A student with a hearing impairment is advised that she cannot be a speech-language pathologist. Another student with a hearing impairment is denied admission to a nursing program because of concerns about his ability to communicate with the surgeons in the operating room. A student has frequent seizures because she cannot afford her medication. Another has severe arthritis and has difficulty taking notes and doing an audiological assessment. Another is drowsy as a side effect from medication for depression and is in recovery for drug addiction. A student is severely dysfluent in most speaking situations. Although he has been in treatment for most of his life, he is unable to consistently control his fluency when speaking.
College faculty throughout the United States are facing situations such as these in increasing numbers. In 1973, Congress passed the Rehabilitation Act, a law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of mental or physical ability (29 UDC Section 794). Section 504 of the law states: "No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the U.S. shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance…" (Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, 29 USC Section 794).
Shortly after the Rehabilitation Act was passed, President Ford signed the Education for the Handicapped Act in 1975, later amended to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA; PL 101-476.) Under this act students with disabilities were guaranteed a free appropriate public educational program. The number of students with disabilities completing elementary and secondary education increased, and approximately 21% of those completing secondary school sought a college education. Despite the requirements of the Rehabilitation Act and IDEA, barriers to education and employment continued to pose difficulties for adults with disabilities who were transitioning out of elementary and secondary school.
In 1990 President Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA; PL 101-336). The law states that "no otherwise qualified individual with a disability shall, solely by reason of his or her disability, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity of a public entity." The law reinforces and extends the precedent established by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Under Title II of the ADA the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights has established the basic requirement that all institutions of higher education must assure that all programs, services, and facilities be accessible to or usable by persons with disabilities. Accessibility may be achieved by a variety of means. The law does not require a fundamental alteration in the program or services; it does not require an alteration that would require an undue financial or administrative burden on the institution.
Since 1990 there has been a significant increase in the number of students with disabilities seeking higher education. The number of students with disabilities entering and completing post-secondary education tripled from 1978 to 1998. Approximately 50% of students with disabilities enroll in two-year programs for associate degrees and 50% of the associate degree holders with disabilities move on to four-year schools. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES), in 1999-2000 9.3% of full-time college undergraduates reported disabilities, with the largest groups being those with orthopedic impairments, learning disabilities, health-related impairments, and emotional or psychological impairments. The largest increase has been with students with invisible disabilities such as learning disabilities and emotional impairment.
According to the NCES, 7.4% of students in graduate and first-professional degree programs consider themselves to have a disability. Of those reporting a disability, 25.1% have an orthopedic or mobility impairment, 14.3% have mental illness or depression, and as many as 29% have a learning disability.
The ADA and Higher Education
School-based SLPs and audiologists are familiar with the requirements of IDEA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, since their impact has been felt in the schools for more than 25 years. College faculty are often unaware of the requirements of the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act and their implications for academic programs, including those in speech-language pathology and audiology.
IDEA Versus ADA
IDEA assures a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment for children ages 0-21. The law emphasizes special education and related services that meet the student's unique needs as defined by an individualized education program (IEP). IDEA defines disabilities by discrete categories of disability types such as speech-language impairment, emotional impairment, hearing impairment, visual impairment, serious emotional disturbance, autism, brain injury, and other health impairments or specific learning disabilities possessed by individuals who by reason of these impairments need special education and related services.
The ADA defines a person with a disability by that individual's ability to function. According to the ADA, a person with a disability is one who has a physical or mental impairment that 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. The ADA does not define special education or related services, rather it requires that the student not be subjected to discrimination solely because of mental, physical, or emotional impairment. Because of these differences, a person who was eligible for special education under IDEA may not be eligible for accommodations as a person with a disability under the ADA.
Help for Faculty
The U.S. Department of Education (ED), recognizing that faculty need assistance in understanding the needs of students with disabilities, awarded grants in 1999 to 21 colleges and universities to develop model demonstration programs to ensure that students with disabilities receive a quality education. Although each was structured differently, the model demonstration projects were conceptually similar:
- Universal Design-Each project in some way incorporated the principles of universal design, an architectural concept originated in the 1970s to ensure barrier-free physical environments that are usable by all people without the need for adaptation for the needs of a few. These accessible environmental changes, such as curb cuts and ramps, have become a common part of the American landscape. Universal design in instruction uses the principle that what improves accessibility for students with a disability improves accessibility for students without disabilities as well. Universal design says that to accommodate the needs of both visual and auditory learners, the instructor would use visual aids while lecturing, would use no font size smaller than 12 point to accommodate the needs of persons with visual impairments, would supplement text with auditory aids such as video or DVD; and would use alternate ways for students to demonstrate their understanding of course content.
- Administrative Support-Each of the funded projects recognized the importance of involving the administration to assure that the college policies and practices are not discriminatory and that the faculty receives the proper training to assure that students with disabilities receive the same quality education provided to students without disabilities.
- Faculty Participation-The 21 programs focus on different aspects of quality higher education. For example, the program at Oregon State focused on providing faculty training to persons in allied health careers since there is a growing number of persons with disabilities in first-professional degree programs. The program at California State University at Northridge focused on special training for faculty dealing with students with hearing impairment. (Visit www.ed.gov/searchResults.jhtml or www.ed.gov/about/reports/annual/2002report for information on the projects.)
With the support of a $400,000 grant from the USDE, Project Success at Buffalo State College (SUNY) provided a demonstration program to ensure that students with disabilities would receive a quality higher education. Co-directors Marianne Savino and Dolores E. Battle collaborated with 13 colleges and universities in western New York. In a partnership between the Disability Services Office, the Exceptional Education Department, and the Office of the President, the project conducted training for more than 1,000 administrators, faculty, and professional staff over four years. The project had several points of focus:
- Universal Design-Project Success emphasized the importance of universal design principles for improving access for students with disabilities to the educational programs and services of the college. Faculty and professional staff received special training in providing accessible Web Pages and educational supports that would benefit all students. All faculty training in Web page design and using educational technology for distance education included training in universal design to improve access for all students.
- Training for Administrators-The purpose of the project was to make systemic changes in the policy and procedures for services for students with disabilities to increase the quality of education so that they would complete the degree and become successfully employed. Administrators and faculty indicated that they needed information about their responsibility under the law. Nearly 200 administrators-including vice presidents, deans, department chairs, and directors from Buffalo State College and 11 participating colleges-attended two disability institutes. Using case studies, administrators explored the ADA requirement for admissions, residence halls, financial aid, extracurricular activities, and classroom and laboratory access. In addition, administrators had hands-on experience with adaptive technology such as Dragon Dictate, Jaws, and computer-based text enlargers. They also received instruction in making the college Web pages accessible to those with visual impairments.
- Training for Faculty and Staff-Project Success training for faculty and staff focused on courses that are frequently most difficult for students with learning disabilities, including languages other than English, mathematics, and reading and writing skills. Full-day workshops and multiple-day institutes were held with faculty teaching in these areas as well as in other areas in the general education curriculum. A case-study approach was used to relate the issues to the day-to-day issues in each of the respective administrative units. In a lunchtime series called First Fridays Dialogs for Disabilities, faculty engaged in informal discussions about the various types of disabilities and instructional techniques, and conversed with students with disabilities. Faculty used the assistive devices available to students and learned about the special challenges that students with disabilities face as they earn a college degree.
- Special Issues in Clinical Practicum and Career Advisement-Participants received special training in understanding the needs of students with disabilities in clinical practicum and field placements and in career advisement. The needs of students in the classroom were shown to be very different from those of the same student in a real-life situation. Faculty and staff were guided in identifying standards for admission to programs as well as essential functions for course and degree completion. For example, a student may be allowed extra time to take an examination in the academic setting; however, the student may not be allowed to take additional time to administer a test in a clinical setting. A student who was allowed to take examinations in a quiet location could not be assured of such accommodation in a real-life work setting. A student who was able to use a spell-checker for written work in the academic setting may not be able to use a spell-checker on written work prepared for clients during the clinical session or for writing chart notes. Concepts such as physical access to off-campus practicum, career advisement based on the students' ability rather than disability, and other concepts were discussed and presented at institutes throughout the four-year grant period.
At the conclusion of the program, faculty, staff, and administrators remarked that the project was successful because of increased awareness of the needs of students with disabilities. By paying attention to the needs of these students, they became better faculty for all students.