Today is the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the landmark legislation passed on July 26, 1990 that provides protections to people with disabilities that are similar to those provided everyone on the basis of race, gender, national origin, age, and religion by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Thanks to the ADA, individuals with physical disabilities such as deafness, blindness, or paraplegia; diseases like multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, or cancer; as well as emotional or mental illness and learning disabilities cannot be discriminated against in any area of public life, including education, employment, transportation, and access to all places that are open to the general public.
Like every public college and university, NECC has a “Statement of Non-Discrimination” that guarantees our students, employees, and members of the public that we will not discriminate against anyone based on their race, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, veteran status, or other protected qualities.
Recognizing that simply not discriminating and providing required access is not enough to ensure the success of our students and employees, however, as we celebrate today’s ADA anniversary, NECC is also proud to say that we are taking steps to do more.
Nationwide, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, approximately 19% of undergraduates on college campuses report having some kind of disability. While some of those disabilities may be physical and noticeable, the overwhelming majority, such as learning disabilities, ADD/ADHD, asthma, fibromyalgia, and many more, are not.
For the past few years, a special Accessible Media Team, led by Director of Learning Accommodations Susan Martin, Director of the Center for Instructional Technology Melba Acevedo, and nationally recognized graphic designer and Accessible Media Specialist Lance Hidy, has been at the heart of the college’s efforts to ensure that every electronic resource we have, from web sites to videos and online course materials, is available to everyone, regardless of ability.
The team created NECC’s “Accessible Media Vision Statement,” which describes our ambition to “provide to the broadest possible audience, regardless of impairment or disability, equal access to the college’s programs, services, events, and activities,” and they have been assembling resources and providing professional development opportunities for faculty and staff to engage in “Creating a Level Learning e-Space” where classes are designed from the ground up to more accessible—and more effective—for everyone.
This team of champions for accessibility includes many other faculty and staff at NECC who are in demand as presenters at regional and national workshops and conferences.
Inspired by their work, Professor Hidy designed a special disability awareness poster that features “Famous People with Disabilities,” and earned a mention in Reach Everyone, Teach Everyone: Universal Design for Learning in Higher Education, a book about creating accessible teaching materials written by Thomas Tobin and Kirsten Behling.
Working closely with the state’s Department of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance (DCAMM) and their “Accessibility Initiative,” NECC has also been making significant improvements to the grounds, buildings, and classrooms on both our Haverhill and Lawrence campuses in order to make them more accessible to everyone.
So far, this has included features such as improved access to accessible parking spaces, restrooms, and drinking fountains; more navigable sidewalks, building entrances, and doorways; and greater attention to the information provided about accessibility everywhere from signs in buildings to the college’s web pages.
The most significant current project underway is a $600,000 renovation of the main entrance to the Behrakis Student Centeron the Haverhill campus, which previously offered only a steep stairwell leading from the street, to include ramps and automatic doorways enabling full access to the “front door” of our campus.
We are not yet where we want to be with providing full, unhindered access to our facilities, programs, and services for everyone, regardless of ability.
We are a continual work in progress.
And we are committed to doing all we can to ensuring our mission—to provide a welcoming environment focused on teaching and learning—is available to everyone.
Happy Anniversary, ADA—and thank you.