NTID Awarded $1 Million To Improve Access ForDeaf College Students Nationwide




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The U.S. Department of Education has awarded more than $1 million to the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, a college of Rochester Institute of Technology, to promote access and inclusion for deaf and hard-of-hearing students in postsecondary education.

The three-year project is funded through two DOE programs, the Demonstration Program to Ensure a Quality Higher Education for Students with Disabilities, and the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education. In combination, these two grants will work to increase access nationally by modifying teaching practices of their instructors.

"This project," said Susan Foster, NTID professor and principal investigator for the grants, "will give people an opportunity to look at the college classroom through the eyes of deaf students, and then offer specific, simple, and practical strategies they can use to adjust their teaching styles without sacrificing the quality of instruction or demanding huge amounts of their time or energy."

While support services like interpreters and notetakers are helpful, Foster said, college instructors are often unaware of the subtle, yet critical ways in which their teaching styles support or hinder the academic success of deaf and hard-of-hearing students.

For example, sign language interpreters will finish signing what the instructor has said about 7-10 seconds after he has finished speaking. If the instructor asks a question of the class and calls on a student without taking into account this lag time, deaf students will not have the opportunity to respond, Foster said.

"Another example involves the hard-of-hearing student who depends on speechreading to understand his or her instructor," explained Foster. "The student will miss information when the instructor speaks while writing on the board, or stands near a window where glare or shadows interfere with the student's vision."

"When a deaf student is working with hearing peers on a group assignment, he often will experience difficulty keeping up with the rapid-fire and overlapping nature of group discussions," Foster added. "NTID/RIT has a wealth of experience in identifying and working to resolve these and many other barriers to access for deaf and hard-of-hearing students enrolled in mainstream postsecondary classes."

"These examples may seem obvious," said Gary Long, associate professor at NTID and co-principle investigator. "But often, faculty have never had the opportunity to see things from the perspective of the deaf or hard-of-hearing student, and changing longstanding teaching behaviors is often quite difficult."

"Many faculty may question the value of investing time and energy in changing their pedagogy for a relatively small number of students," said Rosemary Saur, NTID associate professor and project coordinator, "but we have found when faculty do modify their teaching—the result is usually increased access for all students, including other non-traditional students such as those with learning disabilities, and students for whom English is a second language."

Three core activities are planned. First, upcoming Summer Institutes will provide attendees with a range of experiential workshops, small group discussions and individualized tutorials, focused on access to instruction and learning for deaf and hard-of-hearing students.

Second, follow-up visits by project personnel starting in September will provide support to Summer Institute participants as they implement the ideas from workshops in their classes and on their campuses.

Third, the group will develop portable versions of workshop materials such as CD-ROM’s, videotapes, and a Web site that can be used independently by faculty and administrators at their home institution. NTID will test and distribute nationally in 2004. For more information or to be placed on the project mailing list, please contact Rosemary Saur through e-mail at resnsc@rit.edu.

The first and largest technological college in the world for students who are deaf and hard of hearing, NTID, one of eight colleges of RIT, offers educational programs and access and support services to 1,100 students from around the world who study, live, and socialize with 14,000 hearing students on the RIT campus. Web address: www.rit.edu/NTID.