Distance Learning & Disability Services

From GC Student Disability Services

Student Disability Services at the Graduate Center is currently functioning remotely.

Services and communication have continued, and accommodations (particularly immediate ones, such as midterms) are being handled in close communication with students and faculty. Alternative formats continue to be processed as usual. A variety of assistive software is available for home use (see Accessibility & Assistive Technology.)

Visit the SDS webpage for general information and resources. 

Explore this page for information about distance learning and COVID-19 concerns. Resources may be added as they become known and available.

March 2020

What changes to expect

  • Alternative formats--SDS is handling alternative formats of digital files in our usual manner. One significant change is the lack of access to physical books. The Mina Rees Library and Interlibrary Loan are still accepting requests for book chapters and articles, and our office can assist in making those accesible.
  • Captioning--Students who utilize CART services regularly have been contacted, as have the captioning providers and faculty, in order to transition to remote captioning on the virtual platform of the class.
  • Screen readers--Students who are known by our office to use screen readers have been contacted. WebEx and Blackboard are compatible with screen readers. However, there are likely to be idiosyncracies. If you would like to test-run a classroom with your professor, you may contact SDS or the professor directly. If you encounter difficulties, please notify SDS, so that we can troubleshoot with you and notify your professor of possible delays. This is a learning process for all of us.
  • Concerns with deadlines and satisfactory progress--SDS will work with students, faculty, programs, and administration ensure that access interuptions, transition time, and health factors are considered with regard to deadlines and progress. Contact SDS if you have questions or concerns.

TeleHealth during NYS on PAUSE

The Empire Plan is doing all they can to support its enrollees through this unprecedented time and has introduced a new telehealth benefit to help them access health care services remotely. LiveHealth Online lets enrollees stay home and have a video visit with a board-certified doctor or licensed therapist on their smartphone, tablet or personal computer.

If enrollees are concerned about leaving their homes to receive medical care or their ability to access care, The Empire Plan will cover telehealth visits at no cost. See the TeleHealth instructions for additional information and step-by-step instructions to register or enrollees who are already registered can login to www.empireblue.com/nys to get a coupon code to cover the full cost of their LiveHealth Online visit. For additional assistance, enrollees should be encouraged to call The Empire Plan at 1-877-7- NYSHIP (1-877-769-7447) and select option 2 for the Hospital Program.

Note: A postcard regarding this new benefit will also be mailed to enrollees in the coming week

From: Dept of Civil Service

Resources for Online Course Accessibility @ CUNY

CUNY has created a Blackboard Course to learn how to get started building online courses that are usable and accessible. It is available via the “Accessibility Training” tab after logging into Blackboard, under the heading “Blackboard Accessibility Course”.

Other accessibility resources:

Per CUNY policy, it is the faculty’s responsibility to ensure that the accommodations determined and approved by Student Disability Services are provided to the student in a timely and responsive manner. Please contact SDS for additional information.

CUNY’s Council on Student Disability Issues (COSDI) publishes a Faculty Guide to Teaching College Students with Disabilities to assist faculty in successfully carrying out their central role in relation to the University’s commitment to providing access to students with disabilities. In the guide faculty will find the latest information about various types of disabilities, the functional limitations of students with these disabilities, recommended accommodations, and helpful suggestions on how to successfully meet students’ needs in the classroom and other college settings.


Assistive Software from CATS

As we adjust to the changes during the COVID 19 pandemic, CATS (CUNY Assistive Technology Services) and MAP (Media Accessibility Project) are here to continue to support CUNY. We are continually updating the CATS website [cats.cuny.edu] with how-to guides, videos, accessibility resources, and other important information with easy and simple installation instructions [cats.cuny.edu] for CUNY students, faculty, and staff. As a friendly reminder, the following software is available for free at-home use for students;
CATS Assistive Technology Lab Package

  • Kurzweil 3000 and WYNN are reading and writing software programs used primarily by students with learning disabilities.
  • ZoomText Magnifier/Reader is a magnification and reading program tailored for low-vision users.
  • JAWS  is a screen reading software program that enables blind or low vision users to read the text that is displayed on the computer screen using a speech synthesizer or refreshable braille display.
  • Fusion is a combination of JAWS screen reader and ZoomText Magnifier/Reader primarily used by low vision and blind students.
  • OpenBook is a scanning and reading software program that converts printed documents into accessible digital text.
MAP has also created how-to guides and training videos on digital accessibility to assist faculty and staff in the transition to online learning. Head over to the MAP Accessibility Resources [cats.cuny.edu] page for more information on maximizing access. Don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel (CATSCUNY) for training videos on accessibility.
More information on assistive technology and accessibility training videos can be found on our CATS website [cats.cuny.edu]

From CATS on Video Captioning

CATS (CUNY Assistive Technology Services) recommends the use of otter.ai to automatically transcribe video content. You can create a free account that comes with 600 free minutes per month. You import your videos and wait between 20 minutes to an hour for a transcribed product (depending on the length of the video). Once a video is transcribed, you can click on the transcript and make any necessary edits.
If you will be using live videos instead of recorded videos, Office 365 has a built-in live captioning feature if you use PowerPoint. CUNY faculty and staff have access to Office 365; you login with your CUNYFirst username (firstname.lastname##@login.cuny.edu) and CUNYFirst password. After clicking on PowerPoint, you can start a new presentation or upload a presentation you already have. After it opens, click on slide show, and click on “always use subtitles”. You can choose to have the captions appear below or above the slide, and have your captions translated to another language by choosing a different subtitle language.
A downside to using the built-in live captioning with Office 365 is that the captions only appear in the PowerPoint you are presenting, and no other files or browser windows during your lecture. If you are just going to be lecturing in your live video, then this will be a great tool.
For students who already use real-time captioning in their f2f classes, GC Student Disability Services has contacted the captioning providers regarding the live captioning features in WebEx, Zoom, and Blackboard Collaborate. These applications do not automatically transcribe your live lectures, and without a captioning provider, an attendee will need to type the captions as you are live. Click here for more information on live captioning with Blackboard Collaborate.
More information and instructions will be available on cats.cuny.edu [cats.cuny.edu] in the coming days as we prepare for this transition.

Update (04-14-20)
Otter.ai is now offering a two month free trial of their upgraded Teams account [u9660004.ct.sendgrid.net] that includes live interactive transcripts for Zoom and other features.

National Association of the Deaf (NAD)

From the National Deaf Center

"Your Questions, Answered" is a summary of the most frequent or important questions received by NDC's help team. For more information and tips during the COVID-19 crisis, visit nationaldeafcenter.org/covid19.

How can I add live-stream captioning within online meetings or Learning Management Systems (LMS) platforms, such as Canvas, Blackboard, or Zoom?

Most online conferencing or Learning Management Systems (LMS) have tutorials in their knowledge base/support sites explaining how to connect have tutorials explaining how to connect live captioning. Refer to the following direct links. If you need additional support, contact your IT department.
How can we add sign language interpreters in “live” online courses?

Give the remote interpreter(s) access to the video platform service (e.g., Zoom or GoToMeetings) or LMS (e.g., Canvas or Blackboard). Ensure that students are aware of and have enabled the features to choose how the videos appear on screen (gallery, side-by-side, etc.), that they have any necessary permissions, and that they know how to set up their preferences to view the interpreter and instructor.

If for any reason the interpreter is not able to login to the preferred LMS/online course platform, consider a multi-platform approach. For example, the student can be logged into LMS (e.g. Canvas or Blackboard in one window and an interpreter on an online video platform (e.g., Zoom, FaceTime or other video service).
How should schools/institutions utilize staff interpreting and speech-to-text providers when transitioning from in-person to online classes?

Staff, hourly and contracted service providers (interpreting and speech-to-text) should continue to provide services remotely. This ensures consistency with services for the student. Work with service providers to ensure they have:
  • Access to high-speed internet.
  • A private space to work from (e.g., some schools are allowing service providers to use offices on campus as long as they observe self-quarantine protocols).
  • Appropriate equipment, such as headphones with a microphone and a computer with webcam and any necessary software.
  • Access to LMS or live video platforms.
  • The student and instructor’s contact information in case of technical troubleshooting.
Staff and hourly providers can also assist with:  
  • Captioning media for online courses (or prepare a transcript).
  • Provide interpreting for pre-recorded lectures.
  • Be available remotely for online tutoring, meetings or online school activities unrelated to the classroom.  
Additional information:
Where can I find captioned media vendors and what should I look for?

Creating Offline Captions includes some tips and strategies in ensuring accurate captions are obtained. If you choose to outsource your media for captioning, the following links provide some resources:

Meeting the Needs of Deaf College Students:
Live Panels, New Resources, and Help Desk

Deaf [nationaldeafcenter.us4.list-manage.com] college students, just like their peers, have faced a challenging spring semester — from coping with a worldwide pandemic to the sudden move to online classes for many. These changes in learning environments mean so much more to deaf students than just Zoom meetings and searching for wifi. Accessibility has changed dramatically in just a short period of time.

Many college students went on spring break using one set of accommodations, then returned with  the need to figure out a new delivery platform. Ensuring equal access to course content requires communication, problem solving, and flexibility from faculty, service providers, and school administrators — yet many deaf students find that burden placed upon them.

Live Student Panel Provided Strategies, Connections

The National Deaf Center (NDC) is here to help. First and foremost, we recognize that deaf students need to meet and share strategies with each other in a supportive and accessible environment. With everyone at home, deaf students also are experiencing a loss of contact with their peer networks, including other deaf students and allies.

On April 9, NDC hosted its first online student panel on Zoom. It was attended by deaf students, in an open conversation about their experiences with the transition online during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The response was terrific. Almost 50 attendees raised many issues and concerns about challenges they have faced. Panelists and students alike provided examples of strategies on how to advocate for their rights, resources to support them while learning online, and a national network of peers to draw upon for support.

Join Us for Another Panel on April 22

Due to popular demand, NDC will host a second online student panel [nationaldeafcenter.us4.list-manage.com]on Zoom on April 22 at 7 to 8:30 p.m. CDT. Please share this save the date with deaf college students! This event will be conducted in ASL with English interpretation and captioning.

Other Resources and Assistance

Always remember: NDC has a full slate of COVID-19 related resources [nationaldeafcenter.us4.list-manage.com] for students, faculty, and families. Check out tips for online learning strategies, professional development opportunities, and more.

And please contact us if you need us! The NDC Help Desk is available for specific questions at help@nationaldeafcenter.org.

National Deaf Center

Distance Learning & Disability Services @ CUNY

Our dedicated faculty across the University are hard at work, preparing for our upcoming transition to distance learning modalities. While engaging in this critical work, please be particularly mindful of the learning and accessibility needs for CUNY’s more than 11,000 students with disabilities.
During this transition to distance learning, CUNY’s faculty remain the University’s most vital resource in ensuring reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities. As our faculty prepare to deliver course content via distance learning modalities, I ask that they consider the following overarching principles and key resources:
  • Under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), CUNY college are still required to provide equal access to our University’s academic programs – even in a distance learning environment
  • Student Disability Services (SDS) continues to serve as a key source of technical assistance and support to faculty in determining the best ways to reasonably accommodate students with disabilities in distance learning instructional modalities; please contact the Manager of SDS if you have questions or concerns about how you can best support our students as your transition to an alternative mode of teaching. 
  • The barriers that exist at the intersection of a student’s disability and course design may be different from those posed by the original course format. Some accommodations students used before may no longer apply in distance learning formats, and some accommodations not considered previously may need to be considered now; we appreciate our faculty’s flexibility and collaboration with SDS staff and students with disabilities themselves to meet their accommodation needs in distance learning modalities.
Reasonable Accommodations: A Faculty Guide for Teaching Students with Disabilities was developed specifically for CUNY faculty to provide them with information and best practices to be most effective in meeting the needs of students with disabilities and achieving the goal of equal access. This guide includes helpful information in accommodating students with disabilities in distance learning, including the following two sections:
Please know that Student Disability Services will work closely with our CUNY Office of Student Inclusion Initiatives to ensure that our faculty have the support they need to successfully and meaningfully accommodate students with disabilities. We are grateful to our faculty and to our disability services professionals for their abiding commitment to the access, success, and wellness of students with disabilities.

From Executive Vice Chancellor José Luis Cruz

CUNY Continuity for Students

From Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez
Description: The chancellor is addressing the viewer in a single chest-up shot with captions.

Resources & Virtual Consultation @ TLC

The Teaching and Learning Center has launched a site to support Graduate Center faculty and graduate student instructors [now that] that face-to-face instruction [has been] disrupted this semester. We will be collecting resources on this site going forward.  

GC students should also be aware of additional resources on the campuses where they are teaching. [While] face-to-face instruction [is] interrupted, we [have announced] virtual office hours to offer additional support to community members who have pedagogical questions. 

The TLC has set up a Slack workspace for all CUNY faculty (including adjuncts and GTFs) who need assistance transitioning face-to-face courses to fully online. This space will be active for the remainder of the semester. 

Faculty are able to sign up with CUNY email domains here: https://join.slack.com/t/cuny-co/signup 

The space will be staffed daily by representatives from several CUNY teaching centers, instructional designers, and other interested staff and committed faculty. We’ll do our best to answer questions and direct folks to helpful resources within the community.

Here is a handy guide to using Slack: https://slack.com/resources/using-slack/slack-tutorials

TLC staff will be available to provide individual, virtual consultations on course conversions the week of March 16 for all GC students who are currently teaching and all GC faculty.  

To request a consultation, please fill out this form: https://forms.gle/zHtNRr4fYKU7g26UA

We will get back to registrants with an appointment time and additional details within a day of their registration. 

Remote Consultations and Services @ GCDI

As the university transitions to remote instruction, research, and work, the GC Digital Initiatives team is available for consultations on a wide range of topics related to technology. We invite GC faculty, students, and staff to use this form to set up 30 minute appointments with us. 

All in-person GCDI workshops have been cancelled for the Spring semester and the GC Digital Scholarship Lab is closed until further notice. Other activities, such as working groups, are on pause as the GCDI team supports collective efforts to move university work online.

We encourage the GC community to make use of online resources posted on the GC Digital Initiatives website, including:

From GC Digital Initiatives

From the Office for Civil Rights

Fact Sheet: Addressing the Risk of COVID-19 in Schools While Protecting the Civil Rights of Students 

OCR Coronavirus Statement

COVID-19 ("Coronavirus") Information and Resources for Schools and School Personnel

CDC: Interim Guidance for Administrators of US Institutions of Higher Education

OCR Short Webinar on Online Education and Website Accessibility


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Contact Student Disability Services

Clare Wilson

Manager of Student Disability Services
Graduate Center
Room 7301.02

Phone 212-817-7413