Accommodations in the Classroom: Not Just an Issue for People with Disabilities

Every day we accommodate for our own incapacities. We also manage to accommodate for the incapacities of others. I was reminded of this when I came cross this email from a middle school principal to the parents of enrolled students.

Accommodations Letter from Principal

What I found ironic is that the email itself did not address the fact that there is a student among the 12 – 13 year olds who is blind. The principal’s concern was focused on the other students and the parents of the other students — allergies and fears of animals.

I applaud the comprehensive concern and was so intrigued by it that I decided to look at accommodations in the classroom not from the student’s with disability perspective but from the students and faculty who learn, teach and live around him and how together, we can all create environments where students thrive.

Three Critical Success Factors for Accommodations in the Classroom

When we compared our own experiences at NWI Global with research of attitudes in the classroom, readiness by school administration, and compliance to laws, we found there to be three factors that play into the successes of schools enrolling students with disabilities.

1. Process: Being Prepared for Enrolling Students with Disabilities

The email from the middle school principal was sent in August. This particular middle school is located in Northern Virginia — an area known to welcome military families frequently throughout the school year. I’m not making the assumption that this student is military but I am drawing the comparison to the unforeseen reasons why any school, K-12 or higher education, needs to be ready to manage the accommodations of students with disabilities.

In fact, in the United States and in accordance with Title III of the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, public and private schools and colleges & universities must provide an equal opportunity to students with disabilities, so they can participate in and benefit fully from school services and classroom instruction. This is not an option, but that doesn’t mean it’s happening in all educational instructions throughout the country.

A proactive process for handling accommodations in the classroom will inevitably make relationships between peers, between student and faculty, and between school and parent a much smoother and more productive experience.

2. Culture: Attitudes Surrounding Accommodations in the Classroom

A program for managing accommodations is one that can be and should be replicated and the repetition will help to build greater understanding, tolerance, and cooperation among all of the stakeholder groups comprising an educational institution. These characteristics and attitudes will build a culture that is supportive of diversity and disability.

Despite the fact that accommodations are beneficial to the wellbeing of students with disabilities and their success in the classroom, a recent Rowan University study found that a significant number of students at the college and university level may not avail themselves to accommodation services.

The study found that one of the factors that may influence the decision of college students with disabilities to request or avoid accommodations is the attitudes of surrounding students and faculty; hence, researchers have strongly suggested that ensuring a more tolerate and accepting culture for diversity, including disability, will in turn create more positive attitudes towards requesting accommodations for students with disabilities and help to make their educational experiences successful ones.

3. Compliance: Defining Accommodations and Requirements

The aforementioned study of attitudes toward accommodations in the classroom, surveyed its respondents to understand the types of accommodations that they were requesting or in some cases availing due to the tenuous culture.

Below is a chart of responses:

Accommodations Survey

From our own experiences, we can add translation and interpretation services for the non-English speaking, Deaf, and hard of hearing communities which can come in the form of spoken and sign language interpreters, remote captioning (CART), and other technologies to assist in the communication translation/interpretation process.

Service Dog

No matter what the specific accommodation, whether digital book or a Golden-doodle, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires businesses, services providers, and schools, colleges & universities to provide equal opportunity to persons with disabilities.

Further, any of these types of organizations receiving federal financial assistance in the form of grants, tax payer funded programs and/or student tuition assistance must be ready to offer necessary accommodations to any student who is requesting and who shows need.

Creating Success for Schools and All Students

For more information on how you can create successful environments where accommodations come into play, we suggest you contact NWI Global to review your current state and how we can help you prepare a proactive process for future enrollment of students with disabilities, to share experiences about creating positive attitudes around accommodations, and to ensure that your school is compliance with ADA and Section 504 requirements.

Additionally, here are some links to resources that you may find useful and/or were referenced in this article:

Sign Language Interpreting, ADA and Section 504 Compliance Explained

Providing Accommodations for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Individuals in Educational Settings

Imagine going through life without the ability to fully hear what’s going on around you. This would certainly impact your communication with others around you in both personal and professional life.

For a person who can speak and hear, it’s just a matter of talking and listening. Both are fairly mundane and repetitive tasks that we don’t think twice about.

For a Deaf or hard of hearing person, it’s a hurdle that must be overcome on a daily basis especially when communicating with someone who can hear.

Thankfully, unlike in many other parts of the world, the U.S. laws offer protections to persons with disabilities. It is up to the educational institutions to comply with those laws.

Laws Applicable to Educational Institutions

Whether it’s a private or state-funded educational institution, the following laws may apply and have to be complied with.

1. Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

According to the Title III of the ADA, businesses and services providers (including private trade schools, colleges & universities), must provide an equal opportunity to persons with disabilities, so they can participate in and benefit from their services.

Similar to the above, Title II of the ADA applies to state and local government agencies (including public trade schools, colleges & universities).

2. Rehabilitation Act of 1973

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act requires public and private entities that are recipients of federal financial assistance to ensure effective communication with people who are Deaf and hard of hearing.

Federal financial assistance includes grants, tax payer funded programs and student tuition assistance (FAFSA).

Complying with the Laws

While compliance may seem fairly straight forward, it is not always easy to implement.

One of the easiest ways to comply with both the ADA and Section 504 is by providing appropriate auxiliary aids and services to the Deaf and hard of hearing students, such as qualified sign language interpreters.

Sign language interpreters will help to ensure effective communication between all parties involved.

Working with Sign Language Interpreters

There are four ways you can work sign language interpreters.

1. Hire Individual Interpreters as Employees

Recommended for single campus schools that have an ongoing need to communicate with Deaf and hard of hearing students. One of the benefits of going this route is that the interpreters are your employees and are available for continuous work.

Of course, if you don’t have any Deaf students at any given time, you are still paying the interpreters for idle time. Something to think about when you prepare your annual budget.

2. Contract with Individual Interpreters on a Freelance Basis

Recommended for single or multi-campus schools. Having the ability to contract with individual interpreters to supplement a pool of employed interpreters is highly recommended.

This approach will fill the gap in the event your employed interpreters are unavailable for whatever reason.

Contracted interpreters generally bill out at a higher rate, but you are not committed to them as you would be to employed interpreters. So, the overall impact on your budget is less in the long run.

3. Contract with Language Service Companies

Recommended for multi-campus schools located around the United States. Contracting with language service companies will simplify your scheduling processes and other logistics.

It is important that you find a company that can handle nationwide service delivery with quality and consistency. This will save you time and money, while meeting all of the necessary compliance requirements.

Learn how to request an interpreter from a language service company here.

4. All of the above

Why not have options?

Having interpreters on staff and contract basis, as well as a pool of language service companies, will surely help you cover all the bases.

However, from a management and budgetary perspective it could be a bit cumbersome.

Going this route is recommended for large educational institutions.

What Happens if You Don’t Comply

If you are not currently in compliance with the ADA and Section 504, I recommend you adjust your organizational processes immediately. Some of the concerns you should think about include federal audits, suspensions from federally funded programs, fines, penalties and discrimination law suits.

Thinking proactively and focusing on compliance now will save you money in the long run.

Recently, a Deaf man sued a Washington state-based university for discrimination. His claim was that the school refused to allow him to study medicine because he is Deaf.

Even though the university involved in this case claims that it does not discriminate against Deaf people, the fact that the law suit was filed alleging discrimination is already detrimental to its operations.

I believe the law suit could’ve been avoided entirely if the university fully complied with the ADA and Section 504 requirements.

Steps toward Compliance and Improved Organizational Processes

I recommend assessing your existing ADA and Section 504 compliance processes. You are most likely already compliant, but there’s always room for improvement.

One of the areas you should focus on is your current sign language interpreting process. If you employ in-house interpreters, that’s terrific.

But what if one of those interpreters gets sick, can’t make it to work or goes on maternity leave?

These are the kinds of things you should be thinking about. Having a contract with a language service company would help you mitigate that.

Overall, your focus should be on your students and making sure they have access to effective communication, regardless of whether they can hear or not.

More Information on Compliance

Here is list of some great resources on ADA and Section 504 compliance:

You can also download this article in PDF format. Click here to download.

Feel free to share your thoughts on this topic in the comments.

The ACA Section 1557 Checklist for a Busy Professional

The October 17, 2016 compliance deadline has come and gone.

If you work for a covered entity under Section 1557 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, being compliant with this law is a must.

The good news is that compliance doesn’t have to be difficult or costly. In reality, it will most likely be more costly in the long run if you fail to comply.

So, what exactly is Section 1557 and how do you ensure compliance?

Being a busy healthcare professional, you don’t have time to waste. To save you time, I’ve put together the following checklist on Section 1557.

1. Is my organization a covered entity?

Start off by determining if this law is applicable to you and your organization. Section 1557 extends non-discrimination protections to individuals participating in any health program or activity receiving funding from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

If you’re not a covered entity, skip the rest of this article. If you are, check this item off and continue reading!

Checklist Item

I work for a healthcare organization or a health insurance marketplace that has a health program or activity which receives funding from HHS.

2. Does my organization currently provide language access services?

How are you currently communicating with your limited-English proficient (LEP) patients?

I bet you already work with an interpreter referral agency or employ interpreters directly. But did you know that language access services also includes written translations of medical documents?

If you are not providing written and spoken language access services, find a reputable interpreter referral agency and/or a translation services provider and contract with them as soon as possible!

The last thing you want to do is have a patient’s relative or a bilingual employee do the interpreting or send a patient home with post-op instructions they don’t understand.

Checklist Item

My organization provides written translated materials and employs professional interpreters and/or contracts with interpreter referral agencies.

3. Do our patients know that language access services are available to them at no cost?

Healthcare organizations must provide LEP patients with qualified interpreters and cannot charge the patients for provision of such services.

The final rule of Section 1557 requires that covered entities post notices of nondiscrimination and taglines that alert individuals with limited English proficiency to the availability of language assistance services. You can view sample notices here.

To customize such notices, reach out to your translation services provider or NWI Global for assistance.

Checklist Item

My organization communicates to its patients about language access services being available to them at no cost.

4. What are the top 15 languages in our area?

This will depend on the state you’re located in. For example, here are the top 15 languages for Oregon and Washington as of August 2016.

Top 15 Languages in Oregon

10Cambodian (Khmer)
11Cushite (Oromo & Somali)
13Farsi (Persian)

Top 15 Languages in Washington

8Cambodian (Khmer)
11Cushite (Oromo & Somali)

For a complete listing of the top 15 languages in your area, visit this page.

Checklist Item

My organization knows the top 15 languages in our area and makes written and oral communication available in those languages.

5. Does my organization have a formal Language Access Plan?

To get your Section 1557 compliance under control, HHS recommends you develop a formal Language Access Plan.

If you don’t have a formal Language Access Plan in place, don’t worry. By providing language translation and interpreting services, you are closer to being compliant.

However, to survive an HHS audit, you may consider putting a plan in place sooner than later.

Work with your language services provider or reach out to us for assistance with your Language Access Plan.

Checklist Item

My organization has a formal Language Access Plan in place and we feel confident about it.

6. We feel confident that our organization is in compliance with Section 1557.

If you do, fantastic! If not, I recommend having your in-house compliance team or legal counsel review your processes to confirm.

If you find that you are lacking in some areas related to this law, it’s never too late to implement changes and improve your business practices.

Checklist Item

My organization had its Section 1557 compliance processes reviewed by a compliance officer and legal counsel.


Section 1557 compliance seems like a daunting task, and it can be if you don’t feel confident in your processes. This checklist will help you get on the right track.

Here are some additional resources to help you, but may take a while to read:

If you have any questions about this topic, feel free to ask in the comments or reach out to me directly.

How to Accommodate Deaf Students through a Referral Agency

Every quarter or semester, colleges and universities have one trend in common. That trend is student enrollment.

Student enrollment trend

Some of the students who enroll may be Deaf or hard of hearing. In order to communicate with those students, you will need the help of professional sign language interpreters.

You already know that you’re required by federal law to provide equal accommodations. The laws are explained in more detail in this article.

It’s possible that your school already employs in-house sign language interpreters, which is great. However, there may be a time where you need to reach out to an interpreter referral agency for assistance.

From my years of experience in working with colleges and universities, I came up with some tips for you to follow.

Here are the tips to accommodate Deaf students through a referral agency.

1. Term Schedule

All schools have class schedules. Those schedules can vary from school to school. Some go by quarter terms, others by semester.

Class Schedule

Regardless of how your classes are spread out over the year, be prepared to provide the following information to the referral agency:

  • Start date and end date of the term
  • Days and times of classes

The referral agency you’re working with will need this information to schedule interpreters.

Why does an agency need to know this information in advance?

So they book a team of interpreters for the entire duration of the term. It helps with consistency and quality of the educational experience.

Interpreters also get booked quickly, so if you can schedule them through the agency for the entire term you will be better off in the long run.

2. Class Names & Types

Is the student taking advanced algebra or a culinary arts class?

This information is helpful to know in advance.

Relay this information to your referral agency so they can pass it on to the interpreters scheduled for the term. Knowing the class names will help interpreters prepare for those sessions in advance.

Knowing the class type is also helpful.

For a lecture, a team of two interpreters will almost always be required. For a one hour lab, you may be able to get away with one interpreter.

Here’s why team interpreting is important and necessary.

According to Lydia Callis,

“When interpreting a verbal language into a physical one, ASL interpreters become prone to both physical and mental fatigue. After one hour of interpreting alone, even the best sign language interpreter will be providing a lower quality of service.”

In either case, let the referral agency know so they can accommodate you accordingly.

3. Location

Some schools have only one campus, while others may have multiple campuses in the same city. Be sure you provide the campus address of where you will need interpreter assistance.

Multi-campus college

Go in more detail when it comes to location as well and provide the exact location of the class on campus. For example, the hall name and room number.

It will make it easier for the interpreters to find the student and the classroom.

If you are not specific with the location information, the interpreters may show up late. Or worse, they may not show up at all if they can’t find the location.

4. Student’s Name

There are two important reasons why you should provide the student’s name to your referral agency.

The first reason is that you may have more than one Deaf student at your school. If that’s the case, and you’re arranging interpreters for multiple students, it will be helpful to the referral agency to know each student’s name.

It will make it easier for the referral agency to track and schedule appropriate interpreters for each student.

The second reason is potential conflict of interest. For example, there may be cases where a student doesn’t feel comfortable with a particular interpreter or vice versa.

Conflict of interest

A professional interpreter will always forgo a job if he or she is able to identify a conflict of interest in advance. An example of an interpreter conflict of interest policy can be found here.

5. Degree Type / Program Name

This point relates to the Class Names & Types I explained earlier in the article.

By providing the degree type and program name to the referral agency, the agency can then schedule the most qualified interpreters for the job.

It will also help the interpreters to study and ramp up for the course to ensure smooth interpretation.

6. Dress Code

Some classes, for example Psychology 101, may not have a formal dress code. Students can show up being dressed like… students.

A few specialty classes require students to be dressed for the occasion. Specifically, classes that have labs often times require special outfits.

For example, if a Deaf student is taking culinary classes, there might be a lab day where he or she has to prepare food. One must dress like a chef when they are cooking in such environments.

This expectation is passed onto the interpreters as well. Communicate this information in advance to the referral agency.

Also, be prepared to provide uniforms for the interpreters at the school’s expense.

7. Parking

Parking is generally not an issue on suburban campuses. However, if your school has a specific parking policy, be sure to communicate that to the referral agency so they can inform the interpreters.

For schools with urban campuses, it gets more complicated. There may not be any school parking on campuses located in downtown areas of a major city.

The interpreters will then have to find where to park themselves.

Be prepared to either provide free parking to the interpreters or reimburse them for any parking fees they incur. Such reimbursement can be done through your referral agency.

8. School Access

With the recent increase of violence on college and university campuses, many schools are implementing tighter restrictions for campus access.

If you require all campus visitors to have a pass, be sure to clarify this in advance. Don’t put the interpreters in an awkward spot by not providing them with this information ahead of time.

College campus security

Last thing we all want is for interpreters not following the proper visitor protocol and being detained by campus security.

Some schools may also have key card access to certain areas of the campus, such as the restrooms. Be sure to provide interpreters access to those key cards.

9. Special Instructions

Each interpreter request situation will be unique. Generally, the more details you can provide to your referral agency the better.

This includes any special instructions you may have for the interpreters to follow.

Special instructions may include some of the points I’ve already mentioned, such as the dress code, school access policy and parking procedures.

Here’s an example:

Please ask the interpreters to park in Zone A and check in with security. After they receive their visitor badges, they can proceed to Culinary Hall, Room 123 and check in with the instructor.

We also request that the interpreters arrive a few minutes early. If they arrive after the class begins, they may not be able to enter the classroom.

10. Other Considerations

You’ve done your best in putting together all of the information above for your referral agency and are now ready to place your request.

The chances are good that you may have missed something.

Here are a few other considerations I suggest you communicate to your referral agency.

  • What is your school/class policy on service animals? It’s rare, but possible, that an interpreter may have a service dog. We’ve had a case like that before.
  • Is any of the class content potentially offensive? All people have their own beliefs. It’s better to clarify any sensitivity in advance, especially those around religion.


You already know that you’re required by law to provide equal accommodations to all students. You work with sign language interpreters to accommodate your Deaf students.

On occasion, you may need to work with an interpreter referral agency to meet those accommodations.

You now know the information you need to provide to your referral agency to successfully accommodate your Deaf students.

Please share your thoughts on working with interpreter referral agencies and any questions you may have.

2 Things You Should Know About Certified Translators & Translations

Certified Translators & Translations

This year I had the pleasure of attending the American Translators Association (ATA) conference in Chicago on behalf of NWI Global.

As a first time attendee, I did not know what to expect or where the experience would lead me. I hoped that I would network with fellow project managers and meet some great new freelance translators, but what else was in store was a mystery.

I ended up attending some beneficial sessions that helped broaden my perspective regarding my own work, the work our translators do, and how to better serve our clients.

My passion for the language services industry was nurtured and reinforced, and I hope to use my new skills and inspiration to cultivate the same fire throughout our entire translation department.

Languages spoken at the 2014 ATA Conference

I also came home with a bag full of business cards and resumes from translators to sort through.

As I settled back into my routine here in Vancouver and attempted to pick the “good” translators out of the bunch, I realized how very many ways there are to define what a “good” translator is!

What does “Certified” Mean?

One distinction that we look at closely is whether or not a translator is certified. This is particularly emphasized because our clients often request certified translations.

But there is a difference between a certified translator and a certified translation… so which do you actually need?

I will explain what “certified” means when it comes to translators & translations.

If you are looking for a “certified” service, these are the two things you should know.

1. Certified Translators

Certified translators are linguists who have passed some kind of exam which assesses their ability to accurately translate from one language into another.

The exam is usually given by a professional organization, such as the ATA or by a state or local government. A degree in translation from a university, while impressive, is not the same thing as a translation certification.

It is important to note that translation exams, unlike interpreting exams, are one-directional, meaning that if you are certified in translation from English into Spanish, you are not certified in translation from Spanish into English unless you have taken a separate certification exam for that combination as well.

I ran into quite a few certified translators at the ATA conference!

ATA-certified translators are often regarded as top translation experts, as the ATA examination is viewed as one of the most prestigious certifications with the most rigorous standards in the United States. When our clients ask us for certified translators, we frequently recommend ATA-certified linguists as their best option.

However, there are thousands of languages in the world, and ATA certifications are currently offered in only 27 language combinations. Depending on the language you need, you may not have the option of using a certified translator.

2. Certified Translations

Certified translations are translations that are certified by the language services company or the linguist who provided the service.

They usually will provide a signed and dated certificate saying that the completed translation is true and correct to the best of their knowledge.

This is a great option for translations that are going to be used in legal situations. Especially when the translation is in a language for which there is no translator certification available.

What This Means to You

Certified translators do not automatically produce certified translations, and certified translations are not always done by certified translators.

Another way of looking at it is that a certified translator is an individual who is certified in a specific language combination. A certified translation is a document that has been certified by a translator or a language services company to affirm translation quality.

Now that you’re more knowledgeable about certified translators and translations, you will know which one to request for your next translation project.

What are your experiences with certified translators & translations?

Share your thoughts and questions in the comments.

Are Hospitals Required to Provide Language Access Services?

You are reading this article because you are not sure that you may have to provide language access services for your patients, right?

You are not the only one, as this is very important topic that is often clouded in confusion. To provide an expert answer, I reached out to the National Health Law Program (NHeLP) for assistance.

The staff at NHeLP did a great job clarifying the requirements for us in very simple terms.

Language access services are generally provided with the help of professional interpreters and translators.

For the purpose of this article, I will assume that you are a health care provider fitting one of the following four categories:

1. You provide language access services for your patients, but are unsure if you are required to do so.

2. You don’t provide language access services for your patients, but understand you may be required to do so.

3. You didn’t provide language access services for a patient and are being threatened with legal action.

4. A law suit has been filed against your practice for failure to provide language access services by, or on behalf, of the patient.

Regardless of which category fits you, the information below should help clarify your responsibility to provide language access services for your patients.

Unless of course you fall into category 4. If that’s the case, contact your attorney as soon as possible.

Are hospitals required to provide language access services?


Here is why.

Under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin is prohibited.

Therefore, health care providers, including hospitals, that receive federal funding, including Medicare, Medicaid and SCHIP, are required to provide language access services for their patients.

What if health care providers opt out of federal funding?

When federal funds are not in question, health care providers may not be subject to Title VI requirements. However, there may be state laws that require you to provide language access services.

Can health care providers bill the patient for language access services?


If you are receiving federal funding, you are required to cover interpreter costs for all your limited English proficient (LEP) patients, including those with private insurance and no insurance.

State laws may also prohibit you from billing your patients for language access services.

What health care entities are covered under Title VI?

The entities covered by Title VI include hospitals, doctor’s offices, nursing homes, managed care organizations, state Medicaid agencies, home health agencies, health service providers and social service organizations.

How can health care organizations provide language access services to patients?

Health care providers may choose to hire staff interpreters as employees to interpret the most frequently requested languages. Many health care providers typically contract with language service companies to provide language access services.

A language services company can greatly streamline the process by providing scheduling, quality assurance, billing and project management.

What types of language access services should health care providers have readily available to patients?

At a minimum, it is recommended that all health care providers be able to provide on-site interpretation, over-the-phone interpretation and document translation services.

Can health providers use family members, friends or bi-lingual staff to interpret for patients?

It is strongly advised against using family members, friends or bi-lingual staff members to interpret for patients. You could risk malpractice, the cost of which would far outweigh any money you might save by asking friends or family members to help.

In fact, your legal fees in dealing with just one malpractice lawsuit could potentially cover your language access services budget for several years to come.

What about written translation services for patient communication?

According to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights, various types of documents may require translation from English into other languages. Some of the documents include patient forms, discharge instructions and information about the availability of interpreter services.

Learn about the 7 most common document types all health care providers should have translated.

I’d like more information on developing a Language Access Plan for our health care organization.

For more information, check out these publications:

Like this Article?

Download it now in PDF format.


Dozens of law suits are filed every year against health care facilities for failing to provide language access services.

My advice to you is to set aside a budget for language access services and deliver the best patient experience you can. It will cost you less in the long run.

Share your questions, thoughts and experiences in the comments.

This article was originally published on July 8, 2011 and has been updated on February 8, 2016.