How might teaching about universal design help to diversify the engineering student body?

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Women and other under-represented groups often report being interested in applications fields that improve the world around them. For example, Margolis and Fisher (2002) found that women were interested in using computers in order to do something useful for society. Likewise, students with disabilities have demonstrated an interest in using design in order to improve the experiences of individuals with disabilities (Blaser, Braitmayer, & Burgstahler 2012). Therefore, teaching engineering students about universal design (UD)—where products and environments are designed—may help them see how engineering can benefit society and also develop skills to improve the world around them. This approach shows promise for attracting a more diverse set of students to study engineering.

There are a variety of ways that faculty members can include UD or a related approach (e.g., accessible design) in their engineering courses. Capstone or cornerstone engineering  design  classes  are  a  natural  fit  for  incorporating  UD  concepts  into  the  engineering  curriculum,  challenging  students  to  design  for  individuals  of  diverse  backgrounds. UD can also be a thought-provoking addition to engineering courses. For example, students could be asked to evaluate the  stability  of  devices  for  individuals  of  different  sizes  in  statics  or  dynamics,  create  flexible design  options  for  diverse  users  in  computer-aided design (CAD),  or to redesign a portion of one of their lab activities to be accessible to students with a variety of disabilities.

To learn more about this topic, consult Including Universal Design in Engineering Courses to Attract Diverse StudentsBuilding Capacity to Increase the Participation of People with Disabilities in EngineeringUniversal Design in the Curriculum,  Creating Inclusive Learning Opportunities in Higher Education: A Universal Design Toolkit, and/or view the videos Including Universal Design in the Engineering CurriculumBroadening Participation in Engineering to Include People with Disabilities, and Disability and Accessibility in Engineering: What Can Educators Do?

For additional examples of how UD can be incorporated into engineering courses consult, How can universal design, disability, and accessibility topics can be integrated into the engineering curriculum?, How can you introduce accessibility topics in engineering courses?, and Building Capacity to Increase the Participation of People with Disabilities in Engineering.