When I heard from Prof. Tomiyasu that more than 800 people had wanted to take this course, I was very pleased and impressed. I had been told that education for people with disabilities in Japan was not a high priority. I am extremely pleased that this appears to be changing, as exemplified by the number of people interested in this course. I sincerely hope that when you have finished with this course, your ideas about the value of providing educational opportunities for people with disabilities will have become more favorable, and that you will be enthusiastic about the possibility of giving people with disabilities the same opportunities that you have. Also, I hope that some of you present are students who have a disability, or who are individuals in a position to advise students with disabilities who are interested in higher education. As Prof. Tomiyasu indicated, I'm from Canada, not the United States. The situation in my country has changed dramatically during the past fifteen years. A lot of these changes were driven by changes resulting from the Americans with Disabilities Act which you have already heard about from the first two speakers. But the Americans with Disabilities Act is not Canadian legislation. Canada is simply a neighbor of that great country south of us, and we periodically benefit from their advances because we use the same language and are on the same continent.
Because I do not know much about Japanese society and Japanese culture, I am simply going to explain what happens in our culture in Canada; I will leave it to you to make comparisons, links, and parallels between Canada and Japan. But I am very much aware that our societies are different. For example, I come from a culture where, when you greet someone you don't know very well, you kiss them on both cheeks; where post-secondary students call their professors by their given names; where people volunteer -- give their time freely -- to help those who are seen as being less fortunate than they are. I think that there are many differences between our cultures. I hope to learn from you how some of the ideas from my community can be relevant in yours. In the first two weekends, you learned about the history and future of services for people with intellectual impairments, and about supported employment for people with severe disabilities. I will be talking about a very different group of people -- post-secondary students with disabilities -- people who are your intellectual equals, people who can work along side you if only you will give them the opportunity to do so, people who can carry out the same jobs as you do, people who deserve the opportunity to become educated and to become productive citizens of your great country.
Models of Disability
The World Health Organization model: Before talking about students with disabilities, I would like to describe an interesting model which was proposed by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1980, that provides a framework for the conceptualization of impairment, disability, and handicap. This model describes the consequences of chronic and progressive or irreversible disorders and diseases. The capability of classifying these consequences is most significant. People's ability to perform functions and to maintain the social roles expected of them depends to a great extent on the impact of a disease or disorder on their lives. The World Health Organization model establishes a progression from disease to impairment to disability to handicap. The last three categories are consequences of the disease. Here are definitions that should help to clarify these concepts: - disorder or disease: The intrinsic situation, the cause of the abnormality. May be present at birth, or acquired later. Examples: cerebral palsy, stroke, spina bifida.
- impairment: An abnormality of body structure or appearance caused by a disorder or disease. A disturbance at the organ level, measured in terms of its presence or absence. Examples: spinal injury, loss of a limb, brain damage as a result of stroke.
- disability: The consequence of an impairment that affects the individual's functional performance and activity. A disturbance at the person level. Example: a person with a spinal injury may not be able to walk, or may only be able to walk with crutches or other aids.
- handicap: A barrier, a disadvantage due to an unsupportive environment that limits or prevents the fulfillment of a normal role. The result of an impairment and disability, conditional on the individual's circumstances. Example: a person using a wheelchair may encounter the barrier of not being able to enter a building, but if the building has a ramp, the person can enter. Without the ramp, there is a handicap; the ramp eliminates the handicap.
Let me use the example of a person born with spina bifida to show you how these terms are used. The disorder is spina bifida. The impairment is a malformation of the spine. The disability is mobility impairment. The handicap comes about if the individual wants access to buildings that are not accessible. If the buildings are accessible, then there is no handicap.
The Traditional Medical Model: In the traditional medical model, the assumption is that the person is sick and needs to be cured, rehabilitated, or fixed up. It is assumed that professionals know what the sick person needs and can provide help to that person, and that benevolent, expert professionals make decisions in the best interests of their needy, dependent clientele.
In the terms of this model, the person with a disability is ill and needs to be made well. In Canada, fifteen to twenty years ago when the medical model was the dominant model, people with disabilities lived in institutions, went to segregated schools, and generally were kept away from the rest of the population, as though their disability were catching. This has now changed. I believe that the traditional medical model is inappropriate for college students with disabilities. The Consumer-oriented Model: According to the consumer orientation, people with disabilities are not "sick"; they are not in need of care. They are autonomous human beings who know what they want but who may be handicapped by an unsupportive environment. They have a right to live independently, and to make decisions on their own behalf.
This model is one consequence of the World Health Organization's model. As I've told you, this model, which has now been adopted internationally, states that the handicap is due to an unsupportive environment, and is not intrinsic to the person. The basic assumption of the consumer-oriented model is that people are responsible and know their own needs, strengths, and weaknesses. This approach is gaining prominence in Canada and the United States. The consumer-oriented model stands for empowerment, for individuals determining their own needs and their own lives, not being told by professionals -- no matter how caring and responsible -- what their needs are. According to this model, people with disabilities are responsible for themselves -- this is self-determination. It is up to them to tell the professional if they need a particular environmental support. It is not up to the professional to give advice unless it is requested by a person with a disability. If a person with a disability needs an attendant to provide personal care, then the person with a disability will hire the attendant. It is not up to an institution to decide whether the person does or does not need such an assistant.
Another consequence of this model is deinstitutionalization. The consumer-oriented model also stands for mainstreaming, that is, providing education to children with disabilities alongside children without disabilities, in regular classes, in regular public schools, and, later, in universities, in the least restrictive environment possible. This means that it is up to the school to make sure that no architectural or environmental barriers prevent the child from learning. In Canada, most children with physical disabilities and average or better intelligence, for example, are attending regular schools. They sit beside students who do not have disabilities, they work with them, and they play with them.
People of my generation in Canada have made the transition from the medical model to the consumer- oriented model. Let me tell you about three such people, acquaintances and friends of mine, all of whom acquired their disabilities close to the time they were born.
My close friend: In 1982, when I started doing research on the integration of students with disabilities into universities, I knew very little about students with disabilities. I had been influenced by the medical model; I thought of people with disabilities as "sick," and expected that they would be living in institutions. When I tried to find out about what reality was like for these people, someone referred me to a counselor (in Canada, that means a person with a masters degree in guidance counseling from a Faculty of Education, who advises students about personal problems). I telephoned her, and on the telephone, I had trouble understanding her -- she spoke strangely. Eventually we were able to agree to meet in a restaurant.
I met with her in the restaurant, but it was difficult. She had trouble articulating, and I had trouble comprehending what she was saying. I hadn't known that she had a disability; I found out later that she had cerebral palsy. But at that first meeting, I knew that this was a woman who had a master's degree -- she had to be a very smart person. When I couldn't understand her, I could have pretended to understand and go on, but I decided not to do that. When I didn't understand, I asked her to repeat. I didn't know if this was all right; I didn't know how she would feel about it. I asked her, "Is it appropriate, if I can't understand what a person is saying, to ask them to repeat? Isn't this frustrating for them? Should I just pretend I understand and try to keep the conversation going?"
She said, "I really don't like it when people pretend to understand. I want to be understood. I know that my speech can be difficult to understand. If you don't understand, ask me. Don't finish my sentences for me. Don't make the assumption that you understand when you don't." This was the beginning of a friendship that has now continued for fifteen years. My friend now works professionally as a guidance counselor; she sails a sailboat, drives a car (I helped her pick it out), and loves food -- we go out together often for dinner. When I talk with her, we are just two women together having a good time.
My late acquaintance, Dr. Bob Lambert: Dr. Lambert, who died recently, had a doctorate in both mathematics and psychology. I met him a few years ago. He was teaching at Concordia University, where I had gone to school. He was a colleague of mine, a nice man. He was totally blind.
My employee: A woman now in her forties was a student of mine at Dawson College when she was 18 years old. She had a learning disability, and had trouble writing. She has multiple impairments -- she is hard of hearing, so she uses a hearing aid and has to lip read. She has a neuromuscular condition that has got progressively worse, so that now she can use only one arm. Because she has trouble walking and is chronically fatigued, she now uses a battery-powered wheelchair. She is a social worker with a master's degree, and currently my research assistant.
All three of these people are contemporaries of mine, so they started out under the medical model. The two women -- the counselor and the social worker -- went to segregated schools for children with disabilities. They found that the academic education they were receiving was not up to the standard for children without disabilities. They were both slated to go to a sheltered workshop after graduation.
My friend with cerebral palsy said to me, "They wanted me to go to the workshop and make paper flowers. How was I supposed to do that? My hands shake. I could never make good flowers."
When I talked with Dr. Lambert, I found that his experience was somewhat different. He went to a specialized school for students who were blind. Fifteen years ago, people who were blind were expected to become piano tuners or learn to cane chairs (weave seats and backs for chairs out of cane, a kind of wild grass) . Those were the traditional jobs for blind people in North America. I gather that in Japan, there are also special jobs, such as massage, set aside for people who are blind. Dr. Lambert was supposed to cane chairs, because he didn't have the musical ability to be able to tune pianos. But he had the intellect, the perseverance, and the ability to become a mathematician and a psychologist, both at the doctorate-level .
Fifteen or more years ago, people with disabilities had to fight for access to ordinary education and ordinary jobs. My three friends each had incredible drive. They withdrew themselves from their institutions, and finished their high school education at night school or by correspondence. All three of them were admitted to universities based on their academic qualifications, but it took them a long time to get that point. Had we had mainstreaming when they were in school, they would not have had to struggle as much.
Consider this possibility: You go skiing with some friends, you're having a great day on the slopes, the snow is great, the sun is shining, and you're really enjoying yourself. Someone comes whizzing by and collides with you. You wake up the next morning in the hospital -- and you can't move. This happened to one of my friends. He could only move from his neck up. He had become quadriplegic. He was only 18 years old at the time, in his first year at the university.
My friend is now a chartered accountant -- a very prestigious position in Canada. He controls the computer by using a mouth wand. He is also a sailor, and we participate together in sailing regattas. He has a boat that works with a technology called "sip and puff" -- that is, he controls the various operations of the boat by blowing into or sucking on a straw that is connected to some equipment. He can go sailboat racing by himself.
Another former student of mine was finishing a degree as a bachelor of commerce. Riding his motorcycle, he had an accident -- he skidded and he found himself unable to move much below the waist. He now uses a wheelchair, and is almost finished at the university. He has become a tax collector. When I need advice on my income tax return, I ask him.
These two friends were young adults when they became disabled. At the time they acquired their disabilities, they had the same views about people with disabilities as the rest of my society. They were not very comfortable around people with disabilities; they didn't know what to say to people with disabilities. They had a variety of negative thoughts about people with disabilities -- ideas such as incompetence, inability, weakness, and limitation -- just as the rest of us did. They were less accepting of people with disabilities in close personal relationships, compared to their feelings about people without disabilities. Like many other people, they felt that although it was OK to have "somebody like that" living in your country, "you sure don't want your sister to marry one". Like many other people with disabilities, after they had acquired their disabilities in the accidents, they felt that they would rather be dead than live that way. Typically people who have had such traumatic accidents take about two years to adjust. They come to see that life still has a lot to offer.
Contrary to non-disabled persons' belief, people with disabilities -- whether the disability is congenital or acquired later -- are not depressed. The incidence of depression among people with disabilities is no greater than it is in the rest of the population. People with disabilities' self-esteem -- how highly they think of themselves -- is also no different from the rest of the population. When it comes to measuring life satisfaction -- how satisfied they are with their life, what is the quality of their life, to what extent do they enjoy waking up in the morning -- again, there is no difference between people with disabilities and those without disabilities.
It really is virtually impossible to put yourself in the position of a person with a disability, if you do not have one. Even if you now believe that you would rather be dead than be blind, or that you would rather be dead than to be paralyzed, you may not feel that way if it should actually happen to you. Life is not so bad for people with disabilities. You cannot judge the quality of a life unless you are living it. You cannot judge the quality of a person's life from the outside.
Attitudes toward People with Disabilities
A major barrier to people with disabilities in Canada has been other people's attitudes. In general, in Canada, people without disabilities have ambivalent attitudes about people with disabilities. We believe that people should help those who are less fortunate than they are. On the other hand, we also value strength, beauty, and ability. When we are confronted by someone with a disability, we have these two opposing views. On the one hand, here is a person who has less than we have, so we should be helpful, solicitous, and caring. But on the other hand, here is a person who is less than we are -- the person is weaker and less beautiful -- and so the person is devalued.
The research literature shows typically that young children, up to the age of 9 or 10, are quite accepting of people with disabilities. In Canada, when young children in a shopping mall or on the street see someone using a crutch or a wheelchair, they may go up to that person and say, for example, to the person using a crutch, "What's wrong with you? How come you walk funny?", or to the person in the wheelchair, "What's it like to be wheeled along? Can I have a ride in your lap? It looks like fun." Our young children are not intimidated by impairment and disability. They are curious. The teenage years, on the other hand, are a different situation. Youth around ages 11 to 15 start feeling that the only way to succeed in life is to be like everyone else. Children with disabilities who are in integrated schools have a miserable time when they become teenagers, because they are not like the other teens. They try to fit in, and it is difficult for them.
By the time young people become college students, their attitudes become more tolerant again. This cycle of change -- from young children's favorable, curious attitudes, through teens' concern about sameness, to college students' more accepting attitudes -- has been found in many, many studies. It has implications about when to start a mainstreaming program. If you are going to integrate young children with disabilities into schools with children without disabilities, the research literature suggests that the age at which this is done will have an impact on how successful the integration is.
Most studies in the North American literature also show that women are generally slightly more positive in their attitudes toward people with disabilities than men are. People who are better educated have more positive attitudes about people with disabilities than people with less education do. The group most accepting of people with disabilities is university students in the social sciences faculties, including education, social work, psychology, and sociology. Students and professors in these fields typically tend to be more accepting of people with disabilities than do students and faculty members in schools of engineering, physical sciences, and business.
What accounts for the negative attitudes and the social anxiety? Among the many possible suggested causes are the following:
- We devalue people who are weak. We fear for our own mortality, and seeing someone with a disability serves as a reminder that this could happen to us too, and how awful that would be.
- We don't know what to say or do with a person with a disability.
- We are curious as to how it feels to have that disability, but we are afraid to ask -- we think that it's rude to inquire. Numerous studies have showed that if you put a person with a disability behind one-way glass so that the subject can look at the person, unseen by the person with a disability, the subject will stare at the other person. If the person with a disability can see the subject, the subject will not stare at the person with a disability. During normal social encounters, we do not have the opportunity to satisfy our curiosity, because we feel it is rude. So people use their energy to mask their curiosity, and behave in very stilted ways toward the person with a disability.
Once I met with a woman who had a prosthetic arm; I needed to get some information from her. I didn't know whether I was supposed to say something about her arm, which seemed to me like the most important part of her -- it looked strange! Was I supposed to ignore it? Was I supposed to make a passing comment on it? What was I supposed to do about her having this prosthetic arm? I was thinking, "What am I going to do? Am I going to say something? or nothing?," and I was thinking about that so hard that I missed most of the information that she was giving me.
We are unfamiliar with people with disabilities, and we make the assumption that people with disabilities are different from us in a variety of ways, most of them negative. According to my research results, people without disabilities assume that people with disabilities are depressed, have low self-esteem, and have different interests and concerns from the rest of us. We assume that they prefer to be with "people of their own kind" -- that wheelchair users want to be with other people who are using wheelchairs; that a person who is blind wants to be with others who are blind, because the person are more comfortable with them. None of this is true about people with disabilities. I have done research with students with disabilities, and not one of these assumptions that we all make about people with disabilities is correct. Nevertheless, these assumptions are widespread in Canada.
What has been tried in order to modify attitudes? There is a lengthy history in the United States of discrimination and prejudice against people because of race. In the United States, up until the 1950's, people who were black were discriminated against just because of the color of their skin. One of the ways in which some of this has changed has to do with legislation. Legislation has been one of the more important ways of changing people's attitudes. If you tell people it is illegal to discriminate, most people will stop doing it. Most of us are law-abiding citizens. We take our cues from our lawmakers and politicians as to what is the right way to behave. Another technique for changing attitudes has been role play. Something that is very popular among college students with disabilities in North America is to hold a sensitization day, in which someone with no mobility disability is put in a wheelchair and pushed around. Or someone with no visual disability is blindfolded and told to explore their environment. Or someone with no hearing disability is given earplugs and told to go to class. While very popular, this kind of exercise probably contributes to disabling myths about disabilities. People without disabilities who have this sort of experience end up feeling very sorry for people with disabilities. This exercise does not result in the people without disabilities developing an attitude that people with disabilities are capable of doing many things.
Let me tell you about a different sort of training experience. I went to a place where I paid for entertainment; it was a bit like a "fun house". I was led into a totally dark area. All the participants were put through a variety of experiences -- holding the wall, feeling textures and surfaces. What was different about this from the sensitization experience that I just described was that we had a blind tour leader who told us, "We're going to be walking here. Put your fingers on the right. When the texture changes, you soon will be making a right turn. Do you hear that little noise? Do you hear the water? We're going to be crossing a little bridge." In this darkened area, when we got to a restaurant, we were served by blind waiters. We asked, "How can you tell which flavor of potato chips you are giving me?" "How can you tell whether you are giving me Coke or ginger ale?" "How can you tell how much money you are receiving?" The waiters told us how people with disabilities can do things, rather than showing us how they cannot do things. It was a wonderful experience. Instead of teaching us about the disadvantages and limitations of being a person with a disability, they taught us about coping strategies. People with disabilities do cope. The blind people told me how to tell where I was, how to count money, how to serve food, how to get oriented. The dark world started making sense to me. I learned that it is not horrible and awful; I learned that it is a different reality in which people can and do cope.
Another type of activity to modify attitudes has involved providing information. Information can be provided in two kinds of ways. People can listen to an expert on disability lecture about disabilities, or someone with a disability can explain how they feel about their situation. The research literature typically shows that having an expert provide people with information through a lecture can be helpful, although it is not a particularly strong way to change attitudes. Having a person with a disability explain how they have coped is a more powerful way to change attitudes.
Another very interesting way of fostering positive attitudes is through having people without disabilities have contact with people with disabilities. Again, this is a technique that can be very weak if it is not handled right. If all that happens is that someone who is blind sits in class next to someone who does not have a visual disability -- and the two of them never talk with each other -- it is likely that the attitudes of the student without a disability will not change. And if the student without a disability acts as a helper for students who are blind, reading to them, helping them eat, and so on, in short, acting as a superior, capable person helping inferior, incapable ones, this also does not result in much attitude change. The most effective way to use contact to change attitudes is to have extended contacts between the person with and without a disability on an equal- status basis. When I've had a student who is blind for whom certain activities -- such as collecting data from here and there -- are more difficult, and another student who does not have a visual disability and can easily run around to collect data, but may not, for example, be as good at the computer as the student who is blind, then I put those two students together to work on a project, and they can complement one another's skills and abilities. When I do this, then, at first, the person without the disability complains that I have required him/her to cooperate with someone "who can't do anything", so that it will be difficult to accomplish anything in the course and get a good grade. However, everyone whom I've ever done this with has changed their opinion after working together with a student with a disability. When the two students get together, they have to find ways to cooperate and find solutions. People learn about the strengths and weaknesses of their counterpart. In general, in order for contact to be helpful in changing attitudes, it should be on an equal-status basis, extended over time (not brief), and people should have a shared task that is important to both of them, not just be sitting side by side.
That is a very good question. I wish I had the answer. In Canada, what happens is that at first, when children are quite young, they tend to play with children of either gender. Around age eight to ten, spontaneously and naturally, children form same-sex groups. We don't understand why this happens. This "same sex play period" ends when the interest in dating develops. The first young people to develop an interest in the opposite sex are teased by the others; but after a while, nearly all of them develop such an interest. Along about this time, the young people develop a desire to be just like everyone else. Although individuality was all right up until then, in this developmental period, the youth insist on wearing the same clothes as the others, for example. I don't know why this happens, and I'm not sure that anyone does.
|Answer:||That was very interesting. I suspect that because of our societies' different values, teachers of young children might be trained quite differently in your country and mine. The kind of education that is given to children in North America, where acceptance of diversity is trained and taught, and diversity is valued, might be different from that given in your society. I don't know about the situation in Japan.|
Your first question concerned differences between people who acquire their
disabilities and those who are born with them. My answer is yes, often there
are differences between those two populations. When someone acquires a disability
after they have finished their formal schooling, they have already absorbed
society's values about what people with disabilities are like. So when a
person suddenly finds him/herself as one of "them", rather than one of "us,"
it is quite a shock. But on the positive side, the person has already gone
to school and learned the society's values and culture. If, on the other
hand, the person has had a disability from birth or a young age, and the
society's values are such that the person was brought up segregated -- away
from others, and hasn't had much of a chance to learn about what other people
value and how to relate to people without disabilities, then, yes, this
group is different from the former one in terms of their attitudes and values.
However, in terms of how we educate people with disabilities, it doesn't matter when in their lives they became disabled. If my student became blind three years ago because of uncontrolled diabetes, or if my student got cataracts when she was six months old and since then has had low vision, my task as an educator is the same -- to make sure that the materials that I present to these two people are accessible to them.
You also asked about the sensitization days. The college where I teach has 7,000 students. The sensitization days happened because some of the students with disabilities at my college got together and decided that they wanted to make the other students and the faculty more aware that there were students on campus with disabilities, and that they are similar and different in many ways from the students without disabilities. They were trying to eliminate problems such as many of us have, for example, when I am talking with a blind person, and I wonder whether I can use a word such as "see", in a common expression such as "do you see what I mean?".
On the sensitization days, the students with disabilities explain to the other students that it is all right to use words like "see" in "do you see what I mean?" -- that is just a figure of speech, and it doesn't bother them. Students who use a wheelchair are used to idioms about "walking", and those don't bother them. People without disabilities don't have to be so sensitive about their words.
How should we talk to a student who is deaf? In the sensitization days, they explain that you should face the student directly and not cover your mouth. It is all right to ask, "Do you understand what I am saying?" If they don't seem to understand, then write down what you want to communicate.
All these kinds of explanations can be included in a sensitization day. However, this is the time also when they do silly things like putting people in wheelchairs to show them that they cannot negotiate stairs. That is not as successful, as I indicated above.
|Question:||When the government first introduced mainstreaming, at what level was it done?|
|Answer:||Primary school. It was only when the students who had attended primary school in the mainstream got old enough to come to college that I got students with disabilities. Fifteen years ago, the students with disabilities whom I saw professionally as a counselor were "super-stars" -- determined, brilliant, driving. They managed to succeed in a system that didn't support them in any way. There were blind students who had no knowledge of Braille, no one to help them read, who had very helpful families and were brilliant academically, and driven to succeed. Now the students with disabilities are the same as all the other students -- some are brilliant, of course, but many are average, just as all the other students are mostly average.|
Post-secondary Education and People with Disabilities
The number of students with disabilities on North American campuses has increased tremendously in the past ten years. The overhead compares 1986 and 1994 in terms of the amount of education achieved by people with disabilities. In 1986, a great many more people with disabilities were non- high school graduates than there was so in 1994. The number of people with disabilities who are high school graduates (only, with no further formal education) hasn't changed very much in the time span that we are talking about. About 30% of people with disabilities are high school graduates. Where the changes have taken place is in terms of the number of people with disabilities who have some amount of education past the high school level. However, as yet, the number of students with disabilities who have actually graduated from our colleges and universities has not changed very much. The reason is that for many students with disabilities, it is not possible to take a full load of courses at a university. Some do, but for others, it simply is not feasible to take as many courses as students without disabilities do. The reason for this is often that it takes them more time to accomplish the same tasks -- they may have to wait for adapted transportation, or for a helper; they may have to enter material into a computer one key at a time, rather than with ten fingers. The result of these various delays is that students with disabilities are often somewhat older than their classmates. Soon these students will finally be finishing their college degrees, and the number of students with disabilities who have graduated from universities will show a big increase. At that time in North America, the way in which we provide services for people with disabilities is going to change, because for the first time, we will have a well educated, articulate group of college graduates who are pushing for changes in public policy. I look forward to that day.
Legislation and advances in technology continue to provide better means to surmount environmental and physical barriers. The result is to enable students with disabilities to become more active in all aspects of community life, both on and off campus. But many invisible barriers remain. It is now time to effectively and aggressively tackle these remaining obstacles. It is time to change negative attitudes, mistaken beliefs, unrealistic thoughts, troublesome feelings, and hurtful, disempowering and discriminatory actions, because these hidden barriers can be vital in the success or failure of students with disabilities. Changes are needed both inside and outside the academic community. This includes professors, people who provide services to students with disabilities, researchers, employers, and decision makers at all levels of industry and government. Of course this includes, first and foremost, students -- both with and without disabilities.
Post-secondary education is important for people with disabilities for the same reasons as it is for people without disabilities -- it helps fulfill personal goals, it allows for effective competition in the job market, and it contributes to independence and financial security.
There is one difference, however. Research indicates that a college education is more important for people who have disabilities. This graph shows the relationship between education and employment for people with and without disabilities. Both Canada and the United States now have substantial unemployment of all people, whether or not they have disabilities. This graph shows that whether or not a person has a disability, the more education a person has, the better the person's chance of getting a job. In Canada and the United States, education is very important. You can also see on this graph that there is always a difference between people without disabilities and people with disabilities. Nevertheless, of people with disabilities, those who have a university education have a much better chance of living independent lives and getting a job than those with less education. In other words, research shows that a college education is even more important for people who have disabilities than for other people. In addition, the literature shows that once people who have a disability enter college, the same proportion graduates as the proportion of those without disabilities.
A college education meets goals other than academic. For example, studies indicate that college graduates with disabilities have greater job satisfaction, remain in their jobs longer, and spend less time finding employment than non-graduates with disabilities. The employment picture for university graduates with disabilities is by no means wonderful, since at all education levels, the jobless rate is higher for people with disabilities than for people without disabilities. Nevertheless, the data on the effects of a college education are very encouraging.
Hidden Barriers to People with Disabilities in Colleges and Universities
Limiting assumptions about people with disabilities are unfounded. One way to demonstrate this is to provide people with disabilities the opportunity to achieve in post-secondary education. That does not mean that we treat students with disabilities the same as students without disabilities. It means that we provide equality of access and opportunity. Simply saying, "Come on in, the door is open," is not very meaningful if the person has a physical disability, entry requires negotiating a flight of stairs, and there is no ramp. That is not equal access. Instead, we should provide students with disabilities with the opportunity to achieve by removing handicapping environments and social barriers to accomplishment, and allowing them to demonstrate what they can do, rather than what they cannot.
A large variety of hidden barriers make it more difficult for people with disabilities to attend college and to succeed once they are enrolled.
Types of barriers
Barriers include individual barriers, and systemic ones (society-wide). They reflect the attitudes, values, beliefs, thoughts, feelings, and actions of various people, including administrators in institutions of higher education, professors, service providers, decision makers in government, publicly funded organizations, private industry, family members, the medical community, and students with and without disabilities.
In many ways, institutional barriers are the most important. Institutions that discourage people with disabilities from applying, that place insurmountable physical or admissions barriers to students with disabilities, and that fail to provide speedy access to equipment, services, and facilities needed by students with disabilities and the professors who teach them, can cause the most damage by creating "self-fulfilling prophecies" and by communicating to the academic community the message that students with disabilities are not welcome on campus.
In North America, the problem is often institutional indifference. Students with disabilities are a low priority for administrators. Administrators complain that only a few students with disabilities cost the university a great deal. There are larger priorities, they say; resources are scarce, and their obligation is to the majority. Any new academic and service structures that are put into place for students with disabilities will be underused, these people contend. Therefore, they suggest, "Let's proceed on a case-by-case basis. Let's not be too hasty about encouraging the development of rights for students with disabilities."
At first, this line of reasoning may seem compelling, but it is extremely short-sighted. If the services and facilities provided are poor, few students with disabilities will enroll. If there are few students with disabilities, the university will feel no need to make the effort to apply to the government for funding, or to approach industry for donations, to get money to upgrade the facilities, since few students would use such facilities. However, because no outside funding has been obtained, and the facilities and services are poor, those students with disabilities who do enroll will have trouble succeeding. This inadequate performance will justify the original position. The administrators' position is designed to maintain the status quo. Sometimes proceeding on a case-by-case basis is acceptable. Some students will always need to be dealt with on an individual basis. In the long run, however, services, facilities, and equipment for students with disabilities will have to be integrated into the university's regular service delivery system. Where I teach, for example, the audiovisual services are integrated. Students who are deaf usually need captioned videotapes, so that anything that is expressed orally in a video can also be read in words. The students who need special equipment so as to be able to view these captions check it out at the same place where I check out audio-visual equipment for my lectures. There is no "special disability audio-visual service."
If students who are blind or have low vision need a special tape recorder so as to be able to play books that have been recorded for those who are blind or visually impaired, they too can check out such equipment from the audio-visual department. If they wish to do their homework on a computer in the regular computer lab, there are computers there with speech synthesizers and computers that display text in very large letters. At the campus library, the card catalog is on the main computer, so they have no difficulty in using it. We have tried wherever possible to integrate services that are useful for students with disabilities into the mainstream of services that are provided to other students. Giving students access to these services and this equipment is their right; it is not a privilege that we grant.
Here is an example of passive discrimination: a university administrator may say something like this: "Don't encourage 'them' to come here because it is costly to make architectural modifications, provide special services and equipment, and pay the salaries of special service providers and staff. Even just a few students with disabilities will cause new problems, and will disrupt existing routines. The admission criteria of some of our programs will have to be changed. Some curricula will have to be modified. We'd have to move some of the classes from lecture halls that are not accessible to ones that are. This will cause problems for the people who clean the classrooms, and those who do the scheduling. The professors will complain that their classes have been moved to different buildings from the ones where they have been teaching for many years. We're already overcrowded, and yet we'd have to find a place for the classes that have to be moved to accessible buildings. We'd have to teach the staff and other students how to deal with students with disabilities. And what are we going to do about safety issues and fire regulations? The students with disabilities will take a long time to graduate, and this will spoil the statistics that we have been so proud of, the ones that show that we graduate students quickly. And then, after they graduate, we'll have problems getting these students licensed in their professional associations. If we graduate nurses who are hard of hearing, how are we going to get them licensed so that they can practice?"
Such shortsighted but commonly expressed viewpoints should be actively discouraged. The best antidote for such passive forms of discrimination is to loudly and forcibly remind the decision makers that the university is there to serve the students, and not vice versa.
What about programs that specifically require either sensory or physical ability? Can a student with a visual impairment become a physician? Or an electrical engineer? Can a hard-of-hearing student or one who uses a wheelchair become a nurse? In spite of the large numbers of documented successes in exactly these professions, many universities keep asking these same questions. There are blind physicians, deaf engineers, nurses in wheelchairs -- in fact, in almost any profession, there are people with almost any impairment or disability.
Some people see themselves as negative gatekeepers -- they feel it is their job to keep the doors closed. One of my colleagues said, "We can't possibly admit a student with such a disability into our program. Even if the student graduates," -- you have to realize that this would be four or five years later -- "the student will never pass the licensing requirements of our professional organization." Needless to say, it is not the role of a university to deny people the opportunity to learn on the chance that three, five, or ten years later, licensing requirements would keep them out of the profession that they have prepared for.
A lot of work remains to be done to make colleges and universities fully accessible to students with physical disabilities. A lot remains to be done to persuade administrators and other influential people to make the changes that will make the everyday lives of students, teachers, and service providers easier.
Barriers Related to the Faculty
The institutional barriers are not the only ones that students with disabilities must overcome. Professors too can cause them a variety of problems. Because professors are members of the larger community, they have the same attitudes as the rest of society. Like others, when they first encounter a student with a disability, many experience discomfort and anxiety. Often, they do not know what to say. They don't know what effective teaching techniques there are for teaching students with disabilities. How do you teach anatomy to a blind student? How can you teach chemistry to a student with cerebral palsy? What do you do with a blind student when you are writing mathematical symbols on the board? Is it all right to use words like "look," "see," "hear," and "walk" with a student that has limitations in those areas? The professors are afraid that they may be offering too much -- or too little -- help.
"I have a blind student in my class," a physics professor once told me. "I'm in the habit of going to class early to set up. I see the student walk in, using his white cane, hitting it against the furniture, trying to find a particular seat where he can plug in his computer so that he can take notes during class. I don't know what I should do. Should I warn him about the furniture that is in his way and offer to help him to his seat? Or does he feel he is independent and doesn't want such help? What should I do in this situation?"
I asked him what he had done that day. He replied, "I breathed quietly so that the student wouldn't know that I was there, so that I wouldn't have to face the problem."
I feel that the correct answer is clear -- and different from what the professor did. The professor should have greeted the student, "Hello. I'm here early today. Do you want assistance in getting to your seat?" The student would have told his professor what assistance he needed. Professors also have problems adjusting to the needs of students with disabilities. Some students who have trouble taking notes -- those who are lip- reading and those who are blind and don't have equipment with them for taking notes -- like to tape record the lectures. Some professors are uncomfortable being audiotaped and have difficulty adjusting to that.
Other professors feel pity for the students with disabilities. If the student is not doing well, the professor is uncomfortable -- "how can I give a bad grade to a student who has so many difficulties simply getting to class?"
Some professors communicate negative messages that discourage and dismay students. The professor may truly believe that the student will not be able to succeed. The professor says something like this: "Why are you in my course? You're blind, how can you possibly study history." The answer of course is that professors should not make any limiting assumptions on behalf of the student. The student knows that this is a history course and knows what is involved in participating in such a course. In some health conditions, the student's disability is a bad problem on some days, and no problem on others. For example, students with arthritis can have bad days and good days. Some days, a student's multiple sclerosis is acting up, and other days, it is not a problem. Some students have what we call "invisible disabilities" -- such as learning disabilities, or they are able to mask their disability -- for example, a student with a hearing disability who is a very effective lip reader. Some professors simply do not believe that a student really has an impairment unless the student is bothered by it every day and/or unless the professor can actually see the disability. They do not trust the students, and seem to believe that the students are faking their problems.
Professors can do many unhelpful and hurtful things. They can do too much. For example, they can accept substandard work from students with disabilities, or grade them too easily. They can allow unreasonably lenient accommodations. They can allow students with disabilities to skip some requirements that other students have to meet. These actions devalue all students' education. The solution to these problems is to educate the educators. My research shows that both students and professors believe that the most appropriate course of action is for the student with a disability to approach the professor in order to discuss concerns and accommodations that could help the student to succeed. In general, my findings show that (a) problems should be discussed before they occur; (b) if a student makes a vague request, the accommodation will also be value and unhelpful; and (c) the more specific and detailed the request, the more likely it is that both the professor and the student are satisfied.
Several years ago, my colleagues (Gabrielle Goodrick, Rhonda Amsel, and Eva Libman) and I developed two guides to help professors and students relate more effectively. One guide is for students, and the other is for professors. Professor Tomiyasu has translated both of these into Japanese. The two guides are based on our research on over a hundred college and university students with disabilities, and on several hundred professors who taught them. The guides were written several years ago and reflect the situation at that time. For example, there are no special sections for students with medical problems or learning disabilities. The technology section is not up to date on current computer and information technology adaptations. Despite these limitations, the recommendations and suggestions in the guides are still appropriate today.
Professors also have a variety of concerns about their students without disabilities. They worry that if they make accommodations for a student with a disability, the students without disabilities will somehow be negatively affected. They are concerned about being fair to all. If professors give extra time on the examination to a student with a learning disability, they worry whether they are giving too much help to that student and penalizing all the other students.
However, giving accommodations to students with disabilities only serves to give them an equal educational experience with other students. It does not give them an advantage over others, nor does it disadvantage students without disabilities. Accommodations serve to remove barriers that prevent students from displaying their abilities, rather than their disabilities.
Students with disabilities can sometimes do things that students without disabilities cannot. In this photo, the student with a disability is using his crutch to rescue a cat from a tree. Students without disabilities couldn't do this -- their arms are not long enough to reach the cat up in the tree. Make sure that you look not only at students' disabilities, but also at their abilities.
Professors are people, and like other people, sometimes are lazy. Some extra effort and time may be needed to modify the course curriculum in order to accommodate a student with a disability. In order to accommodate the course, the course outlines and other materials have to be prepared prior to the start of the course; the handouts have to be prepared properly. The professor has to plan ahead, and cannot prepare at the last minute. The examinations have to be prepared further in advance, to give someone time to read them onto audiotape for students who are blind; the professor may have to make special arrangements in advance for a student with a disability to take the examination either with someone reading the questions to the student, or with someone writing the students' answers down.
The job of a professor is a job. It is a professor's job to be responsive to the needs of the students. If getting the materials ready earlier than in the past comes to be part of the job, then that's just the way the job is. Students without disabilities also appreciate getting their assignments earlier and having the course materials prepared ahead of time. Of course, professors can simply be bad teachers. This cartoon shows a professor who is lecturing at the chalkboard. The board is covered with illegible handwriting, and he is mumbling, "Therefore it is obvious mumble, mumble". This kind of professor is devastating to a student with a disability. Perhaps the Japanese educational system is superior to that in North America, and perhaps you have never had such a professor. I certainly have, and I know many like the one in the cartoon.
Some professors continue to act on the mistaken belief that the only equal treatment is identical treatment. This belief on their part shows an amazing lack of vision, creativity, and imagination.
Barriers Put Up by Government and Other Public Organizations
Another kind of hidden barrier to students with disabilities is posed by government and publicly funded organizations. I mentioned earlier that the key to attitude change and to students' success is often legislation -- laws on accessibility, laws about discrimination and employment equity, and laws regarding making post-secondary education accessible for students with disabilities.
In the United States, a major piece of legislation, the Americans with Disabilities Act, was enacted in 1990. You have already learned about this from the first two lecturers in this course. Currently, universities and colleges in the United States are working hard to make sure that they meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. In Canada, we have no such omnibus legislation, although, of course, the ethos and attitudes prevalent in the United States have an impact on what happens in Canada. In Canada, we have the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It says: "Every individual is equal before and under the law, and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law, without discrimination and in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, color, religion, sex, age, or mental or physical disability." In other words, people with disabilities are not second-class citizens in Canada.
Time is a very important concept for students with disabilities. It takes people with disabilities longer to do many things -- read a book, get to school, transcribe lecture notes, write papers -- so students with disabilities have to work harder than other students. But organizations and structures that have been set up to help them often actually act as an additional burden. Bureaucracy -- officials having to follow a particular protocol, the slow speed of getting things done -- can mean that needed support comes too late and is insufficient. Equipment and texts needed now, if delivered three months later, will guarantee that the student will fail.
I've mentioned that in the past, in Canada, there was an overwhelming reliance on the medical model. Well-meaning and diligent people working within this model often failed to act in the best interests of the people they were serving. By failing to consult with the people with disabilities on behalf of whom they were working, or with groups that had a consumer approach to service delivery, they sometimes disenfranchised people with disabilities and failed to address those issues that meant the most to them. In general, the medical model disempowers and disenfranchises people, thus fostering the very helplessness and dependency that are used to justify the model in the first place. Government financial schemes, policies, and funding formulas can also present barriers and disincentives to keep people with disabilities from attending universities either part-time or full-time. These formal administrative barriers can, for example, prevent people with disabilities from living with someone who can assist them, or from undertaking paid work. These short- sighted funding barriers affect a variety of areas in Canada -- living arrangements, transportation, equipment, service delivery, and so on. By adhering to a "sheltered workshop attitude," and by acting in the belief that it is cheaper and better to do things for people rather than to have people do things for themselves, governments, organizations, service providers and agencies are trading short-term gain for long-term loss. At Canadian colleges and universities, some professional employees are called "service providers". This is a relatively new profession that emerged out of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Each college and university has an individual designated to be responsible for making sure that students with disabilities receive adequate services. People who hold this job tend to be decent, hardworking people who are devoted to promoting the welfare of students with disabilities. Studies show that these people have more favorable attitudes about disabilities than the rest of society, and that they genuinely and fervently hope that students with disabilities will succeed.
However, some of these people get somewhat over- zealous and do too much. They see the students' success as their own personal success, and the students' failures as their own failure. By taking too good care of students with disabilities and not helping them develop self- advocacy skills, these people do the students more harm than good.
The opposite also exists -- doing too little. There are many reasons why people do too little. Some service providers think that if a student with a disability is sheltered from the harsh realities of life, it is a disservice to the student. The service providers believe that a little suffering now will have great benefits later. Others do too little because they themselves are ineffectual and powerless on their campus. Also, some professionals assigned to the job of service provider have little expertise for the work. At some universities and colleges, the service provider is a teacher who just happened to be interested in helping students, or a professor who has extra time because some courses had to be canceled because of insufficient enrollment. Some service providers do too little because they accept a model of consultation according to which their job is to take instructions from above and deliver them to the students, rather than taking the students' concerns up to those on a higher level. Others get bogged down in the requirements of the bureaucracy. For whatever reason, service providers who do too little are a major source of invisible barriers.
Barriers Put Up by Other Students
Another potential source of barriers is other students -- the students without disabilities. Like professors, students without disabilities share the attitudes of the rest of society. Like others, when they first encounter a student with a disability, they are anxious and do not know what to say and do. Like others, they do not know whether it is all right to use words like "look," "see," "walk," or "hear." They may feel pity for a student with a disability.
Many students are curious about their fellow student's impairment, but feel that it is rude to ask about it. Our research shows that there is a substantial internal dialogue going on within each individual. I have done quite a bit of research on the thoughts and feelings that people have about individuals with various disabilities, and their thoughts and feelings about the same kind of person who does not have a disability. Students without disabilities are less comfortable and less at ease with students with disabilities than they are with other students who do not have disabilities.
In terms of contact, in Canada, it seems to make little difference if the contact with other individuals with disabilities is in one's family or in a work setting. In Canada, it seems to make little difference also what particular disability the person has -- whether the person is blind, deaf, or uses a wheelchair -- even though there are incredible differences among such people. A person with a disability, regardless of their type of disability, elicits the following thoughts, usually, at least in Canada: People have more thoughts in general about someone who has a disability. That refers to every kind of thought -- positive thoughts, negative thoughts, thoughts about oneself, thoughts about the other person -- there is simply more intellectual activity generated than when we think about someone who does not have a disability. I think this reflects Canadian society's ambivalence about people with disabilities.
One of my findings in Canada is that people who have experienced contact with individuals with disabilities have more favorable thoughts about themselves (self- focused thoughts), and fewer negative self-focused thoughts. They also have more favorable thoughts about the person with a disability, and fewer negative thoughts about that person.
In Canada, students without disabilities often hold stereotypic beliefs about students with disabilities -- both overly positive stereotypes and overly negative ones. They fail to see the real person behind the impairment. They do not see that person as an individual with individual taste and wishes. They do not see past the wheelchair.
Some students without disabilities make themselves uncomfortable by reflecting on what their lives would be like, if they were to become disabled. Some students do have genuinely positive attitudes-- most of these students tend to be female.
Students without disabilities don't know what to expect from their classmates with disabilities, other than what they have been led to believe by distorted images in the media of cute, dependent children on cute little crutches, or people near the end of their lives in hospitals and homes who are needy, dependent, and elderly. When they see a classmate with a disability who is doing the same activities as the other students, often the students without disabilities are excessively effusive in their praise. However, even though we all appreciate positive reactions from our peers, overly positive reactions can feel patronizing.
At my college, once a year, a major award is given to the most outstanding student. In order to get this award, a student has to have excellent grades; have contributed to college governance by serving either on the Board of Governors, the student Senate or a departmental committee; and be active in student clubs. Usually when I go to the award ceremony, the student who receives the award walks up to the stage and everyone applauds. One year, one of my students who was blind won the award. He was an extremely bright young man and had a wonderful personality. When he walked on the stage with his guide dog, people applauded as usual. But then they all stood up and kept on applauding. Normally you don't do that except for an extraordinary performance -- a standing ovation is the greatest accolade that an audience can give. Clearly the audience felt that a student who was blind and yet had accomplished enough to earn this award was worthy of great praise. They would not have stood if he had not been blind.
We don't expect much of people who have a disability, and so if they achieve at the level of a person without a disability -- or even better than most other people, we think that it is marvelous and very exciting. This happens so commonly that intellectually capable people with disabilities are used to being overly praised. Although the people without disabilities may well mean this kindly and with good intentions, people with disabilities do not always interpret this response in that way. They feel that the underlying assumption of such excessive praise is that people with disabilities cannot be capable, because they have a disability.
A series of studies from my laboratory and from research by others suggests there are numerous things that people with disabilities can say or do to make people without disabilities more comfortable. For example, if the person with a disability tactfully takes the initiative in acknowledging the disability, that legitimizes the other person's curiosity. The person with a disability can stress some positive aspect of their disability. A good sense of humor is helpful ("it's not all bad -- I can get around really easily in the dark"). The person with a disability can volunteer that it is all right to use words that may appear to relate to the disability, such as "walk," "hear," and "see." Another helpful approach is for the person with a disability to express attitudes and values similar to those of the person without a disability, to express an interest in the other person, or to discuss their participation in university clubs or groups, or in courses they are taking -- all the things that students do whether or not they have disabilities. These topics put the students without disabilities more at ease.
One way to make students and staff without disabilities more comfortable with students with disabilities is to put on a sensitization program, as I mentioned earlier. When this is done, it is important not to leave the participants feeling that it is impossible, hopeless, and terrible to have a disability. It is not.
Barriers Created by Students with Disabilities
Students with disabilities themselves also contribute to hidden barriers. In North America, some students with disabilities want so much to be like others and not to stand out, that they try to fit in at all costs. They try to "pass" as not having disabilities by not asking for any special accommodation and not telling anyone that they have disabilities. I had a student who would always sit at the back of the class; he couldn't see well, and really had to sit in the front row in order to read what I'd written on the board. But even so he sat in the back of the room -- so that no one would notice that he had to get his eyes within a few centimeters of his notebook in order to be able to take notes. He didn't do very well in my course. Even when it came to exam time, he hadn't yet told me that he had a problem, and he had never asked to have the course materials enlarged. Instead, he sat there on test day, trying to read the exam questions. He could not finish on time because he was reading the test letter by letter, and he ended up with very poor performance. But what was most important to him was to look like everyone else and not stand out.
I believe that it is not up to me as a professor to insist that such a student publicly identify himself as having a visual disability, either when talking individually with me, or in front of his classmates.
Trying to survive academically without receiving any accommodation is difficult for most students with disabilities. Some of them simply cannot do it, and fail their courses. Others sometimes can manage to cover up their problem and still succeed.
Some students worry a lot about whether their good grades reflect their ability and performance, or reflect the professors' pity. Such students seem never to feel good about themselves.
Some students come from settings where everything was done for them. When they arrive at the university and are much more on their own, they have unfulfilled expectations and can become angry or bitter about what they see as a lack of support. Some take considerable time to adjust to the new reality, and others never adjust.
Most students who put obstacles in their own path do not fall into any of these categories. The most common reason that students with disabilities contribute to their own invisible barriers is because they are not good at letting others know what they need. They have poor self-advocacy skills.
Let me give you an example of one of my students who is blind. Early in the term, he stopped in at my office and said to me, "Everything's cool." I didn't understand what he was trying to say, and told him, "Please tell me if there is anything special that you need."
"Oh yes, professor, absolutely," he replied.
I didn't see him outside of class for the rest of the term. He did not hand in most of his assignments, and he did not come to the examinations. He never told me that he needed to have the exams audiotaped, or that he either had to have someone write his answers out for him or else have access to a computer during the test so that he could type them himself. At that time, I didn't know much about how to teach a student who was blind, and he didn't help me understand. It was unfortunate. Students should explain their disability to the professor, and help the professor to understand the accommodations that are needed. Students with what appears to be the same disability are likely to need rather different accommodations. Professors cannot tell who needs what assistance unless they are told.
For example, a student might explain, "My sight is limited. If you are going to have demonstrations, please give me some information in large print. Is it OK with you if I sit near the front when there are videos? And when you show material on the screen, please read it, and explain what is going on in the videos."
Students should explain their needs. "Please do not put your hand in front of your mouth when you talk." "Please make sure that there is a way for me to get on the bus for the field trip." "Please wear darker lipstick, because that will make it easier for me to read your lips."
There are many reasons why students with disabilities may not be good communicators about their needs. Some may be shy about approaching professors or authority figures in general; some do not want to be a burden or to be treated differently from others, and so are reluctant to ask for accommodations. Many students with disabilities fail to realize that all students need help occasionally. My research showed that students with disabilities had more negative opinions about asking professors for help than did students without disabilities. Although students with and without disabilities often find themselves in similar predicaments, students with disabilities may feel differently at such a time. Because of their disabilities, they think that they are the only ones who are troubled.
My research and my own experiences as a student, a teacher, and a psychologist agree on one point: all students need special attention at some time. When this happens, students -- whether or not they have a disability -- feel tense and uncomfortable. But it is also clear that when students need assistance from their professors, after discussing the problem, they feel more positive about themselves, their professors, and their chance of doing well.
It's also clear from the research that when professors respond to requests from students with disabilities by making changes in their teaching style, the results are probably helpful for all the students in the class. All students benefit from lectures that are clear, from overheads that are readable, from lectures that they can hear, and from readings and assignments that are well organized and handed out in advance.
Some students, whether or not they have a disability, are simply poor students who are not well organized and not conscientious about doing their work. Poor study habits, coupled with a lack of motivation to achieve in academic work, can doom students to failure in North American universities. Eventually such students, whether or not they have a disability, fail or drop out. That is as it should be. Even students with disabilities should be allowed to fail.
Students with Disabilities are Like Other Students
Perhaps the most important hidden barrier is that students with disabilities are just like the other students. Like everyone else in society, students with disabilities know little about any disability other than their own. Many of them share the dominant social values and attitudes and want to distance themselves from others with disabilities. "I am not like them!"
For example, a student who was blind told me that before he goes out with a girl, he has his friends without visual disabilities check her out. He then asks her out only if his friends say that she is really gorgeous. "How else would I know whether she is good looking?", he asked. He had bought into the same values as the rest of society -- if you're a boy, you want to go out with a girl who is pretty. And in his case, since he couldn't find out for himself, he asked his friends to find out for him.
Apathy, reluctance to get involved, and reluctance to do things can also contribute to problems. In my research on the thoughts of students with and without disabilities, I have found that students with disabilities did not have problematic thoughts. When it came to everyday situations, most students with disabilities were quite comfortable and appropriate interacting with students without disabilities. The situations where there was a problem had to do with receiving help. Students with disabilities were uncomfortable when they were in a position of needing or receiving help.
Paradoxically, this was the situation in which students without disabilities were most comfortable. In Canada, helping those who are different from you is considered a good thing, and when we do that, we feel good about ourselves. At the same time, we don't feel particularly good about the person who needs help -- we don't want to be in their situation. Thus, when students need help, if they have a disability, they are particularly uncomfortable.
Other than that, students with disabilities are generally very comfortable with those of us who have no disabilities. In all my studies, I never found any difference between the attitudes of students without disabilities and those of students with disabilities toward students without disabilities.
How to Remove the Hidden Barriers
Students with disabilities can do many things to help overcome hidden barriers. Why should they go to the trouble and perhaps embarrassment of doing this? For their own benefit, and for the benefit of future students. What students with disabilities can do about the hidden barriers need not be time-consuming. In Canada, in 1986, a group of post-secondary students with disabilities formed the National Educational Association of Disabled Students (NEADS), in order to advocate for needed changes in the system. Now, over 4,000 students with disabilities in Canada are members of NEADS. I've given you a handout with their mailing address and the address of their web site. Students with disabilities in Canada have banded together in NEADS. They have conferences and guest speakers, and organize projects. This is a great organization.
The goals of NEADS are:
- to initiate the development and expansion of a communications network for students with disabilities and those persons professionally involved in support programs for disabled students at colleges and universities;
- to have the capability to make timely and meaningful responses to the issues and concerns affecting the educational resources and environment of students with disabilities;
- to facilitate the collection and dissemination of information on post-secondary education and the disabled student;
- to encourage the formation of associations of students with disabilities on campuses, so that consumers can advocate for themselves.
I would like to give you an idea of about some people who work for me. I am a psychologist; I teach, do research, and do clinical work. In the process of doing research, I read journal articles, keep a library catalog, distribute questionnaires, enter data into the computer, summarize the data, do data analysis, write up the findings, and so on. I have five research assistants who work with me in various capacities. Let me tell you about my assistants who have disabilities.
Jason is a college graduate with a B.A. degree in social science. He has low vision; he can see well enough that if he is sure he is in a level area, he will walk comfortably, but if there are stairs or other unevenness, he stumbles a little. When I send him on errands, I have to explain to him how to get there: go five blocks to the MacDonald's restaurant and turn left, go two blocks to the next traffic light and turn right, and so on. Other than that, he is wonderful at running errands -- picking things up, delivering things, getting books from the library, doing data entry. He is fast and accurate, and he cares about the results. He likes computers, and is maintaining all eight of my team's computers. He has a nice personality, and he has become a resource for other professors in my department who rely on his expertise when they have problems with their computers. Because of his limited sight, he has to get quite close to the computer screen to see what he has done, but that doesn't seem to interfere with his getting the job done well. He is in demand in my department because of his expertise, not because of his disability.
Jason does need help -- he has problems that we are still working on. He cannot read script handwriting; he can only read printing. So that he can read my notes to him, I print. My script handwriting is terrible, and my secretaries used to complain that they could not read instructions that I would leave for them. Now that I print for Jason, I find that I can easily print for everyone. They all tell me that this is a big improvement -- at last they can read what I have written.
I've already mentioned my other assistant with a disability. Let me remind you briefly. She has multiple disabilities: she is hard of hearing; she uses a wheelchair, and can only use one of her hands. She is dyslexic, that is, she has trouble reading. For example, she has trouble controlling her eye movements or attention when she is reading, so that instead of reading one line from left to right, and then moving on to the left end of the next line, she may read a few words in one line, and then move down to the spot below that on the next line, read a few words, and then move on to the next line below that. To prevent this from happening, she uses a special ruler as a guide when she is reading written material. We also got her a variety of computer adaptations so that she can handle the keyboard and the mouse with only one hand.
She is working for me not because of her disabilities; she is working for me because she is a social worker with a master's degree, and so has skills complementary to mine, and because she knows about concerns that I could not have imagined, related to my research. She is familiar with government policy, she knows how to access government documents, she knows what the issues are, and so on. Unlike my assistant who is blind but who has no problems getting around so long as he knows where he is going, she has problems getting around on the campus. When she needs something, my assistant with the visual impairment usually gets it for her.
I have other assistants who are students without disabilities. When there is something that one of the two assistants I've been talking about cannot do, then the students without disabilities take care of it. It's rare that we need them. Here's an example of what they do: I had to have some materials read onto audio tape for a student who is blind. It was too difficult a job for the assistant with visual impairments, because it would be hard for him to see the text that had to be read. The social worker is deaf, and so her speech is not very clear. Thus, one of the student assistants did the recording.
Let me tell you about some of my students. Some of them have conventional disabilities. One of the brightest students that I've taught in close to thirty years of university teaching was a man who was blind. He was very, very smart. He taught me many things. He taught me not to make any assumptions, but rather to ask him what he needed. When I used overheads, he taught me the habit of routinely reading them out loud. I prepare my exams on a computer. All the other students got a printed, paper copy; this student got the tests on a floppy. He can get his computer to read the questions out loud. By the way, if he were not able to make my material compatible with his computer, Canadian universities and colleges have employees whose job it is to take care of that sort of thing. Once as I was showing a videotape, I realized that much of the material on that particular tape was only visual -- if you couldn't see, you couldn't tell what was going on, because there was no dialogue. I asked this same student what I should do; he asked me to sit next to him and tell him briefly and quietly what was happening in the video at those times when there was no dialogue.
Another student of mine, Deborah, was a challenge because I didn't know what to do for her. She came to class halfway lying down on something that wasn't quite a wheelchair and wasn't quite a bed. She drove it -- backwards, looking in a mirror. I asked her what I could do. She could only move her eyes and her mouth, and controlled many things with puffs of air to a controller. She'd had a tracheotomy. She had enough finger control to be able to control the wheelchair by hand. She said that she would like to be near the front of the class so that she could see the board. I made sure that there was enough space for her down in front, and made an effort to remember to check that she received the handouts. We didn't have any problems.
Even the southern parts of Canada are very far north, and we have a lot of cold weather and snow and ice. We have special transportation for students with disabilities who need it, in fact, for anyone with disabilities. Sometimes when there was too much snow and ice, Deborah couldn't get to the college and missed class. My handouts and syllabus were on floppies, and I could send them to her by e-mail, and also by fax. She could fax me her assignments. The next time she came to the campus, she could go to the library to view the audio-visual materials that she had missed, just like any other student who had missed a class session.
Deborah was a good student, worked hard in my course, and did very well. Her excellent grade was deserved. Because she looked so disabled, she seemed more disabled than most students with disabilities. But there was nothing wrong with her mind.
At my college, we now have over 300 students with disabilities, so by now, I have taught students with quite a variety of disabilities. It has been my experience that having students with disabilities has taught me to be a better teacher.
Let me give you an example to explain how that comes about. The first time I had a deaf student who could only communicate by signing -- he could not read lips -- I didn't know what to do. I asked him, and the interpreter signed my question to him. The interpreter then voiced to me what he was saying with his hands.
The student explained to me, "If I have a question, I will sign it to my interpreter, and the interpreter will raise my question, just as any other student's question would be raised in class. If you want to talk to me, the interpreter will sign to me whatever you say. Of course I have no problem with handouts and assignments. I have no difficulty reading or writing."
At first, the other students and I were all very conscious of the interpreters, standing at one side of the lecture room, making hand motions. But by the time the semester finished, no one other than the student who needed interpretation paid any attention to the sign language interpreter. With students who are hard of hearing, my only special concern during my lectures is that nearly all the time when I am speaking, I should face the class and not cover my mouth; I should speak clearly. Of course this helps the other students as well. Research has shown that everyone understands another person's speech better if the other person's mouth can be seen.
For students who are blind, I have to make sure that my handouts are prepared well in advance, because they have to have time to have the materials read onto audiotape or find an existing audiotape of those materials. This forces me to organize my course and my materials further in advance, and as a result the material is better prepared. The advance preparation also helps other students who have to miss class for any reason, because the materials are already prepared and they can work on them while they are away. Students who want to budget their time carefully, receiving the assignments for the semester well in advance, can prepare their major assignments on their own schedule, rather than on mine. All my students have appreciated having the materials and the course prepared in advance. All in all, I have found that the adaptations that I as a professor have made to my students with disabilities have helped all my students, and also have improved my teaching.
The Role of Computers and Information Technologies
Recent advances in adaptive computer technology, greater reliance on computers, and increased job specialization have all resulted in career opportunities that are considered unsuitable for people with disabilities. This is incorrect. Technological changes have made an incredible impact on making these jobs possible, available, and accessible to people with disabilities. Many of these careers require knowledge and skills that are usually obtained in post-secondary education. At Dawson College, there has been a steady increase in the percentage of students who have disabilities. If these students were not having a successful educational experience, this increase would not be occurring. If the College had had difficulties, if we as professors had had difficulties, if the students had been particularly costly or burdensome, this kind of progression could not have happened.
This same change is happening in virtually all the colleges and universities in North America. The reasons for the increase in the percentage of students who have disabilities include the following:
- Advances in medical technology now result in a greater number of people surviving problematic births and traumatic accidents.
- Improvements in many kinds of technology make it possible for people with disabilities to live independently and have productive lives. In particular, computer and network technologies are playing a key role.
- Creation of federal and provincial mandated academic supports helps students with disabilities complete high school, and encourages them to consider post-secondary education. We now have legislation, both in Canada and in the United States, which ensures that all students have access to a good high school education.
- The publicity surrounding recently passed federal disability-related legislation in the United States increases people's awareness of their rights, and increases awareness that students with disabilities have the right to equal access to opportunities in education and employment. Federal legislation in the United States mandates that, when needed, academic accommodations should be made to ensure that otherwise qualified students with disabilities have educational opportunities equal to those of their peers without disabilities. The main exception to the general trend in the past, and, despite the legislation, even now, is that post-secondary students with disabilities have been under- represented in science, engineering, and mathematics.
Studies show that faculty members, staff, and students who interact with students with disabilities generally have more positive attitudes about working with these students. In a study that I recently completed, we interviewed 37 students with various disabilities, 94 professors who had taught students with disabilities, and 17 professors who had never had that experience. The table, "Professors' Interest in Teaching Students with Specific Disabilities" shows various disabilities, such as using a wheelchair, having mobility impairment but not using a wheelchair, muscular impairment, visual impairment, cerebral palsy, hearing impairment, and so on. We asked the professors to indicate on a ten-point scale (1 = very uninterested, to 10 = very interested) their degree of interest in teaching students with disabilities.
Every professor who had taught students with disabilities was more willing to teach such students in the future than professors without that experience. Having contact with students with disabilities made the professors more positive, not less. Professors who are familiar with accommodation strategies are also better prepared to make arrangements that will ensure that students with disabilities have an equal opportunity to participate in their program. There is no reason why these results would be different in any country other than Canada.
I'm going to show you a videotape produced at the University of Washington by an organization called "Do It". This group has a very creative web site. They are particularly interested in promoting opportunities for students with disabilities in math, science, and engineering. The video emphasizes the importance of faculty-student relationships, in the success of students with disabilities. It shows several faculty members and students with disabilities who have worked well together. The professors talk about strategies for working with students with disabilities, and successful students with disabilities tell about their experience with techniques and accommodations that contributed to their success.
The people shown in the videotape described some of the problems and solutions in their academic experiences. We have encountered these same issues and others at our college. Accommodation strategies may be simple; they may also require creativity and flexibility. If we take the time to think about how to make our programs and courses accessible to all students, we will be better prepared to overcome current and future academic challenges. You can reach "Do It", the organization that prepared this videotape, at:
University of Washington
Seattle, WA 98195 USA
telephone (voice or TTY): +1-206-685-DOIT
Legal rights and responsibilities
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was enacted in 1990, state:
"No otherwise qualified individual with a disability shall, solely by reason of his/her disability, be excluded from participation in, or denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity of a public entity."
You have already learned a lot about the Americans with Disabilities Act in the first two weekends of this course. Please remember that this legislation says, "This is the right thing to do," but it also includes enforcement provisions. Federal programs, federally funded universities and colleges, major employers who receive federal funds -- all of these may have their federal money cut off if they do not comply with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. I've mentioned that legislation is a good way to change attitudes. In the United States, this legislation has been one of the most remarkable attitude-change techniques.
To summarize Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Americans with Disabilities Act briefly, their message is that one cannot discriminate. We should not assume that a person who has a disability could not successfully participate in our programs or courses, simply because of the person's disability. Instead, if there is a concern that the student may not be able to complete specific requirements, we should ask the student, as well as asking someone experienced in providing academic accommodations, what has to be done so that the student will be able to accomplish the essential tasks required by the program or course.
The law includes the phrase, "otherwise qualified individual with a disability." You have heard about this already from Dr. Kregel, in the context of supported employment. I'd like to review this briefly in the context of post-secondary education. What does "otherwise qualified" mean for post- secondary education? "Otherwise qualified" means a person who meets the academic and technical standards prerequisite to admission to or participation in an educational program or activity, with (or without)
- reasonable accommodations to rules, policies, or practices,
- the removal of architectural, communication, or transportation barriers, or- the provision of auxiliary aids and services.
In other words, a person who has a disability is "otherwise qualified" if the person can perform the essential tasks of a program or assignment when appropriate and reasonable accommodations are made.
And what does "a person with a disability" mean for post-secondary students? As Dr. Kregel explained to you, a person with a disability is any person who has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities, including walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working, has a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment. Disabilities covered by the United States legislation include, but are not limited to conditions such as spinal cord injury, loss of limbs, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, hearing impairments, visual impairments, speech impairments, specific learning disabilities, head injuries, psychiatric disorders, diabetes, cancer, and AIDS.
These examples are conditions that limit people's ability to perform specific tasks. Some of these conditions are readily apparent at a glance; some are not visible. Additionally, some students who have conditions that have been given the same label may have very different abilities. For example, one student who has cerebral palsy may have difficulty walking; for another, cerebral palsy may result in the student having no functional use of the hands or the voice. I've had two or three students who had cerebral palsy. One of them only just recently graduated from Dawson College. We discussed her future, and she told me that she was planning to take advanced work in Russian at McGill University, a prestigious university also located in Montreal. Another of my students with cerebral palsy used a battery-powered mechanized wheelchair. It took me a long time to learn to understand her speech.
I'm going to discuss various types of disability, and give you some examples of accommodations that might be made so that students with those disabilities can participate on an equal basis with students without disabilities in post-secondary education. All these examples are taken from materials prepared by the people at "Do It".
Accommodations for students with visual impairments: "Low vision" can mean many different kinds of disability. For some students with low vision, standard written materials have letters that are too small to read, and objects (such as in laboratory work) may appear blurred. Other students, who have tunnel vision, may see objects clearly only within a very limited field of vision. Still other may not see portions of the visual field. Learning visually presented material may take longer and be more fatiguing for these students than for students who do not have visual impairments. Let me give you some examples of accommodations that can be made for students with visual impairments, either low vision or blindness.
Examples of accommodations for students with low vision include large-print books, large-print or raised-letter signs on equipment, and enlarged letters in the handouts. Because it may take weeks or months to procure such materials or to obtain audiotapes, it is essential that instructors select and prepare their materials well before the materials are needed. Other examples of accommodations for students with low vision include reserved seating in the classroom in a location where the lighting is especially bright, microscopes connected to TV monitors so that the image can be enlarged, class assignments made available in electronic format, and computers equipped with screen enlargers. During lectures and demonstrations in which basic points are being represented visually, clear concise narration of those points is helpful.
Students who have had no vision since birth may have difficulty understanding verbal descriptions of visual materials and abstract concepts, including visual metaphors ("this chart looks like a tree"). However, students who lost their vision later in life may be able to understand such descriptions. Additionally, demonstrations based on color differences may be more difficult for students who are blind to understand, compared to demonstrations that emphasize changes in shape, temperature, or texture. Access to printed materials on computer disks can allow a blind person who has the appropriate technology to use a computer that can read the text aloud and/or produce it in Braille.
In the west, all computers that one buys in a store come equipped with a program that will read out loud what is on the screen (in a rather mechanical voice). The voice can be speeded up or slowed down to accommodate the listener's skill. This is a good way for people with visual impairments to acquire information. This technology is available and helpful for everyone. I, for example, can go around the room, watering my plants, while the computer reads a journal article to me.
Other examples of accommodations for students who are blind include tactile models, drawings with raised lines that can be felt, adaptive lab equipment such as talking thermometers and calculators, tactile timers, computers with optical character readers, computers with voice output, and computers with Braille printers.
Accommodations for students with hearing impairments:
Some students who have hearing impairments may hear sounds only within a certain range of frequencies or volumes, or they may hear nothing at all. Students who are deaf from birth generally have more difficulty speaking and understanding oral language than those who lose their hearing later on. Students with hearing impairments may have difficulty following lectures that are given in large halls, especially if there are echoes, or if the lecturer talks quietly, rapidly, or indistinctly. But those problems will be the same for all the students in such a class.
People who have hearing impairments may find it difficult to simultaneously watch a demonstration and follow a verbal description of it, particularly if they are watching a signing interpreter, a real-time captioning screen, or a speaker's lips. Class discussions may also be difficult for them to follow, particularly if the discussion is fast, or if several people speak at the same time.
Examples of accommodations for students who have hearing impairments include interpreters who sign, sound amplification systems, turning one's face toward the students when lecturing, written lecture outlines; summaries of class assignments, lab instruction, and demonstrations; having the lecturer repeat discussion questions and statements made by other students; and electronic mail for meetings and discussions. Almost all of these accommodations are also helpful to students who have no disabilities, of course.
Accommodations for students with specific learning disabilities: These students have difficulty processing certain kinds of information; they are not just slow, unmotivated, or unwilling. Students with learning disabilities generally have average to above average intelligence, but may have difficulty demonstrating their knowledge and understanding. For a student who has a learning disability, auditory, visual, or tactile information can become jumbled; it may take longer for such students to process written information.
In Canada, the most common learning disability is dyslexia, which is difficulty reading. With English words, students will transpose letters in their mind, so that when they see a word in some printed material, it has no meaning for them. And when they write a word, they may also confuse the order of the letters, so that it is difficult for others to understand what they have written. However, they know exactly what they want to say and write, and can often explain it clearly, orally. It may take longer for these students to process written information or to write, so that lengthy reading or writing assignments or tests are difficult for them, especially if they are limited to the same amount of time as other students who do not have learning disabilities.
Some students who have learning disabilities may find it difficult to process instructions given orally, because their disability affects their auditory discrimination. Such students can write without any problem, but their understanding of what they hear is affected. Other students who have learning disabilities may be able to organize and communicate their thoughts on a one-to-one basis in a quiet location, but may find it difficult to articulate the same ideas in a noisy room.
Examples of accommodations for students who have learning disabilities include: note-takers (someone who takes notes in a lecture for the student with a disability), audiotaped class sessions, extra time to take examinations, quieter testing locations, and other alternative testing arrangements; providing students with course and lecture outlines, computers with voice output, computers with spelling checkers, and computers with grammar checkers.
Accommodations for students with mobility impairments:
Mobility impairments include lower body impairments requiring the use of a cane, a walker, or a wheelchair, and upper body impairments that may result in limited or no use of the hands. It may take such students longer to get from one classroom to another. The requirements of some courses include doing field work; some students with mobility impairments may find it difficult to get there. It may also be difficult for some students to manipulate objects, turn pages, type at a keyboard, write with a pen, or go to a library to retrieve research materials.
Examples of accommodations for students with mobility impairments include: note-takers, scribes (someone who writes down everything that is said, for example, test answers dictated by a student with a mobility impairment); lab assistants to do the actual movements required in a demonstration, following the instructions of the student with a mobility impairment; tables adjustable to allow a wheelchair to fit underneath; accessible classrooms; extended examination time, or alternative testing arrangements (tests on computer disks, tape- recorded test answers); equipment relocated to be within easy reach; course materials available in electronic format; computers with special devices such as Morse code input or voice input; alternative computer keyboards; and access to the Internet. When I looked at the Keio campus, I was delighted to see that most of your buildings are now wheelchair accessible.
Accommodations for students with health impairments:
Some health conditions and medications affect memory or energy level. Additional, some students who have health impairments may have difficulty taking a full load of courses, or attending classes on a daily basis. Examples of accommodations for students who have health impairments include: note-takers, being allowed to tape class sessions, flexible attendance requirements, extra time to take examinations, and other alternative testing arrangements; assignments in electronic format, electronic mail for student- faculty discussions; and distribution of course materials, lecture notes, and homework assignments by e-mail or fax, so that the student can do the course work at home.
Some general suggestions for making classes accessible:
- Include a standard statement in the course handouts inviting students with special concerns, including students with disabilities, to discuss their needs and accommodation strategies with the instructor. When I do this, not only do students with disabilities come, I also meet with young mothers who have child-care problems and other students who have obligations that require adjustments in their course participation.
- Select materials early so that they can be procured in appropriate formats and in a timely manner.
- Ask students about accommodations that have worked for them in the past.
- Use materials that are available in electronic format.
- Find alternative methods of administering tests and of testing comprehension of the course.
You asked about funding. In Canada, all our universities are "semi-public"
-- they are partly private and partly public. Funding is always a problem.
NEADS, the organization of students with disabilities, has compiled a
list of funding sources throughout Canada. In Quebec, the university receives
funding from the provincial government for each student with a documented
disability. Students often get their own equipment, because students with
disabilities are entitled to certain kinds of equipment, funded by government
money. The specific equipment depends on the student's disability, and
can include a computer or a magnification system, for example.
Of course we have faculty members who are not cooperative, and of course
we have problems. Many things can help, however. We have people whose
job involves helping students with disabilities integrate into the university's
programs, including monitoring the faculty's cooperation. These people
can directly remind a professor of what the legal requirements are, to
encourage cooperation. It is possible to deal with professors' objections
to having their lectures taped, for example, by having the student with
a disability make a contract with the professor, agreeing that this student
will be the only one who will use the tapes, and that the tapes will be
erased as soon as the course is over. Another solution is to find someone
else on the faculty who is comfortable with students with disabilities,
and whom the "problem professor" knows. That person can reassure the uncooperative
professor, and point out feasible accommodations.
Electronic and information technologies have been wonderful for students with disabilities. However, some computer technologies are dis-empowering for people with disabilities, because some of their characteristics prevent or limit access. For example, the material presented on-screen from educational CD-ROMs may have small print that cannot be enlarged, or a light background that cannot be made darker. Many videotapes that we use in classrooms are not captioned, and some CD-ROMs also do not have captions. People who are blind but are accustomed to using computers with voice output have difficulty in accessing Internet web sites, because of the wealth of material that is graphic or visual without accompanying text descriptions. People who are blind need to have a text-based Web browser, also.
Despite the changes in sensitivity to students' needs and improvements in the availability of accommodations, people with disabilities continue to experience other types of difficulties at traditional campuses. If a student must spend a prolonged period of time in a hospital, the student may lose credit for the entire semester, because of missing the lectures, having no lecture notes, not participating in group activities and class discussions, not getting the handouts, and not obtaining or submitting assignments and examinations. Other factors such as fatigue and worsening of the illness that can make it difficult for a student with a disability to continue with a program of courses.
One of the real difficulties where I live is transportation. Transportation arrangements have to be made in advance, and often the special van does not come at the arranged time. Montreal is far in the north, and has a lot of snow and ice, making movement about the campus difficult. Such formidable environmental barriers can force students to take fewer courses or to drop out altogether during the long winter, delaying the completion of their program or preventing them altogether from graduating.
This is where some of the electronic technologies are making an enormous difference.
Some students with visual impairments have sufficient vision to make them seem indistinguishable from people who do not have visual impairments. In fact, many students who are legally blind can use regular computers but display the text in large print. If, however, they need more magnification than regular computer software can provide, they can use a screen magnification program. There are many such programs. They can be used simultaneously with other software, and have the effect of magnifying the menus and each letter or character.
This kind of software is also handy for me as a professor when I am working at the computer with a group of students, even if none of those students has a visual impairment. I can use the screen magnification program to make the material on the screen larger and hence easier to see for the students who are gathered around me.
Many people with low vision use screen readers, that is, software that reads aloud whatever is on the screen. Of course, all students, regardless of their disabilities, must be able to produce assignments printed on paper with regular print. In addition, students with visual impairments may use Braille, the printing system for blind people that uses raised dots instead of printed letters or characters. There are printers that print material in Braille, and also Braille displays are available.
Most people use more than one output modality, but input is ordinarily through a standard keyboard. However, people who use Braille usually cannot use a mouse or other pointing devices, because these depend on visual feedback. This makes anything that resembles Windows 95 or the Macintosh system very difficult for people who are blind, because both of those depend heavily on input from a mouse.
Students with visual difficulties generally use text-based software. The programs that they use are not designed to process graphics and other images. In the past, students who were blind were traditionally at the forefront of using technology. However, in the past four or five years, they have begun to fall behind because they are not able to keep up with the new software advances. This is unfortunate.
In spite of all of this, advances for computer users who have disabilities have been incredible. The changes have been wonderful for these people.
For students who have speech impairments, who are hard of hearing, or are deaf, computer technologies have also been extremely valuable.
The next videotape will show some computerized note-taking systems, such as the "See-Note" system. These systems allow students with hearing impairments to read, on their laptop, what is being said in a lecture. This system also provides an electronic transcript of the lecture, allowing students to take their own lecture notes at a later time.
Students who have difficulty controlling their arms or their hands have also been benefited greatly by computers. Some use a mouth wand for input, and can "type" very fast. A program called "sticky keys" that is available as standard equipment on most, if not all, computers allows the user to press one key at a time but have the effect electronically of two keys being pressed simultaneously. This is very important for the many keyboard entry commands that require, for example, "control" and another key to be pressed at the same time.
Other programs prevent the repeat keys from repeating, so that even if a key is pressed for more than a certain amount of time, it enters that information only once.
New dictation software enables the computer to enter as text the words that a person speaks at a relatively moderate pace. Text can be entered in Morse code with a sip and puff input devise, where, for example, a sip (inhale) is a dot, and a puff (exhale) is a dash. The software translates sequences of dots and dashes into what the computer can recognize and display as letters.
Most of us are delighted by being able to use our home or office computer to access the university library. Before I came here to Japan, I used the Internet to check on the last two months' literature in the area of services and programs for students with disabilities. I searched the medical, psychology, and education journals to make sure I was up to date. This kind of access to electronic information was convenient for me, and very helpful. But for someone who has a visual impairment, or someone with a neuromuscular disability, being able to visit the library from their home, or being able to have the library material read aloud to them by the computer, is an incredible change, and is likely to facilitate their success greatly.
If students have medical impairments and have to be hospitalized, even simple technology can help them to continue participation in their courses. For example, a telephone with a speaker can be installed in the classroom and at the student's bedside in the hospital. The student can hear the lectures and other students' comments, and can ask questions and participate in classroom discussion via the telephone.
Break for Video
The video showed the range of possibilities that are currently being used to enable students with disabilities to have access to information through computers. Don't accept the answer, "We don't know how to do it. We don't have the tools." The possibilities are incredible; whatever needs to be done can be done.
Universal access or barrier-free design The basic principle of barrier-free access is to design everything from the start so that it is accessible to all people (universally accessible). The needs of people with different abilities should be incorporated into the design from the planning stage.
In general, once something is designed and built or made, it is much, much more costly to rebuild or reform it so that it is accessible, whereas designing something to be accessible in the first place generally adds little if no cost to the initial building or manufacture. When new buildings are being designed, wheelchair access should be built into the plans. Wheelchair ramps are useful not only for students and faculty in wheelchairs; the ramps are used by people delivering heavy materials or moving audiovisual equipment on a dolly, by people pushing baby strollers, and by people who do not feel like walking up the stairs. Good design for people with disabilities is good design for all of us. New lecture halls should be wired for FM communication and for infrared communication. These technologies allow students with hearing impairments to hear the lectures. At the time the building is built, such a technology costs very little to include. To add such capability once the building is finished is incredibly expensive and inefficient.
The planning should not be left to people without disabilities, no matter how well intentioned those people may be. That is even true if the well meaning people are members of the board of the university. The reason is that people without disabilities -- no matter how prestigious -- really do not know what the needs are of people with disabilities, nor do they know what accommodations are most useful to students with disabilities. You have to ask several people with disabilities who will be using the particular feature that you are designing.
I mentioned earlier my study that compared the attitudes of professors who had and who had not taught students with disabilities. In that study, I also asked the professors and also some students with disabilities what kind of adaptations they thought it would be helpful for the university to make in order to accommodate students with disabilities. In terms of physical accommodations, the students with disabilities and the professors who had taught students with disabilities were in fairly good agreement. However, although the professors who had not taught students with disabilities came up with a lot of suggestions, they were not suggestions that the other two groups considered important.
Those who had disabilities themselves, and those who had taught those students were concerned not so much about ramps or the slope of ramps, they were most concerned about the interior of the university's buildings. They wanted tables at heights so that their wheelchair could get underneath and hence the student could work at the table. They wanted blackboards that the students could see.
This overhead shows a portion of a brochure from a government agency in Quebec that assists people to find employment. It says: "It is not the disability, it's the ability." In other words, you should look for the ability in people, and not focus on their lack of ability, their disability. Whether you are looking at prospective employees or prospective students, don't look for what they cannot do, look for what they can do.
Description of handouts
List of disability-relevant sites on the Internet: The Internet is a vast resource for people interested in programs and services for students with disabilities. It opens exciting new developments in communication, collaboration, and shared knowledge to people with disabilities. One of the handouts lists the URLs (Internet addresses) of many sites on the Internet that are relevant to the material of this course.
List of scholarly journals: These journals, in English, carry information that is relevant to the education of students with disabilities.
List of newsletters and magazines: These are North American publications not intended for a scholarly audience, but rather for people who actually provide services to students with disabilities, and for students with disabilities.
Several kinds of services and organizations provide structures and supports
for students with disabilities. Typically, in Canada, where we do not
have legislation like the Americans with Disabilities Act, this is what
happens: A student with a disability enrolls in the college or university;
if the student has some kind of difficulty, the student can go to an ombudsman
(a university employee who is in charge of dealing with problems and complaints)
or to the Dean of Student Services (an administrator concerned with student-
related issues, such as exams, vacations, and so on). Or a faculty member
can ask the faculty senate for an accommodation for a particular student.
Student Health Service staff also are very useful in dealing with such
requests. Often there is a counselor or nurse on the health service staff
who has special training in dealing with students' problems, and one of
these people may end up being designated as the university-wide special
coordinator for students with disabilities.
Yes, it is often the Dean of Students Office who provides the services.
In the United States, I understand that students with learning disabilities sometimes can substitute a different course for a course that is normally a required one. For example, I heard that a student with a learning disability had failed a required math course five times, and that finally the professor was going to consider allowing the student to substitute another course in order to meet that requirement. Do you do the same thing in Canada?
This question deals with what kinds of accommodations we can make for
students with disabilities. Some students simply take longer to read things
or write things. A rough rule of thumb that works reasonably well is to
give students with disabilities half again as much time as the other students
have for an examination.