By Peter Ploegman, Library and Learning Support Specialist
It has been 25 years since Americans with disabilities had their civil rights affirmed by law, and that’s a milestone to celebrate.
On July 26, 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law.
The ADA is a piece of civil rights legislation guaranteeing the rights of all disabled persons to equal and timely access to public and private facilities, employment opportunities, and education beyond a high school diploma.
As it relates to higher education, the ADA requires that all higher education institutions provide equal access for all students affected by a disabling condition, whether physical, mental, or emotional. Looking back over the past 25 years, the ADA has made it possible for millions of Americans to not only pursue higher education on an equal footing with their nondisabled peers, but also to achieve a bachelor’s, master’s, and even a doctoral degree.
In accordance with the ADA, National Louis University has been working to remove barriers preventing students from pursuing academic programs. Through the Library & Learning Support office, students with a variety of chronically disabling conditions can formally request academic adjustments, called accommodations, that will allow them equal access to their courses.
Various assistive technologies have aided many universities who seek to ensure access for all students. For example, NLU provides audio amplification devices for students with hearing deficits. For visually-impaired students, we provide screen reader technology such as JAWS, Kurzweil 3000, and ABBYY Fine Reader 6.0.
While these types of accommodations are important, it is critical that higher education institutions actively work towards eliminating potential barriers inherent in course design. NLU programs address this need by curtailing or eliminating timed exams. Further, online courses designed in the Desire 2 Learn platform allow faculty to create accessible lecture and video material.
Over the past 25 years, the ADA has fundamentally changed higher education. Adult students who were once unable to pursue law, medical/nursing, music or education degrees because of a lack of necessary supports can now do so.
On this important anniversary, let’s remember that ensuring equal access for all students regardless of disability is a civil right and not special consideration or an act of charity. Students who have needs that require a certain access accommodation should be seen as otherwise qualified students seeking a degree. They merely form another diverse set of learners within the larger diversity in society as a whole.