Letter to the Editor: RIT Supports Deaf and Hard-Of-Hearing Students but Not Their Needs

Extended testing time is important for deaf students as they need extra time to translate English to American Sign Language (ASL), as explained in Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, “The Effect of Congenital Deafness on Duration Judgement.”

Tyler Pugeda’s native language is ASL because he is deaf. He said it is difficult for him to translate English into ASL. He is pursuing a master’s degree in Biology. He came from John Hopkins University where he had extended test-taking time, which gave him more time to process language as well as demonstrate his content knowledge and skills.

At RIT, Deaf and hard-of-hearing students are a large population on campus because of the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID). As the grammar structure of ASL is different from English, many Deaf individuals struggle to translate English into ASL. This difficulty is similar to any individual comprehending and writing in a second language as demonstrated in the University of Tennessee article, "Deaf writers’ application of ASL knowledge to English." There are services provided for these students such as ASL interpreting, notetakers and real-time captioning in class.

The Disability Service Office (DSO) provides extended test-taking time for those with disabilities who request it, but not for Deaf students. The DSO’s policy is to only grant Deaf and hard-of-hearing students access to extension in test-taking time when they have an additional disability. According to RIT DeafPlus, a website about academic accommodations, students must have a disability in addition to deafness such as, but not limited to, DeafBlind, learning disability, ADHD, autism and anxiety.

Pugeda applied for extended testing time at the beginning of Fall semester of 2019 but was told that he needed an additional disability.

“I already went to see a neuropsychologist who recommends extended testing time because of my deafness and test anxiety,” Pugeda said. “But DSO just claimed that I don’t meet the full criteria for anxiety. It seems weird that they don’t fully trust my neuropsychologist’s evaluation.”

NTID Student Congress president, Nick Rudar, said this issue was brought to his attention through the Deaf Advocacy Committee.

“Just the lack of accommodations prevents you from having accessible access to information and not receiving all the information can impact your test grades or homework grades,” Rudar stated. “It's always been an ongoing issue due to students not knowing how to request interpreters or requesting it too late or DAS [Department of Access Services] not having enough captionists or interpreters.”

DSO believes NTID’s services, led by the Department of Access Services (DAS), are enough to cover students’ accommodations.

“NTID offers interpreting, captioning [and] note-taking. In order to be fair and consistent, we can review requests for extended test time if it is due to a disability other than hearing loss, ” Disability Service Director Susan Ackerman stated in an email interview.

The Deaf Advocacy Committee meets to discuss issues at NTID biweekly. The lack of accommodations DSO offers is one of several issues NTID students face. Morgan Bauer leads the Deaf Advocacy Committee and plans to meet with DSO to discuss approaches they can make to help others. DSO had scheduled their meeting but postponed it a couple of times, Bauer said.

“Sometimes on committees, things don’t always turn [out] the way you want. The administration doesn’t always listen to us. At that point, it’s on the student to proceed, to argue discrimination or violation of ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act],” Bauer explained.

Pugeda approached DSO and explained his reasoning for needing extended testing time.

“I can imagine my grade would be lower without extended testing time,” Pugeda said.

His deafness and language processing delays impact his information processing skills he said. DSO still declined his request. He sought advice from the Legal Affairs at RIT and was recommended that he apply for a formal complaint through the Office of Civil Rights under the Department of Education to appeal to DSO’s decision.

As of now, he is working on submitting a formal complaint regardless of the consequences of doing so. He is cautious of medical or graduate schools viewing him as a litigious person. The statute of limitations is 180 days, which is why Pugeda needed to make his decision by December.

“Many people have told me that DSO’s decision is final. No, don’t think that way,” Pugeda said. “Remember, DSO’s decision is never final; you can always appeal it. You can always find a way to appeal it.”