Self-Examination: How Accessible Is Your Campus?

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Students are in a classroom. In a boat, others are rowing in unison.
[Narrator] College students are learning to take responsibility for their own lives. They're making choices that will determine their success in life and careers. And for those of us fortunate enough to be part of their education, there are responsibilities as well. We have to be prepared for students with very different backgrounds, experiences, abilities...and disabilities.
A student uses a wheelchair and a title reads: Self-examination: How Accessible is Your Campus?
[Sheryl Burgstahler] Hi, I'm Sheryl Burgstahler, director of DO-IT at the University of Washington in Seattle. DO-IT stands for disabilities, opportunities, internetworking, and technology. These days, campuses provide accommodations for students with disabilities. There's generally a disabled student services office where students can go to get special assistance. But it's based on trying to fit an individual with a disability into a system that really isn't designed for them. For example, while some accommodations will always be necessary, others are needed simply because a course has been created in an inaccessible way. A truly inclusive campus requires a more holistic approach.
[Bea Awoniyi] We all have responsibilities to providing access, a welcoming environment, for anyone on our campus. It is not an office responsibility; it is not just the disability services office or the disability services provider or the director or the coordinator that is responsible to making sure that access is provided for students with disabilities, or that their needs are being met. It is a university-wide responsibility.
[Narrator] And it takes an entire university, from administration to architecture to academics, to create a welcoming and inclusive campus. Accessibility issues should be considered at the highest level of the university.
[John Pedraza] It's important that you have a president and a provost and deans that are supportive of accommodating persons with disabilities. And fortunately, I work at an institution that is like that.
A student opens a laptop.
[Narrator] From the very first contact, potential students need access to the massive amount of information a university makes available online. Having a campus web accessibility policy is critical to ensuring consistent, well-organized, and universally accessible electronic resources.
[Alice Anderson] Having a campus policy will do many things. It can give you a sense of how to focus your training. You can bring different groups together to discuss the issues and the solutions. A policy can also set a measuring stick for where you are and where you want to be. A policy is especially beneficial when you're looking at how accessible you want your e-resources to be.
A desk is moved towards a person in a wheelchair.
[Narrator] Once on campus, students need physical access to classrooms, libraries, dining areas - basically, everywhere a student might go. Plans for that should be included in building and landscape architecture.
[Rodney Pennamon] We've got an ADA committee, an Americans with Disabilities Act committee, who looks at access issues around the campus, and we recently have added students to that group of individuals, and so it could come from a student, it oftentimes will come from a faculty member who may have some suggestions or some input, as well as my office, that will look at some of those access issues and someone will make us aware of a problem.
At an accessible entrance.
[Narrator] Examples to consider include: ramps and doors with automatic openers;
In a library.
countertops at various heights in student service areas;
In a shower.
and dorm rooms with accessible bathrooms.
[John Pedraza] It's really key that you bring in people from residence life, to housing, to the physical plant, as well as police and public safety. You really have to work with all those groups in order to provide those accommodations for students with disabilities.
In class.
[Narrator] And then, of course, instruction is the core of the university. By using principles of universal design to create course content, faculty can minimize the need for additional accommodations.
[Rodney Pennemon] When you're designing your class and putting it together, you really need to think globally in terms of who's going to be my audience, who do I need to reach? Younger students, non-traditional students, students from different backgrounds and different cultures and what have you. And so if you kind of go in with the approach that you're going to try to reach as many people as possible, it's almost like when you're giving a lecture, you're going to have an audience of people that come from a lot of different backgrounds, and so you want to be able to appeal to as many different levels as possible.
[Teacher] When I write things on the board, I read what it says as much as I possibly can.
[Narrator] For example, instructors can use a variety of methods for teaching content and offer alternative ways to participate in class activities. A statement on the course syllabus helps create a supportive atmosphere.
[Deb Casey] Instead of waiting for a student who might need a certain accommodation, I might put on my course syllabus, if you have questions or concerns that I could assist you with in regards to the class itself, to come and see me.
[Merle Berstein] Universal design is really making the classroom accessible for all students, not just for students with disabilities, and it really comes down to just good teaching. By teaching students through all the modalities-by hearing, by seeing, by touching-the information is accessible to all students in different ways.
[Sheryl Burgstahler] At your campus center for faculty development, universal design could be integrated into all offerings. Systemic change requires commitment and time. It starts with self-examination. Is your campus fully accessible? Do all students feel welcome? You might ask the following questions as you begin the process:
[John Armstrong] People need to get smarter about how we work with people with disabilities. That's why there's programs like disability studies that are popping up all over the country. And it has to do with developing research and information about what disabilities are and their place in society, and how individuals grow and become fully functioning individuals without some of the obstacles that we see currently.
[Sheryl Burgstahler] Accessible design is a work in progress. We at DO-IT collaborate with a national team of educators to create professional development materials and train faculty and administrators throughout the United States. We offer suggestions for the design of accessible courses and campus services. Go to http://www.washington.edu/doit. Select AccessCollege, and you'll find links to comprehensive websites designed for faculty, student services personnel, administrators, and students. We welcome your questions, comments, and suggestions.