This year, the University of Michigan’s Equity, Civil Rights and Title IX Office launched a Computer Assisted Real-time Transcription program, which instantly transcribes spoken English to written text. Students with CART accommodations are able to read what is being said in their lecture or discussion in real time. Though the CART program’s pilot stage was funded through a one-time $50,000 request, ECRT officials aim to make the resource permanent. Additionally, the University is adding nearly 100 new automatic doors and hired two new American Sign Language interpreters to work in the ECRT.
In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Rackham student Alex Perez-Garcia, Rackham president of Business Leaders for Diverse Abilities, said CART is a good addition to the University’s accessibility efforts.
“I think it’s really great that the University is making strides towards increasing accessibility for the disability community at the University of Michigan,” Perez-Garcia said. “Looking at the structural barriers, so thinking about accessible doors, thinking about accessible communication through CART captioning, definitely makes sense.”
Prior to attending the University, Perez-Garcia worked at Disability Lead, a disability rights nonprofit, where Perez-Garcia said they would use a CART captioner at every event. Unlike other captioning services, Perez-Garcia said CART can account for accents and differences in speech that other automatic captioning services do not catch.
“We have seen automatic captioning in many products like Zoom and Google Meets, but we always had a CART captioner as part of our event operating system,” Perez-Garcia said. “CART captioning provides insurance that the communication that is coming either live at events or in a recorded video … is accessible to the most people.”
LSA senior Lane Brodzik, president of the Society of Disabled and Neurodiverse Students, told The Daily that while structural changes, like installing more automatic doors, are a good start, the University still has a long way to go to make the campus accessible.
“From personal experience, I use a rolling backpack because I have a physical disability in addition to being neurodivergent,” Brodzik said. “So (sometimes) entering a lot of buildings is a struggle … just like the doors being heavy and not staying open very well and slamming on my bag. (Automatic doors will) definitely be a good thing, but I still feel like there’s a lot of other areas that need to be addressed.”
The University is also planning to increase accessible design on campus through Vision 2034 and Campus Plan 2050. In an interview with The Daily, Robert Adams, associate professor of architecture and director of University of Michigan Initiative on Disability Studies, said the way a space is designed sends a message about who the space is for and how it should be used. Adams said lot of classrooms and buildings at the University currently do not send the message that they were designed with disabled individuals in mind.
“When you go to look at university infrastructure … it’s hard to point to a space and say, this is an intentionally designed safe space,” Adams said. “For the most part I think architects feel like they’ve done their job if they meet accessible agendas within the building code … My opinion on that is that’s not enough.”
According to College Consensus, the University of Michigan ranks second in the Best Disability Friendly Colleges and Universities category. The rankings examine available resources to address physical disabilities at each institution. Adams said though he believes the University is actively making good structural changes, he hopes the University will offer better support for employees with disabilities.
“For faculty and staff who are disabled and who also need support, there isn’t really an active network to make that happen,” Adams said. “There’s the Disability Navigator Program; it’s designed right now to serve LSA faculty, but it’s to help disabled faculty navigate a whole range of challenges that we face on a day-to-day basis … I hope all colleges and schools would eventually adopt (something similar).”
In addition to expanding the Disability Navigator Program, Adams said both faculty and students would also benefit from the implementation of a center for students with disabilities.
“I think it’d be really important, just like on a number of other campuses around the country, that we establish a disability culture center,” Adams said. “ … They can belong to that space and have a sense of ownership and control … their voices can be communicated and in a variety of ways to create a kind of public platform to interface with the things we’re doing internally as a university to maybe a larger audience.”
Faculty are not the only ones who support building a center for students with disabilities. Brodzik said members of their organization want the University to create a physical space where disabled and neurodivergent students can gather and find support.
“Something that a lot of us in my org have wanted is something similar to the Spectrum Center but for disabled neurodivergent students,” Brodzik said. “Because we have (Services for Students with Disabilities), but that’s not a gathering space or a place for general resources outside of meeting accommodations.”
Daily Staff Reporter Rebecca Lewis can be reached at email@example.com.