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Article Missed Improvements for Deaf

I was disappointed at the incomplete article written by Eva Moy G covering Barbara Roberts' progress during her first year as MIT's disability coordinator. The article completely missed reporting on one form of disability. While the article reported many improvements of note, it mentioned nothing about improved accessibility for a little known group of disabled students at MIT.

I, and several other MIT students, fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act's definition of "disabled", but the millions of dollars that have been spent on building renovations have had no impact on accessibility for us. We can walk up steps with no problems, nor do we have any trouble reading homework assignments because we have no learning disabilities. We have near full use of our vision, so we do not need any translation into Braille. So what is wrong with us and what kinds of services do we need?

I am deaf. My disability is communication related. I cannot hear a lecture or follow class debates. I cannot use regular phones, nor can people call me without making use of a relay service. For meetings and classes, I rely on sign-language interpreters, but it takes a minimum of two-weeks advance to schedule an interpreter for an event. I have asked the administration to hire a full-time interpreter, which could cut costs and make all campus events more accessible to MIT deaf students, but I have heard of no progress on that front.

To circumvent the inaccessible phone systems, I make ample use of electronic mail and other assistive telephony equipment such as TTYs and pagers (some of which were provided by MIT). However, these are only partial solutions, since the MIT community still relies on telephones for many purposes. Consider, for example, the large growth in the use of voice mail systems, which are inherently inaccessible to deaf people.

Despite the millions spent on building ramps and renovating toilets, I have yet to see a significant deployment of deaf-accessible public telephones. There is currently only one public phone on campus that has a built-in TTY for use by deaf people, but I cannot even use that phone to make a campus-to-campus call without having to pay for it. Do you pay for your campus phone calls? I have been offered a calling card to make these calls, but do you really want me running up a bill with something like that when MIT, the center of technological innovation, could come up with better ideas? I would guess there are well over 100 public phones around campus, and only one of them is accessible to the deaf.

To understand the kind of frustration deaf people deal with, consider this true story: When I first moved onto campus, I had trouble calling 800 numbers through the Nynex Relay Service (which lets deaf people using TTYs talk to hearing people). I informed Nynex and MIT of the problem, but each blamed the other and the problem was not solved for more than a year. Imagine not being able to call 800 numbers for one year. The problem turned out to be both Nynex and MIT's fault, as Nynex was unfamiliar with MIT's phone system. Why did it take over a year to solve this problem?

Another story: In the spring of my senior year at MIT I had to take a Humanities Arts and Social Sciences class in order to satisfy my graduation requirements. Due to some strange mix-up, we could not find ANY sign-language interpreters for the class. I tried working something out on an individual basis with the professor, but she insisted that I complete a term project as a part of a team. Naturally, as almost all teams at MIT do, they scheduled meetings haphazardly and on a last-minute basis so I was unable to find interpreters for our meetings. I barely passed the class., and I did not learn anything from the class despite having to pay over $22,000 a year to get an education. Imagine how much easier this would have been if we had a full-time interpreter to handle "emergency" requests?

Whenever I give my phone number to someone, I have to write down "use relay service, 1-800-439-2370" as a footnote, and hope that people understand what it means.

I have seen few changes since Barbara Roberts has arrived. I am not saying that there has been no progress, but I am saying that it has not been noticed by me. My interpreters have told me that their payments are now on schedule, when in the past, MIT has been notorious for paying interpreters up to six months after they complete their work. This used to "scare" interpreters away from working at MIT. I have been loaned a pager and a single TTY to make getting in touch with me easier, but there is still a long way to to go. I still do most of my own interpreter scheduling, but this is something that should be handled by a full-time staff interpreter. The interpreter scheduling process needs to be standardized, and a real effort must be made to ensure that major campus events are accessible.

Adam Skwersky G