Several teams rose to the occasion to ensure medical student Jacob Lowy received everything he needed to be successful in his quest to become a doctor.
First-year medical student Jacob Lowy has moderate-to-severe hearing loss in his right ear.
“I was diagnosed with significant hearing loss in my right ear when I was very young. I’ve learned to advocate for myself every day. But I’m constantly thinking about it, adjusting to the situation, finding the nerve to say something....Sometimes it’s tiring. And sometimes I’m reluctant to advocate for myself because people don’t always take it seriously,” Lowy reflected.
But he also realizes that when something isn't visible, it’s not always easy to understand. This often happens with invisible disabilities—and it’s not anybody’s fault or due to malicious intent.
“I was a little afraid to reach out to Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD). I was concerned that asking for accommodations would impact my future and my professional goals, so I didn’t disclose my hearing loss when I applied to medical school.”
But eventually he did reach out. And everything fell into place quickly.
“SSD put me in touch with key Medical School faculty, got me an augmented stethoscope so I can turn up the volume to hear heart and lung sounds, and contacted HITS teams for captioning the lecture videos. SSD also helped me set up realtime captioning (CART) during lectures so I can catch everything that’s happening on my laptop. Videos shown during lecture are captioned before I even get there. I also now have a hearing aid, which has changed my life,” Lowy said.
Lowy says that once he made the decision to reach out for accommodations, everything has worked like clockwork. It’s been seamless.
Behind the scenes, several teams across the university rose to the occasion to ensure that Lowy would receive everything he needed to be successful. His single request activated a number of groups: HITS, SSD, the Office of Medical Student Education (OMSE), and Information and Technology Services.
In HITS, A/V support supervisor Caleb Newman has known that captioning lectures and offering CART are the right things to do and have the potential to benefit many students. For some time now, he’s been finding resources, developing repeatable and streamlined workflows, and conducting testing—all with an eye to the future. Although captions are not required for the medical school because the lectures aren’t publicly available, if lecture captioning eventually becomes a requirement, HITS will be ready.
As for the efforts to assist Lowy, Newman remarked, “In the course of just doing our jobs, we can make things better for folks. This is an example of U-M providing support to a new generation of medical students.”
Charlotte O’Connor, M.Ed., is with OMSE. In her role, O’Connor coordinates disability services in the University of Michigan Medical School. Before joining OMSE, she worked in SSD, which made her uniquely familiar with resources on campus that would best assist Lowy. O’Connor is proud of this work.
“The U-M Medical School has a firm commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion,” says O’Connor. “Hidden disability is most definitely an important element in the diversity equation. The inclusion of medical students and doctors with disabilities on our campus serves to enrich us all. It shows the importance of representation and what’s possible.”
SSD disability services advisor Mary Reilly worked with HITS to arrange for captioning of lectures and any video content that would be used in the U-M Medical School curriculum. All lectures are recorded, and because of that, many students don’t go to class in favor of watching the lecture at a more convenient time, or they rewatch the videos when studying. And, while all lectures are recorded, not all are captioned due to budgetary constraints.
“At U-M, students have a choice whether to go to class or not, but this isn’t the same for deaf and hard-of-hearing students if the lecture isn’t captioned. Those students would have to go to class, and they wouldn’t be able to watch it again later when they’re studying,” Reilly remarked.
The CART tool, formally known as “communication access realtime translation,” helps Lowy understand everything that’s happening in the classroom. It works like court stenographer equipment, and medical terminology can be added to the dictionary.
“CART providers type 250 words per minute. They capture everything that is said in class, whether it’s about medical school or the weekend, football games, pizza parties—anything. It’s all there. This really helps Jacob feel included in the medical school experience and reduces social isolation, in addition to helping him learn,” explained Jill Rice, SSD’s Coordinator of Services for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students, who worked to get CART into the classroom.
Of the experience, Lowy said, “At first I was anxious because I had to give a special mic to every single faculty member, every single time. But this experience has changed my outlook on what I deal with, and how I deal with it. I feel stronger, more able and willing to ask for accommodations. I was not expecting that.”
The technology behind the classroom recordings at the Medical School is Mediasite. It can integrate with other third-party vendors, like Kaltura REACH (which powers MiVideo, the university’s streaming media service), to add captions to lecture videos.
Melinda Kraft, ITS service manager, oversees MiVideo. “We strongly encourage captions because you really don't know who’s watching the videos. And with 15 percent of Americans reporting some type of hearing loss, we really need the captions to allow a level playing field for all of our students. To their credit, most content creators are sensitive to the need and willing to spend the time on it.”
The process boasts an incredible 48-hour turnaround time between when the lecture is recorded and its return to the Medical School. And errors are easy to fix. As a bonus: a medical glossary can be uploaded to make the videos even more accurate.
Working together, SSD, OMSE, HITS, and ITS leveraged IT that has transformed a medical student’s experience.
“The way that Michigan has treated me has changed my life. My experience here has made me less afraid to ask for accommodations.”
As to what lies ahead for Lowy after medical school, he’s playing it by ear.