ACC at the Very Core: Access and Opportunities to All

By Mervin Malone, Jr.

EL PASO, Texas – Austin Community College's reputation as a pioneer in accessible and inclusive higher learning was recently reaffirmed as part of a sweeping collaborative effort funded by the National Science Foundation, one aimed at bringing deaf and hard–of–hearing students access and opportunities in careers and education.

Last week, several instructors from ACC traveled to El Paso to teach a seminar on Project Access.

“It was wonderful – a really great experience,” Assoc. Professor, Erika Shadburne in the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) department, said. “We did our first Project Access workshop at ACC in January. The faculty from El Paso community college had come to visit us previously, so, we went to El Paso this time around.”

In addition to Shadburne, the group also consisted of Assoc. Professor of American Sign Language, Paul Bernella – also of the ESOL department – Prof. Alice Sessions of Biology, and interpreter, Tracy Williams.

"I was impressed with the emphasis that both ACC and EPCC (El Paso Community College) placed on helping deaf and hard–of–hearing students to succeed in college,” Sessions said, “so that – as a result – a joint project was quickly agreed to by everyone.”

As is customary in higher education, seminar guests and planners met before to touch base and exchange ideas.

“Pre–seminar, we had a meeting that morning, wherein we were able to share our current practices and plan for collaboration,” Shadburne continued. “One challenge that El Paso faces if finding qualified Dead Education faculty. We are moving forward with a plan to pilot a Distance Learning class that would enable Deaf EPCC students to be taught by an ACC ASL–ESOL faculty member in sign language through video.”

Project Access is a comprehensive, multi–phase enterprise broadly designed to adapt the classroom teaching styles of regular college teaching faculty in order to hospitable better learning for deaf and hearing–impaired students, as well as all other students.

“The idea (in teaching) is that we go in and get the tools – the skills – necessary to make the class more accommodating to all students,” Erika said. “How to give lab work, assignments etc. We also have to acknowledge student input, as students are a direct communicator to other students.”

Project Access is the formation of a collaborative effort by two colleges of the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) – the National Technical Institute for the Deaf and the College of Science – and endeavors to improve the inclusion of deaf, and hearing–impaired students in learning and classroom instruction. It is, but one of several, implemental components of DeafTEC, or the Technological Education Center for Deaf and Hard–of–Hearing Students – an Advanced Technological Education National Center of Excellence. As part of this innovative program, Austin Community College will receive part of an over $4.45 million dollar endowment awarded to RIT and the National Technical Institute for the Deaf by the National Science Foundation to further implement DeafTEC in key places. The DeafTEC grant is distributed among several institutions and organizations in California, Florida and Texas, among them: Texas School for the Deaf (Austin), Florida School for the Deaf & the Blind (Florida) and St. Petersburg College (Florida), and California School for the Deaf and Pierce College (California). Companies receiving a portion of the DeafTEC grant include BioDerm Incorporated, Bovie Medical Corporation, Cisco Systems Incorporated and California and Texas divisions of the Dow Chemical Company.

Austin Communiy Collge and its DeafTEC partner institutions seem especially interested in promoting career paths in Information Technology for deaf and hard–of–hearing students. Hence, a driving focus on STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math – faculty and students is quite apparent in the goals of the DeafTEC grant.

“STEM faculty were invited,” said Shadburne, “and one of our goals is the advancing of STEM careers as viable options for deaf students.”

ACC Biology professor, Alice Sessions, lauded the effort of the whole project.

“As a Biology professor, I am looking forward to more deaf and hard–of–hearing students choosing careers in biology, and health sciences with the help of the DeafTEC grant,” she said.

It should also be noted that Austin Community College currently hosts a Gallaudet University Regional Center (GURC) as part of a 5–year endowment. Gallaudet University is the world's only liberal arts university for deaf and hard–of–hearing people. Located in Washington, D.C., the college partners with regional institutions, such as ACC, to better provide exemplary its exemplary educational opportunities to students and faculty nationwide. Austin Community College serves as its Southwest site.

For more information about DeafTEC, please visit their website at Also, you can learn more about the Gallaudet University Regional Center at http://gurc–