Universal Access

“We cannot afford to let the issue of disabilities be simply an afterthought… Accessibility… has got to be a design feature, not an add-on.” William Kennard, U.S.A. [1]

This sentence sums up the concept of universal accessibility. Universal accessibility is defined by taking into account, from the start, the needs of all categories of the population during the phase of architectural design of buildings. When this notion is applied to education, it refers to teaching methods that take into consideration the special needs of the student population (immigrants, students learning a second language, adults, people living with a disability) instead of adapting them each time special needs arise. 

Nine principles have been identified to facilitate universal accessibility in the field of education. The practical application of these principles should allow for the academic success of all students, no matter what their needs may be and, consequently, should facilitate the teachers’ tasks and increase the efficiency of their work. Below you will find a brief explanation of these principles, as defined by the ADAPTECH Research Network “We must not allow that the issue of handicaps always be dealt with after the fact… Accessibility… must be dealt with at the time of design, not only considered as an add-on.” William Kennard, U.S.A.  [2]

Fair Use

This principle states that the design of course material should not put anyone at a disadvantage. It will serve everyone’s needs, not only the needs of disabled students. Let’s use the example of PowerPoint presentations: they allow improved visibility, not only to visually impaired individuals, but to students who have trouble taking notes, and to those who sit at the back of the classroom. No one is penalized by the presentations. Along the same line, courses offering audio support, downloadable in MP3 version, for hearing-impaired as well as for visually impaired students can be useful to students who have missed a class or who wish to check the accuracy of their notes.   

Flexibility

Educational materials must take into account the particular needs of all students within a population. Professors should be able find alternatives to allow everyone to complete the assigned workload. For instance, written exams can be replaced by oral or written presentations. Time allocations can be increased for longer written assignments (for example adding an hour to an assignment or task in which students are given one hour and fifty minutes), keeping in mind that people with learning disabilities need more time to complete their work. These types of changes can benefit all students.  

Simple and Intuitive Use  

Instructions for evaluations or course material must be conveyed in plain and simple language in order for everyone to understand them. It should not be taken for granted that all students are familiar with the terminology associated with a particular subject. A glossary of technical terms and new terms intended for beginners should be provided. 

Easily Accessible Information   

Information provided to students, regardless of subject, must be transmitted in a manner that is easily accessible to everyone, regardless of the nature of one’s disability.  

Flexible Grading Systems

When grading course material, faculty members must take into account the grade variations that can occur. In certain cases, professors could consider the method the student used to obtain the correct answer to award points, and not simply look at the accuracy of the final answer.  

Need for Minimal Physical Effort

This principle implies that courses should be designed to focus on the learning process rather than the physical efforts required for learning. For example, long examinations and evaluations could be avoided.  

Proper Use and Allocation of Space

When planning classroom space, one must factor in the needs of each individual in order to offer each person the appropriate space. Larger classrooms and/or smaller numbers of students per classroom should be taken into consideration.           

Learning Community  

Learning establishments must offer an environment that nurtures interaction between students, as well as between students and faculty members. Discussion forums could be devised (some already exist) and group assignments could be distributed to encourage inclusion.  

Create a Climate Conducive to Learning

The personnel of the educational institution must be easy to approach and open to discussing alternative measures that can be taken to guarantee equal opportunities for academic success.   

 

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[1] Harvard Law School Project on Disability, We Have Human Rights, Bret Hesla and Mary Kay Kennedy, Advocating Change Together (www.selfadvocacy.org), p.15

[2] http://www.adaptech.org/pubs/abQuelRoleJouezVous.pdf

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