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For deaf students, succeeding in college isn't guaranteed, no matter how hard they work. Institutions must be prepared to provide appropriate accommodations and support for deaf students to succeed — both in the classroom, and in student life.

Making a commitment to improving the campus experience for deaf students is hard, and requires a campus-wide effort. NDC staff know this firsthand from their experience working with colleges and training programs across the nation.

Knowing that needs and challenges are unique to each institution, NDC provides individualized support for creating more accessible environments and ensuring equitable experiences for deaf students on their campus.

NDC spoke with Scott Ritter, director of disability resource and testing and assessment services, and Jana Mauldin, senior interpretation advisor and coordinator, from Madison College to tell us about their experiences partnering with NDC.

Being Vulnerable Enough for New Ideas

Deaf students have to navigate complex policies and procedures to access services for their classes and to participate in campus activities, programs, and other student services that are available to them. Students are more likely to succeed if systems are put into place prior to the student arriving and are integrated into the framework of an institution. This often necessitates a look inward and a willingness to change.

This kind of self-assessment requires commitment and determination, something Madison College was willing to do. NDC staff did a campus visit and worked with Madison College to identify both their strengths and the areas that needed improvements.

“The opportunity to have sort of a 360-degree review of what we do from multiple perspectives was too good to pass up,” said Ritter.

Mauldin agreed, pointing out what it takes to begin such an intense project.

“I strongly believe in vulnerability. I believe that it's such a value. Being vulnerable allows for an open discussion and an outside look at things that we may be overlooking from the inside,” she said.

“I'm already so proud of what we've done. I felt good about the progress that we've been making. But I knew that we did have areas where we could improve. I knew NDC could help us with that, and they did indeed.”

This commitment to self-assessment opened up unexpected and exciting new areas for improvement that allowed Madison College to grow their support for #DeafSuccess.

Look at the Big Picture

College experiences are not confined to the classroom. For deaf students to have the same experiences as their hearing peers, a campus-wide commitment to accessibility is necessary at all levels of an institution. During her work with NDC, Mauldin was pleased by the expertise, knowledge, and experience of NDC’s staff and the extent of their intensive, campus-wide assessments.

“I was expecting a full analysis of my programs, but I didn't realize that I would be given feedback campus-wide for the full student experience, not only what's happening within our department, but with other departments as well. That was fantastic! I wasn't expecting that.”

During the time that they worked with NDC, Mauldin also found the support needed to face unexpected issues.

“When a problem arose or when an issue was made known, NDC was able to really dig into all of the details, and it really empowered my decision-making. The NDC team was always so responsive to us. We felt like we weren't alone in the efforts.”

“For example, one deaf student wanted to study abroad. We wanted to provide that service, but didn't know if our administrators would approve the cost. I reached out to NDC to ask for support,” Ritter continued. “And boy, did you! We were able to see what other campuses had done and put together a report. You provided that empowerment, so that it's not just me asking administrators. I was able to give them some real meaty content to back up my request. I certainly appreciated that!”

Ritter also found the campus-wide, holistic approach of the partnership to be invaluable. “We got great support from all of our campus partners. Many had never really intersected with the idea of serving the deaf community on our campus in a way that was more than just hearing about something in a meeting.”

“For them to have the opportunity to jump in and really be a part of that work was really powerful,” Ritter continued. “I think it really added to the benefit of our experience.”

Make Inclusion an Institutional Priority

Creating a campus that's inclusive for deaf students in all aspects of college life must be embraced by the entire college administration, including senior leadership, faculty, and staff across all departments. Policies for inclusion need to be established to build cohesive relationships across the campus that draw in support at all levels with one goal in mind — enhancing services for deaf students.

To accomplish this goal, fostering the right atmosphere among administration, faculty, and staff is crucial.

“I consider a servant leadership approach to be key,” Ritter explained. “My team, my amazing teammates, are here to serve. That culture is clearly established in our organization. We are here to serve our students and staff and each other and our community.”

Ritter also found that communicating what works to his colleagues also built that connection and support across campus.

“It's really important to share success. Share the students’ stories about their success, achieving dreams and goals, and overcoming barriers. That is the common ground. And that is very valuable in creating real conversations.”

Looking Beyond the Classroom

Classrooms are often the sole focus when it comes to accessibility at colleges and universities. Yet, there is so much more that goes into the deaf student experience. NDC research shows that nonacademic parts of campus life are typically not accessible for deaf students. They miss out on networking opportunities, social interactions and developing that sense of campus belonging.

Knowing this, Madison College worked to not only support students throughout campus, but to help them come together as well.

“I knew there was NDC research out there to support looking at that holistic college experience. So, when a deaf student approached me and wanted to get involved in the Madison College community, I was ready,” Mauldin explained. “As we started talking, we realized there was an opportunity for this student to establish a new club for deaf or signing students.”

“The student found another deaf student, became co-presidents, and successfully started a new campus club for students who use sign language. It provided an opportunity and a reason for deaf students to finally meet each other.”

But Mauldin found that the club turned into more than just a social group.

“It also provided the opportunity for learning experiences and lessons in leadership. Our new club leadership had to learn how to be leaders — What does it mean to be a president? What does it mean if I take on the role of secretary? — and it was an educational experience for those students.”

“I was able to invite a board member from the National Association of the Deaf who was willing to teach and mentor our deaf students on how to run a board,” Mauldin explained. “We created a workshop training for students on how to run a board and what the different responsibilities of the positions are. I think about everything that happened with that, and it was just such an amazing opportunity.”

Opportunities outside the classroom help expand the student experience, both socially and in growing as leaders.

Proactive Planning for #DeafSucccess

Madison College recognized there were challenges for deaf students accessing student activities, programs, and services on campus. They wanted to create a more inclusive experience and worked closely with the experts at NDC to find solutions. Through this partnership, they were able to work proactively toward creating a more inclusive environment.

Through frequent self-assessment and feedback from deaf students, colleges can identify the key areas they need to focus on for improvement. By doing this, they can proactively plan access for a variety of settings and maintain ongoing collaborations with campus departments to offer more holistic assistance and support.

NDC is here to help you accomplish this system of self-assessment, support, and success! The following resources can help you get started:

  • Use our self-evaluation tool to identify areas of needed improvement.

  • Review this Toolkit for professionals who work in disability services.

  • Take our free, online professional development courses, starting with Improving Campus Access.

Contact our Help Team to receive individualized support for your campus.