Helping Colleges Comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act

Institutions of higher education should consider investing in technologies that promote equality for students with disabilities.

When it comes to complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Eve Hill says the biggest problem found among decision-makers in colleges is “ostrich syndrome.” In other words, colleges often bury their heads in the sand and hope all ADA compliance complaints, requests and requirements will disappear.

“It won’t go away,” says Hill, deputy assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. “Students with disabilities are more and more engaged in making sure they have college careers so they can get great jobs.” Hill also says the old, “grab-another-human” days are over in the realm of ADA compliance. She says that students with disabilities want something more to seamlessly integrate themselves into a college culture.

That something more is a touch of technology. “Traditionally, colleges and universities have tried to make their instructional materials accessible by providing an extra human,” she explains. “You provide an extra note-taker for the blind student, provide an interpreter for the deaf student. Those human-based ways of making things accessible often resulted in students with disabilities getting access later than their non-disabled peers, getting inferior access and getting a level of resentment from their school.”

Hill says technology is key in easily providing ADA compliance support on campus – it boosts accessibility of information and tools for students with disabilities, and thins the gap between special education and regular education.

“It provides equal access for students with disabilities so they no longer have to wait for an accessible book, or have to depend on whether their interpreter or note-taker shows up on time, whether they understand the language that’s being used, etc., that sometimes made those less effective,” she says. “[Now, it’s all] the same time, same level of access, same equality and ease of use for students with and without disabilities. It’s potentially a great equalizer.”

Hill says colleges need to be proactive from the start with incorporating technology to support students with disabilities. She says this takes ADA provisions from being an afterthought to a top priority.

Matt Luttrell, sales application engineer at Peerless-AV, says other ways colleges can address ADA compliance include:

  • Making sure video walls, kiosks, etc. do not hang off of a wall more than four inches to avoid falling on anyone
  • Considering switching bathroom and emergency exit signs from red lettering to green lettering to better support visually impaired students 
  • Braille font on all campus signs 
  • IT sensors for voice and/or presence recognition 
  • IT cameras and touch interface technologies to detect a person’s presence at a door for door-opening purposes

“It’s all things like that, and the more we learn about how to … give [students] a better experience where they’re safe, we learn more about what these disabilities do and the better we can help everyone,” Luttrell says.

Jessica Kennedy is editor of CS sister site HigherEdTechDecisions.com, a site your university clients should be reading.

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