One of the things that I’ve been a little frustrated about lately is the time it takes to arrange and obtain academic accommodations, such as sign language interpreting or captioning services. I can’t just show up to a lecture or an event and expect a sign language interpreter to be there. I have to explicitly request the service, and there are many reasons why this process might get delayed.
Before agencies or institutions provide the service, I have to prove that I need the service. This means, at minimum, I need to provide them my audiogram, and they might need some additional background information about my education. Sometimes an interview is required; I had a remote interview with a Berkeley DSP employee before I had arrived for my first classes.
After the initial registration hurdle, I can start formally requesting accommodations. To schedule an accommodation for a campus-related event, I have to fill out an online form with information about the time, the location, and other stuff. Berkeley’s gotten better with the forms, as they’ve implemented extra features that help to counter my earlier criticism. On the other hand, there can still be a noticeable delay between when I submit the form and when I get responses, and I have to keep reminding myself that weekends and vacations do not count as “real days” when counting how many days in advance to submit a request.
In some cases, it can be extremely annoying to schedule accommodations for one-time events. If it is the first time that I am participating in an event, then I usually don’t have much information on the setting or environment, and it is not always clear if there will be one speaker (which is easier for an interpreter) or a debate with people shouting simultaneously. In addition, I often need to have a detailed schedule of the event, and it’s common to have people wait until the last minute to finalize schedules. I’ve had to send lots of emails to remind others that I need a detailed schedule ASAP, and people hate to see “ASAP.”
Finally, it’s not clear how much accommodations can help in practice. I’m not counting cases when there’s some kind of mistake in the scheduling (they do happen sometimes, as in my prelims). I’m considering cases when they work normally, but they simply do not produce any benefit. For instance, when I took CS 288, I had captioning services. In general, they worked as intended (well, not always) but it was extremely hard for me to follow and understand concepts based on real-time, imperfect captions.
I should note, of course, that I’m not the only one who has mentioned this. In fact, I was actually inspired to write this short piece after reading a longer essay by Teresa Blankmeyer Burke, an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Gallaudet University who is deaf. Her blog post covers on some of the themes regarding the time it takes to schedule accommodations. I think her experience is similar to mine: lots and lots of emails to write and forms to fill.
Nonetheless, despite the annoyance of scheduling accommodations, it is important for me to look at the big picture. First, I usually get the accommodations, which is something that not every deaf person in the world can say. In addition, even when accommodations do not work that well, I know that the people providing them are trying their best to help me, and I appreciate that.