From August 24th to September 5th, athletes from around the world will compete at the 2020 Paralympic Games. These elite competitors are helping change perspectives on what it means to live with a disability. Their important message should influence people, communities and culture all year round, every year.

Universities are in an excellent position to take the lead when it comes to improving inclusivity and reshaping the way that our society thinks about disabilities. In 2021, it is no longer enough to settle for providing accommodations for academics alone. Higher education institutions need to offer their students full access to college life beyond the classroom. Below are a few ways to make campuses more inclusive and help all students thrive.

More Inclusive Sports on Campus

The Paralympics beautifully demonstrates athletes’ diversity. These determined, competitive people are breaking down barriers and exceeding expectations every day. Colleges can support students with disabilities by giving them the opportunity to learn, train and participate in on-campus sports.

Athletics offer a way to build confidence and life-long friendships. The chance to belong to a team should be open to all students. Some universities throughout the US do maintain competitive adaptive sports programs. Wheelchair basketball is popular at many schools, while track, tennis, rowing, golf, hand cycling and other sports offer various athletic options for students with disabilities. However, not every school supports these teams or leagues, and those that do may benefit from offering more extensive programs. University leaders should determine whether they could be doing more to promote adaptive sports.

Making University Sports More Accessible to Viewers

In addition to creating more opportunities for individuals with disabilities to participate in sports on campus, university leaders must look at making the sports viewing experience more inclusive as well.

While academic accommodations like live closed captioning services and audio descriptions are provided in classrooms and online learning environments, offering accessible sporting events should also be part of this process. Attending and watching live sporting events, going to guest speaker lectures and other parts of extracurricular campus life all serve to shape the student experience. Colleges can do more to make these events more accessible too.

This year, the Paralympic Games will have audio descriptions and a live captioning service for all athletic events. Universities should take note and consider including more of these features for their on-campus athletics. Watching live university football, hockey, basketball or other teams should be an option for the entire student body. Leaders in higher education can improve inclusivity by replicating NBC’s move to provide greater sports programming access.

Taking a Proactive Stance on Inclusion

While the Americans with Disabilities Act requires universities to accommodate their students with certain tools that support their education, other elements of the campus and student experience continue to fall behind. Why should students with disabilities miss out on key pieces of campus life?

Additionally, the obligation to supply accessibility services often only applies when students self-report their disability. Sadly, this approach is leaving many students behind. Students often qualify for and need tools like video captioning software but are trying to get by without them because they don’t know who to speak to, feel uncomfortable discussing their disabilities or have another reason not to report their disability needs.

Universities owe their students a quality education that takes this reality into account in classrooms, sports arenas, and online, where sports and other events are live-streamed. Even if a school is adhering to the ADA, there is likely more it could be doing to include students with disabilities, help them feel safe requesting services or give them the information they need to find the right resources to participate and engage effectively in all aspects of campus life without coming forward.

Consider Universal Captioning

Instead of only captioning courses, sporting events or guest lectures when students request this service, a better option is to proactively add captioning or transcription services to all video, streaming, live events and other relevant content in and out of the classroom. Researchers show that captions do more than support the Deaf or hard of hearing. Nearly everyone engages better when content includes captions. Non-native English speakers and students with certain learning disabilities tend to find them particularly useful, but all students and sports viewers can benefit.

Universities can take this one simple step to improve the overall student experience and inclusivity. Given that technology is making it easier than ever to offer a closed captioning service and captions for live streaming content, schools should consider updating their policies. Institutions that take the lead on accessibility will help shape the next generation of students and pave the way for a more inclusive world.

Although the Paralympics last just a few weeks, they can inspire leaders at important institutions to reflect on their access policies and initiate long-term shifts in their approach to inclusivity on campuses across the US. For more information about AI captioning services, transcription and audio description solutions, contact Verbit.