What are some examples of engineering courses that teach about disability, accessibility, or universal design?

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Although disability, accessibility, and universal design are not taught in every engineering department, there are a variety of courses across the country that address these topics. Examples include:

  • 6.811: Principles and Practice of Assistive Technology (PPAT) is a semester-long, project-based course at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) focused on the design and engineering of customized assistive devices for people with disabilities. Additional information about PPAT can be found at MIT Open CourseWare.
  • Perspectives in Assistive Technology, at Stanford University, explores the design, development, and use of technology that benefits people with disabilities and older adults.
  • Assistive Technology Design Projects, a capstone design course at Duke University, pairs students with health care professionals to build custom assistive, recreational, or therapeutic devices for people with disabilities in the local community.
  • The Accessibility Capstone in Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Washington, has students work in teams to create new applications on cell phones that allow persons with disabilities to accomplish tasks that would be difficult to impossible to do without their applications.
  • At the University of North Florida, the Adaptive Toy Project has taught a special topics course focused on engineering innovative adaptive toy technologies to help engage children with disabilities in play.
  • CSE 490 D: Introduction to Accessible Technology aka The Goals and Complexities of Designing All-inclusive, Cutting-edge, Technology Solutions, at the University of Washington, examines the ways in which technology can be both assistive and a potential barrier. Students are asked to consider the role of technology designers and engineers in designing for equity in a technology-laden society.

Students who take a course in these areas may want to enter the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA) Student Design Competition, an annual competition that showcases assistive technology designs that help people with disabilities function more independently.

For more information about senior design projects in this area, visit Where can I find examples of engineering senior design projects that help individuals with disabilities?

For more information about preparing engineering students to work with people with disabilities, read How can you prepare engineering students to work with people with disabilities?

For additional resources on universal design in curriculum you may wish to consult Universal Design in the Curriculum and/or view the video Including Universal Design in the Engineering Curriculum