Central Washington University has approved a new certificate and minor in Accessibility Studies, which will start this spring. It’s the first program in the country dedicated to increasing accessibility by applying universal design principles to all fields of study and careers.
The program provides opportunities to learn about barriers that exclude people with disabilities. Moreover, it serves to ensure that every environment will accommodate everyone, regardless of ability.
“We want all environments to be designed for maximum functionality by maximum participation,” said Naomi Petersen, Accessibility Studies professor.
One fifth of the population is affected by disability, and laws protect their rights as individuals to have access. To be accessible, an environment—work, home, school, shopping, medical, leisure, and virtual/digital—must be functional for everyone.
These laws and accessibility requirements directly impact employers in all industries. And having employees skilled in this area brings added value to an organization.
The idea for the program stemmed from Petersen’s challenge to use a 3D printer to make instructional materials accessible to a blind student. Petersen found herself asking, “Where do I learn about this?”— Only to find that typically you must figure it out for yourself. After working closely with Disability Services and the Multimodal Education Center, she realized the university could provide this area of study to aid Central’s staff and students, as well as other professionals.
The university agreed.
Almost 30 CWU pre-professional degrees across disciplines—from business and information technology, to social services and safety and health management—have added the Accessibility minor option as a way to broaden their student’s employment opportunities. Several interdisciplinary research projects have already been proposed.
The first course, ASP 305 Accessibility and User Experience, will be offered spring quarter. A fast-track certificate will be available in the summer. Students who choose this option can become certified in 10 weeks by completing a four-course sequence online.
A minor in Accessibility Studies is earned by completing five program-approved elective credits in addition to earning the certification. The credits must be related to the student’s major area of study.
The Accessibility curriculum is aligned with the International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP) certification, to prepare students to be successful on the IAAP test.
All courses are offered online in order to make them available to those who are online majors as well as for working professionals.
While still in its infancy, the Accessibility Studies program has established goals for the future, including a foundation account for donations and grants that will fund scholarships and research.
As an employer, CWU human resources executive director Staci Sleigh-Layman instantly recognized the value to the university and other employers.
“There is real benefit to having our supervisors have this knowledge and competence, and to use it in their areas or responsibility across the campus,” Sleigh-Layman said.
She is helping to guide the design of specialized industry training for select supervisors, come fall. As the pilot, CWU would use the training as a career development opportunity for employees. Additionally, she said, face-to-face, or hybrid instruction is being considered.
“This kind of program is the type that would be attractive to many companies and organizations … it’s movable and scalable,” according to Sleigh-Layman.
A formal Accessibility Studies launch will take place on May 18th on the CWU Ellensburg campus. The date was chosen to coincide with Global Accessibility Awareness Day.
For more information, or to register for spring quarter, visit the Department of Curriculum, Supervision, and Educational Leadership Accessibility Studies website or contact Naomi Petersen at Naomi.Petersen@cwu.edu, 509-963-1481.
Media contact: Dawn Alford, public affairs coordinator, 509-963-1484, firstname.lastname@example.org.
--February 9, 2017
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