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Accessibility Studies

New book on how to engage ALL learners in higher education

Thomas TobinReach Everyone, Teach Everyone: Universal Design for Learning in Higher Education is the new book advocating for more than the rights of people with disabilities to succeed in college classrooms. Authors Thomas Tobin and Kirsten Behling show that the principles of accessibility benefit all students and thus professors are encouraged to design their courses with greater flexibility and use of alternative modalities.

This is a mindset that greatly reduces the need for accommodations required by law for eligible students and increases the success of the whole class. Their research shows that student satisfaction surveys (SEOIs) dramatically improve if students are given greater flexibility and perceive that professors expect a range of conditions instead of assuming that all students have the same abiities and circumstances.

CWU's Accessibility Studies Program Director Dr. Naomi Petersen recently enjoyed meeting him at the Accessing Higher Ground Conference in Westminster, Colorado. He gave a profoundly entertaining and informative presentation, using the popular Star Wars franchise of films to demonstrate the logic of Universal Design. He pointed out that ramps are the standard manner to enter, elevators the standard way to transfer levels, all acknowledging that a main character (R2D2) is mobile thanks to wheels. His Jedi images were memorable. He generously shared a white paper on "Re-Framing Universal Design for Learning for Broader Adoption in Higher Education" explaining the legacy of K12 inclusion behind the model.

He made a strong case that we must reach learners where they are: 20 minutes can be the difference between struggling and success. The book's recommended "20 minutes, 20 days, and 20 months" strategy is inspiring. Alternate ways to get information and demonstrate their learning can make a profound difference. Such tools as the Central Access Reader (CAR), a free text to speech tool, benefits not just people with visual impairment, but all people who find listening rather than reading will liberate them to more efficiently grasp concepts.

The CAR originated here at CWU thanks to Wendy Holden and others in Disability Services and recently updated to the 2.0 version that works better with Macs and has more features) and was widely recognized at the conference of disability professionals as a very powerful, valuable, and easily used tool. Holden's influence has been considerable in her role as Director of Disability Services; she was instrumental in the development of the Accessibility Studies Programs and continues to 'keep it real' as it strives to be a practical application of access principles to all career fields.

Re-framing our accessibility conversations leads to greater adoption and implementation, but the re-framing of the mindset is the challenge. Universal design for learning requires instructors to determine whether their familiar methods are really essential or just that: familiar. They need to trust that the considerable work of UDL is worth it

Dr. Tobin is Conference Programming Chair on the Learning Design, Development, & Innovation (LDDI) team in the Division of Continuing Studies (DCS) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. CWU also has offices devoted to improving curriculum design and delivery as seen in the work of Dr. Chris Schedler who, as Executive Director of Multimodal Learning, has in the last seven years facilitated the growth of the large enterprise that recently located to the refurbished Samuelson building. Under his tutelage as well as Chad Schone, Director of the Multimodal Education Center, CWU provides professional development workshops in such topics as Universal Design.

The Accessibility Studies Program is at heart an effort to reframe attitudes about ability and our responsibility as a society to be inclusive of all abilities, as suggested by Dr. Tobin. Dr. Petersen shared the story of developing the ASP at CWU at the conference, meeting with a very positive response to the innovation of providing an academic voice in addition to a support voice. Bridget Irish, a current ASP student and Curricular Technology Support Specialist at The Evergreen State College, was in attendance and spoke enthusiastically about the value of the ASP program for her professional role providing support for faculty to make their online courses accessible. She encouraged people to register for the courses offered this coming winter 2019: ASP 305 Accessibility & User Experience (3 cr) and ASP 325 Universal Design (4 cr).

Accessing Higher Ground conference is sponsored by AHEAD, the Association on Higher Education and Disabilities. Dr. Petersen was also invited to be part of a panel at the Capacity-Building Institute for IT Faculty incorporating accessibility into their curriculum, held the day before the conference. Contact her at with any questions.


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