One in four adults has a disability, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The needs of those individuals are wide-ranging and sometimes even invisible to others. But whatever accommodations are needed, Tarrant County College has dedicated offices and employees on each campus to make sure all students have the tools to achieve their goals.
“[Accessibility] provides students the opportunity to achieve the same outcomes and receive the same benefits as people without disabilities,” said Kimberly Eason, coordinator of TCC Northeast’s Student Accessibility Resources (SAR) office, which has assisted as many as 350 students in a semester. “Accommodation only changes how students access and learn information without lowering the academic expectations or rigor.”
Paula Manning, SAR coordinator at TCC Northwest, says accessibility is important because “these students have a diagnosis that is outside of their control. We offer them access. Many of them would not be able to be successful and complete their goals or degrees without the accommodations for which they qualify.”
Committed to Helping Others
Manning has been drawn to assisting people her whole life. She holds an associate degree from TCC in Sign Language Interpretation and began her career at TCC as an interpreter in what was then Disability Support Services. She went on to pursue a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling and has worked with students of all abilities for 12 years.
Assisting students who have disabilities is rewarding to Eason as well.
I appreciate interacting with individuals to determine what their needs are and finding reasonable assistance and resources. Each [person’s] needs and strengths are different, which makes each interface a new challenge.
Kimberly Eason, Coordinator of TCC Northeast's Student Accessibility Resources Office (SAR)
While many services are readily available to students, the most frequently requested accommodation from SAR offices is assistance with exams—such as extra time on tests, reading assistance and a quiet room for testing. Additionally, students need assistance with note-taking during lectures.
SAR staff can also explain to students the processes to receive services, including the documentation needed to secure accommodations and how such accommodations work on the college level.
Sammie Sheppard, who directs TCC’s Sign Language Interpretation program, says SAR is the very first place a student with accessibility concerns should go. “The folks in these offices are phenomenal at what they do, to train students on their options, college processes and support of all kinds.”
According to Sheppard, a common challenge Deaf and Hard of Hearing students face when they start college is learning how to secure communication access in their preferred mode. “So often, the ability to just ‘walk in’ to Advising, Financial Aid and on-campus events is just not accessible the way it is to other students.” Sheppard added that contract interpreters are in short supply, making it difficult to keep full-time certified interpreters on all campuses—which can create additional challenges.
In addition to SAR, there are several other resources available for Deaf and Hard of Hearing students. Sheppard says the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) is important in helping students transfer to college; most TWC offices have someone with sign language abilities. The Texas Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing has many support programs and workshops, and local resources are available through the Deaf Action Center in Fort Worth. At TCC, Sign Language Interpretation students also work with certified mentor instructors to interpret plays and events at all campuses.
Additionally, Sheppard said, “One of the unique resources we have at TCC Trinity River is several Deaf and Hard of Hearing faculty and staff members who can come alongside these students to guide them through the college experience as successful Deaf professionals, to encourage Deaf and Hard of Hearing students to stay the course and use resources.”
Technology has come a long way in making education accessible for students with disabilities. In addition to interpreters and CART (Communication Access Real-time Translation) services Deaf and Hard of Hearing students may use UbiDuo, a computer that allows face-to-face communication with both parties typing back and forth.
TCC campuses also have video relay stations in libraries and SAR offices. These allow students to have a phone appointment with an advisor, use the Writing Centers or other Learning Commons locations, or meet with an instructor, with the call interpreted through video relay.
New technology that excites Sheppard is interpreting services through a company called SignGlasses, which provides interpreters by laptops or smart glasses. “This opens up options for Deaf and Hard of Hearing students, faculty and staff to attend classes or meetings with the interpreter superimposed on the screen or go back and take their own notes on the session with the interpreter captured in every video,” she said. Sheppard notes that the technology enables a One College approach that would allow TCC to better use interpreters on various campuses, without them having to drive to another site to provide services.
Beta testing of SignGlasses services over the past year—with more than 170 interpreting sessions completed by students, faculty and staff—resulted in positive feedback. “We are very encouraged at the options this can give us, especially in online situations,” said Sheppard. Implementation is pending final approval, but she hopes this technology will soon be widely available on campuses.
The TCC website is designed with accessibility in mind and is compatible with assistive technology used to read websites. Robert Heyser, director of Web Communications, shared that his team designs in tandem with updated accessibility guidelines and uses tools that include a built-in accessibility content auditor and accessibility reports.
Heyser and the Web Communications staff often consult with former TCC employee Tracy Jordan, who offers a valuable perspective on accessibility. Jordan lost her vision and her leg due to a brown recluse spider bite in 2003. Previously a coordinator of assisted technology for the College, Jordan is a vice president, software engineer and senior accessibility analyst lead for Bank of America; she holds a number of certifications related to accessibility. In addition to consulting for TCC, Jordan works on the accessibility committee at the University of Texas at Dallas.
“We live in such a fast digital environment, accessibility is kind of running rampant,” Jordan said. “In addition to the pandemic that we just went through and are still going through, a lot of things became mandatory when it came to digital processes.” Jordan says that built-in features on smart phones and tablets are helpful to users with disabilities because they don’t have to rely so heavily on vocational rehabilitation services.
Jordan is a big advocate for the iPhone because of built-in features including the screen reader voiceover capability. “Apple did a particularly good job. Once again, good accessibility that’s very usable for people with disabilities has a lot to do with how it’s coded by developers and designed by designers.
“My big motto is keep accessibility in mind when you code and design,” she continued. “You prevent having a lot of defects popping up.”
Jordan says over time, digital processes have become much more accessible for people with visual, hearing, mobility, cognitive and speech disabilities. “I regained a lot of my independence from digital platforms after I lost my eyesight and my leg,” she said. For example, she can now deposit a check on her phone, without the aid of a sighted person. “There are so many things I that I can do independently, simply because of innovations. Not just assisting technology but also digital accessibility has come a long way.”
And she’s eagerly anticipating everything to come. “There’s just so many new things coming out.” Jordan said. “There are glasses for people who may be visually impaired. They can go in the store and have things read to them. They can have their route mapped out via those glasses.”
As those kinds of developments happen, TCC will continue to offer new resources to students, employees and the community—ensuring no disability stands in the way of success.
Learn more about accessibility at TCC.