The Application of Universal Design Principles to Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students

This blog is a reproduction of a short video discussing the application of universal design principles to Deaf and hard of hearing students, see the video here.

Hi, I’m Professor Michael Schwartz, and I’m here to talk about universal design as it applies to Deaf and hard of hearing students. This video you are watching now is a model of universal design. You have voice over for people with typical hearing; sign language for Deaf viewers; and open captions for older people and hard of hearing people who do not sign. You even have this face! This video not only satisfies the Americans with Disabilities Act because it is accessible to Deaf and hard of hearing people; it’s usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, and that’s the heart of universal design.

For Deaf or hard of hearing students, the ADA requires "auxiliary aids and services," defined as qualified interpreters and “other effective methods” for communication access.[1] Four examples of accommodation:

  1. The sign language interpreter is a bridge facilitating effective communication for everyone. That’s universal design.
  2. Computer Aided Real-Time Transcription (CART) consists of a stenotype machine hooked to a laptop with real-time software. People speak, and words appear on a wall screen. CART can produce a written transcript of the dialogue. That’s universal design.
  3. Captioning – whether open or closed – is a textual display of words and sounds heard in a movie or TV show. That’s universal design.
  4. Note-taking captures content of communication. That’s universal design.

The key word is “effective.” For me, what is effective in the classroom is the combination of CART and the interpreter. Other people prefer a team of two interpreters. Some want an FM loop or a note-taker. Some want a combination of the above. Because everyone is different, a one-size-fits-all approach does not work. What is effective for someone may not be effective for another. And, if the accommodation isn’t effective, it isn’t a reasonable accommodation.

Over fifteen years ago I helped found the Beyond Compliance Coordinating Committee, a student organization dedicated to the idea that law establishes a floor – a minimum – for compliance, and true inclusion and belonging require us to go beyond compliance with the law.[2] The question for us then was not how much an accommodation cost, but how we can create an inclusive community for everyone.

Today that question continues to challenge us to be our best as teachers.

Thank you for watching or listening or reading, whichever is effective for you.


[1] Some Deaf people do not consider their deafness a disability; rather, they see themselves as a linguistic minority. Nonetheless they are included in the protective category of disability under the ADA.

[2] See https://bccc.syracuse.wordpress.com