Equal Access: Universal Design of Student Organizations

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A checklist for making student organizations welcoming and accessible to everyone

by Sheryl Burgstahler, Ph. D

As increasing numbers of people with disabilities pursue educational opportunities at all levels, the accessibility of campus services and student organizations increases in importance. The goal is simply equal access. Everyone should be able to access services and programs comfortably and efficiently.

Legal Issues

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments of 2008 prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities. According to these laws, no otherwise qualified person with a disability shall, solely by reason of his or her disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity of a public entity.

Universal Design

To make student organizations accessible to everyone, employ principles of universal design. Universal design means that rather than designing a facility and services for the average user, you design them for people with a broad range of abilities, disabilities, ages, reading levels, learning styles, native languages, cultures, and other characteristics. Keep in mind that students may have learning disabilities or visual, speech, hearing, and mobility impairments. Preparing your program to be accessible to them will minimize the need for last-minute, unexpected changes. Make sure everyone can get to the facility and maneuver within it, access materials and electronic resources, and participate in events and other activities.

Train staff to respond to specific requests for accommodations in a timely manner and know whom they can contact on campus if they have disability-related questions. Having a knowledgeable staff can make your resources more accessible. Consider hosting a training at the start of each semester, hosted by the disabled student services office.

Guidelines and Examples

The following questions can guide you in making your student organization universally accessible. Consider those that apply to your situation. This content does not provide legal advice. To help clarify issues, consult your institution's legal counsel or ADA/504 compliance officer or call the regional Office for Civil Rights (OCR) can also help clarify issues.

Planning, Policies, and Evaluation

Consider diversity issues as you plan and evaluate student organization activities.

Physical Environments and Products

Ensure physical access, comfort, and safety within an environment that is inclusive of people with a variety of abilities, racial and ethnic backgrounds, genders, and ages.

Consult the ADA Checklist for Readily Achievable Barrier Removal at www.ada.gov/checkweb.htm for more suggestions. For computing facilities, consult the Equal Access: Universal Design of Computer Labs video and publication at www.washington.edu/doit/Video/equal.html.

Paid or Volunteer Staff

Make sure staff and volunteers are prepared to work with all students.

Information Resources and Technology

Ensure that publications and websites welcome a diverse group, are accessible to all visitors, and technology within the service area is accessible to everyone.

Events

Ensure that everyone can participate in events sponsored by your student organization.

Checklist Updates

This checklist was field-tested at more than twenty postsecondary institutions nationwide (see www.washington.edu/doit/Brochures/Academics/admin.html). The results of a nationwide survey to test face-validity of checklist items led to further refinement of the checklist. To increase the usefulness of this working document, send suggestions to sherylb@uw.edu.

Additional Resources

An electronic copy of the most current version of this publication as well as additional useful brochures can be found at www.washington.edu/doit/Brochures/. A 14-minute video, Equal Access: Student Services, demonstrates key points summarized in this publication. It may be freely viewed online at www.washington.edu/doit/Video/ea_student.html and purchased in DVD format from DO-IT. Consult www.washington.edu/doit/Video/ for access to this and other videos that may be of interest. Permission is granted to reproduce DO-IT videos and publications for educational, noncommercial purposes provided the source is acknowledged.

The Student Services Conference Room at www.washington.edu/doit/Conf/ includes a collection of documents and videos to help make student services accessible to everyone. They include checklists for career services, distance learning, computer labs, recruitment and admissions, registration, housing and residential life, financial aid, libraries, tutoring and learning centers, and student organizations. The Student Services Conference Room also includes a searchable Knowledge Base of questions and answers, case studies, and promising practices.

For more information about applications of universal design consult www.washington.edu/doit/Resources/udesign.html or The Center for Universal Design in Education at www.uw.edu/doit/CUDE/. The book Universal Design in Higher Education: From Principles to Practice published by Harvard Education Press shares perspectives of UD leaders nationwide. To receive a 20% discount visit the DO-IT website.

About DO-IT

DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology) serves to increase the successful participation of individuals with disabilities in challenging academic programs such as those in science, engineering, mathematics, and technology. Primary funding for DO-IT is provided by the National Science Foundation, the State of Washington, and the U.S. Department of Education. DO-IT is a collaboration of UW Information Technology and the Colleges of Engineering and Education at the University of Washington.

To order free publications or newsletters use the DO-IT Publications Order Form; to order videos and training materials use the Videos, Books and Comprehensive Training Materials Order Form.

For further information, to be placed on the DO-IT mailing list, request materials in an alternate format, or to make comments or suggestions about DO-IT publications or web pages contact:

DO-IT
University of Washington
Box 354842
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doit@uw.edu
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Founder and Director: Sheryl Burgstahler, Ph.D.

DO-IT Funding and Partners


Acknowledgment

This publication and the accompanying video were developed under a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, # P333A020044. Any questions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Federal Government.

Copyright © 2012, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, University of Washington. Permission is granted to copy these materials for educational, noncommercial purposes provided the source is acknowledged.