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Universal Design
10/17/2014 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. 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. 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. What follows 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.

This principle addresses the “what” of learning and includes the ways information is presented to learners. When it is 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.

2. Allowing multiple means of action and expression.

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 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.

3. Offering multiple means of engagement.

This focuses on the “why” of learning. Professors must consider factors such as background knowledge, culture and personal relevance that 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
10/6/2014 12:00 AM
Image of a college student and her cat.
Know what the law says about animals in dorms. Credit: 2EgamiVividEast/Shutterstock.com.

As more students ask to have animals as accommodations for their disabilities, it’s increasingly important that disability services providers understand when an animal is an appropriate accommodation.

In a webinar titled “Hamsters in the Hallways: Navigating the Law Regarding Animals on Campus,” attorney Saundra Schuster, a partner with The NCHERM Group LLC (formerly the National Center for Higher Education Risk Management), spoke about the legal differences between service, assistance, and emotional support or comfort animals, and how to handle accommodation requests involving each type of animal.

Know what the law says about animals in dorms. Credit: 2EgamiVividEast/Shutterstock.com.As more students ask to have animals as accommodations for their disabilities, it’s increasingly important that disability services providers understand when an animal is an appropriate accommodation.

In a webinar titled “Hamsters in the Hallways: Navigating the Law Regarding Animals on Campus,” attorney Saundra Schuster, a partner with The NCHERM Group LLC (formerly the National Center for Higher Education Risk Management), spoke about the legal differences between service, assistance, and emotional support or comfort animals, and how to handle accommodation requests involving each type of animal.

Individualized training, link to disability required of service animals

For one, a service animal, defined under the Americans with Disabilities Act, has to be individually trained to perform specific tasks related to a student’s disability, she explained.

“Under Title II of the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, colleges and universities must modify all policies, practices or procedures to permit the use of a service animal by an individual with a qualifying disability,” Schuster said. “However, that nexus between the training and the disability must be present.”

That means that a dog whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support does not qualify as a service animal under the ADA.

A service animal can only be a dog or miniature horse under that law. And no law mandates official certification for assistance animals proving they can perform a specific service.

But you can still require students to provide documentation of their need for the animal, and you should, “unless the disability is obvious,” she said. What you cannot do is ask about the nature of a disability after the student has provided documentation of the service performed by the animal. Nor can you ask the student to have the animal perform the task for which it’s supposedly trained while you watch, according to Schuster.

“We can ask what it does, not ask to show us what it does,” she said.

That’s a point you should make with employees who might interact with the student and his animal, such as residence life and campus safety staff, she said.

Also, be aware that you can impose certain restrictions on the use of a service animal as an accommodation. The animal must remain under the complete control of the owner to the extent that it is harnessed, leashed or tethered, unless doing so would impede the animal’s ability to provide the needed assistance.

And when it comes to miniature horses, the law states that they must be no more than 24–34 inches tall when measured to the shoulders, and between 70–100 pounds. The animal must also be housebroken and under the owner’s control. Those are guidelines that could easily be applied to bigger service dogs as well, Schuster said.

Other considerations are whether campus facilities can accommodate an animal’s type, size and weight, and whether it would compromise legitimate safety requirements needed for the safe operation of a facility. For instance, having a miniature horse, which tends to shed more than a dog, in a culinary program might be problematic.

When making those kinds of decisions, remember that the ADA is based on the principle of reasonableness. If the use of a service animal is simply unreasonable given certain, specific situations, you can deny the accommodation. You must also balance the needs of a student needing a service animal with the needs and safety of the greater campus community, she said.

“The institution has to weigh competing rights to determine whether it can sufficiently compromise,” Schuster said.

‘Assistance animals’ is more broadly defined

But what about assistance animals as described by the Fair Housing Act? The FHA defines the term much more broadly than the ADA defines “service animals,” and includes therapy, emotional support and comfort animals. That means that what may not be allowed by the ADA may be perfectly fine under the FHA.

That law imposes no limits on what kind of species an assistance animal may be, nor does it impose any training requirements. However, students asking to have animals as an accommodation under the FHA must still have qualifying disabilities, and there must be a link between the “service” the animal provides and the disability.

Historically, college officials believed the FHA didn’t apply to campus housing, because they considered that to be transient housing, not a traditional “dwelling,” to which the law clearly applies. But the recent case of the University of Nebraska at Kearney turned that thinking on its head.

In that case, an administrative law judge decided that the institution violated the complaining student’s rights under the FHA because it would not let her keep her pet dog, Butch, in her dorm to provide her with comfort and ease her anxiety and depression.

University officials thought they were right to deny the accommodation under the ADA, but that wasn’t the only law that applied. That’s why it’s important to consider every possible law — including state laws — when determining whether to grant such accommodation requests, Schuster said.

Generally though, places of public accommodation that have “no pets” policies are within their right to exclude therapy, emotional support and comfort animals from their premises. Assistance animals under the FHA may be confined to living quarters. However, service animals under the ADA may accompany students everywhere on campus, as long as it’s reasonable and safe for them to be there.

Further, institutions may not charge students any more than they charge others for keeping a service animal on campus. However, the student-handler may be charged for damages caused by that and other types of animals used to accommodate disabilities.

Finally, institutions may impose standards of care to ensure student-handlers aren’t neglecting or abusing their animals, or allowing them to disturb or otherwise infringe on the rights of others on campus.

Use these tips to avoid complaints, lawsuits related to requests for animals on campus

Navigating requests to have animals on campus as accommodations can get tricky. Schuster offers the following guidance for navigating such requests.

Do

Don’t

Treat each case with a careful review of the individual circumstances.

Act overly dismissive to students and justify your actions by citing policy and/or ignoring unique or important circumstances.

Meet with students and discuss options for accommodations at your institution. Approach those meetings understanding that students may need some assistance filling out paperwork and understanding your review requirements for accommodations.

Send students out of your office with checklists or without personal explanation, or point them to a website to fill out paperwork prior to talking to someone about the accommodation process.

Ensure you have any service animal policy reviewed by a lawyer or general counsel familiar with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Assume that your existing policy is sufficient and will protect your school from a lawsuit because “it has always worked in the past.”

Understand service animals (dogs and miniature horses) are different in terms of an accommodation request than assistance animals.

Lump all animals together and develop a policy that avoids distinction between therapy and companion animals and service animals.

Realize there is a training regulation for service animals that is different than is required for companion and therapy animals.

Require students to provide proof of service animal training or demonstrate their animal’s abilities on cue in front of you as part of the disability accommodation process.

Include specific language about expectations related to health, safety or disruptive behavior in your service animals and therapy/companion animals policy. This could include damage to property, being out of the control of the student, or not being housebroken.

Interpret disruptive behavior of a service animal widely (such as the presence of the animal in the classroom distracting other students or a student with an allergy), or immediately separate an animal from campus prior to looking for middle-ground compromises.

Look for opportunities to support animals on campus in other settings if your institution is unable to offer an accommodation for an assistance/therapy/companion animal. These may include connection to a local shelter or creating “stress-free” zones where students and animals can interact during high-stress times like finals.

Deny students a disability accommodation without offering to continue the conversation around what other assistance the university may be able to offer. Even if one accommodation cannot be granted, the university should make a reasonable effort to look for ways to assist students.

For more information, you may contact Saundra Schuster at Saundra@ncherm.org.

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.

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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