Presentation Summaries - Keynote Speakers

Sheryl presents in front of her powerpoint.

Accommodations and Universal (or Inclusive/Accessible) Design

Presenter: Sheryl Burgstahler

Ability exists on a continuum, where all individuals are more or less able to see, hear, walk, read print, communicate verbally, tune out distractions, learn, or manage their health. In K-12 education in the United States, every child is ensured a free, appropriate education in as integrated of a setting as possible. However, in postsecondary education, students must meet whatever course or program requirements apply and are offered reasonable accommodations as needed.

Accommodations and universal design (UD) are two approaches to access for people with disabilities. Both approaches contribute to the success of students with disabilities in engineering classes. Accommodations are a reactive process, providing access for a specific student and arise from a medical model of disability. Students might be provided with extra time on tests, books in alternate formats, note taker, sign language interpreters, or other adjustments.

In contrast, UD is a proactive process rooted in a social justice approach to disability and is beneficial to all students. UD is designing products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design. A UD approach can benefit people who face challenges related to socioeconomic status, race, culture, gender, age, language, or ability.

UD of instruction is an attitude that values diversity, equity, and inclusion. It can be implemented incrementally, focuses on benefits to all students, promotes good teaching practice, does not lower academic standards, and minimizes the need for accommodations. UD can be applied to all aspects of instruction, including class climate, interactions, physical environments and products, delivery methods, information resources and technology, feedback, and assessment. Examples include the following:

  • Arranging seating so that everyone has a clear line of sight.
  • Avoiding stigmatizing a student by drawing undue attention to a difference.
  • Using large, bold fonts with high contrast on uncluttered overhead displays and speak aloud all content.
  • Providing multiple ways to gain and demonstrate knowledge.
  • Avoiding unnecessary jargon; defining terms.
  • Providing scaffolding tools (e.g., outlines).
  • Providing materials in accessible formats.
  • Providing corrective opportunities.
  • Testing in the same manner in which you teach.
  • Minimizing time constraints as appropriate.
  • Designing websites to include text alternatives for graphics, present context via text and visuals, include captions and transcripts for all video and audio content, ensure that all content and navigation can be reached with the keyboard alone, and spell out acronyms.

Educators who effectively apply UD and accommodations level the playing field for students with disabilities and make instruction welcoming to, accessible to, and usable by all students. They minimize, but do not eliminate, the need for accommodations.

Kim Bigelow presents.

Keynote: Universal Design in Project-Based Design Courses

Presenter: Kimberly Bigelow, University of Dayton

The presenter established the value of incorporating universal design into the engineering curriculum through the 7 guiding principles of universal design. These principles include Equitable Use, Flexibility in Use, Simple and Intuitive Use, Perceptible Information, Tolerance for Error, Low Physical Effort, and Size and Space for Approach and Use. Universal design is meant to make products, services, and environments more appropriate for the entire spectrum of abilities and preferences of users and should be considered in all engineering projects.

It is important to incorporate universal design principles into student design projects. If universal design isn’t incorporated into a design prompt or explicitly taught to students, they are unlikely to incorporate it into their designs in the course or in their future careers. This suggests that universal design is not inherently known, considered, or easily recognized by students. However, when a project was introduced that focused specifically on universal design and included some guided discussion and activities, students demonstrated the ability to understand and apply universal design principles fairly easily. It should be noted, though, that wheelchair accessibility was still considered more often and with more importance than the other guiding principles of universal design. Placing universal design in the student design prompt encourages students to research universal design and find new and interesting ways to incorporate it into their projects.

Factors can also come into play for students understanding and appreciating universal design. This starts with faculty awareness, and includes teaching some of the following:

  • different types of objectives and constraints, such as “must use colors that have high visual contrast”
  • different lessons on universal design and how it affects the design process
  • diversity and different perspectives to the brainstorming and designing process
  • how universal design affects a wide range of people, such as curb cuts aiding wheelchairs, carts, and strollers

Because faculty may not be aware of universal design, practitioners of universal design are encouraged to reach out to assist engineering faculty members. Individuals knowledgeable in universal design can start by offering guidance, support, and mentorship to faculty in engineering departments.

For more information on this topic, consult Bigelow, K.E. (2012). Designing for success: Developing engineers who consider universal design principles. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 25(3), 212 – 231.

Brad moves the Beam Robot around the room to answer questions.

Keynote: Accessible Hands-On Learning

Presenter: Bradley Duerstock

“It is a question of whether Society can afford to support such an enormous number of non-producers no matter how just their claim.... The injured man must be made to feel that he is not an object of charity, but that he is a handicapped contestant in the world of active people.”  - Gilbreth and Gilbreth, 1917

There are a variety of reasons that people with disabilities are excluded from hands-on learning. Social stigmatization and attitudinal barriers like a lack of encouragement to study science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, a lack of role models, little institutional support mechanisms for STEM labs, and difficulty in disseminating information and resources to those who need it all present challenges. So do physical barriers including the inability to use lab facilities and equipment, the inability to directly engage in lab research, and difficulty trying and acquiring assistive technology. As a result, people with disabilities are less likely to study STEM in graduate school and receive a PhD as their non-disabled peers.

At the Institute for Accessible Science, our mission is to promote the inclusion and active participation of persons with disabilities in science and engineering through practical training and research experiences, lab assistive technology (AT) and accessible scientific equipment, and enrichment and support services for both students and educators. We believe any person with a disability can pursue science and engineering as a career and that independence and practical STEM experiences are essential to success.

In our Accessible Biomedical Immersion Laboratory (ABIL), we’ve built an accessible wet lab. The lab “work triangle” consists of an accessible lab sink, fume hood, and an adjustable height lab-bench and ensured that safety devices are accessible. Current research looks at the following:

  • Accessible scientific instruments and STEM-specific accessible technology. This includes remotely controlled tools, ways to make scientific instruments accessible, and strategies for sharing expensive lab equipment.
  • Lab accessibility and safety. Users should consider aspects of both personal and environmental safety through contamination, disposal, and sanitation. Hands-free input modalities are great for reducing contamination.
  • Disability simulation. Users can use our virtual reality tool to experience the lab from the perspective of someone who is standing, someone who is using a wheelchair, or someone who has tunnel vision to understand how it may be different to use the lab as a person with a disability.
  • Virtual lab task training. This allows individuals with disabilities to simulate lab tasks via virtual reality.
  • Lab ergonomic analysis. Labs should be reviewed to be as comfortable and accessible as possible.

In the future, 3-D printing can be used for customization and dissemination of STEM-specific AT. We need better methods for determining research accommodation solutions for students and federal funding is needed to promote the recruitment of students with disabilities in higher education.

For more on accessible hands-on learning, take a virtual tour of Ability360 (formerly ABIL).