My day yesterday ended sooner than I expected (officially that is) when the network went down. I was scheduled to have a tour of the Main Library assistive technology, but the IT (or “IS” here) folks were in a bit of crisis mode, so that wasn’t going to happen as planned. However, my hosts here are so accommodating that they came up with plan B, which was to have someone else give me a tour of the assistive technology spaces available for students — and staff. The technology for students was very similar to what we have at UMD: JAWS screen reader, Dragon software, scanners, and magnifying screens. These were located in rooms that I think our students would envy: there are 17 rooms across the campus — I’ll have to double check that figure. The ones in the Main Library are spacious and airy, whereas our main library assistive technology study carrels are pretty dim and closed in. The Main Library here was renovated in 2013, so maybe we can hope for more light and air in our next renovation of McKeldin Library? We can hope!
One of the most unusual things in the tour for me was the support for Faculty with disabilities. There is a process in place here for faculty and staff to get easily get assistance with assistive technology — for either a long-term or short-term need. They said they only have about 2 people per semesters contact them for help in this area, but I wonder if faculty knew more about these technologies (or just ergonomic mice or keyboards) they might be more apt to request them on loan, and possibly get their department to purchase them after trying out several and landing on the right type.
This morning I attended a Disability Awareness Training, held at the Old College. It was a really interesting training that was being held for staff mostly from the IS department, and some from other departments. It was perfect for me, because the presenters covered a lot of basic law and regulation that I was not familiar with, as they are UK or Scotland based requirements. We all face so many of the same challenges, but the protections from discrimination are much broader here and protect many more people than what we have in the U.S. There are 9 protected categories under the Equality Act of 2013, with disability being one. The protections against discrimination are equally wide, with 6 different types of discrimination being identified as prohibited. The University is required to follow these regulations, and much like our regulations in the U.S., there is often some confusion on what is required and how one should “do the right thing.”
It’s also been very interesting to compare the systems for putting accommodations (called adjustments here) into place for the students. Students with disabilities here have something called a “Learning Profile,” which lists all the the accommodations they are to receive. The Learning Profile is online in a program that talks to the student information system, so it is available to instructors. This isn’t area in which I’m an expert at my university, so I feel I need to do some more learning when I get back. However, I do not think that we have this level of information so readily available to instructors. I know we have improved the system so that when instructors see their class roster in Testudo, our registration system, students with accommodations are flagged. I know we are looking at improvements to our LMS Canvas that will make extension of time easier to implement. But I also know that mainly our process — and that of most universities in the U.S. — is for the student to personally hand their Letter of Accommodation to each of their instructors. That’s not part of the process here, although there are other steps where the student needs to be involved.
I have a lot to process yet, and a lot to learn when I get back!