Accessibility 360: Accommodations for inclusivity beyond the classroom

By: Verbit Editorial

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In today’s learning environments, most educators are well-acquainted with the kinds of accommodation requests made by students for their academic coursework. But what about the kinds of accommodations students need to engage equitably throughout every other aspect of campus life? Higher education faculty and staff have a crucial responsibility to ensure that all members of their communities can participate fully and equally in extracurricular activities, campus events, online communities and more.

Experts agree that proactively integrating accessibility solutions into the environments and experiences community members engage with every day is one of the best ways to foster inclusivity on campus and beyond. Let’s discuss some of the critical accessibility considerations as they pertain to overall campus culture and explore some of the most effective solutions and approaches for delivering more accessible, inclusive experiences for students, faculty and staff of all backgrounds and abilities.

Accessibility outside the classroom: The basics

While a college campus is often viewed primarily as an academic environment, the reality is that a significant portion of the student experience happens beyond the four walls of a classroom. Extracurricular activities play a crucial role in many students’ development because they present opportunities to build interpersonal skills, engage with diverse perspectives, enhance their understanding of academic coursework and more.

Some extracurricular offerings – like clubs or Greek life organizations – are centered around specific interests or identities, while others may be more broad in nature and appeal to community members of varied backgrounds and interests. For example, athletics play a major role in the campus culture of many higher educational institutions. Whether a student plays sports or is merely a spectator, athletic events often present opportunities for building community, nurturing relationships and having some good, old-fashioned fun.

Research shows that students often participate in extracurricular organizations and events out of their desire to connect with other members of their community. That’s why it is crucial that all students be able to engage equitably in these experiences. That’s where accommodations come in. Offering resources and accessibility support for extracurricular programming is indisputably necessary to ensure that all students benefit equally from the experience of extracurricular engagement.

Photographed from behind and over the shoulder, a woman wearing a graduation cap and gown walks towards other graduates.

How do we make extracurriculars more accessible?

Many of the methods used to provide access inside the classroom can be adapted for use outside of it. Here are a few ideas of tools and approaches for making extracurricular programming more accessible:

  • Captions and Subtitles: Adding captions on screens at events like graduations, live sporting events, and campus performances can make these experiences accessible to students who are Deaf or hard of hearing, as well as any attendee whose first language is something other than English. Captions and subtitles have also been recognized as meaningful accessibility tools for individuals with certain neurodivergent conditions.
  • Transcripts: Providing transcripts of academic seminars, guest lectures, club meetings and educational podcasts is a great way to support any community member who needs or prefers to engage with information in a readable format. Some transcription services like Verbit offer searchable formats that further improve user experience and make it easy for community members to find the information they need with greater ease.
  • Physical Accommodations: Ensuring that all venues for extracurricular activities are physically accessible is crucial. Schools must follow strict guidelines to ensure their physical spaces are sufficiently accessible to individuals with disabilities or limited mobility using common accommodations like ramps, elevators, railings and wheelchair-accessible seating arrangements.
  • Inclusive Communication: In addition to employing solutions like captioning and transcription for media content, institutions must also provide accommodations to help community members engage equitably with written information like emails and social media posts. To that end, faculty and staff may need to add braille to physical letters, signage, flyers, etc. in addition to following accessibility best practices to ensure maximum screen reader compatibility. Audio description is also an effective tool for making visual communications more readily accessible to community members who are blind or have low vision.

Beyond making campus experiences more engaging and inclusive, employing these tools can also help academic institutions more effectively support accessibility standards like the Americans with Disabilities Act and WCAG. Today’s accessibility requirements set stringent guidelines for the accuracy and usability of assistive technology solutions like captioning, transcription and audio description, as well as for the accessible construction of physical spaces. Failing to adhere to that guidance can result in significant non-enforcement action being taken against a school or organization. For this reason, it is critical for institutions of higher learning to work with trusted, experienced accessibility partners to help them effectively support rapidly evolving standards and guidelines.

A sign posted on a colorful brick wall reads 'accessible entry.'

Committing to 360-degree inclusion

One major barrier for many institutions looking to enhance their accessibility offerings is the relatively low rate of self-reporting among students and other community members. A survey conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics revealed that nearly two-thirds of college students with a disability did not inform their school about their condition. In environments where accommodations are only provided to students upon request, low rates of self-reporting often translate to a high volume of unmet accessibility needs.

There are many reasons why an individual may not choose to disclose a disability or learning difference, so educational institutions must commit to creating an environment where students of all abilities can learn and engage effectively, regardless of whether they feel comfortable explicitly requesting accommodations. Cultivating a culture of inclusion often involves getting  more proactive about providing resources and accommodations so students, faculty and staff can access the support they need without placing all the responsibility on those individuals to have an existing understanding of the kinds of tools and solutions that work for them.

Academic institutions can invest in regular accessibility training sessions for faculty, staff and student leaders on the appropriate implementation of assistive technology solutions, as well as current best practices for diversity, equity and inclusion. Integrating accessibility awareness from the top down creates an overarching culture of inclusion on campus that can trickle down and improve the overall experiences of students, families and other community members. 

To that end, it’s particularly important that academic institutions collaborate with accessibility partners who have ample experience supporting clients in the education sector. Verbit is one such provider of accessibility solutions that offers tailor-made products and services for professionals in educational environments. Verbit specializes in assistive technology solutions like captioning, transcription, translation and audio description that are designed to meet the diverse and evolving needs of modern learners. Verbit’s technology solutions are powered by state-of-the-art artificial intelligence software that learns as it goes to generate more accurate, industry-appropriate captions, transcripts and more.

Verbit’s platform is easy to use and integrates seamlessly with popular media hosting platforms and learning management systems so educators and other professionals can easily incorporate assistive technology solutions into their existing workflows. Verbit offers post-production and live captioning and transcription support, so academic institutions can produce more accessible, engaging live events in addition to supporting their courses and communications. With the combined powers of proprietary AI software and expert human input, Verbit’s platform delivers final captions and transcripts with accuracy rates high enough to support accessibility guidelines without compromising on quality, affordability or turnaround time.

Inclusivity in action: Where intent meets impact

Implementing comprehensive accessibility measures can have far-reaching benefits for an entire university community. For current students, it ensures that they can fully participate in all aspects of campus life like coursework and extracurricular programming, as well as in-person and virtual events. However, an inclusive, accessible campus culture doesn’t just benefit current students, faculty and staff – it also benefits future students and other community members who will engage with your institution for years to come.

For prospective students, an inclusive environment can be a deciding factor in their choice of institution. To that end, proactively incorporating assistive technology solutions and other accommodations into admissions events like interviews, campus tours and orientations is a great way to set your school apart as  an institution that values and prioritizes diversity, equity and inclusion for all.

Similarly, making tools like captioning, transcription and audio description a part of every campus event is one of the most reliable ways to deliver more engaging, inclusive experiences throughout every part of a student’s college journey. Athletic events, campus performances, orientations, graduations and awards ceremonies are all designed to help build community and should subsequently be accessible to all community members. Integrating assistive technologies into these kinds of programming can help to ensure that everyone has equal access to the experiences they deserve to enjoy and participate in fully.

Accessibility should not be confined to the classroom. To foster a truly inclusive environment, educational institutions must extend their efforts to all areas of campus life. By implementing practical accessibility measures and committing to a culture of inclusion, institutions can ensure that all students have the opportunity to fully participate in and benefit from their college experience in the classroom and beyond. If you’re interested in learning more about how proactively making accommodations a part of your campus culture can contribute to more inclusive, accessible experiences for students and staff, reach out today to speak to a member of the Verbit team.