How can I make my computing department more accessible to students with disabilities?
When it comes to a department of computer science, computer engineering, or information technology, the goal should be that everyone who qualifies to take courses within your department and anyone who is qualified to teach them should be able to do so.
Universal design can provide an approach for making your department accessible to all potential students and instructors. "Universal design" is defined as the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design." It suggests that, rather than design your departmental offerings for the average user, design them for people with a broad range of abilities, disabilities, ages, reading levels, learning styles, native languages, cultures, and other characteristics.
In applying universal design, keep in mind that individuals in your department may have learning disabilities or visual, speech, hearing, and mobility impairments. Make sure everyone
- feels welcome,
- can get to facilities and maneuver within them,
- is able to gain the full benefit of information resources and courses, and
- can make use of equipment and software.
Although applying universal design minimizes the need for accommodations for students, faculty, and staff with disabilities, it is also important to have a plan in place to respond to additional accommodation requests in a timely manner and to assure that faculty and staff are prepared to work with colleagues and students who have disabilities.
The University of Washington has drafted an Accessibility Checklist to guide you in making your computing department more accessible. This document is called Equal Access: Universal Design of Computing Departments.
More information about applications of universal design can be found in the DO-IT publication Applications of Universal Design.