Accessibility is Everyone's Job, All the Time
Twenty-five years have passed since the signing of the Americans with Disability Act (ADA). While this quarter-century mark prompts us to measure our progress, at Waubonsee Community College we take pride in our tradition of accessibility and a commitment to service that pre-dates the legislation. When legislation is passed, people often ask: Whose job will it be to implement this, and what’s the deadline? When it comes to accessibility, the answer is that it is everyone’s responsibility; every day.
Since the legislation was signed in 1990, the ADA has prohibited discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, government, public accommodations, commercial facilities, transportation and telecommunications. In addition, the legislation also protects students with disabilities from discrimination in areas of postsecondary education such as admission, academics and research. And this month – Disability Employment Awareness Month – provides yet another reminder that a continued commitment is needed.
Accessibility is at the core of why the community college system was founded; to provide all students a chance to receive a higher education. We provide opportunities for students with disabilities to succeed and we also provide education and training for those who will work in fields which improve opportunities for those with disabilities.
Our history of accessibility goes back to our early beginnings. The Waubonsee Hearing Impaired Program (WHIP) was established in the 1973-74 school year as a statewide program to serve deaf students. It was the first of its kind in the state. Hearing impaired students from throughout Illinois attended. As a related component of the program, the Interpreter Training Program (ITP) was established. Since it began, our ITP program has produced hundreds of alumni, including several who have served as presidents of both the National and Illinois Registry of Interpreters of the Deaf. Those programs inspired a host of complementary offerings by Waubonsee over the years – including an annual volleyball tournament for deaf and hard of hearing teams which was hosted here for many years. Another groundbreaking offering was our Disability Studies program. When the courses were first developed, they were the only ones at a community college in the Midwest.
Today, what was originally known as WHIP is our Access Center for Disability Resources. The department’s function has expanded to provide academic support services and accommodations to students with a variety of disabilities. But access is not only the job of one office. It requires the input and participation of everyone. We are proud of the cross section of employees serving on our Accessibility Advisory Committee. The group draws on participation from departments across our campuses.
Waubonsee’s chapter of the Disabled Student Organization or Delta Sigma Omicron (DSO) has more than 40 active members involved in numerous charitable events or organizations. Membership in the award winning club is open to all.
Many might think that passing the ADA 25 years ago meant the work of providing access to everyone was over, but it truly was only the beginning. Our faculty and staff are constantly asked to refresh their approach and perspective to make sure that doors are open for all.