At a University of Michigan Board of Regents meeting in March, the words of every public speaker appeared — in real time — on a large screen near the front of the Ruthven Building’s University Hall.
Providing transcription services upon request for people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing is one example of how U-M strives to make every aspect of campus life, from meetings and classes to public events, available and accessible to all.
Faculty and staff
The university’s accessibility efforts in recent years have included developing resources and programs to remove physical barriers, disability awareness training and creating digital accessibility policies.
Now, U-M is in the midst of rolling out a number of new initiatives designed to further enhance accessibility across the Ann Arbor campus. They include:
- Adding nearly 100 new automatic door openers to campus buildings.
- Hiring two new American Sign Language interpreters in the Equity, Civil Rights, and Title IX Office.
- Launching a centralized Communication Access Realtime Translation, or CART, pilot program in ECRT.
In addition, the university recently hired Allison Kushner as the new director of disability equity and American with Disabilities Act coordinator.
Tami Strickman, special adviser to the president and executive director of the ECRT Office, said accessibility and inclusivity are among U-M’s top priorities.
“It’s a university priority for everyone to have equal access to things, whether that’s physical, digital or any other type of accommodation,” she said. “And it certainly aligns with our work on values and our work with DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) strategic planning.
“We are committed to being responsive to concerns from the community as we continue to improve physical and digital accessibility across campus.”
Getting around the university
U-M is considered a leader in the accessibility space among higher education institutions, said Jacquline Jeffery, manager of interior design and code specialist in the office of Architecture, Engineering and Construction.
She said the university has ranked No. 1 every year since 2016 on the college ranking agency College Choice’s list of 50 Best Disability Friendly Colleges and Universities.
Jeffery helps people understand, meet and sometimes even exceed the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act and state, federal and university codes and guidelines related to accessibility in building design and construction at U-M.
“In many cases, we go above and beyond when it comes to accessibility,” she said, while also noting that the university still has more work to do.
Jeffery is spearheading an effort to add nearly 100 additional automatic, power-assisted, push-button openers on main entry doors of general fund buildings, which include academic, instructional, research and administrative facilities. Installation will occur over three years and began this summer.
A U-M community member’s feedback during a public forum about the need for more automatic door openers sparked the $2 million project.
In another effort aimed at making it easier to navigate campus, U-M partnered a couple of years ago with the city of Ann Arbor to install an Accessible Pedestrian Signal, or APS, at the intersection of Nielsen Court and Maiden Laine near the Wall Street West parking structure. APS devices use audible signals to assist visually impaired pedestrians in crossing the street.
Two more APS devices are being considered for the intersections of Catherine Street and Zina Pitcher Place, and Glen Avenue and East Huron Street.
Interpretation and translation services
The Equity, Civil Rights, and Title IX Office recently received funding through the Provost’s Office to create a new, centralized American Sign Language and Communication Access Realtime Translation resource for U-M faculty and staff.
To request either service, faculty and staff members can fill out a form on ECRT’s website. If ECRT approves the request and the requestor uses an approved service provider, there is no charge.
Strickman said the goal is to increase the availability of and access to qualified interpretation and captioning services, especially for units or groups that may not be able to fund the services themselves.
“This is really to help to start identifying those areas where we may need more support,” she said.
CART involves instant, word-for-word translation of spoken words into written text. A trained service provider types a transcript while a person is talking or a video is playing, and the text appears on a screen so it can be read by people with hearing impairments or cognitive disabilities.
Established with a $50,000, one-time funding request, the CART resource is operating as a pilot program that officials hope will become permanent.
To support the new American Sign Language resource, ECRT hired two ASL interpreters, Stephanie Beatty and Casie Watson. Beatty began providing ASL interpretation for President Santa J. Ono’s monthly video messages in June.
New ADA coordinator
U-M welcomed Allison Kushner as the new director of disability equity and ADA coordinator this past spring. Kushner most recently served as the ADA coordinator and director of accessibility and accommodations at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She replaced Christina Kline, who left U-M earlier this year.
In her previous role, Kushner centralized and streamlined workplace accommodations for faculty and staff, and started a new review process to swiftly resolve students’ concerns about academic modifications. She also expanded education and training around disability, equity and inclusion.
“Her skill set and her interests very much align with our work at U-M,” Strickman said.
Kushner said her goals include raising awareness about ECRT’s accessibility and accommodations services, and ensuring consistent processes and procedures. She has hired one accessibility specialist and is in the process of hiring another.
“I hope to promote a greater awareness of the role of ECRT, and specifically all the ways that the ADA team can provide accommodations and support for students, faculty, staff and even members of the wider campus community,” she said.
While U-M has long been focused on accessibility, Strickman said the COVID-19 pandemic prompted people to start thinking about it in new ways.
For instance, the issue of digital accessibility, or the removal of barriers that inhibit interaction with websites and other digital tools, took on increased prominence due to more people working and learning from home.
Last year, U-M adopted an Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility Policy — Standard Practice Guide 601.20 — to help ensure technologies at all three campuses and Michigan Medicine are inclusive and accessible.
Members of the U-M community who have concerns about or ideas for improving accessibility are encouraged to reach out to ECRT, the office of Services for Students with Disabilities or, for matters related to digital accessibility, Information and Technology Services.
There also are various campus groups related to disability and accessibility, such as the Council for Disability Concerns and LSA’s Disability Culture at U-M.
In addition, equitable accessibility is being explored as an important topic via campuswide engagement for two initiatives that will help shape the university’s future: Vision 2034 and Campus Plan 2050.
Vision 2034 involves a 10-year, strategic visioning process to imagine what all three U-M campuses, including Michigan Medicine, will look like and accomplish in the next 10 years. Campus Plan 2050 includes five- and 10-year development planning horizons and a long-term, 25-year plan that will be a catalyst to advance ongoing initiatives and establish clear priorities for capital investments.
As U-M looks toward the future, Jeffery remains continuously focused on ways to improve accessibility at the university. She is currently exploring whether there is a need for restroom modifications and additional signage around campus.
“I think the university is doing a great job with making our campus accessible, but there’s always more we can do to make it more accessible,” Jeffery said.
“Where they may be barriers, we want to remove those barriers or provide alternative equal access to give everybody the same opportunities.”