical accessibility.” Facilitating a culture of accessibility among students relies on providing more opportunities for inclusion such as college organizations that enable students with and without disabilities as equals. There are plenty of local and national organizations that do this already, such as LEVEL and DREAM, so there are lots of helpful resources that can serve as a frame of reference.
Research indicates that the greatest challenge in creating a culture of accessibility is tied to the technology on campus. It’s important that students are able to have the most access that they can to the resources they need via technology. According to Nazely Kurkjian, SUNY Coordinator of Disability, Diversity & Nontraditional Student Services, “Our community recognizes that accessibility is essential to ensuring equity and inclusion… [and] it is increasingly evident that more needs to be accomplished to truly engrain accessibility within the fabric of the University… Today, digital accessibility touches nearly every aspect of campus life.” It is key for all faculty, staff, and administrators to strive for implementing accessible technology and accelerating the growth of accessible IT. Only then can students with disabilities feel as though they are represented and included in the culture on campus.
Symplicity Accommodate can help build a culture of accessibility by modernizing the accommodation request process with a fully ADA-compliant interface that allows students to seamlessly submit requests, connect with note-takers, have assistive devices checked out and more. Build a culture of accessibility by providing students with the ability to approve accommodation requests online, ensure fast and cohesive communication between colleagues, and easily track accessibility resources like test room availability and device inventory.