DRC and FACULTY: Partners for Student Success
Partnerships. The DRC partners with faculty in every discipline to assist in making classes more accessible, sustainable, equitable, and inclusive of all students. By combining faculty’s knowledge of academic area content and the DRC’s knowledge working with diverse student needs, we can go a long way in creating a campus that truly welcomes and reaches all students.
Consultation. In keeping with the mission statement of the DRC, the staff of the DRC is available to provide consultation to individual faculty and departments on the social model of disability, and on designing classes with all students in mind. When requested, the DRC will research and provide resources to faculty to see how other academicians in their field have similarly designed their coursework. DRC staff is also available to provide in-service and answer questions at department meetings.
Assistance with Accommodations. In an ideal world, all courses would be designed so well that the need for individual accommodations would be unnecessary. But the reality is that we’re not there yet, and to bridge the gap, accommodations are often necessary. Even in a very well-designed course, certain accommodations may still be necessary. These accommodations can be determined in a collaborative process with the student and the DRC staff, and/or faculty. The DRC need not be involved if faculty and student work out accommodations that work for everyone. Of course, faculty should feel free to refer students to the DRC if they feel it would be helpful. It is the student’s responsibility to notify faculty of accommodation requests in a timely manner. Students may choose to provide faculty with email notifications from the DRC that list the accommodations for which the student has been found eligible. These accommodations may be different from student to student, even those who have the same type of disability, based on many variables. Students are encouraged to meet with the faculty member one-on-one to discuss the accommodations and make arrangements for their implementation. Please note: students are not required to disclose the nature of their disability to faculty, only the accommodations for which they have been found eligible. The DRC staff is available to assist faculty in working with students to implement the designated accommodations. Faculty are not expected to provide accommodations retroactively. Please contact the DRC staff with any questions that may come up.
Policies and Laws
There are several laws and university policies of which faculty should be aware. Some are specific to working with students with disabilities, and some are policies that ensure the learning environments we create are usable, equitable, inclusive and sustainable for everyone. They ensure that instruction, course design, and other student-centered activities do not result in barriers for students with disabilities, but instead leads to their inclusion and accurate assessment of their achievement.
Confidentiality. Under FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, student records and the information contained within them are confidential, to be shared with others only when there is a demonstrated need. Confidentiality of records for students with disabilities is additionally covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This means that whatever you know about a student’s disability, you should not share in any way either intentionally or unintentionally with other faculty, students, staff, and administrators. This includes the context of recommendations for graduate schools, scholarships, and jobs.
Web Accessibility. UALR’s commitment to providing an accessible and quality education to students with disabilities includes the design and use of our web pages. Training and technical assistance are available to assist faculty with making their web pages and web-based courses and assignments accessible to all students, and to prevent unintentionally creating barriers for student learning.
In compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (1990) and the Rehabilitation Act Section 504 (173), it is the policy of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock to make UALR Web page information and online course material accessible to persons with disabilities in order to provide them with effective communication through the Internet.
Academic Waivers. It is the policy of UALR to respond to student requests for disability-related course waivers on an individual basis and in a manner that does not penalize the student for having a disability. The individual circumstances of the student and the student’s disability that will determine the appropriate course of action. By agreement with the Office of the Provost, requests for and approval of waivers will be processed by the DRC. The DRC will consult with academic chairs when deemed necessary.
Grievance Procedures. If students have concerns about the way faculty or staff has responded to their accommodation requests, they are requested to contact the DRC office. A DRC staff member will work with students to develop an approach to resolve the situation and may ask all parties to participate in resolving the problem. For accommodation concerns that are not resolved after discussion with the professor, it is recommended that students utilize a conflict resolution ladder that uses the following order:
- Department Chair
- Provost Office
- Chancellor’s Office
Please note that students may contact a UALR Human Relations Officer at any point in this process to lodge a formal or informal complaint of discrimination against faculty, staff or administration.
It is helpful to understand the various ways of conceptualizing disability, because that conceptualization frames our responses. The following is provided to help you understand where the field of disability in higher education is, and to provide information if you’d like to join us on this journey.
Medical Model of Disability
Disability services in postsecondary institutions around the country have historically followed the Medical Model of Disability. In this model, disability is seen as a ‘problem’ that exists within the person, and the focus is on working with the student to overcome that barrier in order to access the course materials or the classroom itself. In the medical model, access is negotiated one disabled student at a time, and must be addressed every semester.
Loewen (2007) frankly addresses the impact that the medical model of services has on students with disabilities:
In the past, most disability service providers have partially built their service on the tenets of the medical or rehabilitation model with the emphasis on accommodation to remove barriers (retrofitting). While this approach has been somewhat effective in providing programmatic access and accommodations for individuals – one person at a time – it reinforces a “separate but equal” system rather than full inclusion within a community of peers. This model relies on helpers (disability services staff and volunteers), which tends to hinder the development of self-determination or disability pride for the person receiving services. The accommodation or helping model allows the environment and the curriculum design to limit the full participation of disabled individuals and creates dependency, not independence for persons with disabilities. (¶6)
Today, professionals who provide services to students with disabilities in higher education are beginning to realize that providing accommodations, often called “leveling the playing field,” is just not enough and that they must begin an intentional process of reviewing current policies and practices; they must take an inventory of the language in their publications, on their web sites and in their daily use; and they must work to make the paradigm shift on the most basic levels. The Disability Resource Center at UALR is doing these things.
Social Model of Disability
The DRC is committed to a newer paradigm referred to as the Social Model of Disability (Oliver, 1990), in which disability is viewed as an aspect of a person’s diversity, and there is no negative value attached to it. Schriner & Scotch define disability as “the systemic mismatch between physical and mental attributes of individuals and the present (but not the potential) ability of social institutions to accommodate these attributes.” This means that rather than focusing on the disability and brainstorming ways for the student to overcome barriers, the focus is on eliminating the barriers in the first place. Identifying and eliminating barriers to student learning is a systematic approach that is sustainable, and much more in line with the social model view that disability is an aspect of one’s diversity, and not something that is ‘broken’ that needs to be fixed. Eliminating barriers to student learning benefits not only students with disabilities, but also non-traditional students, students for whom English is not their native language, minority students, indeed ALL students. The responsibility for access, then, shifts from the student to the designers of learning environments.
The Social Model in Action – Practical Suggestions
“Best practices for teaching students with disabilities are the very same practices that are effective for all students. Good teaching is good teaching.” (University of Minnesota, 2004). The University of Washington in its project DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology) takes this statement to heart and provides practical suggestions for implementing teaching best practices in a classroom that will benefit all students, including students with disabilities. (Burgstahler, 2008)
- Class Climate.Adopt practices that reflect high values with respect to both diversity and inclusiveness. Examples:
- Welcome everyone. Create a welcoming environment for all students. Encourage the sharing of multiple perspectives. Demonstrate and demand mutual respect.
- Avoid stereotyping. Offer instruction and support based on student performance and requests, not simply on assumptions that members of certain groups (e.g., students with certain types of disabilities or from a specific racial or ethnic group) will automatically do well or poorly or require certain types of assistance.
- Be approachable and available. Learn students’ names. Welcome questions in and outside of class, seek out a student’s point of view, and respond patiently. Maintain regular office hours, encourage students to meet with you, and offer alternatives when student schedules conflict with those hours; consider making a student-instructor meeting a course requirement. Be available for online communication as well.
- Motivate all students. Use teaching methods and materials that are motivating and relevant to students with diverse characteristics, such as age, gender, and culture.
- Address individual needs in an inclusive manner. Both on the syllabus and in class, invite students to meet with you to discuss disability-related accommodations and other learning needs. Avoid segregating or stigmatizing any student by drawing undue attention to a difference (e.g., disability) or sharing private information (e.g., a specific student’s need for an accommodation) unless the student brings up the topic in front of others. Remind students of their role in making requests early and contributing to a positive relationship. Communicate effectively with teaching assistants (TAs) about student accommodations.
- Interaction.Encourage regular and effective interactions with students and ensure that communication methods are accessible to all participants.
- Promote effective communication. Employ interactive teaching techniques. Face the class, speak clearly, use a microphone if your voice does not project adequately for all students, and make eye contact with students. Consider requiring a meeting with each student. Supplement in-person contact with online communication. Use straightforward language, avoid unnecessary jargon and complexity, and use student names in electronic, written, and in-person communications.
- Make interactions accessible to all participants. For example, use a telephone conference only if all students can participate, given their abilities to hear, speak, and meet, and their schedule constraints. Also, require that small groups communicate in ways that are accessible to all group members. Be flexible regarding interaction strategies.
- Encourage cooperative learning. Assign group work for which learners must support each other and employ different skills and roles. Encourage different ways for students to interact with each other (e.g., in-class discussion, group work, and Internet-based communications). Ensure full participation by insisting that all students participate; facilitate their participation as needed.
- Physical Environments and Products.Ensure that facilities, activities, materials, and equipment are physically accessible to and usable by all students, and that all potential student characteristics are addressed in safety considerations.
- Ensure physical access to facilities. Use classrooms, labs, workspaces, and fieldwork sites that are accessible to individuals with a wide range of physical abilities.
- Arrange instructional spaces to maximize inclusion and comfort. Arrange seating to encourage participation, giving each student a clear line of sight to the instructor and visual aids and allowing room for wheelchairs, personal assistants, sign language interpreters, captionists, and assistive technology. Minimize distractions for students with a range of attention abilities (e.g., put small groups in quiet work areas). Work within constraints to make the environment as inclusive as possible. Encourage administrators to apply UD principles in facility design and renovation.
- Ensure that everyone can use equipment and materials. Minimize nonessential physical effort and provide options for operation of equipment, handles, locks, cabinets, and drawers from different heights, with different physical abilities, with one hand, and by right- and left-handed students. Use large print to clearly label controls on lab equipment and other educational aids, using symbols as well as words. Provide straightforward, simple oral and printed directions for operation and use.
- Ensure safety. Develop procedures for all students, including those who are blind, deaf, or wheelchair users. Label safety equipment in simple terms, in large print, and in a location viewable from a variety of angles. Consider the impact of specific disabilities on emergency procedures. Provide safety instructions, as well as instructions for specific equipment, in writing prior to class. Repeat printed directions orally.
- Delivery Methods.Use multiple, accessible instructional methods that are accessible to all learners.
- Select flexible curriculum. Choose textbooks and other curriculum materials that address the needs of students with diverse abilities, interests, learning styles, preferences, and other characteristics. When possible, use curriculum materials that are well organized, emphasize important points, provide references for gaining background knowledge, include comprehensive indices and glossaries, and have chapter outlines, study questions, and practice exercises. Consider technology-based materials that provide prompting and feedback opportunities for multiple levels of practice, background information, vocabulary, and other supports based on student responses.
- Make content relevant. Put learning in context. Incorporate multiple examples and perspectives with respect to specific concepts to make them relevant to individuals with diverse characteristics such as age, ability, gender, ethnicity, race, socioeconomic status, and interests.
- Provide cognitive supports. Summarize major points, give background and contextual information, deliver effective prompting, provide scaffolding tools (e.g., outlines, class notes, summaries, study guides, copies of projected materials with room for note-taking) and other cognitive supports. Deliver these materials in printed form and in a text-based electronic format. Provide opportunities for gaining further background information, vocabulary, and different levels of practice with variable levels of support. Encourage and support students to develop their own scaffolding materials.
- Provide multiple ways to gain knowledge. Keep in mind that learning styles and levels of familiarity with background vary among students. Use multiple modes to deliver content; when possible allow students to choose from multiple options for learning; and motivate and engage students-consider lectures, collaborative learning options, small group discussions, hands-on activities, Internet-based communications, online review materials, educational software, fieldwork, and so forth.
- Deliver instructions clearly and in multiple ways. Provide instructions both orally and in printed form. Ask for questions and have students repeat directions and give feedback.
- Make each teaching method accessible to all students. Consider a wide range of abilities, disabilities, interests, learning styles, and previous experiences when selecting instructional methods. Provide the same means of participation to all students-identical when possible, equivalent when not. Vary teaching methods.
- Use large visual and tactile aids. Use manipulatives to demonstrate content. Make visual aids as large as reasonable (e.g., use large, bold fonts on uncluttered overhead displays and use a computer to enlarge microscope images).
- Information Resources and Technology.If your course uses computers as information resources, ensure these systems employ accessible design that you are aware of accessibility options, and systems are in place to make accommodations.
- Select materials early. Choose printed materials and prepare a syllabus early to allow students the option of beginning to read materials and work on assignments before the course begins. Allow adequate time to arrange for alternate formats, such as books in audio format or in Braille which, for textbooks, can take longer than a month.
- Use multiple, redundant presentations of content that use multiple senses. Use a variety of visual aids and manipulatives.
- Provide all materials in accessible formats. Select or create materials that are designed with everyone in mind. Use textbooks that are available in a digital, accessible format with flexible features. Provide the syllabus and other teacher-created materials in a text-based, accessible electronic format. Use captioned videos and provide transcriptions for audio presentations. Apply accessibility standards to websites.
- Accommodate a variety of reading levels and language skills, when appropriate, given the goals of the course. Present content in a logical, straightforward manner and in an order that reflects its importance. Avoid unnecessary jargon and complexity and define new terms when they are presented. Create materials in simple, intuitive formats that are consistent with the expectations and needs of students with a diverse set of characteristics.
- Ensure the availability of appropriate assistive technology. If computer or science labs are used, ensure that assistive technology for students with disabilities is available or can be readily acquired.
- Feedback.Provide specific feedback on a regular basis.
- Provide regular feedback and corrective opportunities. Allow students to turn in parts of large projects for feedback before the final project is due. Give students resubmission options to correct errors in assignments or exams. Arrange for peer feedback when appropriate. Solicit feedback from students regarding course effectiveness.
- Assessment.Regularly assess student progress using multiple accessible methods and tools, and adjust instruction accordingly.
- Set clear expectations. Keep academic standards consistent for all students, including those who require accommodations. Provide a syllabus with clear statements of course expectations, assignment descriptions, and deadlines, as well as assessment methods and dates. Include a straightforward grading rubric.
- Provide multiple ways to demonstrate knowledge. Assess group and cooperative performance, as well as individual achievement. Consider using traditional tests with a variety of formats (e.g., multiple choice, essay, short answer), papers, group work, demonstrations, portfolios, and presentations as options for demonstrating knowledge. Provide students choices in assessment methods when appropriate. Allow students to use information technology to complete exams.
- Monitor and adjust. Regularly assess students’ background knowledge and current learning informally (e.g., through class discussion) and formally (e.g., through frequent, short exams), and adjust instructional content and methods accordingly.
- Test in the same manner in which you teach. Ensure that a test measures what students have learned and not their ability to adapt to a new format or style of presentation.
- Minimize time constraints when appropriate. Plan for variety in students’ ability to complete work by announcing assignments well in advance of due dates. Allow extended time on tests and projects, unless speed is an essential outcome of instruction.
- Accommodation. Even with the best course design, some students will still need accommodations. Become familiar with campus protocols for getting materials in alternate formats, rescheduling classroom locations when needed, and arranging for other accommodations for students with disabilities. Address any accommodation-related questions to the student and to the DRC.
A Word on Academic Freedom
Faculty academic freedom standards are not impacted by suggestions provided in this handbook. Faculty remain the experts on the content of their courses. The area of expertise of the DRC lies at the intersection of disability and design. The DRC stands ready to assist faculty with designing and implementing their courses’ syllabi in a way that makes them accessible to the greatest number of students in the classroom environment.
Changing The Way We Think About Disability
How we think about disability can have a dramatic impact on how we respond. Here are a few of the ways one can approach disability, and some of the implications for where those approaches can take us as a campus community.
The University of Arkansas at Little Rock embraces the philosophy of inclusion–that is, the full acceptance and participation of persons with diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds, persons of varying ages, as well as persons who have disabilities. This is a national trend that is gaining acceptance in colleges and universities across the country. However, as these institutions of higher learning are making efforts to diversify their campuses they must also begin to realize that it is “not only… a means of providing equal opportunity, but… a critical academic tool in offering students the best education possible.” (American Association of University Professors, 2000, ¶2)
In a survey conducted by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and the American Council on Education (ACE), more than 60% of faculty members believed that students benefit from learning in a diverse classroom. Many of these same faculty members also noted that they believe that exchanges between people who are diverse can lead to developing skills such as thinking critically and knowing how to lead (American Association of University Professors, 2000).
According to “Disability Statistics from the American Community Survey (ACS)” published by Cornell University:
In the year 2005, an estimated 11.7 percent (plus or minus 0.14 percentage points) of non-institutionalized men & women, aged 21 to 64 years, all races, regardless of ethnicity, with some college/associates degree in the United States reported a disability. (Houtenville, Erickson, & Lee, 2007)
The survey statistics for this same demographic for the state of Arkansas rises to 15.9 percent. (Houtenville et al, 2007) That’s a lot of diversity at UALR.
There are numerous federal and state laws that require that institutions like UALR do not discriminate against persons with disabilities in either the delivery of services or in employment. These laws include Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and Arkansas Code 16-123-10.
However, laws cannot and do not regulate how people think, only their behavior. Although it is important to have laws and access to the legal system when discrimination occurs because of a person’s disability, understanding and accepting disability as another part of human diversity is a goal that legislation, no matter how well intentioned, cannot accomplish.
Once we see disability as an aspect of one’s diversity, and we understand that barriers in the environment are what result in disability, then we have to consider the ethics of doing business as usual. Most institutions of higher education subscribe to the “accommodations only” approach for students with disabilities. In so doing, disabled students and their advocates are left to negotiate access to resources which all other students readily have a right to use. Some experts in the disabilities studies field have equated this mindset to segregation, a discriminatory practice that we as a society have long-since abandoned. Most people today would reject, on ethical grounds, returning to such a divisive and harmful system of educating students. And yet if we don’t all accept responsibility for creating equitable and inclusive learning environments, then students with disabilities will continue to be needlessly segregated in how they interact with courses and materials. Therefore, designing inclusive and usable learning environments can be viewed as an ethical issue, and a matter of social justice.
Included in the Student Affairs mantra is the phrase: The students are the most important people on the campus. Without them there would be no need for the institution.
We are working toward a more student-centric campus, and we are grateful to be on this journey with the wonderful faculty at UALR. Thank you for all you do, and please don’t hesitate to contact our office any time!
Thanks to Carol Gill and the work of the AHEAD UD Initiative Team; and thanks to Jan Chaparro for her contributions to this document.
Loewen, G. (2007). Why should I care about reframing disability? NEADS. Newsletter #59. http://www.neads.ca/en/about/newsletter/article.php?id=111
Oliver, Mike (1990). The politics of disablement. London: Macmillan.
Shriner, K. & Scotch, R.K. (2001). Disability and Institutional Change: A Human Variation Perspective on Overcoming Oppression. Journal of Disability Policy Studies, 12 (2)
University of Minnesota. (2004). Workshop facilitators guide. Curriculum Transformation and Disability. http://www.gen.umn.edu/research/ctad/
Burgstahler, S. & Cory, R. (eds). (2008). Universal design in higher education: From principles to practice. Boston: Harvard Education Publishing Group.
Does Diversity Make A Difference? Three Research Studies on Diversity in College Classrooms. Washington, DC. (2000). American Council on Education and American Association of University Professors.
Houtenville, Erickson & Lee. (2006). 2005 Disability Statistics from the American Community Survey. Cornell University.
Gill, C. (1994). Two models of disability. Chicago Institute of Disability. University of Chicago.
Oliver, Mike (1990). The politics of disablement. London: Macmillan.