Accessible Education Office (click to go to home page)

1350 Massachusetts Avenue
The Richard A. & Susan F. Smith Campus Center, Fourth Floor
Cambridge MA 02138
tel: 617-496-8707 - fax: 617-496-1098 - tty: 617-496-3720

Serving Harvard College and GSAS Students
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About our Services \ Info for Students \ Info for Faculty \ About our Office \ Sitemap spacer
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About Our Services
+ Who is Disabled?
+ Accommodations & Auxiliary Aids
+ Assistive Technology
+ Transportation
+ Residential Life
Glossary of Terms
+ Residential Events Relocation Policy
+ Major Accessible House Venues
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ABOUT OUR SERVICES: Glossary of Terms


Federal law defines a "Disability" as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits or restricts the condition, manner, or duration under which a person can perform a major life activity, such as walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, working, or taking care of oneself. (An impairment or diagnosis, in and of itself, does not necessarily constitute a disability: it must "substantially limit" these activities. Disabilities do not necessarily impair the individual's performance but may require the individual to seek alternate methods of carrying out a given task.)

Qualified Disabled Student

"Qualified Disabled Student" means a disabled person who meets the academic and technical standards requisite to admission and participation in the educational program or activity.


"Accommodations" are modifications to the course, program or educational requirements such as are necessary and appropriate so that such requirements do not discriminate or have the effect of discriminating on the basis of disability. Academic requirements that are essential to the course or to the program of instruction being pursued by the student or which relate directly to degree and/or licensing requirements will not be regarded as discriminatory within the meaning of this section. Potential modifications that may be considered include (but are not limited to) changes in the length of time permitted for completion of a degree, substitutions of specific courses required for the completion of degree requirements (only when approved by faculty), extended time on an examination or paper, and other appropriate accommodations which do not fundamentally alter the essential nature of a course or academic program.

Auxiliary Aids and Services

"Auxiliary Aids and Services" may include but are not limited to note-takers, readers, Brailled or large print materials, and mobility training for students with visual impairments; sign language interpreters or real time captioning for students who are deaf or hearing impaired; and typists or scribes for students with manual impairments. (This is not an exhaustive list.) Devices or services of a personal nature such as personal care attendants, individually prescribed devices, or readers for personal use, study, or homework are not provided.


Terms associated with resources for people who are deaf or hard of hearing:

American Sign Language

Many people born profoundly deaf since birth (pre-lingually deaf) identify with this distinct language and culture. ASL is a rich, yet different language than English, used by deaf people in the United States. Students who use ASL rely primarily on a qualified ASL Interpreter in the classroom.

Signed English

Sign systems exist in which deaf persons use sign language and mouth movements which follow the syntax of English. Students who use this type of signing will rely on a qualified Signed English Transliterator in the classroom.

Cued Speech

Some deaf people have been educated in a system which uses specific hand signals representing the sounds of the English Language. The cues, when used along with lip movements, help a deaf person to more clearly understand the numerous words which look alike on the lips.

Speech Reading

Also known as lip reading, this method is the least precise way of communicating with a deaf or hard of hearing person. It is estimated that a mere 30% of words in the English language are understood via speech reading. It is, at best, guess work. When this method is used, it is often helpful to have a pen and paper ready to write down words which are difficult to speech read.

FM and Infra red Loop Systems

Since hearing aids amplify speech sounds, along with environmental noises such as noisy air conditioning, the FM System or Infra red Loop System cuts out background noises and allows a hard of hearing person to receive a spoken message sent directly to the hearing aid. Faculty wear the microphone that allows the hard of hearing person to pick up the signal in his or her hearing aid, a signal not broadcast beyond the user.

Interpreting Services

Sign Language interpreters are highly trained, qualified professionals who have passed National Certification standards and have experience interpreting in a college setting. Interpreters always work with a one-to-several second time lag. Be sure to allow the deaf student time to receive the information interpreted.

Oral Interpreting

Many deaf and hard of hearing people do rely solely on speech reading to receive information in a classroom. Given that classrooms are rarely ideal for speech reading (i.e.. the lighting may be dark, faculty may often turn to face the board, or the speaker may have facial hair or an accent), professionals are used to clearly mouth everything being said to the student. The interpreter is trained to clarify words that may look similar on the lips and may include some natural gestures if necessary, to ensure comprehension.

Cued Speech Transliterators

These professionals have experience cueing in an academic setting. Transliterators often cue with a few seconds time lag as well. Be sure to allow the student time to receive the cued information.

CART (Computer Aided Real-Time) Reporters

These individuals are trained court stenographers who use a computer program which translates steno into written English using a steno machine and a laptop computer. A deaf student will read the lecture on the laptop, word for word, as it is being given in class. This service is used primarily if a student does not sign, use cued speech, or have any other way to receive direct, first hand information in a classroom.

Transcription Services

At times, it may be appropriate to audio tape a class and have the lecture transcribed for a deaf and hard of hearing student, especially if the student is using speech reading in the class but wants to ensure that pieces of information are not missed entirely or misunderstood. Due to transcription turn-around time, one week is required to receive a transcription of a lecture.

Note taking Services

Given that deaf and hard of hearing students usually must focus on an interpreter, a CART Reporter, etc., it is prohibitive to look away from the service provider to take notes. Students with a hearing loss benefit from a printed copy of faculty lecture notes and require printed texts of pre-recorded materials, including film and videotape soundtracks if captioning is not available and sign language is not appropriate. In the classroom, other students and TA's are identified to assist in sharing their notes with a deaf or hard of hearing student. Special note taking carbon paper is available for use from AEO.

Closed Captioning

Many films and videotapes used as instructional materials in a class may be available in a closed caption version. It is crucial that closed caption versions be used in a class with a deaf or hard of hearing student. When caption versions are not available, arrangements should be made with the student and AEO to either have the film/videotape interpreted or transcribed.

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