Integrating Universal Design into the University Curriculum

November 5, 2013
Accessing Higher Ground 2013
Westminster, Colorado USA



This page is provided as a record of the pre-conference session Integrating Universal Design into the University Curriculum, which took place at the Accessing Higher Ground conference on November 5, 2013 (Guy Fawkes Day).

This was a full day session that included presentations by each the facilitators, each exploring the topic from slightly different perspectives. Prior to lunch participants submitted questions or issues they would like to explore in the afternoon. Facilitators organized participants' submissions into common themes, and much of the afternoon was deemed an un-preconference, consisting of informal group discussion on each of these themes.



Curriculum Models

The following computing curricula from the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) include little or no content related to universal design or accessibility. There is a need to work with ACM and/or with our faculty who are active in ACM, to influence these curricula as they're updated. (NOTE: All links are to untagged PDFs)

  • CS 2008 - Computer Science Curriculum
  • IS 2010 - Information Systems Curriculum
  • IT 2008 - Information Technology Curriculum

Un-preconference Discussion Notes: Issues and Solutions

Following are notes taken during the session. Consequently they may lack some context for people who weren't there, but hopefully they still cover the gist of the issues discussed and resources/organizations cited. Topics of discussion were determined by participants and grouped into six common themes:

Universal design vs Innovation

  • Is this a failure of defining innovation? What is the innovation we are talking about? Is universal design not part of innovation?
  • Innovation sometimes considered "bells and whistles"; gratuitous use of new technology, without real evidence of improvement of the learning experience.
  • Success example from online participant: Accessibility as a requirement in budget/grant application – make it a real consideration and a real cost (non-threatening approach to host institution to recognize importance of accessibility)
  • If mainstream tools don’t create accessible resources, then accessibility is perceived as an overhead.
  • Reminiscence of physical accessibility versus aesthetics. Argument was originally that accessible meant ugly, but design has helped to overcome that view.
  • Issue is the definition of "universal"?

Why should I invest my scarce time and resources into UD?

  • Perceptions of applying universal design only where it will be noticed?
  • Last-minute notifications of a student with disabilities cited by instructors as unreasonably short notice.
  • What about automated means to provide (possibly below standard) accessibility solutions. Is doing something better than nothing? Is not doing enough as bad as not doing anything?
  • Raise standards and expectations (National Science Foundation doesn't get complaints when recipients of their grants produce materials with accessibility problems)
  • Have an enforcement policy (North Carolina State University's Information and Communication Technology Accessibility policy includes a mechanism for removing inaccessible web content)

Learning outcomes vs learning activities

  • Resistance where learning activities have apparently immovable accessibility barriers
  • Universal design should focus on creating a learning experience that gives the greatest possible proportion of the target audience the chance to attain the course’s intended learning outcomes – the knowledge a learner is expected to obtain at the end of a course. Less focus needed on trying to make individual learning activities universally accessible if doing so would reduce pedagogic value, and if a better solution is to provide equivalent alternatives.
  • Require pedagogic justification of learning activities and outcomes – and therefore expectation of student capability.

Dealing with constraints

  • Story of a blind geology professor teaching in the dark – audio and tactile methods of accessing and analyzing information.
  • But combatting shortcomings of e.g. learning management systems with limitations in accessible content authoring, as well as in navigational support for learners is a challenge.

Publicizing and Replicating promising practice