Accessibility in Higher Education
Accessibility is a general term used to describe the degree to which a product, device, service, or environment is available to as many people as possible. As such, universities all over the world have been improving user access to classrooms and other services and spaces on campus. In addition, universities are also making strides to provide greater access to content and courses.
Throughout UDL-U, the focus on accessibility is the educational experience, whether it be traditional (face-to-face) learning situations, access to resources outside of the classroom, or fully online courses where all instruction, interaction, and assessment take place through a web portal (e.g., Learning Management System).
When thinking of educational accessibility, it is best to think of ways to make courses as fully accessible as possible from the design stage forward. This not only provides equitable access to students with disabilities but also provides benefits to many learners without disabilities. One example is providing guided notes for a PowerPoint lecture or providing closed captioning for an instructional video. Another is providing closed captions to videos that are part of the course. Research by the National Captioning Institute demonstrates the many benefits of providing video captions. On occasion, these strategies not only support the individual student with a disability but also a wider diversity of learners. Thus, UDL encourages the development of universally designed course experiences that will benefit all learners.
A reasonable accommodation is a modification or adjustment to a course, program, service, job, activity, or facility that enables a qualified student with a disability to have an equal opportunity. An equal opportunity means an opportunity to attain the same level of performance or to enjoy equal benefits and privileges available to a similarly-situated student without a disability.
Instructors are required to make a reasonable accommodation according to the accommodations plan established with university disability support services (DSS). To establish what are reasonable accommodations, DSS reviews the course syllabus, materials, learning experiences, and assessments in an attempt to examine:
- The degree to which the student has access to the course and required materials and activities
- The barriers resulting from the interaction between the documented disability and the course requirements
- The possible accommodations that might remove these barriers
- Whether essential elements of the course are significantly compromised or fundamentally altered by the accommodations.
The following is a list of the most common accommodations services provided to students registered with DSS.
- Accessible Parking
- Alternate Furniture
- Alternate Media Services
- Assistive Technology Center
- Audio Recording of Lectures
- Examination Accommodations
- Lab Assistant
- Priority Registration
- Reader Services
- Research Assistant
- Sign Language Services
[acknowledgment to CSU Chico, Sonoma State University, and Humboldt State University, September 20, 2011]
The following graphic represents the three-level approach to implementing Universal Design for Learning.
- Level 1 (bottom) represents gaining a firm understanding of the principles of UDL and making relevant course changes.
- Level 2 (middle) represents adding technology components, tools, or resources to your course. In doing so, faculty should be aware of accessibility.
- Level 3 (top) represents increasing faculty awareness of assistive technologies and how they are used by some students with disabilities. Faculty members are not expected to become experts regarding assistive technology but should understand how the resources they develop or implement in their courses can be done in a way that best enables assistive technology users.