Feature Articles

Utilizing Your Institution's Disability Resource Center

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Two professionals communicate about their notes on a student who uses a wheelchair

The majority of colleges and universities have a disability resource center (DRC) or office that works to ensure that classes, programs, buildings and other facilities, and services are accessible to students and employees with disabilities. It is through the school’s DRC that a student makes a request for an accommodation when a given class, lab, or building isn’t accessible to them. While the DRC is responsible for these standards and accommodations, faculty can make use of the DRC as well, to improve their classes, classrooms, and labs.

A school’s DRC keeps detailed notes on students with disabilities who have registered with the center. These notes typically include historical and holistic information about the student and their experiences with their disability, as well as a record of previous accommodation requests, and any communication, evaluation, consultation, and approvals and denials thereof. While these notes are largely confidential, the DRC can still advise on what has worked for a given student in the past and any changes you as a faculty member might make to improve accessibility for them. Per the Association on Higher Education and Disability’s (AHEAD) white...

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Applying Universal Design for Learning and Accessibility Best Practices in Community Colleges

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The rapid growth of the STEM workforce has left out individuals with disabilities, according to reports by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Pew Research Center, and Education Week. Community colleges play a critical role in the effort to broaden access in STEM education and careers to be inclusive of students and job seekers with disabilities. 

CAST, the education nonprofit organization that pioneered the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework, collaborated with the National Science Foundation Advanced Technological Education (NSF ATE) community to develop a series of case studies documenting strategies for implementation of UDL and accessibility best practices in community and technical colleges. The NSF ATE Central grant, Advanced Technological Education: Making Community College Technician Education More Accessible for Everyone (AccessATE), provides grantees with the tools and knowledge to increase the accessibility and usability of their resources and activities. As a partner in this grant, CAST is providing technical assistance on accessibility and UDL for ATE Centers and ATE research grants.

UDL is a method for addressing learner variability by providing...

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Recommended Reading: Blogs About Being Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing

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A woman reads a blog on her laptop

Over the last year or so, AccessATE and DeafTEC have published a few pieces on accommodating deaf and hard-of-hearing (HH) employees. These have largely been broad overviews of topics like safety, communication, equipment, etc. However, there is much more information to consider, and many instances and stories to learn from if one wants to fully understand how to make deaf/HH people feel truly welcome in classrooms, labs, workplaces, and more. Of course, these stories are best told by deaf/HH people themselves. Here, we offer a few ‘recommended reading’ blogs about deafness and hearing loss, written by people who are deaf/HH.

Hearing Like Me 

Hearing Like Me is an award-winning, Phonak-sponsored website that publishes articles by and for people with hearing loss, family members of people with hearing loss, and hearing loss experts. Their articles cover a wide variety of subjects, including news, entertainment, lifestyle, technology, and more. They also have a rich community platform and social media presence, enabling more people affected by hearing loss to connect with one another. They also have a section, Hearing Loss 101, with information and guidance about hearing loss,...

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Making Reentry Easier for Veterans

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Encourage an environment of inclusion in your class or workplace

In our most recent tip sheet from AccessATE and HERL, we discussed the importance of fellowship in a military veteran’s transition to school, work, and civilian life, and some means by which they might go about forming a new community after service. Here, we will further discuss why the transition to civilian life can be so difficult, and how you as an educator or employer can help veterans feel more at home.

Tip Sheet: Working with Veterans: Fellowship

Many of us have heard that transitioning from military to civilian life can be very difficult for veterans, but we rarely are told why this is. While leaving the military itself can be intimidating, it is often the reintegration into regular society that poses the biggest challenge. According to a study by the Pew Research Center, 44% of veterans report that reentry was or remains difficult. The study suggests that injuries, witnessing or experiencing traumatic events, and PTSD are among the biggest obstacles. These cause physical, emotional, and/or mental changes in the veterans who experience them, which in turn cause their experience of civilian life to be different than it was before they entered the military. Veterans may...

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PTSD in the Workplace

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PTSD can have many triggers, and cause many types of distress

In our recent tip sheet from AccessATE and HERL, we mention that veterans can suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. This can have a major impact on their life and their jobs, but like all conditions we’ve discussed, it does not mean that they cannot perform their jobs to the same standard as their coworkers – it’s a simple matter of understanding and accommodation. Here, we will further discuss post-traumatic stress disorder, and how an employer might make adjustments for it in the workplace.

Tip Sheet: Working with Veterans: Support

Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is defined as a mental health disorder that people may develop after experiencing or witnessing a shocking, scary, or life-threatening event, such as combat, a natural disaster, an accident, or assault. Such an event is often referred to as a “traumatic event” or a “trauma”. Anyone can develop PTSD, at any time. PTSD doesn’t always occur immediately after the traumatic event. PTSD can make it difficult to navigate daily life and/or to perform certain activities, or to be exposed to certain stimuli. Symptoms include, but are not exclusive to, unbidden, recurring memories of the traumatic event;...

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The Benefits of Employing People with Disabilities

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A wheelchair user joins colleagues at a table

In previous posts, we’ve alluded to the uncertainty an employer might feel when considering hiring a person with disabilities. They may have some misconceptions, such as that accommodations are very costly, or that those with disabilities may be more difficult to employ, or that they will not be as good at the job. However, we know these things to be untrue. In fact, there are many benefits to employing people with disabilities.

There have been many studies that dispel the employer concerns mentioned above, and go on to describe the myriad benefits to hiring people with disabilities. One that can jump out to employers right away involves improvements in profitability; one study found that businesses that welcome those with disabilities saw 28% higher revenues, double the net income, and a 30% increase in profit margins. Additionally, companies that employ more people with disabilities enjoy a number of competitive advantages. For one, employees with disabilities represent not only a vital workforce, but an important customer base as well, both of which may be going untapped by businesses who ignore or otherwise discount people with disabilities. Greater diversity also draws in...

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Reducing Disruptive Noise in the Workplace

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A woman covers her ears, appearing distressed due to the noise around her

Many of us are familiar with how disruptive noisy workplaces can be. Excess noise can make it difficult to focus on and complete tasks, hear one another, and in some cases, can even affect mental and physical health. Excess sound, or a lack of sound privacy, can also be a major drain on employee morale. Crucially, employees with disabilities can be affected by noisy work environments far more than those without. Noise can be particularly problematic for deaf or hard-of-hearing (HH) people, people with blindness or low vision, those with conditions like Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Here, we’ll go into further detail on how noise can be disruptive for these disabilities, and how to address these issues in the workplace.

A previous tip sheet and post on deafness/HH mentioned that many deaf/HH people actually do have some level of hearing, but the sounds they hear can seem very quiet or muffled. As such, excess noise can be a great interference, as it makes important sounds harder to hear or understand, or unable to be heard or understood at all. Additionally, those who use...

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“Invisible" Disabilities in the Workplace

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Of all employees with a disability, 62% have an invisible condition.

In the past, we’ve discussed disabilities like deafness/hard-of-hearing, blindness/low vision, and certain physical disabilities. These disabilities can be obvious to others because they are often accompanied by equipment (canes, wheelchairs, service animals, prosthetics, hearing aids, etc.) or because they have an immediately apparent effect on how the person navigates the world or interacts with others, such as when a deaf person lets you know they cannot hear you when you try to speak to them.

However, there are disabilities and conditions that are far less apparent to an outside observer, yet may still require an accommodation at work. In fact, 96% of people with chronic medical conditions show no outward sign of their illness that is obvious to most people, and many of those conditions can result in a disability. These are often referred to as “invisible disabilities”, an umbrella term used to refer to any condition that may not be readily apparent to others but, as the Department of Labor’s definition of disability states, is “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more ‘major life activities.’” This can include conditions like fibromyalgia or...

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More on Safety Equipment for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Employees

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Four alert lights, each a different color. Such lights could indicate steps in a process.

The AccessATE and DeafTEC tip sheet on Workplace Accommodations and Safety for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Employees went over some general ideas regarding keeping deaf and hard-of-hearing (HH) workers safe on the job. Here, we will further discuss those measures, including specific equipment employers might choose.

Many people may be unaware that deaf/HH employees still require hearing protection in noisy work environments. In accordance with OSHA, MSHA, and FRA, employers must provide protection in work environments that exceed 90 A-weighted decibels, or dBA, while workers with documented hearing loss should be provided protection if noise levels exceed 85 dBA. There is a misconception that a deaf/HH person’s hearing is inherently protected by being impaired, or that hearing aids provide noise protection, but a switched-off hearing aid does not an earplug make! Remaining hearing can still be lost, and/or damage can be done or further accumulated. Hearing protection devices (HPDs), such as earmuffs, must still be provided to deaf/HH employees. Note that not all HPDs are suitable for, or compatible with, all hearing aids – the best options will vary by case, and may include devices...

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Best Practices for Alternate Text

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A person on a laptop codes in alt text for a photo of a tree

In our most recent tip sheet from AccessATE and DeafTEC, we go over various tips for improving workplace communication for blind and low vision employees. The tip sheet mentions adding descriptive or alternative text for photos, charts, and graphs, which we’ve also touched on in a previous tip sheet and blog post. Here, we’ll dive into more detail about best practices for crafting and adding alternative (alt) text, both for electronic documents and online.

Tip Sheet: Workplace Communication for Blind & Low Vision Employees

Alt text, sometimes called alternate text, descriptive text, or alternative text, is text that supplements an element, such as an image, or substitutes for it if it cannot be rendered. It’s what screen readers will use to convey information about an image to a blind/low vision user. The webpage version of this is the HTML “alt” attribute, which you have likely encountered before without realizing it, as the use of alt attribute has become increasingly common in coding. One does not always need to know how to code to use it, as many programs and webpages have interfaces that allow you to set alt attribute values by simply filling out a text field. It’s...

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