Graduation is a special time, and not just for graduates; families and friends play a key role in the joy of the day. 

To help enhance that joy, The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley has taken steps to make the commencement experience more fulfilling for visitors who are deaf or hard of hearing. 

In compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, UTRGV has a system that will flash each graduate’s name on the big screens, using a captioning service called Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART).

CART also will provide real-time, word-for-word translation of the day’s speeches and comments. And, with assistance from Student Accessibility Services, the university will continue to provide sign language interpreters during the ceremonies in addition to CART.

“Ideally, this kind of service is specifically designed for those with disabilities because it creates accessibility. But it is helpful for everyone,” said Tonya Paulette, director of Student Accessibility Services. “We are so excited the graduate’s names will be part of the captioning.”

An alternative to American Sign Language interpreting, CART is used in a variety of settings from educational to professional, and uses a remote or live human captioner who uses a stenotype machine, computer and real-time software to transcribe the spoken word into text. That text is then displayed on a larger screen.

Paulette said the captioning service was put to the test during UTRGV’s first commencement ceremonies in fall 2015. As a member of the university’s commencement committee, Paulette suggested the use of CART, which is similar to court reporting, for the first time at this major inaugural event.

“Anytime there is a public event, it needs to be accessible to the public who are attending. So obviously, in this case, our commencements are public and that was a concern. We wanted to make sure that it would be accessible, especially with us being a new university. I thought that would be the best time to get things kicked off,” she said.

CART has been used by Student Accessibility Services for years in classroom settings, as part of the assistive technology the office provides to students with disabilities. The main goal of the office is to ensure that students with disabilities are able to participate in the full college experience.

Dr. Shawn P. Saladin, associate dean for Research and Graduate Programs and associate professor of Rehabilitation Services and Counseling for the UTRGV College of Health Affairs, who is late deafened, said he is very proud to work for an institution that cares deeply about helping individuals with disabilities get the most of their time at the university or at public campus events.

Saladin has been using CART for 20 years and knows from experience it is a constant battle for the deaf or hard of hearing to fully participate at events or in the classroom setting is adequate services or programs are not provided.

“Now, everybody will not have to wonder what was said during commencement, because they will be able to look up at the screen, read it and catch up,” Saladin said. “Those of us with hearing loss can see our loved ones’ names, our peers’ names and our friends’ names scroll across the screen when they are graduating.”

Saladin and Paulette, both agree that providing this type of assistive technology not just at commencement, but also at other major university events like the Distinguished Speaker Series or athletic functions, is all about providing equal communication access to students and other individuals with disabilities.

“This just adds more access to commencement,” Saladin said. “We are on our way, and it is a big improvement in accessibility and allowing the community to be more involved and understand what is happening in the ceremony.”

Paulette said she is thrilled with how UTRGV is moving forward in the area of disability services with initiatives like CART at public events.

“It supports our university. It supports our students. It supports our community and I am really excited we have it.”

To learn more about UTRGV’s Student Accessibility Services and the type of services and accommodations they provide, contact the office via email at sas@utrgv.edu or call 956-882-7384 (Brownsville) or 956-665-7005 (Edinburg).