Tanveer Mansur Syed, from the United Arab Emirates, is one of an estimated 820,000 international students in the United States. He attends George Washington University, where he’s pursuing a master’s degree in secondary-education biology.
He’s also legally blind, so his campus experience isn’t quite the same as the average student’s. But thanks to accommodations for the disabled that were mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Syed is able to navigate his campus and the surrounding neighborhood while using innovative tools that help him keep up with his studies.
George Washington University is very supportive, “providing me with a lot of material in alternative format that I need,” he says. He demonstrates an electronic device that converts his textbook chapters into significantly enlarged boldface type that appears on his computer screen.
“I can actually read chapters of these textbooks, which are required for class, so that I can go in [the classroom] as prepared as the other people,” he explains. The device even reads the text aloud, “so I can just pretty much close my eyes and listen.”
For Syed, a typical day involves making his way through city streets — an activity made easier for the visually impaired by the presence of pole-mounted crosswalk machines. Syed can press a button on the machine, which instructs him to wait when cars are passing and advises him when it’s safe to cross to the other side.
“Even certain features, such as it constantly beeping, it lets the person with visual impairment know where the designated crossing area is,” he says.
When he enters or exits a building, he can use ramps, which are safer for him than stairs. And once inside a building, he finds “a lot of elevator systems … have tactile features as well as Braille features.”
Since its passage in 1990, the ADA — which prohibits discrimination against the disabled — has made it possible for people with disabilities to go to school, to work and everywhere else. And advances in technology are accelerating the goal of full participation for the disabled.
Syed says he benefits each day from a campus environment shaped by ADA regulations: “As an international student, I’ve always heard that America is the land of opportunity, so this [ADA] system … provides people with disability that [same] opportunity and equal treatment as people without disabilities.”
In the United States, “people with disabilities are … valued as citizens. The ADA should be congratulated and applauded for that.”