Providing an equal opportunity for education is the primary purpose and passion that drive the work of Pietrina Probst, director of ADA, student access, and disability services at Elgin Community College. Pietrina and her department exist to increase equity, diversity, and inclusion for students with disabilities in the classroom and around campus. “When a student comes to me, I begin with asking what I can do to support them and how I can help remove some of the barriers that they are experiencing,” said Probst.
To move ECC forward in supporting its students who experience a disability is the Accessibility Committee, which began two years ago. Along with Probst, the Committee is made up of various faculty, staff, and administrators, all with the common goal of coming together to increase accessibility, not only for ECC students but also for employees and community members with disabilities. The Committee is currently drawing up a five-year plan to address accessibility issues around campus and online, and some of the goals within the plan include expanding training opportunities to employees on making a Word document or PowerPoint accessible, ensuring that any book on campus is available in various accessible formats, and promoting physical accessibility.
“When our Accessibility Committee meets, I keep a list on the agenda of all our accomplishments thus far,” Probst said. “Although we have many goals that we hope to accomplish in the future, I think it’s so important to reflect on all the goals that we have already accomplished in creating a more accessible campus.” The changes enacted by Probst and the Committee include simple actions that allow students, employees, and community members with a disability to feel more included and welcome. For example, Probst and the Committee developed tutorials on how to enable closed captioning during live Zoom meetings and in YouTube videos.
To Probst’s excitement, the ECC Bookstore has transitioned to provide ebooks with read-aloud features. “The students don’t have to do anything extra to be able to listen to their books. The listen feature is already built into the product they need, and that means the world to me that they can be just like everybody else and don’t have to use extra devices or spend additional money for the program or software they need to access their textbooks.”
Before Probst brought her passion for increasing accessibility at ECC, she worked for seven years as a job placement specialist, specifically for individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind or have low vision. During this time, she and her clients consistently encountered many accessibility obstacles when attempting to find work. “It was frustrating because my goal was to help people with disabilities who wanted to work,” said Probst. “They wanted nothing else than to be in the workforce to do something they really loved in their career field, yet technology was standing in their way because whoever designed the job application did not keep in mind accessibility for those who needed it.” Many job applications were inaccessible because they included many visuals that did not have built-in alternative text or caused the screen reading software to jump around and skip important content.
“I feel we have come a long way as a society, and we are making progress,” said Probst. “We are not fully there yet, and although there were roadblocks in the past, I am pleased just knowing that my students will be able to enter the workforce and encounter fewer barriers and have greater access.” As Probst and the Accessibility Committee take on the task of creating a five-year plan, their accomplishments along the way include procuring a software program that allows students to listen to content on the college’s course management system D2L, developing a comprehensive and well-designed accessibility webpage that includes step-by-step instructions on how to create accessible content, and hosting accessibility workshops for ECC employees to learn how they can ensure accessibility for students, employees, and community members all around campus. Probst’s work has begun to inspire on a student level, too. Members of the ADAPT club, of which Probst is the advisor, have begun advocating to make social media images accessible, hoping to lead workshops or training sessions to help guide others through the process. “I thought that was incredible,” said Probst, “to hear the students are working on creating a more accessible society.”
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