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Accessibility
3/17/2016 12:00 AM

Ensuring that your campus is compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act standards for online courses and technology accessibility can help your institution avoid hefty fines.

Ensuring that your campus is compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act standards for online courses and technology accessibility can help your institution avoid hefty fines. But perhaps even more important, compliance enhances the quality of education for all students. Institutions that welcome a diverse student body, including students with disabilities, provide a more well-rounded education for all. Building an accessible campus is about more than just providing captioning on request or the correct screen-reading software. Building a truly accessible campus involves generating disability awareness in every aspect of campus life, making your office more visible to key campus staff members, and allocating resources in the most effective manner for your students’ needs. Kaela Parks, director of disability services at Portland Community College, provided several key takeaways to make your campus more technologically compliant, both for your online courses and for student access to technology.

Provide professional development to faculty specifically in their field

The PCC disability services website offers biweekly professional development webinars for faculty and staff regarding need-to-know topics for technology accessibility. Recent topics include faculty support for creating accessible instructional material for students with visual impairments and demystifying access technologies. To provide students with access to resources and courses, Parks and her team have made it a priority to educate faculty and staff on best practices for creating accessible classrooms. Parks creates relevant programming for faculty members and uses a variety of techniques to engage faculty to actually complete the webinars.

“One example of a practice at PCC that has promoted [faculty] engagement is our subject-area studies [demonstrated through webinars]. This is an incredible practice that provides faculty with release time to study the curricular design and deployment techniques used in their discipline by colleagues across the college,” Parks said. Faculty members then work directly with end-users and accessibility technicians to explore, research and test options, finding what seems to work best and crafting a report to share best practices with other faculty members. Ensuring that faculty members have designated time to learn about technology accessibility — whether through webinars or in-person professional development — and having the information about accessibility tied to their academic field increases campuswide engagement and buy-in.

A new program being launched at PCC will provide faculty members with a small stipend for the time they spend devoted to professional development on campus technology accessibility. The program’s courses focus on models of disability, access technologies, and universal design for learning. Faculty members who complete all three courses earn a certificate.

Accessibility is an opportunity for the entire campus, not just disability services

To create and maintain a truly technologically accessible campus, the efforts can’t be a one-stop shop centered in disability services; you need the entire campus to feel like they have a stake in the process. At PCC, inclusion has meant building a team with members across campus to explore accessibility goals and options.

“We have librarians, technology managers, media services, instructional faculty, students, as well as distance learning and disability services, all coming together monthly to meet and ensure we are making good progress on our priorities. The mission for this group is to ensure accessible computing opportunities across and throughout our community,” Parks said, adding that the group focuses on collegewide licensing of AT software, loaner equipment, and training for students, staff and faculty.

Be proactive in creating opportunities for visibility on campus

Parks stressed that one of the best practices her office has adopted is in promoting its own visibility and not waiting for faculty or staff to come to it at the last moment in their hour of need. Ensuring that disability services is already visible helps keep universal design practices on professors’ minds when they are designing courses. Parks described her team as infusing opportunities into the landscapes of her universities that are already well-established, so that faculty members have an easier time being open to the unknown. “For example, we ask to be invited to department and division meetings rather than expecting people to come to us. There are also some techniques that we employ to try and make it easier to connect,” Parks said.

She also recommended taking steps such as embedding disability services’ event calendar into webpages where people can easily find it, and simply add the events to their own calendar. “The idea is to make it more likely for people to not only want to attend, but actually plan for it, and follow through,” Parks said. Finding ways on your campus to be visible and to make it easier for other departments to take accommodations and aids into consideration, whether in designing courses or in the options used for technology during the semester, can make all the difference in the relationships they build with your disabled student population.

Offer students multiple options for technology accommodations

Finding accessible technology that works for a population of students with a variety of limitations and needs is not a one-size-fits-all enterprise. To that end, Parks has found a way to accommodate a wide variety of student needs on campus by allowing for multiple options for students to access a large selection of devices. “Items such as magnification devices, amplification units, digital recorders, mice, specialized keyboards, talking calculators, etc. are available to any library patron who wishes to borrow them,” Parks said. The loans are made for a full term, and there is no need for documentation or special permission for the students to be able to use them.

Parks said that in addition to these first-come, first-served library loans, there are also prioritized loans made available through disability services, with the difference being that the loans come with training and more of a student development approach. These devices available for loans include magnification devices, amplification units, Livescribe pens, tablets, laptops, tactile drawing kits, and other aids that are provided on an individualized basis. “The goal is to help students ’try it before you buy it,‘ but the program is not meant to provide ongoing home-based use of college-owned equipment. Our intent is to provide students with opportunities to experiment with technologies in the interest of identifying what works best,” Parks said.

To fund these accommodations, Parks’ office has moved to matched-funds initiatives rather than fundraising simply from its own budget. “For example, [we provide] a 50/50 match with our campus-based testing centers to lower the cost for them to invest in larger monitors, new laptops and updated peripherals. We love this approach because it promotes sustainability, makes our tech fee dollars stretch further, and creates a stronger sense of shared responsibility,” Parks said.

Develop positions to handle high-volume requests

One of the most common requests for accommodations for any campus remains captioning for online videos and courses. Parks has handled this need within her own office by creating a part-time position dedicated specifically to coordinating caption requests from students. Parks and her team, with this new part-time position, have worked across departments to create a more streamlined approach, and one that is not necessarily focused on only doing captioning in-house.

“We streamlined our communications, using our accommodation management system to register requests and track work orders. By leveraging bulk-rate purchasing through our third-party provider we can pool dollars across departments to get a lower rate,” Parks said. Parks stated that this allows her office to get the lion’s share of the captioning work done quickly and efficiently, while still being able to handle jobs in-house as well with the new part-time position. Handling captioning requests in-house is especially important for quick turnarounds, or videos that are particularly tricky.

Having the half-time position available allows Parks’ office to have someone who can train student-workers and offer training and guidance for faculty. Parks said her library has been great about ensuring accessibility through library subscriptions, and PCC’s instructional support personnel help faculty who want to caption their own recordings. “We do a lot of work with vendors, publishers and other content contributors to ensure our expectations are clear. If people want to do business with us, they need to take accessibility seriously,” Parks said.

You can contact Parks at kaela.parks@pcc.edu.

Managing Your Office
1/19/2016 12:00 AM

When Rebecca Mathern of Oregon State University was given the task of restructuring her admissions office, she made it a priority to keep her focus on getting the right people in place to boost the success of students at her university.

ANAHEIM, CALIF. — When Rebecca Mathern of Oregon State University was given the task of restructuring her admissions office, she made it a priority to keep her focus on getting the right people in place to boost the success of students at her university. Before her attempts to restructure, Mathern found that, although nothing was really wrong in her office, her team lacked direction and had stopped feeling excited for what was coming next. “We had to stop feeling overwhelmed and start feeling empowered,” Mathern said. In a session at the recent Pacific Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers annual conference, Mathern gave tips, tricks, best practices and anecdotes from her own experience transforming her office into a successful student-serving team.

Identify what needs to change, not when to change it

Mathern said that before her restructuring, there was a strong sense within the office that other departments and organizations on campus were not fully involving her team, but team members didn’t have ideas about how to be more engaged with these departments. Mathern bumped up against the following questions while looking to restructure her office:

  • Where do we need to be as a team?
  • Who do we want to have on our team?
  • How do we help develop our staff?
  • How do we help staff decide to play on the team?
  • In what order should change occur? Does it matter what order?

Mathern decided to start with changes immediately. “Waiting for perfect timing means it may never happen,” she said. “As long as you’re engaging people, it doesn’t matter what you do first. Just do something,” Mathern said. Getting people moving and engaged in the process of restructuring gathers its own momentum.

Mathern reviewed her team’s organizational chart, both the number of staff and type of staff. She found that the institution served more than 28,000 students, and her office had only 21.25 full-time employees. In comparison, in 2005, her office had employed 20.25 full-time employees to serve 16,000 students. Although she didn’t have money in her budget to hire more employees, she wanted to better manage her resources at hand to best meet student needs. Mathern was invested in hiring only people who raised the average passion, intelligence or drive of her office. If you want to hire quality staff members on a budget, Mathern advised looking at, for each position:

  • The minimum qualifications of the position.
  • The tools missing that your team really needs to be successful.
  • The opportunities you can seize to effect real change within your office.
  • The most innovative ways to reclassify each position to the highest pay grade possible to find a more qualified pool of applicants. Midlevel management positions draw applicants interested in gaining leadership skills.

New hires create an opportunity to set office standards

Mathern realized that her office needed a better structure for formal training of new hires. The training the university provided, while important for the institution, didn’t cover the needs of the office or provide functional training for the new hire. “We realized we didn’t have anything internal to our office,” Mathern said. Finding a way to merge the two was key to setting the new hire up for success in her role. The training should ensure that the new hire has a solid understanding of the university, knowledge of how the office fits into the university, and the skills to perform her own job responsibilities in the office.

Mathern created a training plan grid for a new hire’s first three weeks on the job, with every 30 minutes blocked out with informational meetings or reviews. Each day, the new hire was given two 30-minute windows to decompress. This training grid was specific to Mathern’s office and not to the applicant. No matter who was hired for which position, each new hire had to participate in a thorough review of each different unit on campus with which Mathern’s office worked. There were no skipped parts, so that each person learned about all the offices’ responsibilities, Mathern said. Mathern stressed the importance of making clear to each new hire that she would have the opportunity to go back and ask to relearn any of the information imparted during this three-week period, and this high-level overview would help direct the new hire to the right department for questions. Creating the training plan grid ultimately saved time, since Mathern didn’t have to plan new training every time she hired someone new.

Find professional development opportunities within your own office

Once you make the right hire for your office, you have to find ways to keep her. “Create an opportunity for people to have upward mobility if they want to stick around,” Mathern said. Mathern advised asking employees within your office which professional development needs aren’t being met. Mathern suggested the following cost-effective methods to provide professional development opportunities to your staff:

  • Follow up with your staff three times: ask for feedback on opportunities; give and receive growth critiques for each employee; and, finally, create expectations for service in helping develop others in the office. A departing employee told Mathern that although there were great professional development opportunities in the office, she could never find the time to take advantage of them. “It doesn’t do any good to offer professional development if people can’t take you up on it,” Mathern said, adding that her office has now built time into employee schedules so that they can avail themselves of professional development opportunities.
  • Offer staff the opportunity to sit in on hiring and search committees. Mathern said this was one of the most effective ways her office helped current employees build their interview skills — both for internal promotion and other opportunities that might come their way. The chance to review what is successful and what could use work during internal hiring reviews for other applicants provides real-life models for interviewing.
  • Direct employees to online professional development resources, many of which can be obtained for free through professional organizations.

To improve your office, set and keep to standards

Mathern worked with her management team to develop standards for her office. First, they worked together to decide on the vision statement: “Clear the path for student success.” From there, Mathern and her management team worked to get the staff to agree on the values to use to operate. It was important to Mathern to get the support of everyone in her office for these values and goals, so that changes to the office’s processes would be viewed as a necessary step toward upholding those values.

Next, Mathern needed to decide how to determine if her team was performing its functions well. She also needed to determine how to measure the value of what the office brings to campus. Mathern and her team decided on a formal, 360 progress review from the campus offices with which they worked. She met with all her partner offices on campus and offered her office’s processes and webpage for review. From these meetings and reviews, she received a 42-page document of feedback. To keep the review process going, Mathern developed a basic survey tool to tack on to emails announcing the implementation of any new service or update from her office to the rest of campus. This quick information-gathering service provided Mathern with a monthly report on how her office was performing in the eyes of the rest of campus.

By the end of Mathern’s restructuring process, she had created a more cohesive office with strategic hiring processes; employees who understand the structure of the office and the office’s role within the university; professional development opportunities her employees desired; and clear feedback processes to determine whether or not her office was meeting its goals and mission.

Student Success
12/17/2015 12:00 AM

My previous article offered suggestions to help you encourage students to register with your office as soon as they enroll. Think about who might help you in such an effort, and get creative.

My previous article offered suggestions to help you encourage students to register with your office as soon as they enroll. Think about who might help you in such an effort, and get creative.

Consider parents as allies in your efforts to persuade students to register, since they are often the ones who have been their student’s advocate, and they will likely be very interested in seeing their student continue to receive services. Rowan University Director of Disability Services John Woodruff speaks on a panel for parents during orientation. He shares tales of students who saw college as a chance for a fresh start as a way of alerting parents to the idea that their student may not wish to register, something parents may not have considered. To make sure that parents know that disability services are available (something parents may not even realize), Erin Ferrara, coordinator of disability services at the Oregon Institute of Technology, discusses her role at the Student Success Center and also tells them about her DS role, so that they are aware of the presence of her office. Students who are thinking about trying college without their accommodations may change their mind if their parents talk to them about it.

Coordinate with other offices, too, to get the word out about your services. Students interact with so many departments, and each one can be an ally for you.

Admissions is a logical partner in letting students know that disability services are available. Carolyn Malloch, director of the State University of New York at Albany’s Disability Resource Center, says her office is pointed out on all campus tours. This might be the first time families become aware that students can have accommodations at college. Bonni Alpert, director of student disability services at Western New England University, says her school’s admissions officers take her brochures with them to hand out on the road. And admissions staff members know to refer students who ask questions about or show an interest in accommodations to her office at a designated time each day when she has made herself available for such consultations. In addition to these in-person efforts, make sure that any acceptance emails or packets admissions sends out — both to prospective and to admitted students — include information about your office and provide registration forms. Having admissions spread the word about your office can serve as a positive sign to students that they can expect to be supported at your school.

Consider engaging the staff of other support offices that refer students to you, such as TRIO, advising, the testing center, veterans’ services, adult and continuing education, and the health center. Ask to attend a staff meeting so you can let these offices know what services you can offer, answer their questions, and ask them to pass out your brochures.

Make the webmaster your ally, too. SUNY Albany has a webpage with a checklist for accepted students; one item says “Report a Disability, Need for Testing/Academic Accommodations, or IEP/504 Plan” and serves as a link to disability services’ webpage. Nancy C. Leonard, director of disability services at Caldwell Community College & Technical Institute, works with her webmaster to make sure it takes only a click or two to reach her office’s site. Making sure that links to your webpage appear on multiple pages of your school’s site and that it doesn’t take long to get to your office’s page can let students know there is a DS office for them and prevent them from getting frustrated trying to reach you.

If your school has a marketing department, use it! Leonard has marketing produce posters that are placed all over campus and provide her office’s contact information in the context of a positive message. Such advertising can help alert students to your services and send the message that you are part of the typical college experience, just like the clubs and activities that are typically advertised.

Don’t neglect to engage faculty members, who can inform students about accommodations by putting a statement about how to contact disability services on their syllabi and by referring students who are struggling. Ferrara does question-and-answer sessions at department meetings and educates faculty members about what she does and how they can refer students to her. Leonard asks to speak at new faculty orientations. Her instructor handbook is available on her school’s professional development website, and she writes a short, disability-related newsletter that is emailed to all college employees each semester. Making yourself known and available to staff and faculty can help to encourage people to send students to you.

Your students interact with so many different offices on campus. Make sure they all know to refer students to you for assistance.

A Brief Conversation with … Michelle Meyer
2/17/2016 12:00 AM

Students with learning differences often benefit from extra support as they transition to college, where they are expected to be independent and self-directed. Michelle Meyer, director of the Disability Services Office at Centenary College of New Jersey, discussed how Project ABLE helps them make the transition. ABLE stands for Academic Bridges to Learning Effectiveness.

Students with learning differences often benefit from extra support as they transition to college, where they are expected to be independent and self-directed. Michelle Meyer, director of the Disability Services Office at Centenary College of New Jersey, discussed how Project ABLE helps them make the transition. ABLE stands for Academic Bridges to Learning Effectiveness.

Q: Please describe the services students receive through Project ABLE.

A: Project ABLE is a comprehensive support service program for students with learning differences who are enrolled at Centenary, to help them transition from the structured high school experience to independence in college and in the work force. Students pay a fee to participate and can remain in the program throughout college.

It includes four components:

  1. Weekly meetings. Staff members help students create a learning plan and work with them each week on time management, study skills, choosing courses, setting appointments with faculty, and whatever else they need.
  2. Bridges. This interpersonal skills group meets once a week for about 10 weeks during the semester. It is facilitated by two learning specialists but is student-run. Students choose topics to discuss and give each other advice.
  3. Professional content-based tutoring. All Centenary students have the option for tutoring, but Project ABLE students have access to academic support during hours set aside just for them.
  4. STEP Ahead summer program. Students live on campus for a month to help with the transition to college life. They take remedial English and learn study skills.

Q: How are students chosen for the program, and how many students a year does it serve?

A: The program has its own application, which students complete in addition to the application for admission to the college. Along with the application, they provide a copy of their Individualized Education Program or other support plans, documentation of medical and psychological testing, high school transcripts, etc. Applicants send those directly to the Disability Services Office to protect their privacy. Applicants are asked if disability services and admissions may share information about them, and about 95 percent say yes. Meyer has access to the admissions portal so that she can learn who was admitted.

To be selected to the program, students must document a specific learning difference that officials know they can remediate with academic support. Some students have autism spectrum disorder and some have specific learning differences.

About 20 to 25 students per year are accepted to Project ABLE, and this year the program serves about 100 students. Officials limit participation in the summer program to 12 to 15 students. For some students, acceptance to the college is based on their summer participation.

Q: What impact has the program had on participants?

A: Overall, students do really well. Their average GPA is 2.8. Those who are motivated and take advantage of the benefits do especially well. Students have completed prestigious internships, and many have gone on to master’s programs.

Email Michelle Meyer at meyerm02@centenarycollege.edu.

Conversation With: Emily Shryock
4/7/2015 12:00 AM

Emily Shryock, the assistant director of services for students with disabilities at the University of Texas at Austin, has used social media extensively to conduct outreach for her office and create greater awareness on campus about how it helps students with disabilities.

Emily Shryock, the assistant director of services for students with disabilities at the University of Texas at Austin, has used social media extensively to conduct outreach for her office and create greater awareness on campus about how it helps students with disabilities.

Q: How and why did you get interested in the use of social media as an outreach tool for your unit?

A: I began exploring social media about two years ago. We had a blog on our website, but I was already using Facebook personally, so I wanted to experiment with using it professionally to maintain timely communication with our students and create awareness of what was going on in an informal, engaging way.

I also wanted to engage others on campus, such as students who don’t have disabilities but who, for whatever reason, had an interest in disability. With Facebook, they could take what we post and share those items with their own networks. We now have also started using Twitter as well.

Q: What has been the outcome of your social-media efforts?

A: One unexpected but positive outcome was that we’ve really been able to extend our reach and create partnerships with other campus groups and community organizations that we otherwise would not have had an audience with. Connecting with those groups has allowed us to broaden the reach of our postings, because when they share our posts they reach all of their followers. And internally, it has contributed to creating a more connected campus and generating awareness of what my office does.

Having those connections has also meant that getting content to post regularly is never a problem. Particularly when it comes to community organizations that serve individuals with disabilities, what they post are often things that we know would be of interest to our students, so we can just share.

Q: What advice would you give someone at another institution looking to do the same thing?

A: Start small and start with what you’re comfortable with. Just because you say you’re going to do social-media outreach doesn’t mean that you have to do all kinds of social media at once to start.

For a while, I was just posting to Facebook and learning, and not necessarily advertising that we had a Facebook page. It was a couple of months before we actively began advertising our page. I wanted time to get familiar with how everything worked. With Twitter, I did the same thing — quietly posting content while figuring out how to use the platform effectively.

When we were ready to go public, we included information about our social-media efforts in our newsletter and added links to our website and email signature lines. Liking other groups’ pages and inviting students and others to “like” us also helped.

Prioritize what will go on your Facebook page and Twitter feed, because there’s a lot of content out there. For us, anything from our office gets priority, followed by university and community events, and then national and international items related to disability. And post often, so things stay fresh and you keep people engaged. We post three to five times a week, and it takes no more than five to 10 minutes to post.

Also, maintain consistency. I do all the social-media posting for our unit for that reason. At the same time, we’re very intentional about representing different kinds of disabilities equally in our postings.

For more information, you may contact Emily Shryock at emily.s@austin.utexas.edu.

Conversation With: Melanie V. Tucker
3/10/2015 12:00 AM

Melanie V. Tucker, the assistant vice president for student affairs at Northern Illinois University, spearheaded efforts to implement the principles of universal design across her unit and campus.

Melanie V. Tucker, the assistant vice president for student affairs at Northern Illinois University, spearheaded efforts to implement the principles of universal design across her unit and campus. Below, she explains her motivations for doing so, and the outcomes.

Q: What got you interested in universal design applications for student affairs departments?

A: Prior to my current role, I served as the director of two disability resource centers, so I was very familiar with universal design to begin with. When I stepped into my current role, I realized that implementing some universal design strategies across my department was a way to not only contribute to retention initiatives, but also to increase partnerships across campus. I was particularly moved to do this by research about student persistence when students feel valued and included in their campus communities, and I wanted to move us away from the compliance and medical model toward a social justice model.

Q: How have you specifically promoted the principles of universal design within student affairs?

A: My division puts on professional development conferences each year for us and our partners across campus. I use that opportunity to conduct training for staff from offices within my department, as well as other areas of the institution, on how to infuse universal design into what they do.

Part of what I love about universal design is that it just makes sense. Once people get that universal design doesn’t have to be real complicated, there’s this sort of lightbulb moment, and suddenly they start looking at all of the things they do, down to the very basics, like how they market programs and events. For instance, do they place fliers on bulletin boards across campus? Well, that doesn’t work for everyone. So they then start considering how they might do such things differently to create inclusion.

Sometimes, people also find that what they’re already doing is in line with the principles of universal design, and so they see off the bat that being inclusive can be easy, and it doesn’t necessarily mean any added work.

Q: What advice would you have for someone at another institution looking to emulate your efforts?

A: Find allies across campus. Those folks could be faculty members or colleagues from other departments. Knowing who has people’s ears can make a big difference, because as a UD advocate, I can’t be in every meeting or at every table.

Invite people to come and have a conversation about universal design. Once you create some excitement around the topic, it will spread. Other departments have started inviting me to their departmental meetings to talk about what universal design would look like within their divisions.

And approach the conversation from a perspective that offers broad appeal. For instance, explain how inclusion creates a welcoming environment that promotes retention, not just for students with disabilities, but for all students. Don’t frame universal design as being a cure-all, but rather one more tool we can use to positively impact retention.

Counter resistance before it comes up. For example, talk about how, sure, some things can cost a lot of money, but there are many others that would cost little or nothing at all and can make a huge positive impact.

For more information, you may contact Melanie V. Tucker at mthompson3@niu.edu.

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  • Meet the Editor

    Joan Hope
    Managing Editor

    Joan Hope became editor of Disability Compliance for Higher Education in 2014. She brings years of experience in higher education and journalism to her work.

    Joan taught writing and literature courses for eight years at colleges and universities including Indiana University at Bloomington, Clark University, and Houston Community College. As a freelance journalist, she published hundreds of articles in newspapers, magazines and reference books.

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