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Central Washington University

CWU Accessibility Studies Program Makes Access A Priority

Friday, October 1, 2021

The conversation surrounding accessibility is an ongoing one, and with 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. affected by disability, it remains vitally important that public-serving institutions and businesses strive to make themselves accessible to people of all abilities. At Central Washington University, the Accessibility Studies program provides an opportunity for students in any field to add an element of accessibility to their studies and join the workforce prepared to make their place of work accommodating to as many people as possible.

The Accessibility Studies program launched in 2017, and offers both a minor and a certificate, each created to work well with most other courses of study. Designed in response to a growing need for innovative, solution-oriented accessibility professionals, the program is deliberate in its flexibility, only requiring 16 credits for its certificate, and one additional elective for a minor. Program Lead Naomi Jeffery Petersen says the lack of a major is intentional, as it allows students to apply Accessibility Studies to their chosen field.Petersen with Students working on capstone project

“I want this to be the lichen that lives on every career field,” Petersen said. “I want this to be a perspective through which to view people who work in, and people who are served by, every career.”

Since the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission announced in 2016 that it expects every employer to have a plan in place for providing reasonable accommodation to employees with disabilities, demand for professionals with experience providing such accommodations has risen. This is especially true in Washington state, where Policy 188 requires all government agencies and their vendors to have a designated accessibility coordinator on staff.

Since the program’s inception, more than 70 students have graduated with the Accessibility Studies certificate or minor. Currently, there are more than 80 students enrolled in the program, representing over two dozen CWU academic programs.

In addition, the CWU Accessibility Studies Club, which just completed its first year, is the first CWU club to be completely online. The club provides its members with the opportunity to socialize with fellow students, guest speakers, volunteering opportunities, and field trips, all of which play back into the program’s focus on viewing disability as more than a sickness or injury.

“One of the things that our program helps people understand is that disability is not simply a health condition,” Petersen said. “I’m not considered disabled if I wear glasses, but if I lose my glasses, it’s a disability.”

The Accessibility Studies program is open to all CWU students, and will provide them with the tools necessary to bring about a more inclusive future, wherever their studies may take them.

Media contact: Rune Torgersen, Department of Public Affairs, rune.torgersen@cwu.edu.

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