The options available for universities supporting students with disabilities are as varied as the students themselves.
Traditional accommodations for disabled students such as peer notetakers are now being combined with technological solutions including screen readers, notetaking technology and digital recorders.
However, when a disability support team decides to implement a new technology or accommodation for their students, they are often faced with obstacles. These obstacles can hinder or even prevent the accommodation from being made available to their students, leaving them to rely solely on traditional methods.
In our State of the Nation survey, we asked the Sonocent Community about the challenges they face when they decide to implement something new.
What are the obstacles to implementation?
Disability support services in Higher Education are under increasing pressure to provide more choices of accommodation for disabled students, the number of which is rapidly increasing. According to Sonocent’s State of the Nation survey, 76.3% of respondents have seen an increase in the number of students needing support in the last 12 months (only 1.7% of respondents had seen a decrease). Yet, in spite of this, only 20% had an increase in their budget.
With the rise in students needing disability support comes a more diverse range of complex needs that must be accommodated. Traditional support methods are not always adequate or widespread enough for the needs of the 21st century student.
Our survey results showed that the biggest obstacle faced by respondents when implementing new accommodations was Limited Resources. Low staffing levels and a lack of professional development were named as key issues, coupled with the fact that 59% of respondents believed they do not receive adequate funding.
Respondents cited Lack of technical knowledge as their least challenging obstacle when implementing accommodations. 92% have trialled Assistive Technology, showing disability services departments clearly have a desire to implement AT at their institution, and believe their teams have the skills and knowledge to do so effectively. However, they are often hindered by a lack of the resources needed to make it a success.
If departments do not receive the support needed to implement new accommodations, they will continue to rely on traditional methods which may be more costly in the long run and less effective for certain disabilities.
The Sonocent Community
To explore some of the more specific challenges to implementation, we asked our Sonocent Community about their views on the obstacles they face and what can be done to help.
Sonocent Community Member, Auxiliary Services Manager
Our biggest obstacle in implementing accommodations for students (Particularly Assistive Technology) is faculty resistance around using recording or technology options in the classroom or testing environments. There is no formal faculty training through our campus pertaining to potential accessibility needs for students. There is also not a lot of understanding of what tools are out there, how they can be utilized, and that there are trained staff on campus that can help. Many have strict laptop policies with exceptions for accessibility needs but in general students don’t want to be singled out, since others would then know they have a disability.
A large number of faculty don’t seem to know they have their own rights and responsibilities with regards to recording lectures. There doesn’t seem to be an understanding that the audio is just another avenue for the same material as is written, and that it is for personal study use of the student with permission.
29% of respondents said resistance from faculty was ‘challenging’ or ‘very challenging’
To work towards solving this, my department has expanded our student and faculty responsibilities and updated our website. We have tried to expand conversations with students about these policies and really encourage them to have conversations with their faculty.
We have also been a resource for many faculty members, once they have a student with laptop or recording adjustments. I would like to host a demo/Q&A session for our community (faculty, staff, and students) of various recording tools students may be eligible to use from our office, or may have purchased for themselves.
My advice to anyone in a similar position would be to work on creating a network, both on your campus as well as with other disability support offices. The more positive communication we can have about disabilities, sharing information, and supporting students, the better.
The good news
Despite all of these obstacles, 81% of respondents still stated that AT was a success at their institution.
Student needs are changing, and moving away from traditional methods of support to modern alternatives is how institutions are adapting.
Of all the accommodations which support disabled students, Assistive technology can be the hardest to implement. It requires new skillsets and processes to make it a success. Understanding the obstacles you might face is the first step in achieving an effective AT solution to ultimately benefit your students.
In your region
The obstacles to implementing new accommodations vary from region to region. Click the link to view our interactive map and see where your institution fits in.