Disability Act’s anniversary shows light-years of progress at NAU

Chris Lanterman

When Chris Lanterman came to NAU as a student about 20 years ago, navigating the higher education path with a visual impairment was a more difficult journey than it is today.

“The efforts that have been made at the institution in regards to accessibility have been phenomenal, whether it is building space or information technologies,” Lanterman said.

The Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law 25 years ago this month, prohibiting discrimination based on physical and mental disabilities.

Lanterman said NAU’s progress has been continual, with significant momentum made during the past decade.

Facilities Services, responsible for construction and renovations, always considers accessibility at the early design stages.

Instead of going to a single room in Cline Library outfitted with assistive technology, students find accessibility in labs across campus.

A useable materials center at NAU ensures online teaching elements are converted to accessible formats including video captioning.

North campus
NAU was an early adopter of an updated handicap sign, displaying the wheelchair user as an active individual, compared to the more passive version of the international symbol of access.

And during his two decades on campus, Lanterman has witnessed an evolution of attitudes toward disabilities. “When I was first a student at NAU the organizational structure had disability resources under the Counseling and Testing Center, conveying a sort of pathological view of disability.” Today, the disability resources department is integrated in the vibrant Health and Learning Center.

The university also was on the leading edge of another trend by hiring an accessibility analyst. Teresa Haven joined NAU a little more than a year ago, to evaluate software, technology and communications, ensuring they are accessible to all potential users.

“Since I’ve come here we’ve improved knowledge of digital accessibility among most of our technology professionals, created new collaborations among colleagues on campus and we are working toward updated policies and procedures that will help everyone understand and contribute to better accessibility at NAU,” Haven said.

Maintaining NAU’s momentum amid expanding technology use will require considering the broad variety of human ability and need rather than focusing on the average, Haven added.

Continuing the progression is important to Lauren Copeland-Glenn, an affirmative action coordinator, who co-chairs the Commission on Disability Access and Design with Lanterman.

“We have made a lot of progress in terms of people at the institution thinking about making things accessible,” Copeland-Glenn said. “Allowing people equal access to the university is an important social justice issue, and on the commission, we really have a voice.”