Earlier this semester I observed a situation in a campus computer lab that, for me, illustrates the need for greater communication regarding the rules that dictate student disability accommodations.
The event, which took place on Tuesday, March 24, involved three Cleveland State students, a professor, an interpreter and lab monitor.
In the early afternoon, a student with hearing impairments, a professor and the student’s designated interpreter entered a technology lab in the Urban Building to complete a course assignment using one of the facility’s computers.
While it was unclear whether any particular assistive equipment was necessary to carry out the class work, the three proceeded to use an open station.
After sitting down, the professor began vocalizing instructions as the interpreter relayed them to the student through sing language.
Around 15 minutes after their arrival, a student using the lab, which has “This is a quiet lab” notices on the walls and the tables, expressed annoyance at their neglect of the rule.
Within a few minutes, the situation became heated and words were exchanged between the student and the group.
I became involved after explaining that individuals with any sort of disability — physical, intellectual or learning, among others — have a legal right to use the computer lab per the accommodations he or she receives as a result of their respective impairment.
As a student who has received such assistance, and the child of a parent with expertise in the area of disability accommodations, I knew how the law applied in these circumstances and was comfortable sharing that knowledge.
Unsatisfied, the disgruntled student approached the lab monitor and issued more complaints.
The lab monitor came out from the office after a few moments, but was unsure about how to handle the situation. As a result, the conflict escalated even more, until I suggested that the interpreter contact Disability Services directly to get official confirmation.
After a brief phone conversation, the interpreter relayed to the lab monitor that the noise rule did not apply in this situation. Ultimately, every student by law has fair and equal access to facilities and equipment provided by their educational institution.
Talking, in this specific case, wasn’t a form of disturbance, but a necessary means of ensuring the student was able to — like his peers — receive the education he paid for.
Meanwhile, as all of this was happening, an entire lab of students was unnerved and another student had a direct experience of discrimination.
While events as directly confrontational as these are not often occurrences on the campus, the ordeal raised a few questions as well as a few eyebrows.
On a number of levels, the system used to support all users of the lab failed as the professor, interpreter and lab monitor were unable to make quick and certain decisions about what was acceptable or not acceptable in the lab.
It’s very possible that none of the involved parties had ever experienced anything quite like this before, and only one of about eight people there knew how the rules applied in this situation.
The disruption and stress caused by the escalation, however, was easily preventable with training and knowledge.
If one student can know the legalities of the situation, expressly outlined in The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) — a federal law that must be followed on every corner of college campuses and is used by the Office of Disability Services to provide appropriate accommodations — it’s not wrong to expect that all of those involved with ensuring a student’s success would know what to do as well.
Ultimately this issue is not about blame as this was not the first, nor will it be the last, time something like this happens. Rather, it’s about what should happen now, in the wake of the event.
It seems clear that some — or a better — form of training is necessary to ensure that all relevant campus personnel can avoid similar experiences in the future.
This opinion piece is an outgrowth of concern about student disability support in all aspects of Cleveland State University campus life.
This story first appeared in the May 4, 2015 issue of The Cleveland Stater.