2003 Conference Proceedings

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UNIVERSAL DESIGN AND ACCESSIBILITY ISSUES IN HIGHER EDUCATION

Presenters
Loye Romereim-Holmes, Ed.D.
College of Education and Counseling
South Dakota State University
Brookings, SD 57007

Nancy Schade
Special Student Services
South Dakota State University
Brookings, SD 57007

Higher Education has an opportunity to tap into new diverse populations through Internet delivery. People who have previously not been able to participate in furthering their education because of physical, emotional, or learning disabilities may now have the ability to take courses through the Internet. In addition, many classes taught in the traditional face-to-face environment now have web support elements. Just as there is an obligation to provide alternative materials and instruction for students with disabilities in the traditional classroom, there is a need to provide materials and instruction that meet these students' needs online. However, many faculty members designing online course opportunities are not familiar with the importance of accessibility for all learners. Providing faculty with design principles to facilitate engaged diverse learners may hold the key to providing online education. This session provides an overview of the accessibility issues students with disabilities face online and acquaint participants with the Universal Design for Learning principles that should guide online development of a course or web supported instructional materials.

Universal Design for Learning is defined as "the design of instructional materials and activities that allows the learning goals to be achievable by individuals with wide differences in their abilities to see, hear, speak, move, read, write, understand English, attend, organize, engage, and remember." (Orkwis & McLane, p.9).

These principles include providing all text in digital format, captions for all audio, educationally relevant descriptions for images and graphical layouts, captions and educationally relevant descriptions for video, along with cognitive supports for content and activities (summarizing big ideas, providing scaffolding for learning and generalization, building fluency through practice, providing assessments for background knowledge, and including explicit strategies to make clear the goals and methods of instruction)(Orkwis & McLane, 1999).

With the challenges to create quality curriculum that can be accessed by a diverse student population, instructors should consider incorporating the principles of Universal Design for Learning into web-based instruction as this can greatly enhance the learning and accessibility of all students. These principles enable teachers to design materials that allow the learning goals to be achievable by diverse learners. For teachers using web-based instruction, one possible solution to the dilemma of providing access for all students and maintaining quality education would be for them to integrate assistive technology capabilities into the actual instructional design of materials from the beginning (CAST, 2001). If this is done, students using various forms of assistive technology to access instructional materials may have greater success.

As teachers rise to meet the challenge of providing create quality curriculum that can be accessed by a diverse student population, they are finding that combining the principles of universal design with the principles of sound instructional design of web-based instruction is an option worth exploring. The combination of these components can greatly enhance the learning of all students. "Ideally a curriculum should be modified or customized to meet the needs of both teachers and students" (Council for Exceptional Children, 1999, p. 1). Assistive technology does not always need to be an add-on but an integrated part of the instructional design process for every classroom.

References:

CAST. 2001. Universal Design Learning Principles [online] http://www.cast.org.

Council for Exceptional Children. (1999, Fall). Universal design: Ensuring access to the general education curriculum. in Research Connections in Special Education., no.5. Author.

Orkwis, R., & McLane, K. (1998, Fall). A Curriculum every student can use: Design principles for student access. ERIC/OSEP Special Project, ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education. Council for Exceptional Children.


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