Accessibility

Faculty appreciate support services, when they use them.

When the term "diversity" is used, we often think of factors that contribute to our life experiences, e.g., gender, ethnicity, and age. But a characteristic that is sometimes overlooked when considering diversity is disability status. An estimated 12.7% of the US population—almost 50 million people—have a disability,1  yet their needs often go unrecognized and thus unmet. People with disabilities add to the diversity on college and university campuses and beyond, and their perspectives can help catalyze innovative ways of examining the world and solving problems. As Pete Denman, lead UX design researcher at Intel, has said, people with disabilities "who process differently are often our most creative thinkers because of this difference, not despite it. We need more of [this] kind of [thinker]."2  Denman, who designed the speech software used by Stephen Hawking, has both a physical and a learning disability and deeply understands the positive impact accessible tools can have on learners. Providing effective, quality support for faculty that enables them to make their courses accessible is a key component for empowering these thinkers and cultivating inclusive campus environments.

A little more than half (54%) of our faculty respondents said they had used the technology support services on their campus for making courses accessible to students with disabilities (figure 5). Among the faculty who had used these services, 60% rated their experience good or excellent, while about a quarter (22%) told us it was poor or fair. Positive ratings were fairly consistent across Carnegie class among faculty who had used the services, but associate's (65%) and public master's (63%) institutions reported the highest marks. Of all the AA participants in this year's study, only about a quarter (23%) reported they had not used these services in the past year. This is good news for two-year and community colleges, as more students with disabilities attend these institutions,3  and this signals that instructors are taking advantage of the technologies that can make their courses more inclusive at institutions where students who most need accommodations are enrolled. (Another 2% reported their institutions do not offer these services.) In contrast, far more faculty at private institutions (MA 55%, DR and BA tied at 70%) reported they had not used support services for making their courses accessible for those with disabilities.

Bar graph illustrating faculty use and ratings of support services for making courses accessible to students with disabilities
Figure 5. Faculty use and ratings of support services for making courses accessible to students with disabilities

These low usage numbers for support services at these institutions could be related to a lack of faculty awareness about the specific needs of students with disabilities. Although research has shown that 19% of undergraduate students enrolled in colleges and universities have a disability,4  we also know that many students who are eligible for accommodations due to a disability choose not to disclose their needs for a number of reasons, including the social stigma, fear of being singled out or questioned about their need for accommodations, fear of being penalized by instructors, and/or being unaware of available services.5  According to the 2019 student study, only 5% of students identified as having physical, learning, or both physical and learning disabilities that require accessible technologies or accommodations for their coursework, while 3% declined to answer. Faculty may not perceive a need for these services if they have not received notification about a specific student's technology requirements or if a student's condition is not apparent. Others may not be aware of how universal design for learning (UDL) can benefit all students, while those who are aware may lack the time and/or skills to integrate UDL practices into their courses.

To increase faculty use of support services for accessible technologies, campus units such as IT, disability services, assistive technology centers, and teaching and learning centers can partner to share information about this lack of disclosure and use it as a springboard into conversations with instructors on implementing UDL and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Training faculty on the technologies that can make an activity or classroom resource inclusive from the ground up offers opportunities to see how UDL and WCAG can have positive effects for all students, not just those who require accommodations. For example, while video captioning is a necessary accessibility tool for students who are d/Deaf and hard of hearing, it also greatly benefits English-language learners and students with learning disabilities such as dyslexia, because they can view words as they are spoken. Broader still, numerous studies have shown that captions can increase attention while improving understanding and memory of the video content for all types of learners.6  In a national survey of college students on captioning, nearly all said captions are helpful, and more than three-quarters of students without hearing difficulties reported using them at least some of the time.7  For practical purposes, captioning makes watching videos easier for any learner who must view them in noisy environments—on the bus, in the student union, or at home surrounded by family or roommates.

Notes

  1. W. Erickson, C. Lee, and S. von Schrader, 2017 Disability Status Report: United States, Cornell University Yang-Tan Institute on Employment and Disability (Ithaca, NY: 2019).

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  2. "Self-Advocacy Skills and Self-Determination: Keys to Postsecondary Success," co-authored brief by the American Council on Education, the National Center for Learning Disabilities, and the American Association of University Administrators, March 13, 2019.

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  3. "Students with Disabilities," DataPoints 6, no. 13, American Association of Community Colleges, September 2018; Kimberley Raue and Laurie Lewis, "Students with Disabilities at Degree-Granting Postsecondary Institutions," U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, June 2011).

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  4. "Fast Facts: Students with Disabilities," U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2019; Digest of Education Statistics 2017, NCES 2018-070, U.S. Department of Education.

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  5. Derrick Kranke, Sarah E. Jackson, Debbie A. Taylor, Eileen Anderson-Fye, Jerry Floersch, "College Student Disclosure of Non-Apparent Disabilities to Receive Classroom Accommodations," Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability 26, no. 1 (2013): 35–51; Laura Marshak, Todd Van Wieren, Dianne Raeke Ferrell, Lindsay Swiss, and Catherine Dugan, "Exploring Barriers to College Student Use of Disability Services and Accommodations," Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability 22, no. 3 (2010): 151–165; and Julie R. Alexandrin, Ilana Lyn Schreiber, and Elizabeth Henry, "Why Not Disclose?" in Pedagogy and Student Services for Institutional Transformation: Implementing Universal Design in Higher Education, eds. Jeanne L. Higbee and Emily Goff (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2008): 377–392.

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  6. Morton Ann Gernsbacher, "Video Captions Benefit Everyone," Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences 2, no. 1 (2015): 195–202; Katie Linder, Student Uses and Perceptions of Closed Captions and Transcripts: Results from a National Study (Corvallis, OR: Oregon State University Ecampus Research Unit, October 2016).

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  7. Linder, Student Uses and Perceptions of Closed Captions.

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