Heather Mole 'Universal Design and the Inclusive Classroom'
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9 January 2012
To be presented at the Widening Participation Conference 2012 'Discourses of Inclusion in Higher Education', 24-25 April 2012
Universal Design and the Inclusive Classroom
At a time when the consumer-student is choosing their education based on value for money students with disabilities will want to know that they have been considered in the teaching design and included in the approach to learning. The new discourse of inclusion coming from the Disability Service Providers in HE in the US centres around the shedding of documentation of disability and the development of Universal Design for Instruction. These are two key factors that are seen as the cutting edge of service provision. Service providers are beginning to call themselves Access Centres; resources for students but also faculty, advising and collaborating on instructional methods that design students with disabilities into the classroom instead of sending them off to write exams and receive accommodations elsewhere. There is great potential for this to impact a wider group of students, for example, second language learners. This philosophy reaches diverse populations, benefits everyone in the classroom and aims for an inclusive learning environment. The model promotes inclusion and is simultaneously a selling point for all consumers with diverse learning styles because it goes beyond the ‘sage on a stage’ approach.
Interview with author
The research paper you are presenting is titled ‘Universal Design and the Inclusive Classroom’. I’m interested in learning why you chose to pursue this piece of research: Why these issues in particular?
I began a Masters in Disability Studies at the same time as starting a job as an advisor to students with disabilities (Canadian terminology) at McGill University in Canada. One of the approaches that was being talked about at my job was Universal Design. It piqued my interest because it seemed like a great tool for implementing the social model of disability philosophy to the practicalities of campus life. And so my thesis focussed on the implementation of this approach in US universities where there was movement around these ideas at the time (and still is).
Disabled Students are often 'accommodated' (a rather patronising term which connotes that they have deficiencies that need to be defined, scrutinised and made allowances for) in environments outside of the classroom, or have aids attached to them (notetakers or technologies) which make them stand out rather than feel included in the classroom design and the instructional design. Universal Design is about designing people into an environment instead of retrofitting an often ugly, humiliating or intrusive adaptation (think of some access ramps that send the person who uses a wheelchair round to the delivery entrance or the back door).
Universal Design for Learning or Instruction asks the faculty member to think about how to teach in a way that reaches as many people as possible. Instead of using one medium (typically the voice) they are encouraged to use several to draw in the visual and experiential learners as well as the auditory learners. It encourages making resources and information available to students in digital formats so that they can be easily accessed, read beforehand, looked over afterward depending on the learning style. It also promotes a choice of evaluation formats so that students can display their knowledge and understanding to the best of their ability.
This approach reduces the need for students to require accommodations, request accommodations and indeed disclose their disability at all. And it benefits the whole classroom, second language learners and a multitude of other challenges that students face.
What do you see as the key findings of your research?
The key findings of the research were that the services that were trying to pursue a social model of disability approach were using Universal Design and Universal Design for Instruction as the main tool to move forward. This means a change in role for the services because instead of being the gatekeepers of accommodations and documentation they have to look outward to educating faculty and staff, becoming a resource for the whole campus not just students. They also decentralise services and collaborate more.
Where do you see yourself and the research heading in the future?
I think that I see myself developing my role as an advisor to students with disabilities to become more outward focusing, offering training to faculty and staff. This has already begun in my work, very gradually. We are coordinating with the Teaching and Learning Services at McGill University to provide training on UDI and also to develop online tools for assisting Professors in developing their courses and curriculums.
Obviously faculty have to focus on research as well as teaching and we want to find appropriate, efficient and useful ways of disseminating this training to them.
As far as the research is concerned I think that we'll be trying to find ways to measure the impact of this work and the response that we get from faculty. And I will be presenting at The Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) national conference in July on this research and on the responses we've had so far at McGill.
Interesting resources for people to look at are:
Universal Design in Post Secondary Education http://www.washington.edu/doit/Resources/postsec.html
Universal Design for Learning http://www.cast.org/udl/
For a video discussion of social model of disability: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k0HZaPkF6qE
14:40 on 26 March 2012
Here's another really great, detailed web resource with video clips and explanations:
13:56 on 29 March 2012
I wanted to add some vignettes to get people thinking before the conference of situations that occur in University settings so here are some vignettes, feel free to comment:
- What tools would you use to include a student with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder into class delivery? The student does not want to use the Office for Students with Disabilities as he/she does not consider ADHD to be a disability.
- What hurdles do you think might impact a student’s ability to perform in a course if he/ she is affected by Mental Health issues? How could one reduce this impact?
- What hurdles do you think might impact a student’s ability to perform in a course if he/ she is affected by Asperger’s? How could one reduce this impact?
- What tools would you use to include a student with a hearing loss into the class delivery?
- What tools would you employ to include a blind student?
- How many of these tools overlap? What disadvantages are there for the other students in the class if you employ these strategies? What benefits are there?
14:03 on 29 March 2012