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Accommodation
11/17/2014 12:00 AM

Universal design originally focused on creating physical tools and environments that were accessible for as many individuals as possible. Almost everyone has experienced the ease of using a curb cut, although they were originally designed for people in wheelchairs. In the years since, educators have applied the concept of access to learning.

Universal Design for Learning addresses much more than physical access; it focuses on access to every aspect of learning. UDL has grown in usage as an increasing number of educators begin to see the curriculum, and not the learner, as the problem.

Universal design originally focused on creating physical tools and environments that were accessible for as many individuals as possible. Almost everyone has experienced the ease of using a curb cut, although they were originally designed for people in wheelchairs. In the years since, educators have applied the concept of access to learning.

Universal Design for Learning addresses much more than physical access; it focuses on access to every aspect of learning. UDL has grown in usage as an increasing number of educators begin to see the curriculum, and not the learner, as the problem.

There are many ways for faculty members to embed UDL into their classrooms. Following are some easy-to-implement UDL strategies, grouped under each of the three main principles of UDL. Pass them on to faculty members at your institution to make classroom instruction more accessible to all students, and possibly even diminish students’ need for accommodations.

  1. Providing multiple means of representation.
  2. This principle addresses the “what” of learning and includes the ways information is presented to learners. When applied to the university classroom, professors must think about the ways information is presented to students with sensory disabilities, such as blindness or deafness; learning disabilities, such as dyslexia; and language differences, to name a few. They may consider:

    • Providing information using multiple modalities. For instance, a classroom lecture can include not just the auditory, but also visual components.
    • Offering format adaptations. That could include allowing students to amplify sound, access captions, enlarge text, change the font, or use color to emphasize points.
    • Examining the type of language, expression and symbols used. For some students with disabilities, for instance, the use of idioms may be confusing. Other students may need to have key words clarified, defined or even illustrated. Tables, models, videos, animation and even comic strips can all provide multiple means of representation.
  3. Allowing multiple means of action and expression.
  4. This refers to the “how” of learning. Students in the classroom must be able to express themselves and represent what they know in a variety of ways. For instance, some may need to verbally express their knowledge, while others may express themselves more accurately in writing. They may consider:

    • Examining the motor requirements of a course and providing alternatives to pen and pencil or use of the mouse as a means of expression. Adapted keyboards, joysticks, voice-activated programs and switches can all help, so if professors believe certain students might benefit from any of those options, they should refer them to their disability services unit to access those accommodations.
    • Allowing the use of different media and tools for communication. For example, some students may prefer to communicate via the Internet rather than in person. There are also a variety of tools designed to help individuals with communication challenges, such as those that check their spelling and grammar, or offer word prediction or speech-to-text.
    • Offering support in the form of gradually released scaffolding. As students work toward increased fluency, professors can provide customized feedback.
    • Helping students identify models, guidelines, checklists and schedules to promote learning. Professors should see themselves as more than instructors, who are there not just to teach, but also to support.
  5. Offering multiple means of engagement.
  6. This focuses on the “why” of learning. Professors must consider factors such as background knowledge, culture and personal relevance, which might influence individual variation. They may consider:

    • Offering choices in how objectives and academic goals can be reached.
    • Relating instruction to students’ personal lives, cultures, and other individual characteristics.
    • Providing cues such as calendars, schedules or visible timers to help students stay on top of assignments.
    • Breaking up long-term goals or projects into smaller, more manageable chunks.
    • Creating small groups so students can build relationships with their classmates and turn to each other for academic support.

Remind professors that ensuring access by all learners is not just the responsibility of those in charge of disability services offices, but of everyone at the institution. By definition, teaching involves causing or helping another to learn. When contemplating the vast array and diversity represented by those who wish to learn, it is imperative that those who choose to teach persist in making their instruction accessible. Universal Design for Learning provides a critical framework for making that happen.

Accommodation
11/17/2014 12:00 AM

Disability services providers often feel challenged when faced with unique accommodation requests from students in graduate health science and medical education programs. And it’s no wonder.

Providing accommodations in the clinical environment calls for expertise in a multitude of specialized topics, such as clinical curriculum, medical equipment, clinical hierarchy, professional communication, assistive/adaptive technology, electronic medical record systems, and program technical standards. It also requires a clear understanding of board and licensing exams and agencies, as these vary widely in their criteria for applicants with disabilities; the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act; and Office for Civil Rights guidance and determinations of complaints involving accommodations in clinical settings.

Disability services providers often feel challenged when faced with unique accommodation requests from students in graduate health science and medical education programs. And it’s no wonder.

Providing accommodations in the clinical environment calls for expertise in a multitude of specialized topics, such as clinical curriculum, medical equipment, clinical hierarchy, professional communication, assistive/adaptive technology, electronic medical record systems, and program technical standards. It also requires a clear understanding of board and licensing exams and agencies, as these vary widely in their criteria for applicants with disabilities; the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act; and Office for Civil Rights guidance and determinations of complaints involving accommodations in clinical settings.

Students in graduate and professional programs often favor litigation to resolve issues when they withdraw or when they are dismissed, adding a high-stakes element to accommodation challenges. And DS providers who serve students in these programs may work independent of other DS providers on campus, so there’s no exchange of ideas and advice.

Compounding these challenges is the unique nature of each program with regard to academic and technical standards. Essential learning components are highly varied, leaving DS providers with the daunting task of accommodating students in multiple performance-based settings, such as rotations, clerkships, internships, preceptorships, and objective structured clinical examinations and other standardized patient exams.

In particular, programs like medicine, physical therapy, nursing, dentistry, pharmacology, radiation oncology, and prosthetics and orthotics present unique and specific clinical environments, each with inimitable solutions to address accommodating students with disabilities. The specificity of technical standards between programs results in varied thresholds of reasonableness.

Patient safety also helps to dictate the thresholds of reasonableness for any given program. Accommodation requests that impact patient safety are often denied, as such requests tend to modify academic and/or technical standards. Because reasonable accommodations must not compromise patient safety, DS providers must carefully consider if and how accommodating students might impact patient care.

DS providers, in concert with program faculty members, must work through an interactive process to reasonably accommodate students while upholding the academic and technical standards of each program. It is through these partnerships and relationships that institutions can effectively determine what can be accommodated, what is reasonable, and what constitutes a fundamental alteration of their academic and technical standards — all while exercising the necessary care to ensure patient safety.

This highly nuanced working environment and the need for targeted and specialized student support, compounded with the independent nature of this work, led to the creation of a listserv and steering committee for disability providers tasked with accommodating students in graduate health science and medical education. DS providers from the University of California, San Francisco; Northwestern University; and The University of Chicago worked together to develop a coalition of similarly situated colleagues to network with and support each other.

Called “The Coalition for Disability Access in Health Sciences and Medical Education,” the group’s mission is to “develop best practices for facilitating access within graduate, professional and health science programs; to advance these practices to ensure equitable access within these programs; and to disseminate these practices within the fields of disability services, as well as graduate, professional, and health sciences.”

The listserv acts as a forum for exchanging ideas and eliciting the collective wisdom of the group. It has been well received and highly successful as virtual support for other health science and medical DS providers. One benefit is the quick response and access to information. This targeted support for highly specialized disability work is also a conduit for expanding on best practices.

And yearly meetings provide listserv members with an opportunity to further cultivate relationships with their peers at other institutions and work together on larger projects. This past April, a small steering committee met in Chicago to exchange ideas, discuss best and promising practices, and work on a handbook for students with disabilities entering the health sciences.

Disability services providers who work with other highly specialized populations should consider starting similar groups. For example, we know the population of students with autism spectrum disorder is growing exponentially on all of our campuses. Specialists in ASD or those who work with large numbers of students on the spectrum could benefit from participation in a group like ours, but targeted to their specific, ASD-related issues. Other possible special-interest groups may center on issues such as serving student-veterans with disabilities, increasing access to underrepresented minorities, and working through shrinking budgets and expending responsibilities. Through such groups, collective wisdom is only an email away.

Special Report
11/3/2014 12:00 AM

While most colleges and universities have only a tiny number of students with autism spectrum disorder enrolled, this student population is on the rise at most. That’s one of the key findings of our recent e-survey of more than 200 disability services providers from institutions across the country. The unique issues these students tend to come with can tax disability services offices, requiring individual providers to spend a disproportionate amount of time serving these students and intervening when problems arise. Knowing how this trend could affect your unit, and how others are responding, could help you prepare your unit to better respond. Check out the preliminary results of our survey.

Download our survey’s preliminary results to see how more than 200 disability services providers at institutions across the country are serving students with autism spectrum disorder. And stay tuned for our in-depth analysis of the results in upcoming issues of the newsletter.

DCHE 2014 Survey Results
Coversation With: Paul D. Grossman
10/30/2014 12:00 AM
Image of Paul D. Grossman
Paul D. Grossman

Paul D. Grossman is a retired chief regional attorney for the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. He is currently a disability law consultant and adjunct professor of disability law at the University of California’s Hastings College of Law. This is the second of a two-part Q&A session with him.

Paul D. GrossmanPaul D. Grossman is a retired chief regional attorney for the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. He is currently a disability law consultant and adjunct professor of disability law at the University of California’s Hastings College of Law. This is the second of a two-part Q&A session with him.

Q: What advice would you give novice disability services coordinators to help them avoid noncompliance issues?

A: When I ask whether people have read the Section 504 regulations that pertain to postsecondary institutions, I’m surprised at how many have never read them. So the first thing is to read the regulations and the appendices that go with them. I also strongly believe that every disability services office should be subscribing to Disability Compliance in Higher Education. The information your publication provides is invaluable.

It’s equally important to seek out training, either through the national Association on Higher Education And Disability or one of the regional AHEAD affiliates. For those who have responsibilities more in line with Americans with Disabilities Act officers, the National Association of ADA Coordinators offers excellent training. My law school textbook co-author, Professor Ruth Colker, and I are in the process of publishing through AHEAD those portions of our book that pertain to postsecondary disability law. This will make an excellent primer for disability services personnel, and it will be available in accessible formats including DAISY, which I believe is a first for a law school textbook.

As a group, disability support services personnel are very close and willing to share information. Look around to see who is in that role at the nearest colleges and reach out to them.

OCR offices are happy to take calls from DSS staff members who want some free advice. I never refused a call, even when the person didn’t say what institution she was at. OCR can also provide some formal technical assistance under the right situation. For example, if 10 colleges wanted to sponsor a day to interact with OCR folks and ask questions on designated topics, OCR is likely to participate.

Finally, many schools have house or contract counsel. In my experience, it’s important to check in with them. In my career with OCR, college counsels were often a constructive key to resolving complex matters.

Q: Beyond compliance, what advice can you share for creating a more welcoming campus environment?

A: There would be no disability rights but for the sacrifices and accomplishments of those individuals who fought for equality on the basis of race, national origin and sex. Nonetheless, I always feel badly when administrators and others who value civil rights and diversity on these bases somehow fail to appreciate disability as another important element of diversity. By placing services for students with disabilities into the broader civil rights perspective, the needs of these students are more likely to be understood and appreciated. The ultimate goal should be support for universal design, something that promotes student achievement for everyone.

My brother, Richard, had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. When he was told he had six months to a year to live, he made the very unexpected decision to enter law school. He graduated and passed the New Jersey Bar Exam and then passed away. When I was with him at hospice, I asked him whether spending his limited time attending law school was a mistake. He said, “When you’re dying, there are things you slowly can’t do or can’t do like everyone else. But as long as you can read, write, think, debate and analyze, you’re still a human being.”

We may recognize that a few individuals with disabilities may never be employable, but we must still make it possible for them to have those educational experiences that make life fulfilling.

For more information, Paul D. Grossman can be reached at paulgrossman@comcast.net.

Conversation With: Paul D. Grossman
9/25/2014 12:00 AM
Image of Paul D. Grossman
Paul D. Grossman

Paul D. Grossman is a retired chief regional attorney for the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. He is currently a disability law consultant and adjunct professor of disability law at the University of California’s Hastings College of Law.

This is the first of a two-part Q&A session with him exploring some of the mistakes institutions commonly make and ways to avoid noncompliance.

Paul D. Grossman

Paul D. Grossman is a retired chief regional attorney for the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. He is currently a disability law consultant and adjunct professor of disability law at the University of California’s Hastings College of Law. This is the first of a two-part Q&A session with him exploring some of the mistakes institutions commonly make and ways to avoid noncompliance.

Q: What were the most common mistakes you saw institutions make during your time with OCR?

A: Many compliance problems arise from the irrational manner in which disability services offices are funded. Many are underfunded, and others are on a fixed annual budget that does not take into account how greatly expenses can vary from one year to the next. For example, if a DS office budgets for one student needing an interpreter and then ends up with three, it can find itself having to cut corners in ways that lead to noncompliance.

A second problem is that not many schools have figured out how to promptly address disability discrimination complaints from students. Leaving a student to spin in the wind is a really easy way to be found in noncompliance. Schools must act quickly and decisively to resolve problems.

It’s also amazing how difficult it is to get a reasonable slice of time to train faculty, security personnel, groundskeepers, and anyone else who may be essential to providing accommodations. Many individuals, such as adjunct faculty members, usually receive no disability compliance training at all.

Fourth, DS directors are sometimes expected to do it all when they’re not necessarily qualified, trained, or given the authority to achieve compliance. They can’t be student health and counseling services, Web designers, facilities and event directors, and emergency planners, but all of those things tend to get dropped onto their desks.

Fifth, it’s inaccurate to say that students with disabilities are entitled to “reasonable accommodations.” Reasonable accommodation is an employment concept only. The correct legal terms are “academic adjustments” and “auxiliary aids.” Moreover, reasonableness is often misunderstood. It does not mean reasonable in the mind of the average person. “Reasonable” means something that’s necessary, effective, logically related to functional limitations of the student, and is not a fundamental alteration (a lowering of academic standards) or does not pose a threat to the health and safety of others. Ineffective accommodations or concerns about what may be “fair” to other students or what may be merely inconvenient to implement are not legitimate elements of reasonableness. Faculty members do have an important role to play in determining what is a fundamental alteration. On this topic, a collaborative working relationship between DS officers and faculty members is essential.

Another term that frequently gets misused is “academic freedom.” Academic freedom is very important but it cannot be used to justify discrimination or noncooperation. It protects professors’ right to decide what’s on their syllabi. It does not justify turning in their syllabi six weeks late so that DS offices can’t produce timely alternate media for students who need it.

Institutions really struggle with how they can or can’t discipline students with disabilities. With input from counsel, they need to think this through ahead of time to develop lawful procedures and standards. Sometimes, in haste, concepts as basic as equal treatment get overlooked.

The law gets complicated in cases where a student with a disability has an academic performance problem and alleges an institution didn’t provide her with accommodations. Institutions need to be careful in academic dismissal cases as to determine whether there was a promised accommodation that wasn’t delivered.

Finally, the most complex issue right now is “threat to self.” According to the Department of Justice, a student who isn’t a threat to others or hasn’t otherwise broken the code of conduct should not be disciplined just for being a threat to himself, even when the objective of the discipline is to induce the student to get necessary medical treatment. I’m not sure I even agree with this, but I do understand it to be the law. More guidance from OCR and DOJ on this issue is badly needed.

For more information, Paul D. Grossman can be reached at paulgrossman@comcast.net.

Managing Your Office
8/26/2014 12:00 AM
Image of Paula Thompson.
Paula Thompson

The concept of personal and professional branding is gaining prominence among higher education professionals. Traditional academics look for ways to differentiate themselves from the hundreds of other applicants vying for increasingly scarce tenure-track positions; one of the ways they can do so is to create a cohesive academic brand for themselves. But the same concepts can apply for higher education professionals looking to move up the administrative ranks.

“It is an opportunity to take stock of where you are in your career, but also to take a hard look at what is possibly holding you back,” said Paula Thompson, a career coach with Academic Coaching and Writing.

Paula Thompson.The concept of personal and professional branding is gaining prominence among higher education professionals. Traditional academics look for ways to differentiate themselves from the hundreds of other applicants vying for increasingly scarce tenure-track positions; one of the ways they can do so is to create a cohesive academic brand for themselves. But the same concepts can apply for higher education professionals looking to move up the administrative ranks.

“It is an opportunity to take stock of where you are in your career, but also to take a hard look at what is possibly holding you back,” said Paula Thompson, a career coach with Academic Coaching and Writing.

Branding isn’t just about self-promotion, but about putting you in the driver’s seat and telling the story you want to tell about yourself. It’s “about taking control of how people see you,” and making sure that the version of yourself you present in person matches the version of yourself you present digitally, explained Thompson.

A well-crafted brand articulates a clear and cohesive statement about you, sets you apart as a thought leader, and highlights your contributions. Branding can increase the visibility and impact of your work, grow and cultivate your support network, and generate new career opportunities.

Start by defining your brand. Determine what about your area of expertise of experience makes you unique, Thompson suggested. Own your accomplishments and strengths to achieve a clear definition and vision for your brand.

Next, develop a plan. What are the strategies you are going to use to get your brand in front of the right people, both digitally and in on-the-ground interactions? These strategies need to be in sync and developed in tandem.

“Potential employers Google you, whether they are supposed to or not,” explained Thompson. “But they also talk to their colleagues. Your online and face-to-face interactions and brand must be consistent for these reasons.”

Some questions to consider include:

  • Who are the people or where are the places within your own institution where you need to be seen and heard?
  • What are the conferences (locally, regionally, nationally, internationally) where you can most effectively network and promote your brand?
  • What more traditional media outlets are available where you can get your message to a wider audience?
  • Which social-media platforms is your audience most engaged in?

Now that you know who your target audience is and where they congregate, it is important to begin engaging with them, while also making sure that there is consistent messaging in all communications and engagement you have with them.

Develop a shorter and longer biography that can be used in various situations and that figure prominently on your main Web presence. Put the address of your primary Web presence in your email signature, on your business cards, and in any brief biography that appears in conference programs or alongside bylines.

Always link to work you have previously done, as this helps create a cohesive professional narrative and evolution toward your current professional goals.

Finally, once the plan has been enacted for a set period of time, take the time to evaluate what you have accomplished, adjust as necessary, and then work to further amplify. These periodic check-ins are important to monitor how successful you have been in your efforts.

Make sure your plan includes a timeline with clearly defined goals at various points, in order to be able to accurately gauge how successful you have been in your efforts. If you haven’t met your target, ask yourself if the target itself was unrealistic or if your strategy was ineffective.

Periodic check-ins can also lead you right back to the beginning: is my brand clearly defined? Does it accurately represent how I want to be seen? Always remember that it is OK to learn from your mistakes and to let go of what doesn’t work. But also remember to be patient. “This kind of work takes time!” Thompson reminded us.

One of the biggest benefits of going through this process is that it reveals how we might be seen and how much we have accomplished, and challenges us to create a cohesive narrative that brings the two together in empowering ways.

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  • Meet the Editor

    Cynthia Gomez
    Managing Editor

    Cynthia Gomez has been the editor of Disability Compliance for Higher Education since 2005 and has covered higher education for more than a decade. She has also written and edited pamphlets and books on a variety of disability-related topics.
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