Explore Access Update – September 2019

Keyboard with return key labeled as accessibility

Removing Barriers to College Lectures

Academic content that is delivered only through spoken lecture presents a host of barriers such as the need to maintain concentration for an extended period of time, the need to capture content for later review, and the need to see material written on the board or screen. When we look at the setting in terms of the barriers that exist, several solutions emerge—design solutions, technology solutions and accommodations.

Course Design

The days of all courses being designed alike is long gone. What happens in a college course is much less predictable. While some professors still spend the full course lecturing, many have moved to other designs. Some examples include:

  • Flipped classrooms: professors provide video content prior to the class period and the class time is spent engaging in discussion or activities.
  • Hybrid classes: a portion of the time is spent lecturing while the other time is spent engaging with the content in other ways.
  • Use of multimedia: Video content, slide presentations, visual presenters, and whiteboards are all common tools used in the design of the course.
  • Student to student interaction: small group discussions, group projects and full class discussions are more and more common.

All of these instructional methods can serve to remove barriers for some students, but without thinking through the design, can result in barriers for others. For example, group work reduces the need to attend to one person speaking for a long time which may be a barrier for one student but may present more of a barrier for a student who is hard of hearing. Promoting good design can increase access and inclusion and reduce the need for individual accommodations. Some design strategies that reduce barriers include:

  • Using amplification
  • Captioning, audio describing, and having transcripts of videos
  • Permitting the use of recording devices
  • Permitting the use of laptops, tablets and phone apps
  • Providing access to slide content or handouts to support notetaking and studying (including accessible digital versions)
  • Employing good turn-taking strategies during discussions
  • Making sure slide content is spoken aloud

It is possible to design a course in a way that removes most of the barriers that accommodations are put in place to mitigate. Since we cannot always influence the design of the course, however, disability resource professionals must work with students to have accommodations in place in case the student encounters barriers with the design.

The Right to Access

Clearly, the right to access to lecture content is fundamental to the work of the disability resource office. In terms of the ADA, most of the barriers encountered in the classroom fall under the requirement to ensure effective communication. This requires entities to ensure that communication is as effective for people with disabilities as it is for those without disabilities. To achieve this, there are several accommodations and access services that should be available when needed to remove barriers to access.

Accommodations and Access Services

Assistive Listening Devices are portable devices that allow the voice of the speaker to be directed into a hearing aid or headphone, thus reducing the barrier resulting from distance and ambient noise.

Augmentative Communication Devices or Text to Speech Applications provide tools for people with speech-related disabilities to communicate with classmates and the instructor.

Captioning provides access to the audible aspects of a video. It is important to note that transcripts created through automatic speech recognition do not provide adequate access.

Electronic Formats provide alternate access for those for whom printed materials or visual print on a screen or whiteboard presents a barrier.

Portable Digital Magnifiers are devices that magnify information that is on a desktop such as handouts or lab materials. Many of these devices have a swiveling magnifier that can also be pointed toward a whiteboard or the projection screen. The magnified image can be shown on a laptop or a computer monitor.

Sign Language Interpreters facilitate communication between the instructor and a deaf student and between the students. Having qualified interpreters on staff or information about how to contract with interpreters readily available is important to providing timely access.

Speech to Text Services is an umbrella term that includes CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation), Typewell, and C-Print. CART proves word for word translation. Typewell and C-Print are two forms of meaning for meaning transcription.

Video Description provides access to videos that lack description of what is occurring on the screen or to visual demonstrations. For example, if an instructor is showing how to do an exercise in a lab, a person may be hired to describe what the professor is doing to a blind student.

Access to Content for Later Review

Depending on the design of the class, sometimes it is necessary to capture information from the lecture for later study or review. The traditional answer to this need has been taking handwritten notes during class. Since this may present a barrier to some, note taking has often been requested as an accommodation. Currently, though, there are many tools available to accomplish the capturing of the lecture for study and review. Note taking as an accommodation may or may not be the best option for all students who request it as an accommodation. Through the interactive process with the student, disability resource professionals can determine whether having a note taker is the best approach or whether technology may be an effective way to remove the barrier. Some technologies that may be effective include:

  • Transcripts from speech to text services
  • Synchronized recording tools (smart pens, audionote, etc.)
  • Audio or video recording of the lecture

On campuses that have looked closely at note taking services, many have recognized that this accommodation is over-provided, often not very effective and sometimes notes are not utilized by the student. A thoughtful approach to determining what barrier the student is experiencing (or if there is indeed a barrier at all) will lead to more meaningful access. Cheryl Muller’s presentation Notes No More (PPT) at the 2017 AHEAD Annual Conference provides a snapshot of the process the University of Arizona took in rethinking their approach to note taking.

In the event that note taking is provided as an accommodation, the National Deaf Center’s Note Taking Online Course provides guidance to strengthen the skills of the student note taker.

Recommended Resources

Assistive Listening Systems: Choosing the Right Technology for Your Campus – A fact sheet provided by the National Deaf Center.

Captioning YouTube Videos– A tutorial provided by the National Center on Disability and Access to Education (NCDAE)

Electronic Formats– An article in the June 2019 issue of Explore Access Update

Sign Language Interpreting– A series of fact sheets provided by the National Deaf Center.

Speech-to-Text: An Introduction– A fact sheet provided by the National Deaf Center.

Video Magnifers– A resource page on the American Foundation for the Blind website.

Video Description Key– A resource of the Described and Captioned Media Program.

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About Explore Access

exploreaccess.org is a web resource developed through a project of the Southwest ADA Center Regional Affiliate – Arkansas, a program of UA Partners for Inclusive Communities through funding from the Southwest ADA Center (90DP0092).