Accessibility Services in Post-Secondary – Part One

Written by our guest contributor: Karina Cotran (pictured above) from

When I first started university, I had no idea about the types of accessibility services that were available for me to use. In fact, I didn’t even know that my university had an Accessibility Centre!

You can read more about my first week in university and how I realized the effect that my hearing loss had on my learning experience in the classroom here.

After my first week, I started to learn more about the accessibility centre and the services they provided. After the first three months, I knew which type of accommodations were best for me. Now, those who just started post-secondary schooling are probably realizing the same thing for themselves.

If you have a hearing loss, here is a list of accessibility services that your school might offer you, as well as my own experience with those services (if they applied). For some of the services that I did not use, I got some input from some fellow hard of hearing peers.

There is a lot to know about each service, so I will be splitting the article into two parts. Here is part one of accessibility services in post-secondary.

Sign Language Interpreting

This is usually the first kind of accommodation anyone thinks of when they hear hearing loss. I personally don’t have experience with this because I cannot sign or understand sign language.

However, Hannah Wade, a Director of the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association – Young Adults Network shares her experience using interpreting for her B.Ed classes. She also has bilateral moderate hearing loss.

Her accommodations were provided through the accessibility office at her school – the funding is provided by Post-Secondary Disability Services (PSDS). She applied for this funding under student assistance. At the beginning of each school year, the accessibility office emails all of her instructors with a list of accommodations that she needs.

This is her first year using interpreters and she recognizes the benefits of such a service!

“I had no idea how much information I was missing every day. Now, whenever my friends/peers speak in class, I look directly at my interpreters and know what my peers are saying. As well, new terminology, concepts and words that are often misheard, are much clearer with the interpreters.”

Some of the advantages of having interpreters are:

  • They are your ears there is a lot of information that can be missed, but an interpreter can relay everything to you as it is being said.
  • They can advocate for you. If a video is being played, they will ask for captions. If captioning is not available, they can interpret the video for you.
  • They are constantly aware of your needs. For example, if there is a lot of background noise, the interpreter can help try and minimize that.

“Instead of having to look around the classroom to see who is talking, try to lip read them and pick up some pieces of what they are saying, the interpreters are right in front of me. Now, I never miss a joke said in class!”

Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART)

This is real-time captioning done by a software. This can be typically used in conferences and lectures, where speech gets converted to text. The text is usually projected on a screen. Again, I personally didn’t have experience with this because my university did not provide this service.

However, I saw this in action at a VOICE conference. I find that if I sit at the front of the room at a conference, I don’t have a problem hearing. But, the CART service, and seeing the words of the speaker on screen, made me realize how I often strain to hear – especially if the speaker is someone that walks around a lot. Reading the speech-to-text in real-time noticeably lessened the strain.

There were some mistakes in the speech-to-text, but it’s easy to fill in the blanks when you know the context of what is being said.

I never used CART in a school setting, but Kelsey Neill, a young woman who is an aspring epidemiologist, and has profound hearing loss. Kelsey had access to CART during her undergraduate years at university, which was provided through the school’s accessibility services.

According to Kelsey, some of the advantages to using CART are:

  • It was like real-time subtitles. This helps with being able to access all the information that was being taught in lectures.
  • Taking notes is easier. For those with hearing loss, we tend to try and focus on what is being said, and writing it down, while risking missing the next bit of information while doing so.
  • A transcript can be readily available. If you want to focus solely on listening to the professor, CART reporters can print out or email the entire transcript of a class for you.

While there were some advantages, there were some disadvantages as well. The main disadvantage is the social aspect that came with using CART. I don’t know about you, but while I was in school, I was pretty conscious of my actions and how they can impact me socially.

According to Kelsey, “the biggest downside to CART was all of its impacts on my social life. As a kid, it was really difficult and embarrassing to have to sit next to my CART reporter in all of my classes. I couldn’t always sit where I wanted to sit, or sit with my friends, because the CART equipment needed to be near plug-ins or the reporter needed to be able to sit in an area where she could hear properly.”

However, she does say that these disadvantages disappear in post-secondary because the environment is more professional, and that post-secondary schools stress that you are responsible for your own education. In fact, students regularly sat behind Kelsey and her CART reporter for their own convenience when taking notes!

That’s it for part one of accessibility services in post-secondary! Stay tuned for part two which will cover assistive listening devices, note taking and captioning!