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cuts through the jargon to give you plain-English summaries of the latest higher ed court cases and regulatory rulings plus articles on what you need to know when creating and enforcing policies that affect your students and staff. Read More
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Accessibility
9/15/2014 12:00 AM

SACRAMENTO — The use of videos as instructional tools is ubiquitous in today’s college classrooms. However, educational media must be accessible to students who are deaf or hard of hearing. That means it’s your responsibility to provide post-production captioning for such students if media isn’t captioned. But it’s not just videos used in classrooms that should be captioned. Any media posted on your institution’s site should be as well, regardless of whether students with hearing impairments request that.

Unfortunately, if your disability services office is like most, you probably don’t have the manpower to do all that captioning yourself, even if the expertise is there. That’s why T. J. DiGrazia spoke at the recent Association on Higher Education And Disability conference and concurrent pepnet 2 Training Institute about what you need to know when looking for a post-production captioning provider.

SACRAMENTO — The use of videos as instructional tools is ubiquitous in today’s college classrooms. However, educational media must be accessible to students who are deaf or hard of hearing. That means it’s your responsibility to provide post-production captioning for such students if media isn’t captioned. But it’s not just videos used in classrooms that should be captioned. Any media posted on your institution’s site should be as well, regardless of whether students with hearing impairments request that.

Unfortunately, if your disability services office is like most, you probably don’t have the manpower to do all that captioning yourself, even if the expertise is there. That’s why T. J. DiGrazia spoke at the recent Association on Higher Education And Disability conference and concurrent pepnet 2 Training Institute about what you need to know when looking for a post-production captioning provider.

“This is one of those topics that can be a little daunting for disability services coordinators, simply because it’s hard to ask about what you don’t know,” said DiGrazia, who is the owner of PostCAP LLC and the operations manager of Alternative Communication Services LLC.

Get policy, legal issues out of the way

Does your institution have an internal policy on captioning online videos or DVDs? If you’re not sure, a good first step is finding out, DiGrazia said.

Video and audio files requiring captioning are likely copyrighted. If possible, try to get written permission to add captioning to videos. However, it’s the effort that really matters, not so much the actual written permission, according to DiGrazia. He recommends shooting the publisher an email explaining that you need to make the media accessible for educational purposes.

“It doesn’t matter if there’s no response,” he said. “Just sending the email is due diligence on your part.”

(Note: Pepnet 2, the federally funded organization that provides assistance to institutions in serving individuals with hearing impairments, recommends always getting written permission before captioning media.)

Know what key terms mean

Talking to vendors may be difficult if you don’t understand what they’re saying. That’s why DiGrazia recommends learning the following key terms before speaking to any captioning provider.

  • Open captioning: Captions that are permanently displayed as the media plays. In other words, no option needs to be selected for captioning to play, and captions can’t be turned off.
  • Closed captioning: Captioning that is available as an option. Think of your television at home, where you have to go into settings and select an option for captions to appear on the screen.
  • Transcript: One of the first steps in the post-production captioning process is creating a transcript of speech in a video or audio file.
  • Time code: A numerical code that allows the text from captions to be synched to the appropriate points of a video or audio file.
  • Subtitles: Text that displays on screen like captions, but with some differences. Most notably, subtitling operates under the assumption that audiences can hear, and thus represents speech only, not all sound.
  • Roll-on: A style of captioning where the text rolls from the bottom onto the screen, usually one line at a time. This style is commonly used in live captioning. Normally, one or two lines roll on at a time.
  • Pop-up: A style of captioning where text pops onto the screen, usually in blocks of one or two lines.

Understand post-production captioning process

Any media with sound can be captioned post-production, regardless of what format it’s in. That includes DVDs, MP3s, YouTube videos, QuickTime files and Blackboard Collaborate recordings. Normally, all that’s required to make it captionable is converting it to a common format like MP4 for videos, DiGrazia explained. Once the captioning provider has a workable file, the first step is creating the text file or transcript from the sound of the media file.

The text is then synched to the media file through the process of time coding so that the words appear on the screen as the speech or sound they represent plays. Once that occurs, you can opt to receive the captioning file and mash it with the media file yourself, or you can have the captioning service mash the two together and send you the finished, captioned product.

Know how cost is determined

Captioning service providers normally price captioning jobs in minute increments, although many have 15-minute minimums, DiGrazia explained. If the 15-minute minimum is a problem for you, don’t be afraid to negotiate for a lower minimum, he said.

One of the biggest factors influencing cost is accuracy. Accuracy is calculated as the number of errors and/or omitted words divided by the total number of words in a transcript. As a reference point, the average 30-minute television newscast contains about 3,500 words, not counting commercial breaks. With 100 percent accuracy, the captioning would contain no errors. With 99 percent accuracy, it would have 35 errors. And with 98 percent accuracy, you would find 70 errors. The higher the accuracy, the higher the cost of captioning because of the effort involved in ensuring there are no errors.

For media that appears on your institution’s website, you might want to aim for 100 percent accuracy since that media contributes to visitors’ first impression of your college or university. However, perfection isn’t needed to provide students with equal access, DiGrazia said.

Twice-edited captioning with 99 percent accuracy will have only minimal errors. Even roughly edited captioning with 98 percent accuracy is likely adequate, as that’s the normal target for real-time captioning, he explained. However, avoid going below 97 percent accuracy, as you risk errors that change the meaning, he said.

Another factor that will impact cost is turnaround time. This will be determined in part by the length of the file, the quality of the audio, and the desired accuracy rate. Speech with accents or the use of technical terms may also add to the time it takes to get media captioning. However, in general, captioning providers tend to offer an average turnaround time of three days, DiGrazia said.

You may be able to put a rush on a captioning project if you need to get media captioned within 24 hours, but it will cost you. Conversely, if you have time to spare — say 10 days or more — you can save some money.

“This is where planning ahead can be really useful,” DiGrazia said. “Let the captioning agency know that you have lots of time, and ask, ‘What can you do for me?’”

Finally, if you need a captioned video provided to you in multiple formats, be prepared to pay more than if you request just one video format, he said. Remember that once you have a captioned video, you can convert it into other formats yourself even if you’re not a techie.

For more information, you may contact T. J. DiGrazia at info@postcapllc.com.

Psychiatric Disabilities
7/21/2014 12:00 AM
Image of student reading on tablet.
Students experiencing mental health issues now have easier access to needed resources. Credit: Peter Bernik/Shutterstock.com.

While existing research on the incidence of mental illness among college students may differ, one thing is clear: a big chunk of the students at your institution will experience mental illness at some point during their enrollment. After all, college students are dealing with major life transitions, including their environments and lifestyles, and academic, financial and social stressors.

That’s why Barbara Blacklock, the disability services program coordinator at the University of Minnesota, has devoted more than a decade to ensuring that students at her institution who are experiencing mental health problems have the support and resources they need.

Students experiencing mental health issues now have easier access to needed resources. Credit: Peter Bernik/Shutterstock.com.

While existing research on the incidence of mental illness among college students may differ, one thing is clear: a big chunk of the students at your institution will experience mental illness at some point during their enrollment. After all, college students are dealing with major life transitions, including their environments and lifestyles, and academic, financial and social stressors.

That’s why Barbara Blacklock, the disability services program coordinator at the University of Minnesota, has devoted more than a decade to ensuring that students at her institution who are experiencing mental health problems have the support and resources they need.

At her institution, 75 percent of students registered with her unit have invisible disabilities, and of those, 42 percent are dealing with mental health conditions, she said.

It all started back in 2002, when her unit received a grant from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education to identify barriers and opportunities with mental health disabilities. Hers was one of 11 partner institutions working on the grant.

As part of the grant work, she conducted three focus groups at her institution: one with administrators and faculty, another with campus and community mental health providers, and another with students whose primary disabilities were mental health–related. Student-participants were recruited through the disability services unit, with a $50 incentive for taking part in the focus groups.

Focus group participants helped identify some key barriers, along with potential strategies to tackle those problems. But student-participants also consistently asked that the findings of the groups not just sit on a shelf somewhere, but be shared across campus. And that’s just what Blacklock and her colleague, Betty Benson, did.

“We didn’t have any more grant money, so we just did what we could to disseminate our findings on our own campus,” Blacklock said. “As we did that, we also asked people across campus if they would like to work with us to reduce and remove the barriers identified through our work.”

Representatives from the counseling and mental health centers, faculty members, and staff from various different service units stepped forward.

One of the first things they did was search the institution’s website using keywords that students experiencing mental health issues might input, such as “depression,” “anxiety” and “suicide.” They were astounded that the things they expected to pop up, like disability services and the counseling center websites, never came up.

“Since that’s how students will likely try to access campus resources, we knew we needed to reach out to the upper administration and explain that this was a serious issue,” she said. “If people don’t know where to go or have the information they need, they’re going to feel really isolated.”

Following a meeting with the provost, the Provost’s Committee on Student Mental Health was born. The committee isn’t a behavioral intervention or crisis response team. Rather, its goal is to proactively remove barriers for students with mental health issues.

Following the meeting with the provost, Blacklock then began calling members of departments she and the provost thought should be represented on the committee, including the housing, police, e-learning and information technology offices, and the Academy of Distinguished Teachers, a group of the most distinguished faculty on campus. Ninety percent of the time, department directors offered themselves up to serve, rather than assigning duty to someone else, she said. Now nine years old, the committee has 24 members. Blacklock serves as co-chair.

The group worked collaboratively to develop a website, www.mentalhealth.umn.edu, that offers guidance and resources for students, faculty and staff members on a wide variety of issues related to mental health. The director of the IT department, then called the Office of Distributed Education and Technology, donated a Web designer from his unit to help make the project a reality.

When faculty or staff members call her in regard to situations involving students with mental health issues, she directs people to the website, explaining that they can find help on how to respond, plus resources to share with students. She also invites them to call her back if they have additional questions or concerns after reviewing the information on the site.

“Often, the reaction is ‘Oh my God, I didn’t know about this,’” she said.

The problem was that creating the site was not enough. Awareness of the new resource was needed. A good thing about having directors of different departments serving on the committee was that often, they could contribute money from their respective budgets to different projects. That allowed the committee to do things like hold faculty information sessions and hand out promotional freebies like pens and computer brushes with the site’s address on them. In the last few years, it’s trained more than 2,600 faculty and staff members.

The committee also launched the “Click + Win” campaign, held each fall. Posters about the website are placed across campus, and students are encouraged to go on the site and then answer several questions about it to be entered to win a prize. The first year, 15,000 participated for the chance to win a $1,000 award.

“There are some real consequences of not having a committee like this on campus,” she said. “For one, if a student with a mental illness goes untreated, he may end up leaving school, and that’s a seat in a class that’s no longer filled. And that student may request a refund, which is another financial impact on the institution.”

Plus, when students don’t have the right mental health resources at their fingertips, they may wait until they’re in crisis mode to seek disability services. When students understand what help is available and access it before reaching crisis mode, the time and energy that DS providers must expend to serve those students is significantly less.

Lastly, without appropriate mental health resources, students in emotional distress can act out violently, hurting themselves or others and creating a campus safety hazard, she added.

Committee’s effectiveness tied to work strategy

Committees can take a long time to reach decisions, never mind actually implement those decisions. But that’s not the case for the University of Minnesota’s Provost’s Committee on Student Mental Health. Since its inception, the committee has accomplished a lot, from creating a mental health website to organizing various awareness campaigns and training faculty and staff across campus on mental health–related issues. Blacklock says the reason for that is that people are assigned concrete tasks and held accountable for accomplishing them.

The committee meets for two hours a month in the morning. Someone takes minutes, which conclude with a summary of who said they will do what. The next meeting starts with an assessment of the progress on those tasks.

“This format really holds everyone accountable and keeps us moving forward,” she said. “And it works, which is pretty miraculous, given the range of offices and number of people involved.”

As word of the committee’s many accomplishments has spread, its prestige has grown, so that when individuals who serve on it leave for other institutions, finding their replacements is a breeze, Blacklock said.

For more information, you may contact Barbara Blacklock at black005@umn.edu.

Compliance
7/3/2014 12:00 AM
Image of students working together in a lab class.
Proposed ADA Amendments Act regulations list reaching, sitting and interacting with others — as these students are doing — as major life activities. Credit: Hasloo Group Production Studio/Shutterstock.com.

At the end of January, the U.S. Department of Justice proposed rules implementing Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act in light of the amendments made to the ADA. The proposed rules are quite involved. Nevertheless, I thought I’d go over some particularly significant items for institutions of higher education.


Proposed ADA Amendments Act regs list reaching, sitting and interacting with others — as these students are doing — as major life activities. Credit: Hasloo Group Production Studio/Shutterstock.com.At the end of January, the U.S. Department of Justice proposed rules implementing Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act in light of the amendments made to the ADA. (See www.ada.gov/nprm_adaaa/nprm_adaaa.htm.)

The proposed rules are quite involved. Nevertheless, I thought I’d go over some particularly significant items for institutions of higher education.

New major life activities added

What the DOJ essentially did was adopt the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regulations implementing Title I of the ADA. That includes adding reaching, sitting and interacting with others to the list of major life activities.

In particular, the addition of interacting with others could significantly impact students in college because there are many disabilities that potentially limit the ability of a person to interact with others, such as anxiety, autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and social anxiety disorder.

Immune, circulatory systems included

With respect to physical and mental impairments, the DOJ is proposing to add the immune and circulatory systems to those that may be affected by such impairments. It’s difficult to say what the impact of this will be on postsecondary institutions. Suffice to say, there are most certainly students in college with compromised immune systems.

LD listed under ‘physical or mental impairment’

Also, the DOJ is proposing to add a reference to dyslexia as an example of a specific learning disability falling within the category of “physical or mental impairment.” The reasoning behind that is that some entities mistakenly believe that dyslexia is not a clinically diagnosable impairment.

For instance, a Feb. 26 article by Ty Tagami in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution noted that some K–12 school systems are refusing to modify their programs and/or offer special services under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act on the belief that dyslexia is not a disability. (See www.myajc.com/news/news/local-education/parents-push-for-help-with-dyslexia/ncPLc/. To read the full article, you’ll need a one-day pass to the site.)

Keep in mind, however, that IDEA’s definition of “disability” is not the same as the definition of disability under the ADA and § 504.

The proposed use of the phrase “such as dyslexia” means that there is room for other learning disabilities to fall within the scope of covered conditions. In fact, the DOJ specifically stated that it fully expects compliance costs to go up with respect to making modifications to accommodate students with learning disabilities. Thus, if an institution takes a narrow view of learning disability, such as by excluding dyslexia, it may want to reconsider that approach now.

Fleeting conditions qualify for accommodation

The six-month transitory and minor exception that deals with a person being regarded as having a disability does not apply to the “actual disability” or “record of” prongs of the definition of “disability.” That is, the effects of an impairment expected to last less than six months can be substantially limiting and thus require accommodations like any other qualifying condition.

This also echoes the EEOC and gets behind the recent Fourth Circuit case of Summers v. Altarum Institute, Corporation, 740 F.3d 325 (4th Cir. 2014). I would expect that this particular provision of the proposed regulations would also be a game changer for postsecondary institutions because students frequently injure themselves and over time can recover quite nicely. Yet some of those injuries can be quite serious and limiting.

For more analysis on the Fourth Circuit decision in Summers, check out www.williamgoren.com/blog/2014/02/11/temporary-disabilities-ada.

Regulations would lower bar regarding whether conditions substantially limit major life activities

In determining whether an impairment substantially limits an individual in a major life activity, the DOJ has proposed that:

  • The term “substantially limits” must be construed broadly in favor of expansive coverage and is not meant to be a demanding standard. That means that institutions might have to be more careful as to just how much documentation they insist upon to establish a disability. Accordingly, if a student’s IDEA documentation is current or relatively new, you may not want to insist on new and independent documentation. You may also see that testing entities that have traditionally required extensive and precise documentation will have to revisit that practice.
  • Any impairment must be considered a disability if it substantially limits the ability of an individual to perform a major life activity as compared to most people in the general population. This is the same view as the one taken by the EEOC in its final regulations implementing the amendments to the ADA. The ADAAA specifically states that it is overruling Toyota Motor, Kentucky v. Williams, 534 U.S. 184 (2002), which held that for a person to be substantially limited in the major life activity of performing manual tasks, he must be severely restricted or prevented from performing that major life activity. Since DOJ frequently adopts EEOC standards, this definition of major life activity contained in the proposed regulations may be something that many institutions are already applying. However, in case they are not, the regulation would mean a significant change from their prior practice.
  • The primary object of attention in cases under Title II of the ADA should be whether public entities have complied with their obligations and whether discrimination has occurred. It should not be on the extent to which an individual’s impairment substantially limits a major life activity. Therefore, the issue of whether the impairment substantially limits a major life activity should not demand extensive analysis. Interestingly enough, only Title II gets a mention here and not Title III. What that means is that whether a person has a disability should not be the real issue anymore. Now, the focus will turn to whether institutions have made reasonable modifications to their programs and activities for students with disabilities.
  • For a student to be “qualified,” he has to meet the essential eligibility requirements of the program or activity with or without reasonable modifications to the program or activity. So, just what are the essential eligibility requirements of the program or activity will become a critical question. (See the April 2013 issue of Disability Compliance for Higher Education, pp. 4–5, for previous article on essential eligibility requirements.)
  • The determination of whether an impairment substantially limits a major life activity requires an individualized assessment. However, that assessment shall be interpreted and applied to require a degree of functional limitation lower than the standard that applied prior to the ADA Amendments Act. The comparison of an individual’s performance of the major life activity to the performance of the same major life activity by most people in the general population usually will not require scientific, medical or statistical evidence, though such scientific, medical or statistical evidence can be used where appropriate.
  • The determination of whether the impairment substantially limits a major life activity has to be made without regard to mitigating measures. The only exception is that ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses are considered in whether an impairment substantially limits a major life activity. Ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses are those that are intended to fully correct visual acuity or to eliminate refractive error. This is a provision actually demanded by the amendments to the ADA. As I point out in my book, Understanding the Americans with Disabilities Act, Fourth Edition (http://apps.americanbar.org/abastore/index.cfm?fm=Product.AddToCart&pid=5150465), the provision makes sense because with the exception of ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses, everything else that ameliorates a disability doesn’t cure a disability, but rather it just compensates for it. Because this provision is a change demanded by the explicit statutory language of the ADAAA, all institutions should already be complying.
  • An impairment that is episodic or in remission is a disability if it would substantially limit a major life activity when active. This too is a change demanded by the explicit statutory language of the ADAAA. Thus, it should also not have any impact on the existing practices of institutions of higher education, since they should already be in compliance.
  • An impairment that substantially limits a single major life activity need not substantially limit other major life activities to be considered a substantially limiting impairment. This proposed rule states that case law holding otherwise is not correct. For institutions that were following this line of cases, this means re-evaluating that practice. Since this line of cases could be said to be an outlier based upon a reading of the ADA, most institutions were probably not following this line of cases anyway. Therefore, for most institutions, this particular provision should have little or no impact upon them.

I encourage everyone to read the proposed regulations. In many ways, these regulations are expected because it is important for the EEOC and the DOJ to be on the same page. But since the context is different between the DOJ, which has jurisdiction over Titles II and III of the ADA, and the EEOC, which has jurisdiction over Title I of the ADA, they impact situations differently.

Also, while there may be some revisions to these regulations, I don’t expect the final rules to be significantly different.

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.

Conversation With: Katheryne Staeger-Wilson
8/7/2014 12:00 AM
Image of Katheryne Staeger-Wilson.
Katheryne Staeger-Wilson.

Katheryne Staeger-Wilson is the director of Missouri State University’s Disability Resource Center. She has worked to build strategic collaborations across her campus to increase accessibility for the students she serves.

Katheryne Staeger-Wilson.Katheryne Staeger-Wilson is the director of Missouri State University’s Disability Resource Center. She has worked to build strategic collaborations across her campus to increase accessibility for the students she serves.

Q: Why do you see collaboration as a necessity for increasing accessibility?

A: I see disability as a social construct. The reason we run into access issues is that we haven’t proactively planned for them. Collaborating with other groups on campus, whether it’s faculty, the design and construction team, or staff across the institution, is a way to make things proactively inclusive so that I don’t then have to turn around and provide segregated, delayed accommodations.

Q: How should disability services providers approach the task of creating such collaborations?

A: Start out by building allies. For instance, when I’ve had success with different professors implementing inclusive practices, I’ve asked them to present on panel discussions to talk about how those practices improved the classroom experience. Hearing about accessibility from their own colleagues is a more natural and respected process than having the information come from me.

Also, when I organize any sort of faculty development programs, I run them through our Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning. That’s a great resource because: (1) the center will help pay for the programs and (2) we get a bigger faculty turnout than if I alone were hosting them.

Another thing we did is create a book club to talk about disability issues. Different faculty members led each of the discussions. Other professors who wanted to hear what their colleagues were saying about various issues showed up, so it almost felt like Oprah’s Book Club. There was a core group of people who read the books discussing them and then a secondary audience listening in.

A great collaboration was the new recreation center we built. I was part of the design team. The team wanted some student representation, so I selected a couple who had disabilities to serve on the team with us. They shared what was important to them in terms of usable design features and equipment. Those students were also part of the hiring committee for staff of the center once it was built, and helped draft its policies and procedures.

Q: How do you manage all that on top of your regular duties?

A: It’s a matter of rethinking our profession. We have to change our role to that of consultant, because we can burn ourselves out trying to do everything. I pick one thing I want to do in a consultant role each year — just one thing. As I build allies, people start to do more things on their own and call me if they have questions or concerns, and then I’ll consult with them. But the key is to start with an office or individuals who already get it. For me, it’s a big time saver, because others are doing the real work of creating proactive inclusion.

It also helps to know your campus culture. If you can tie different initiatives to the university’s mission or strategic plan, you’ll be better able to motivate people around campus to take on those things. Almost all institutions have something about diversity or inclusion in their missions, so that shouldn’t be too hard.

Finally, put little spotlights on good things when they happen. For example, post a story and photo, and then use it to market your consultative role by ending with something like “If you’d like to learn more or to do something similar in your area, contact the Disability Resource Center.”

For more information, you may contact Katheryne Staeger-Wilson at KatheryneStaeger-Wilson@missouristate.edu.

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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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