Last month I wrote a series of posts on online education and efforts to create more accessibility to course material for deaf and hard of hearing students. Before leaving that subject completely, I'd like to share what I've learned about universal design and how it relates to education.
The Universal Design concept started in architecture. The most common example is curb cuts. Intended to increase accessibility for those in wheelchairs, they have become beneficial to many others including skateboarders, parents pushing strollers, and people pulling wheeled luggage. Another example is the use of captions on televisions. Initially intended for the deaf and hard of hearing, they are now routinely used in noisy environments such as gyms and airports. The benefits of universal design extend to many types of people and situations beyond the disabled because UD is good, flexible design.
Of course, Universal Design (UD) principles bring disability awareness to the top of the list of considerations when designing a building or website. But what has captured my interest is how this concept is being applied to education in Universal Design of Instruction (UDI) also known as Universal Design for Learning (UDL). It seems to fit with my interest in making online education accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing.
Karen Janowski an Assistive and Educational Technology Consultant says "My passion is to remove the obstacles to learning for all students... When material is digital or electronic, it is flexible and accessible. It is our responsibility as educators to provide materials that promote success." Her philosophy resonates with me. On her blog EdTech Solutions: Teaching Every Student she has made available a Free UDL Toolkit for teachers.
Another educator Sheryl Burgstahler, Ph.D. of the University of Washington has written and presented extensively on the subject of universal design. She serves as the director of DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology) Center. One of the DO-IT Center's programs is The Center for Universal Design in Education. Funded by the Department of Education and the National Science Foundation, this program "develops and collects Web-based resources to help educators apply universal design to all aspects of the educational experience." Many helpful resources on UDI/UDL can be found at their website.
In my job little progress has been made on my goal of making our library workshops accessible. I am still waiting to receive the software requested months ago. Sigh...It really inspires me to read of these two women's vision for accessible education and their work in this area. I'd like to find out more about how I could possibly find employment in this specialty and what qualifications are needed.