Faculty, Staff Join Forces to Improve Learning Environment for Disabled
New web accessibility programs help online coursework meet ADA standards.
Written by Callie Jones
The remote captioning setup Grisham uses for her online class.
Julie Grisham said she was nervous when she decided to pursue a master of arts in technical communication through an online program.
Her auditory impairment had been a challenge throughout her academic career, but it hadn’t stopped her from already attaining a bachelor and master’s degree. This new program with Texas Tech, however, would be her first to take online.
“I grew up using spoken language and speech-reading for communication,” Grisham said. “Through the years, I would use a note-taker and/or sit in front of the class hoping to catch everything the teacher said. I always missed out what my classmates would say during my classes.”
Leveling the Playing Field
Thanks to Texas Tech’s efforts in web accessibility, students like Grisham can use remote captioning to interact with professors and coursework in a way that helps remove some of the challenges associated with impairments.
“There is a need to level the playing field,” said Robin Lock, an associate professor in the College of Education’s special education program and one of several faculty and staff members working to make web accessibility programs more widely available and used. “We have to make coursework relevant and interesting to people from variety of perspectives.”
Lock said that while the Americans with Disabilities Act requires universities to provide ways for students with any handicap to be able to learn adequately, it is up to the university to provide faculty, staff and students information about resources and programs available. The Student Accessibility Initiative was formed with faculty members as well as staff from the Student Disability Services and Information Technology (IT), which helps implement resources like screen readers and closed captioning for online coursework.
“What’s happened with these programs is that despite their intended users, students who don’t have audio or visual impairments have found these programs extremely useful,” said Larry Phillippe, managing director of Student Disability Services. “In the same way that mothers with strollers find sidewalk ramps intended for people bound to a wheelchair, these resources can help people in many different ways.”
Way of the Future
Lock said IT programs have had a good reception with students, especially since most grew up in a digital age.
“Having the remote captioning has really opened up things further than it did with just oral interpreting,” Grisham said. “I’m able to scroll back and refresh my memory on something that was said and respond to questions in a timely manner. I get a transcript that serves as my notes from the class. I think in using remote captioning, I’ve become more and more active in my learning and participate at a higher level than ever before.”
Lock said the accessibility team is working to provide as much information as possible to faculty members across campus so they can best serve students and allow them to succeed. Grisham noted her professors have provided transcripts of recordings or given her more time to complete certain assignments because of specific listening requirements.
“The faculty and staff have not only complied with the requirements, but have bent over backwards to make sure everything is well with me,” Grisham said. “They’ve never hesitated to tell me that if there’s anything they can do to make things work for me, let them know.”
Disability Awareness Week
From today (Oct. 28) until Friday (Nov. 1), lectures, interactive sessions and events will be held on campus to promote information and awareness about disabilities and disability resources.
College of Education
The College of Education at Texas Tech University offers a full range of programs, including eight doctoral degrees, 12 master's degrees and two bachelor's degrees with numerous specializations leading to careers in public or private education as teachers, professors, administrators, counselors and diagnosticians.
Programs in the college are housed in two departments. The Department of Curriculum and Instruction offers undergraduate programs leading to initial teaching certificates and graduate programs in bilingual education, curriculum and instruction, elementary education, language literacy and secondary education.
The Department of Educational Psychology and Leadership offers graduate programs in counselor education, educational leadership, educational psychology, higher education, instructional technology and special education.