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UT Stands Out for Support of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Individuals
The University of Texas at Austin “is way ahead of the curve,” according to Linda Millstone, associate vice president for institutional equity and workforce diversity within the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement (DDCE). A new program of centralized funding for interpreter services for faculty and staff, makes UT a leader among universities nationwide.
Millstone explains that through the DDCE's Services for Students with Disabilities, the university has long provided centralized funding for students with hearing disabilities who need interpreter or captioning services. Historically, services for deaf and hard of hearing faculty and staff have been provided by individual departments—until now. Millstone has argued that faculty and staff are UT-Austin employees and the university should pay for these services. She notes that as an employer, the university should provide these services to members of our community under Sections 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Amendment Act of 2008.
“We do this because it is the right thing to do,” said Millstone. “Centralized funding sends a signal that the university is open to hiring more persons with disabilities; that we value every single faculty and staff member,” said Millstone.
Dr. Gregory J. Vincent, the vice president for diversity and community engagement at the university, agrees. He said, “It is important to realize that diversity takes many forms. As the unit responsible for creating a more intellectually and culturally diverse campus, we want to do everything we can to encourage hiring faculty and staff who have abilities and backgrounds that are underrepresented on campus.”
Changes in the funding for deaf and hard of hearing services also affects members of the public who come to the university for certain events. Some of the more prominent events, such as graduation and performances at Texas Performing Arts, have money budgeted for such services. Other events, however, were unfunded, such as visitors to free public lectures on campus. Now, funds have been budgeted for these events, reflecting the university's commitment to provide deaf and hard of hearing services to members of the greater community.
“Making the university more accessible to persons with disabilities benefits everyone,” explained Millstone. She notes that the athletic department's recent acquisition of the state-of-the-art JumboTron is a perfect example of universal design that benefits not only those with hearing disabilities, but everyone who attends the games.
Around the time the football stadium was being renovated, SSD received a request for interpreter services for a football game from one student. Millstone, as the university's ADA Coordinator approached athletics about attaching an LED screen for closed captioning to the JumboTron. According to Lauren Kinast, SSD's assistant director for deaf and hard of hearing services, “We knew that it would benefit ALL the participants in the stadium, heck it gets LOUD in there—we know many people miss information auditorily!”
As a result 110,000 enthusiastic fans now benefit from the captioning provided by the JumboTron. Since then, basketball games are captioned at the Erwin Center and live captioning and live webcasts are provided at commencement. “These advances have shown the university is dedicated to engaging everyone in campus life,” said Millstone. “And our university community is all the richer for it.”