A great article in the Chronicle of Higher Education this week calls on people teaching in universities to recognise the need for radical inclusion:
A genuine effort to include—not simply to accommodate—people with disabilities could have a radical effect on our teaching and our professional practices. What if the instructor who silenced the stutterer had instead taken his disability as an opportunity to examine the goals and purpose of class participation? What if a professor who was asked to give a disabled student extra time on an exam paused to think about whether 50 minutes was the ideal time for any student to complete the exam?
When our campuses tolerate, but do not welcome, people with disabilities, they undermine the values of democracy, justice, and intellectual freedom that are the core values of higher education. And when we regard students and colleagues with disabilities as nuisances or disruptions, we lose the opportunities they provide to think critically, with fresh eyes, about the assumptions on which our pedagogy and our intellectual projects are based.
I couldn’t agree more. In fact, disability offers us a lens for looking at learning and teaching – it sharpens and makes vivid some of the difficulties which many students face. Mick Healey found that
[a]s with many academic endeavours, the more I learn about supporting the learning of disabled students, the more I realise I have to learn about supporting the learning of all students.
He sees disability legislation, which requires us to remove the barriers which disable people, as a Trojan horse smuggling in good teaching practice to everyone’s benefit. And the author of the Chronicle article, Rachel Adams, has a practical suggestion – learn from the Universal Design movement.
So what a great opportunity to link to some resources for doing just as she suggests:
- at the University of Connecticut’s Center on Postsecondary Education and Disability, they call it Universal Design for Instruction, and at the University of Washington, where the DO-IT project promotes the use of technology for access, it’s Universal Design of Instruction
- the University of Guelph has all kinds of resources on Universal Instructional Design
- there’s even a US National Center on Universal Design for Learning (though unlike the other links, this one’s not specifically aimed at postsecondary education)
- the Australian site CATS has tips for inclusive teaching in higher education, and they emphasise that it’s important for meeting the needs of students from different cultural backgrounds, too
- The UK’s Open University has a site on making your teaching inclusive which incorporates video clips of disabled students talking about their experiences
Let’s bring down the barriers and let the Trojan horse in!