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Accessibility Studies

Mission & Vision

Motto: “Every career an accessible career.”



Revised accessibility symbol

Accessibility Studies Programs at Central Washington University work to define the experiences of people in all environments so the design will achieve maximum functionality and participation.

We provide an academic voice for people with a broad range of abilities and we are committed to confronting the stigma, habits, and assumptions that combine to limit full engagement and independence.

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Our vision is for principles of universal design to become common sense for all people.  The ASP course offerings emphasize practical applications of all academic fields to the challenge of including people along the spectrums of all abilities in all aspects of independent living.  Thus our vision includes empowering individuals to solve problems constraining access that they or the people they serve may face. Graduates of our programs will be competent to analyze scenarios for their functionality by people with different levels of ability and to propose practical design solutions.

The Accessibility Studies Program seeks to be an active partner with Disability Services and other agencies and centers found within the Office of the Dean of Student Success, in part because these services already address all practical dimensions of accessibility necessary for all students to be fully engaged in the learning and living environment that is CWU, and thus they provide authentic expertise and contexts for the study of accessibility issues.

As with other interdisciplinary programs, ASP participates in public service functions including the promotion of new perspectives, events, and opportunities for leadership. 


The Accessibility Studies program developed out of efforts by Dr. Naomi Jeffery Petersen, a professor of teacher education, to accommodate a student with visual impairment, Humberto Avila. Her instructional activity using folded card stock to explain the intricacies of the Teacher Performance Assessment involved manipulation and visualization that was unreasonable for a blind student. She was intrigued by the new 3-D printer in the Multimodal Education Center in Black Hall, and asked the technicians to produce a version of it embossed with Braille.

This lead to close collaboration with Wendy Holden, director of Disability Services who provided the essential background information needed for assistive technology to be effective for the purpose and audience intended. Dr. Petersen (“NJP”) was introduced to CWU’s Central Access, a service producing accessible media for institutions across the nation, known for creating innovative solutions for improving access. Before that, she only new of the role Disability Services has in identifying individual student needs that would require instructional modification. The fact that a nationally known resource such as this was housed right on campus was a revelation to her. She was even more intrigued when she heard the following: Staffing was a continual challenge because as soon as a new employee was trained in the assistive technology skills used to produce the necessary products, the person would be hired away because the skills were so valuable.  

According to the US Census Bureau, about 56.7 million people — 19 percent of the population — had a disability in 2010. At CWU alone, over 800 students have registered with Disability Services, and many others do not choose to be so identified. This is half the proportion of the larger population, but it is still greater than any other public institution, confirming the census report that persons with disabilities are less likely to gain a postsecondary education.  As the general population becomes increasingly geriatric, there will be even more need as indicated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Disability remains the most common basis of housing discrimination complaints filed with HUD and its partner agencies. Last year alone, HUD received 4,548 disability-related complaints, or nearly 55 percent of all complaints. Thus an important skill set to be gained in this program is the competence to recognize violations of law related to entitlements of persons with disability. There are many jobs requiring skills of analyzing the challenges facing people with disabilities and designing solutions in order to serve them. This explains why CWU Disability Services office  experienced an alarming trend of first training its workers in those skills only to lose them very soon to higher paying careers elsewhere.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity commission announced in 2016 that the EEOC expects every employer to have in place a policy that tells employees how to request a reasonable accommodation. The EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan highlighted disability-related issues, those priorities include “Eliminating Barriers in Recruitment and Hiring;” Accommodations were the primary “Emerging and Developing Issues.”  Managers, who may not understand the implications of their statements, actions or lack of action when dealing with injured, ill or pregnant employees, may increase the risk of litigation for employers. This training should ensure that managers know how to recognize requests for accommodation (or leave under other applicable statutes) and then connect employees to the right person who can assess their needs.
Specialists will be needed to work in a wide variety of industries to ensure that employers are adhering to both existing and new regulations. In addition, technological advances will allow for the use of new machinery, and specialists will be needed to create the machinery, as well as procedures to ensure its safe use. In addition, specialists will be necessary because insurance costs and workers’ compensation costs have become a concern for many employers and insurance companies. An aging population is remaining in the workforce longer than past generations did, and older workers usually have a greater proportion of workers’ compensation claims. Thus there is a documented need for a knowledge base regarding accessibility in all experiential environments.

Forrest Hollingsworth, Multimodal Education Center media technician, lead the process of learning the technology and producing the final product. This involved not only the designing and modeling of the prototype, but a series of ‘reality checks’ that highlighted the usability issues that sighted people are oblivious to. For instance, Braille cannot be enlarged because it is perceived through fingertips, which cannot be enlarged. Also, there is a syntax regarding the characters that make their positioning important for accurate communication. Forrest tutored NJP in the logistics of owning and operating a 3D printer while Wendy tutored them both in the context of compliance with federal laws, local procedures for monitoring and implementing accommodations, and the scope of CWU’s student population with needs for designs that improved functionality.

During that quarter, Spring 2016, the initial goal was accomplished: The visually impaired student was able to understand and manipulate a previously inaccessible visual metaphor.  The project demonstrated to all involved that new technology, like 3D design and printing, allows educators new tools in bringing accessibility into the classroom. More significantly, the project inspired several points of inquiry that ultimately resulted in the proposal of an Accessibility Studies program before Fall 2016. It was approved through the Faculty Senate curriculum procedure in Winter 2017 with the first course, ASP 305 Accessibility & User Experience, offered in Spring 2017.
Meanwhile, a considerable community of support coalesced among faculty and staff at CWU.

A “listening tour” engaged representatives from over two dozen departments and agencies on campus, each of which endorsed the need for the program and expressed support for its compatibility with their own missions. Several meetings of ad hoc steering committees crafted the minor degree program and the ‘type B’ certificate program according to several self-imposed criteria: The programs must be affordable to the student, with the least amount of credits, and it must be accessible, with the greatest use of online delivery. The intention was for the certificate to also serve as a professional development option for professionals in the field as well as matriculated undergraduates. The introductory course was intentionally limited to three credits to increase the students’ capacity to incorporate it as an elective into busy schedules.
All academic programs currently offered at CWU were scrutinized for  their conceptual compatibility with the tenets of accessibility, and their need for elective opportunities. The first point of scrutiny served two purposes: 1) credit information for student advising, and 2) expertise for faculty recruitment. This generated the criteria for instructors who could teach the courses, an important element of interdisciplinary programs. The charter also includes a governance structure with a Program Lead appointed by the Chair of the Department of Curriculum, Supervision, & Educational Leadership who in turn chairs the ASP Steering Committee, instituted in Winter 2017. A Community Advisory Council is scheduled to commence in Spring 2017.  Outreach and promotion of the new program was considerable in School Year 2016-17 with presentations at several scholarly conferences and a campaign coordinated through CWU’s Office of Public Affairs.

Thus, the history is still being written following the official launch of the programs in February 2017 with the vote of confirmation by the CWU Faculty Senate.

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