Student Struggles With Disability Office Resources
Kevin-James Reyes took a long drag of a cigarette while his three-year-old hearing dog, Jasper Hale Cullen, lay patiently by his feet.
The two were taking a break from walking, their typical mode of transportation. The black Labrador provides Reyes, a criminal justice senior who has been deaf since he was 10 years old, with companionship and an increased sound awareness of his environment.
However, there are many obstacles still standing in Reyes’ way of independence.
He had struggled for years with the Texas State Office of Disability Services about on-campus accessibility for those who are deaf or have partial hearing loss.
“I want to feel the real life experiences,” Reyes said. “I’m forced to sit at home.”
Reyes’ feelings of isolation stem from numerous failed attempts to receive sufficient interpreter and captioning services from Disability Services. The New York native said he has even considered transferring from the university because of problems with the office.
Clint-Michael Reneau, Office of Disability Services director, said in an email he is obligated by federal regulations and personal respect for students’ privacy not to disclose specific student information.
However, Reneau said the office makes every effort to look into matters that may have an impact on the 1,601 students registered with ODS.
Financial circumstances brought Reyes to Texas State after transferring from Rochester Institute of Technology last year. He said Texas pays for his education through the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services Certificate of Deafness Tuition Waiver.
Reyes may not be contending with tuition costs, but he worries about the day-to-day, outside-the-classroom activities that make life as a university student memorable and worthwhile.
Reyes said he wants to enjoy the Texas State-sponsored events, such as live Bobcat Athletics play-by-plays, with his friends. However, scheduling conflicts and insufficient funds have halted his requests for an interpreter or captioning services at university football games.
Reyes said the office continues to blame its inability to provide adequate resources to those registered with a hearing disability on lack of funding.
However, Reneau said every university department and office must efficiently and effectively manage budgets and resources in order to maximize service to all students the office serves.
“The vice president for student affairs, budgeting office and the president have always been willing to provide the Office of Disability Services with the funds needed to ensure all of the students served by (the Office of Disability Services) at Texas State have appropriate and reasonable accommodations to meet the needs of their academic programs and educational experiences,” Reneau said.
There were an estimated 51 deaf or hard of hearing students registered in 2010. Linda Lovelace, liaison interpreter, said students who are deaf or have partial hearing loss must provide an audiogram as documentation.
Services offered to students with hearing loss include interpreters, preferential seating and closed captioning. Lovelace said the captioning services pilot program was implemented at Texas State in fall 2004.
Since then, there have been more than 100 special captioning requests, totaling more than 11,000 hours in fiscal year 2010. Twenty-four students used captioning services last year.
Reyes said funding problems have been a reason why the office employs student caption writers who assist in transcribing lectures at the request of those registered through the office.
Texas State alumnus Matt Kelly was a university caption writer for more than a year. He worked with about 20 students.
For Kelly, working as a caption writer meant always reaching his goal of transcribing lectures and student questions “verbatim.”
To reach his transcription goal, Kelly said the office required training for caption writers, which included transcribing lectures about classroom professionalism, typing enhancement software and practicing keying previously recorded lectures.
His caption writing training did not end once he entered the classroom.
Kelly said he and his fellow caption writers performed routine trainings throughout the year intended to keep their services at the highest possible performance level.
“There were some difficulties in captioning. It can be a somewhat demanding job and requires a lot of focus, sometimes for a long period of time, if you’re working alone,” Kelly said. “Spelling can be tricky sometimes, especially in classes with a lot of jargon. Some professors may have thick accents, which also complicates the transcription process. These challenges can be overcome with practice, however.”
Reneau said the caption writers must complete a comprehensive interview, skills test and inventory procedure before being assigned to a student who is deaf or has hearing loss. Once in the classroom, caption writers set up a laptop or a machine with a display screen the student can view.
However, Reyes had complaints about the student captionists.
“(The Office of Disability Services) doesn’t train students,” Reyes said. “They type word-for-word and are very slow. They sometimes say they can’t hear the professor when they miss a word. I can read lips. They also don’t ask the professor how to spell the word. It gets frustrating.”
Reyes did not feel as though his assigned caption writers’ transcription abilities improved over time.
As a solution to his problem, Reyes said he requested to hire a friend who is a certified caption writer through an outside source, but was told by Texas State Office of Disability Services he could not.
However, Reneau said he does not believe the office has received any requests from students to hire a caption writer.
Reyes said he has had to continue to use the services despite failing classes and dealing with Texas State faculty and staff who stereotype. He wants to make it his life’s work to help improve Americans with Disabilities Act services in Texas.