A roundup of news articles, journal articles, essays, opinion pieces, and other items of interest about accessibility and universal design for learning.
News and Opinion
An exciting and well-established concept known as Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is gaining attention in higher education as a way to make digital learning programs more accessible to all learners, including those with a wide variety of learning challenges. Endorsed by EDUCAUSE’s Next Generation Digital Learning Environment (NGDLE) and the Department of Education’s Horizon Report, UDL is a framework to design learning in a systematic way to anticipate and remove barriers to student learning.
UDL isn’t about accommodating people after the fact, or just for students with physical or learning challenges–it is meant to design learning that’s engaging and effective for everyone, right from the get-go. It does this by encouraging and supporting multiple ways for students to express ideas, demonstrate knowledge and engage with their learning environments–all lofty goals that are difficult to do in practice in a traditional classroom, but uniquely enabled by technology like the Learning Management System (LMS).
As a new semester approaches, the academic’s to-do list can fill up pretty fast. All of that course planning you’ve been putting off all summer now seems pretty urgent. Your chair wants a copy of your syllabi by the end of the week. And there’s still the matter of those writing deadlines. I’m here to add one more item to your list. Now is the time — not later — to think about accessibility in your classroom.
For many of us, accessibility is a topic handled by a brief section toward the end of our syllabus — a paragraph detailing the steps a disabled student can take to receive accommodations. Such policies are very much figured as an exception to the norm, an appendix pinned onto the end of the syllabus, as if to say: “Oh yeah, and if you’ve got a disability, we can probably work to find some kind of solution.” For Anne-Marie Womack, assistant director of writing at Tulane University, that way of conceptualizing accessibility is all wrong.
Although accessibility awareness is growing, putting theory into practice can be a tough endeavor for educational institutions around the globe. To better understand the challenges of making education accessible to all students, E-learn interviewed speakers from Blackboard’s Global Accessibility Awareness Day webinar series.
Boise State University is committed to ensuring students with disabilities receive appropriate, timely accommodations pursuant to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. In accordance with University Policy 2080, Equal Access for Students with Disabilities, Boise State will provide academic adjustments and auxiliary aids and services to students with disabilities, including students with hearing and vision impairments.
To initiate the accommodations process, students must contact the Educational Access Center at (208) 426-1583 or eac.boisestate.edu. Students requesting accommodations will be assigned an educational coordinator to engage in an individual consultation to determine reasonable and appropriate accommodations for the student. If a student requires certain academic adjustments or auxiliary aids that are not readily available for implementation, the university will use all reasonable alternatives to minimize the impact of the delay. Reasonable alternatives will be calculated to ensure that the student is not deprived of the opportunity to meaningfully participate in the classes, activities or programs.
For additional information about student accommodations, please contact the Educational Access Center.
The development of eLearning has created opportunities for a highly diverse population of learners. Today, instructional designers and course developers can use a variety of interactive multimedia to help students reach learning objectives, eliminating the need for rote memorization and repetitive courses consisting only of text and images.
But all of these options come at a price: accessibility. The same multimedia interactions that have been lauded as the new standard for education often mean that learners with physical, sensory, or cognitive disabilities are left behind. New updates to existing disabilities standards are calling on corporations and universities to ensure that all eLearning tools and courses are equally effective for users of varying levels of ability.
“It was good until it wasn’t,” he said. A veteran, he was older than my typical undergraduates, and he spoke openly, though vaguely, about the traumatic brain injury that earned him classroom accommodations. He tapped his fingers against his jeans. “My group ignores me. I’m too stressed. It’s triggering my PTSD and making me sick. Can I just work on my own?”
Two ironies struck me. One, I had turned to collaborative learning in order to harness the power of social dynamics and Universal Design for Learning (which focuses on making instruction more inclusive and accessible). I had hoped my group project would keep students engaged and thinking and that it might let them showcase their distinct skill sets.
The second irony was that, during this time, my college-age daughter was surviving her own group-work disaster. She has autism and she was taking a math class with a professor celebrated for his commitment to active learning. The class relied on in-class group work, which meant that, in addition to trying to master the math, she had to navigate the social minefield of working with neurotypical peers in a crowded, fast-paced, loud classroom. It proved disastrous.
Both cases made me wonder: Does group work really help all students? Are some students — particularly neurodivergent students — ill served by the turn to group work and learning activities that demand strong social skills?
Earlier this year, the National Science Foundation found that students with disabilities are now just as likely to pursue science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields in higher education as their peers. This could be due in part to the universal design standards and accessible technology initiatives that many universities have adopted, thus making it easier for all students to pursue any degree. Also, many major tech companies have worked to ensure their products are able to be used by any student.
WASHINGTON — Students with disabilities deserve access to higher education to achieve their dreams and goals like everyone else. That is the message several panelists delivered Thursday at a session on the Improving Access to Higher Education Act. As part of the House Education and Workforce Committee Democrats’ “Aim Higher” initiative, U.S. Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (D-Calif.) and ranking member on the committee, Bobby Scott (D-Va.), worked together in developing the Improving Access to Higher Education Act, presented as the first comprehensive legislation that specifically focuses on the needs of disabled students in higher education.
The bill that was introduced on Wednesday would amend the Higher Education Act (HEA) to improve access for students with disabilities after completing high school. Experts say the implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act has proven beneficial for students in K-12, but disabled students in higher education have not had as much support.
Representatives Introduce Legislation to Expand Higher Education Access for Students with Disabilities | East County Today
Washington, DC – Today, Congressman Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11) was joined by Education and Workforce Committee Ranking Member Bobby Scott (VA-03), Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (MD-05), and Representatives James Langevin (RI-02) and Jared Huffman (CA-02) in introducing the Improving Access to Higher Education Act. This bill, which is part of the ‘Aim Higher’ initiative, would fully address the needs of students with disabilities, and would help improve college access and completion.
Benetech, a nonprofit firm that develops technology for social good, announced the launch of Global Certified Accessible, a program that allows publishers to verify how well their e-book files meet the standards for use needed by students with poor or no vision, dyslexia or other disability. The program, which is essentially a standardized ratings system schools and universities can use to gauge how well digital titles cater to disabled students, arrives in the wake of a handful of lawsuits filed over the accessibility of school materials. More schools and universities are demanding educational e-book content be certified for use for this community, to ward off future complaints. The GCA program, in addition to offering guidance to educational institutions in this area, also encourages publishers to include the features needed by visually impaired readers. The goal is to have publishers consider the needs of this population at the time the e-books are created rather than having to upgrade e-book content already in print.