Up Next

4 Steps to Receiving Accommodations for Students with Disabilities in Higher Ed Institutions


Since the inception of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in the 70s, there has been a steady increase in the number of students receiving special education services in the K-12 environment. However, this number seems to drop off when students reach university. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, around 13% of K-12 students have some disability, while only 11% of college undergraduates report a disability.


Given the fact that close to the same percentage of disabled students continue on to higher education as their nondisabled classmates, the numbers don’t add up. What is happening in the transition to cause this gap? One possible explanation is the law. Laws for accommodations in K-12 differ from those for higher education. The main distinction is that young adults entering a post-secondary institution must educate themselves on how to receive accommodations at their schools. There are four steps to this process: Self-Disclosure, Documentation, Meeting with the Office of Disability Services, and Faculty Communication.


1. Self-Disclosure

Upon entering any higher education institution, a student with any level of disability must self-disclose their situation. Best Colleges states that 94% of high school students with a disability receive assistance while just 17% of college students do. This is because 60-80% are not disclosing their needs. Every student with a disability, be it visible or nonvisible, must go to the Disability Services Office on campus or contact them virtually. From there, the accessibility officer will assist the student in their needs and accommodations. Students should always be prepared to educate the institution and teachers about their disability, especially those at smaller schools.


2. Documentation

To obtain accommodations, the student will need to provide documentation of their disability assessment. If the disability is cognitive, such as dyslexia, ADHD, or autism, they would need to obtain documentation from a psychologist. For physical disabilities such as hearing, vision, or motor impairments, the student would require documentation from their regular physician.


3. Disability Services

Once the student has secured their documentation, they should set up an appointment with an advisor ar the Office of Disability Services. Every school is different in terms of how students obtain services. Some require a completed application while others will simply accept the appropriate professional documentation. During this meeting, the student will let the institution know what they need. Accommodations can include sign language interpreters, note takers, special seating, and extra time needs as well as audio transcription, video captioning, and CART (Communication Access Real-Time Transcription) services. It is imperative that students communicate their full needs from the outset and continue the conversation throughout their time at the institution.

4. Faculty Communication

Once appropriate accommodations are determined, it is typically the responsibility of the student to discuss their requirements with their teachers. Students should meet with faculty to explain necessary accommodations and ensure all parties are on the same page. This should not be limited to a one-time meeting, as constant communication throughout the course is necessary to ensure optimal support and success.


The college experience encompasses more than just what takes place in class. While many institutions are beginning to understand and accommodate their students both physically and academically, some are lagging behind from a social perspective. Students with disabilities entering colleges and universities are much less likely to join a club, do extra-curricular activities or attend social events. It’s clear that much improvement is needed. But what can be done?


Better awareness is a good place to start. A high percentage of high school students are receiving assistance. But do they know how they are getting it? Are we teaching them how to advocate for themselves, or how to talk to others about their disability? More work is needed at the high school level to facilitate an easy transition to university, where the onus is completely on the student to take responsibility for their accommodations. In the college context, higher education institutions must prioritize awareness and inclusivity. One way to accomplish this is by organizing social events to promote disability awareness.


We’ve come a long way over the years in helping and accommodating those with disabilities. As a result, a wider variety of better services, including assistive technologies, are being provided. Hopefully, with more awareness and education of different disabilities and accommodations, those low percentages of students requesting and receiving assistance will climb exponentially.

Up Next

How Verbit is Making an Impact on Global Accessibility Awareness Day

This Thursday, May 16th, is the eighth Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD).

Marked annually on the third Thursday of May, the goal of GAAD is to raise awareness of technology accessibility by starting the conversation, and getting people to think and learn about digital inclusivity and how it is impacted by disability.


Verbit & GAAD

At Verbit, we go beyond simply providing an AI-powered transcription and captioning solution. We are accessibility partners, and our technology plays a key role in enhancing each student’s individual learning journey.

Our mission is to bridge the accessibility gap with AI-enhanced transcription and captioning so that all students can engage with academic content and maximize their potential.

Because of this commitment, we are excited to announce that we are working to establish the framework for a disability scholarship. We believe that all students, regardless of ability or disability, have the right to not only have access to content but thrive in their academic environments. We’re undertaking this initiative to change the world of higher education for the better, and give deserving students the chance to achieve their academic goals. By working together to promote greater awareness and leveraging advanced technology to create a solution, we have the power to change peoples’ lives and open new doors through greater accessibility.


Disability in context

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 56 million people in the United States alone are living with some kind of disability. This has a profound impact on virtually every aspect of a person’s life, including communication, work, school, and more.

The effect is especially significant in today’s increasingly digital world. According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, disabled Americans are about three times as likely as those without a disability to say they never go online.

Think about how people retrieve information these days. The internet contains the answer to virtually every question that can be thought of. Therefore, a lack of digital accessibility represents a significant barrier for people with disabilities and negatively impacts quality of life.


The situation in higher education

Digital audio and video files are proliferating at a torrid pace. This is most apparent in the world of higher education, where recorded lectures and online learning have become the norm. For students who are deaf or hard of hearing, this new paradigm presents significant challenges in terms of accessibility.

With around 20,000 deaf and hard of hearing students attending post-secondary educational institutions each year, it’s estimated that there are close to 500,000 deaf and hard of hearing college students in the United States. Unfortunately, the graduation rate of these students remains significantly lower compared to the general population, with 25% completing their degrees, in contrast to 56% (Lang 2002, Aud et al. 2011).  

It’s clear that audio and video files must be converted to text so that all students, regardless of their disability, can engage with the content. That’s where transcription and captioning comes into play.


How AI technology enables greater accessibility

Innovation for disability is innovation for everyone. When technology is developed to address the most complex of needs, it ends up benefiting the population at large.

In fact, many of the technologies that were initially developed for people with disabilities have gone on to become widely used by the general population. Designing with accessibility in mind means creating a product that is more intuitive, feature-rich and, ultimately, able to reach and impact more people.

AI enhances assistive technology by providing more sophisticated capabilities. When it comes to transcription and captioning, adaptive machine learning algorithms allow the technology to become smarter over time and pick up on commonly used terms, recognize various accents and vocabulary, and differentiate between speakers for the highest accuracy.


Going one step further, real-time captioning represents a leap towards greater accessibility and success for all in the higher education setting, particularly those who are deaf and hard of hearing. Providing full access to all course content and communication that takes place in the classroom allows students to participate in real-time and be fully engaged in a way that was previously not possible.  

Aside from those with a hearing impairment, real-time captioning also benefits individuals who understand written language better than spoken. Individuals with autism, dyslexia, as well as those who are not native speakers of the language of instruction all gain from having access to a text-based version of classroom lectures.


For more information on how we can help you, feel free to contact us at accessibility@verbit.ai


Back To Top