You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘MA in Disability Studies’ category.

Check Your Inbox

When an invitation from Virtual Campus Coordinator Anthony Sweeney hits your CUNY email inbox, please do yourself a favor:

  1. Clear your calendar
  2. GO!

You will not be disappointed, I promise.  Recently a fellow blogger, Yerelyn Nunez, suggested that we take advantage of the opportunities available to us as students: https://cunysps.wordpress.com/2017/03/09/take-advantage-of-being-a-student/.

I couldn’t agree more with Yerelyn.  Here are a couple of examples illustrating the exciting ways we can celebrate our diverse CUNY SPS community.

Bloomberg International Women’s Day Summit

Thanks to one of those fab Anthony invites, I was honored to attend the Bloomberg International Women’s Day Summit.  The event started early Sunday morning, March 12 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art with an energetic welcome given by our own CUNY Vice Chancellor Andrea Shapiro-Davis.  She was followed by inspiring speakers who are committed to empowering women throughout the world.  The participants were exclusively students, some as young as middle school age.  The attendees were invited to partner up with Bloomberg mentors.  The support and encouragement we were given helped us all envision a brighter future for women.

CUNY SPS students with Vice Chancellor Andrea Shapiro-Davis

The photo above is Vice Chancellor Andrea Shapiro-Davis (she’s so cool!) with summit attendees from CUNY SPS: Kangela Moore, Yvette Humphries, and yours truly.  (Because I’m an older “non-conventional” student, the younger students kept asking me if I was a mentor!)

Creating a Safe Place

CUNY SPS is a diverse school dedicated to inclusion.  Have you been worried about how the presidential election could affect some of our students and their families?  At a school meeting earlier this semester, there was a conversation about the election and its ramifications.  After this student/faculty dialogue, the students were given the green light to form a discussion group addressing the implications of the current political climate for our student body.  In just a few short months, the logistics were worked out and the exchange is about to start.

CUNY SPS Intergroup Dialogue

Please join the conversation!  All CUNY SPS students are welcomed to the first discussion group meeting to be held on April 5.  Participants will identify a topic to have courageous and supportive conversations that will be co-facilitated by Melissa McIntyre (Disability Studies, MA).

The group will work collectively and collaboratively to empower all of our students and their families in the times ahead.  Dinner is even provided folks!  Clear your calendar and GO!

Let’s all give all give a BIG SHOUT OUT to Associate Dean Brian Peterson, Dr. Zeita Lobley, Anthony Sweeney and Melissa McIntyre who made this happen!

Addressing our Legacy

A final little footnote: at CUNY SPS, we are a newish/smallish school within a large and established university system.  This gives us the unique ability to profoundly impact our school environment.  We have a wonderful group of administrators who are not only open to our ideas about creating student opportunities, but will help facilitate whenever possible.  Few colleges have these possibilities, with this kind of support, so we should all consider how we can help make CUNY SPS an even better learning environment for future students.

Designer, single mom, and ongoing student, Lisa Sheridan is busy juggling life, work, and academics as an undergraduate in the Communication and Media department.

Advertisements

Last semester, I attended the CUNY IT Conference to learn about new innovations in Assistive Technology and Accessibility Information.  I was just waiting for some colleagues and looking at my nametag when there was this realization that I’ve done alright (amazing what a simple nametag can do).

The backstory is that I am a high school dropout and I had little direction for a long time, I was truly just wasting my life away (long story). That is until I found my calling working with people diagnosed with various disabilities.

Fast forward, I finally earned my bachelor’s degree in 2011 (the same year I got married), I like to say I took the 20+ year plan.  Now, today I’m working on my second master’s degree, and working as the Assistant Director of a Disability Service Office for a major New York City college.  I’ve also got great colleagues, great friends, great family and a great wife! I’ve done alright, indeed.

Sometimes in unsettled times, one has to remember how far one has come and just say, “I’ve done alright.”

Now tell me, have you done alright?

Daniel Chan is a belated student who took the 20+ year plan to get his Bachelor’s Degree. He recently received his M.A. in Disability Studies and is working on his M.S. in Disability Services in Higher Education. His proudest academic achievement is still his GED.

Part 5: Perceptible Information, the fourth principle of Universal Design
by Antonia Levy, Christopher Leydon & Chris Kchao

This month we discuss the fourth principle of Universal Design (UD), Perceptible Information, meaning that “the design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities.”

Guidelines for adherence to this principle include:

  • Use different modes (pictorial, verbal, tactile) of presentation for essential information.
  • Provide adequate contrast between essential information and its surroundings.
  • Maximize “legibility” of essential information.
  • Differentiate elements in ways that can be described (i.e., make it easy to give instructions or directions).
  • Provide compatibility with a variety of techniques or devices used by people with sensory limitations.

CUNY SPS Universal Design and Learning Accessible KeypadPractical examples for this principle are tactile features on numeric keypads for blind users, which usually include a dot on the 5 key, a tactile circle on the enter/confirm button and a tactile x on the cancel/clear button. Consumer devices such as thermostats or infrastructure such as pedestrian signals now employ a combination of tactile, visual, and audible cues to be accessible to all.

In education, this principle calls for providing essential information in a variety of modes (e.g., written, symbolic, tactile, verbal) thereby ensuring effective communication with all users regardless of their sensory abilities. This includes making all (online) instructional materials accessible to users of screen reading software as demonstrated in this video.

For an expert account of how screen readers, we turned to guest contributor Chris Kchao, who handles assistive technology in the Office of Student Disability Services here at CUNY SPS.

Screen readers, sometimes referred to by the general term screen access programs, allow blind or visually impaired users to gain access to written information on electronic devices. Text is typically either read aloud by a synthetic voice or output to a refreshable Braille display. The function of a screen reader is not simply to render any text available on screen, but to facilitate interaction between the person and the user interface. In practical terms, the screen reader doesn’t just voice the text, but also provides contextual information about the item being read (whether it’s a menu, button, checkbox, link, etc). For instance, here’s the output from the NVDA screen reader when a user presses the Windows start key:

Windows 7 Start MenuStart menu, Search Box, edit: Search programs and files.

By way of these prompts, a user is informed not only of what the screen says, but also how to proceed. Among other things, we’re told that a menu is present, and that we’re focused on an edit field in which we may begin entering text.

When a screen reader encounters a document embedded on a website or posted in a Blackboard course site and the user opens it, that document also needs to be accessible to the screen reading software in order for a visually impaired person to access the content. PDF documents, for example, are only accessible when text contained in them is searchable. They should include other “hidden” features, called tags that are added for accessibility purposes only and have no visible effect on the PDF. Such tags include descriptive text for images (called Alt Text) or structure tags (called headings) added to titles, subtitles, etc.

Note that most PDFs created using a scanner are considered inaccessible because they are simply images of the page, which means that a screen reader cannot recognize any of the text. For various ways to make PDF documents accessible to all, see our quick guide or video tutorial with detailed instructions.

PDFs may also be created by conversion from another type of file, such as Word or PowerPoint. If you follow accessibility guidelines when creating those source documents, and then “save  as” a PDF, the accessibility features such as headings or Alt Text for images will carry over into your PDF document. See our Accessibility Resources Site for additional tutorials explaining how to create accessible Word, Excel, and Powerpoint documents as well adding captions to your YouTube videos.

Classroom Accessibility (Crippin)

This article is part of an ongoing series introducing the concept of Universal Design (UD) as it applies to the context of higher education and to our work at CUNY SPS. Each installment covers one of the seven principles of UD with practical examples for both faculty and staff, including things you might not immediately associate with accessibility—or inaccessibility. Catch you next time!

Questions or feedback? Email Antonia Levy or Christopher Leydon.

There are few professions (or callings) that are as dichotomous (my college education at work) in the American conscious as disability service. Almost all of us who is or has worked in disability service have heard some variation of “you’re such a good person,” or “god will reward you for your work.” We may indeed be good people and divine reward (which is always in some undefined future date) is appreciated, but we disability service providers do live in the here and now.

Here in lies the dichotomy (Professor Hamm would be proud!); the general public seems to feel (or express their) gratitude for the work that we do (sometimes in the most awkward way). After all, we provide services and support for some of the most vulnerable and powerless groups in the United States (perhaps a loved one or someone you know is a member of this group). We have cared for and taught (and learned from) these individuals. We have shared incredible triumphs and sometimes devastating loss both with and because of these folks. Indeed, I recall a “tough as nails” colleague shedding (more than a few) tears at a funeral for a resident of a home I worked at. Working in this field, I’ve also done things I would never have imagined. Indeed, one of my proudest moments (admittedly, I didn’t think so at the time) is when I became a full-fledged member of the PSC guild (NOT Professional Staff Congress but Professional SH*T Cleaner). That experience changes a person and for the better (though it takes a bit of time to recognize that).

Yet despite this, Direct Support Professionals (those who work directly with individuals with an intellectual/developmental disability) only earn about $12 an hour in NYC. This can be confirmed by a causal perusal (I may as well get some use out of my education) of employment websites. Let us use that figure of $12 an hour and say 7 hours a day for 5 days a week. That comes to $420 a week and I’m guessing $330 after taxes (where are the accounting majors?). This in turn comes to about $1320 or so a month for what is (truly) difficult physical and emotional work in one of the most expensive cities in the world. This poor pay forced many of my colleagues to work multiple jobs to keep ends in sight of each other (getting ends to meet usually meant someone was on vacation or sick and you got their hours). This of course not only impacts on job efficiency and job appreciation but it impacts directly upon the health of those we count on to ensure the good health of people with disabilities.

Admittedly, things get better as one climbs the ladder, but one should be under no illusion that wage equality exists. In general a person with an equivalent education, experience, and title will make less in disability service then in other fields.  According to the Pay Scale website, an executive director makes about $71,000 a year and mid-level manager around $40,000 a year. For a good cry, contrast with other industries to see the disparity.  The question is then why do people who care for people, are praised for the kind of work they do, then get the short end of the stick when it comes to being paid a decent wage?

Having said all this, I still love this field. Along with my wife (Hi babe!) and family, this field gave me direction when I had none. It gave me a purpose or as some would say; a calling. I’ve also been fortunate in that my work was noted by various supervisors (not all, unfortunately) and I’ve been promoted a few times with commiserate raises in wages. The field also largely funded my undergraduate and graduate educations. I’ve managed to stay in the field while changing focus. I recently left non-profit disability service and entered into the world of higher education disability service. The environment and the populations I work for (and with) are different but “the calling” remains the same.

Working in disability services can sometimes be difficult and often challenging (physically and emotionally) but all in all, it is an honorable field that one can be proud to be a part of. What I hope for is that one day; it can also be a field which yields wages where one will not have to work multiple jobs to support themselves or their families.

Daniel Chan is a belated student who took the 20+ year plan to get his Bachelor’s Degree. He recently received his M.A. in Disability Studies and is working on his M.S. in Disability Services in Higher Education. His proudest academic achievement is still his GED.

Matthew Conlin graduated from the Master’s in Disability Studies Program last night and was selected as the class of 2016’s Student Speaker. Below is his speech:

Thank you for granting me the honor to speak today. Writing this speech, I have looked to some of the most successful people in the world and their advice—their quotable wisdom. The internet has made this sort of research quite easy, you know, but rather than focusing, you end up watching Chewbacca Mom on YouTube. I thought maybe I would begin with a quote by a beloved icon: Audrey Hepburn, David Bowie, even J.K. Rowling. And then I realized that as loved as they are, I can safely say we’ve all heard those motivational quotes before. And, clearly, I am not an icon, I am a graduate. Just like you. So, instead I decided to speak today about us, and what we are going to accomplish from this point forward. Whether you’re receiving your Undergraduate or Graduate degree, you have a hopeful future. You have a chance to use your skills and your talents to make our world a better place. And who knows, maybe we will one day be as famous as the people we try to quote. But that is only if we listen to our hearts, and follow our goals all the way to the finish line. This is our time, our adventure, our journey.

Believing in oneself is the key to a better life, and to a better world. We all start somewhere. For that reason, I would like to share with you a bit of my background. When I completed my Undergraduate degree, the unemployment rate was up to about 9.4%. That was 2009. I eventually found work in the field of content marketing, and like most graduates in that year, I took whatever job I could find. As a millennial, I was lucky even to be employed. Fast forward a few years. While I still loved media, I was growing restless and knew I needed a change. I wanted my life to mean more than working to fill experience hours.

That’s where CUNY School of Professional Studies fit in. I sat in my first class, nervous because I hadn’t been a full-time student for a while. But everyone here was warm and welcoming. I was home. I found a field where I could give back to the community, and one that encouraged my dream of social justice. Here I found another family, as I would honesty call them, who supported me through every step with guidance, patience, and harsh, but useful criticism. And, yes, Professors, I am talking about you. I am also talking about my fellow students. Together we strive to be more. CUNY provides us that opportunity. It is our springboard, and we are the ones who seek to make a better future for ourselves, our loved ones, and our community.

Whether you were in Disability Studies—like me—or another, we are alike. You came here to achieve more. As a student, you have polished your knowledge and have learned about your field. Because of these new friendships, new mentors, and hard work, you are here today at this ceremony and ready for your next adventures.

And what do I mean by adventure? Well, let’s think about it. This graduation does not indicate that we know everything. Graduation signifies that we have progressed to the next level. It is about understanding that there is still more to learn. CUNY SPS has given us a strong foundation to hone our talents. No matter our age, we will learn from the world and give back to the world. What we do with our degrees from here on out is essential. Our careers, our choices, and our actions matter. Our adventures are really beginning now that we have the insight and groundwork we needed for the road ahead.

We were led here by our interest. Our pure intent and commitment paid off. We worked hard, and combatted exhaustion with tea and coffee, and an occasional nap or two. Professors and textbooks gave us the information we needed. Colleagues and friends gave us the encouragement we needed. All of these experiences were part of our academic adventures, including the frustration of setbacks and heart racing joy of accomplishments. It was our genuine devotion to our craft that got us this far and will keep us moving throughout our careers and lives.

Let’s use that motivation to enact change. Regardless of our professions and interests, we are all here to be the best versions of ourselves. Call me idealistic, but with our new degrees, we can use our talents to make an even brighter future for ourselves and our communities. So, let’s go shake things up! Congratulations, Class of 2016. Let our new adventures begin!

 

 

 

Each year CUNY SPS asks graduating students to apply to be the Student Speaker at Commencement. As part of their application they are asked to submit their anticipated speech. At the end of the process only one student is selected, however, numerous speeches embody the spirit of the graduating class. We are proud to share some of these speeches here.

Julie Maury is graduating from CUNY SPS on June 6 with a Master’s Degree in Disability Studies and this is her speech:

I want to wish the class of 2016 the very best in their future endeavors. I know a lot of the fellow graduates have experienced endless nights of writing papers and lots of research. But, you’ve made it and have achieved your degree! Take a deep breath and enjoy this day and every day for all they are worth. Keep going forward in the directions of your goals. Don’t just follow your heart, do what resonates deeply with you and work with intention towards your dreams. May you keep or find a job or jobs that you love. Aristotle was quoted as saying: “Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.” Through those words we can realize that one really can find joy in life through doing what matters to them most.

I am sure that many of you choose your path of study, your degree path, because you want to have a greater impact in this world. I grew up as a person with a disability. I was told: “You can’t…” or, “You shouldn’t…” a number of times when it came to following my goals. What I came to realize is that there were many disability advocates and community activists who I could look upon as examples of what is possible to achieve in this life. For example, my mentor, Nadina LaSpina taught me about the power of building a strong community and being an Activist and a Scholar of Disability studies. She, herself, is an Activist, Writer, and former Professor of Disability Studies. It was through Nadina that I learned the ‘door’ of life’s possibilities was open to me. My mind started to wonder about what it would be like to be a Scholar in Disability Studies. I then found out about the CUNY School of Professional Studies Disability Studies Master’s Degree Program and felt ‘at home’ upon my first visit to the building. Nadina allowed me to be aware of what is possible to achieve in life and this school did the same for me. I learned about the Disability Rights Movement with a depth I never thought possible.

I hope that you all will “Lead On!” as Justin Dart “Father of the Disability Rights Movement” famously once said. “Lead On!” in being good examples to others of what is possible to achieve in this life…in academia and beyond. Keep pushing forward and never give up. There are times when life will get difficult but, as in your academic career, things always evolve. Keep evolving throughout life…with life. Do not allow yourselves to be stagnant. Also, do not be afraid of change. You never know what ‘beauty’ can be around the ‘corner’ at any time.

Remember to take time for yourself and do not take life to seriously. Do not allow work to overwhelm you. Find a balance in your life. And, again, keep ‘moving’ forward. Albert Einstein once said: “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep balance, you must keep moving.” I hope that where ever your path takes you it’ll take you far and towards whatever your desires are.

Also, I want to say that if any one of you hit a crisis point in your life, please do not be afraid to reach out and ask for help. Know that you are cared for. There were a number of times, while at CUNY SPS, where I felt very stressed out with the workload and there were many times that, because of the stress, I considered leaving the program. I reached out to Professor Mariette Bates, who runs the program, and she would encourage me to keep going. Never underestimate the power of a kind word. Never underestimate the value of taking time out to talk to someone who really could use an ‘ear’ to talk to. That can have a huge impact for the better. Communication is so important. The words of encouragement, that I have received, throughout my time in this program, particularly, have meant so much.

My fellow students in the program have all been so inquisitive and thought provoking. You have really made me think critically and want to learn with you and from you. I never dreaded going to classes, no matter if they were online or in person. I valued, so much, sharing life stories and different points of view. Learning about other students’ lives was so interesting. Some were from other parts of the world, others from different states. All held such value in their views. Such a depth and passion for learning. I remember, a number of times, staying after classes ended, outside of the building, or late nights online, because I never wanted some conversations to end.

But, as in life, things do come to an end. This is the end of one path for many of you in this room today, but it is the start of a beautiful new path as well. In a way, school never ends, if we keep our minds open—we’ll keep learning for the rest of our lives.

In closing, I want to say that I wish you all the very best in whatever paths you all choose. Just never stop moving in the directions of your dreams, never compromise your character, and most of all keep your minds open to the beautiful opportunities that life has to offer/present to you. You all have great worth in this world. Never let anyone tell you any different. Margret Mead once, famously said: “Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.” I believe she was right. And, I have great faith that you all can do just that. Again, as Justin Dart said: “Lead On!”

 

 

Each year CUNY SPS asks graduating students to apply to be the Student Speaker at Commencement. As part of their application they are asked to submit their anticipated speech. At the end of the process only one student is selected, however, numerous speeches embody the spirit of the graduating class. We are proud to share some of these speeches here.

Danielle Lucchese is graduating from CUNY SPS on June 6 with a Master’s Degree in Disability Studies and this is her speech:

I would like to begin by sharing a piece of advice one of my college mentors gave me a few years ago: follow your heart. These three words, though sometimes under estimated, are worth some deeper thought. For each of us, our hearts, for one reason or another lead us to CUNY SPS. Whether we pursued a master’s degree, bachelor’s degree or certificate, our time at CUNY SPS has claimed a space in our personal narratives. Although all of us share the commonality of deciding to pursue our studies at CUNY SPS, our experiences and memories differ. I would like to share a fragment of my CUNY SPS experience with you.

My CUNY SPS adventure began when I received my acceptance letter into the Disability Studies master’s degree program, only five days after graduating college. Less than a month later, I followed my heart and decided to pursue my graduate studies at CUNY SPS, instead of Hunter, where I was offered admission into their master’s in Social Research program.

As a disabled student, my initial thought was that I was going to study a subject that was very familiar to me. The truth is, I could not have been more incorrect. While I did bring some personal experience and prior knowledge to my studies, I did not know all that there was to learn. In fact, I soon realized that learning is never ending.

My views on what disability is and how the concept needed to be explored changed. The language in which I used to describe and discuss disability shifted. I met both fellow students and faculty who had disability experiences contrasting mine. I began advocating for disability on a broader level when I joined the CUNY Coalition for Students with Disabilities, made lobbying trips up to Albany and testified on the importance of funding for online education. Two years later and I am here, celebrating with each of you, who also decided to make CUNY SPS part of your journey.

As we leave CUNY SPS, it is important to both look to the future and continue to follow our hearts. As individuals now equipped with educational tools, we are responsible to continue our work in the world, regardless of our chosen fields and leave it better than we found it. As disability advocates, sociologists, psychologists, business women and men, higher education faculty and staff, among other careers, always remember that we have the power to assist in creating change in the world. Some of us will go on to contribute valuable ethical research and advocate for policy changes, some of us will use passions of ours such as theatre and apply them to the broader world. Some of us will expand on knowledge gained and pursue further studies. Regardless of where our futures take us, we must remember the importance of creating change in the world, ultimately expanding on the work of the individuals who came before us and paving the way for the people who will one day follow a similar path.

Of course, many of us did not achieve our goals alone. I would like to take a moment to acknowledge everyone who has shared in some aspect of our journey: family, friends, faculty and the larger CUNY SPS community and say thank you. Thank you for your support, guidance, love and encouragement. Without you, my fellow graduates and I would not be where or who we are today. No matter where the next chapters take us, we hope you will be there cheering us on.

Finally, I would like to conclude with a quote from one of my favorite books, Tuesdays with Morrie, “Devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to the community around you and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.” I hope that wherever your heart takes you, your path allows you to both devote yourself to something you are committed to and ultimately contribute to changing this world for the better.

Thank you and congratulations class of 2016, we made it!

 

Part 4: Simple & Intuitive, the third principle of Universal Design
by Antonia Levy, Christopher Leydon & Julie Maybee

Simple & Intuitive, the third principle of Universal Design (UD), refers to the use of any product being “easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level.” Guidelines for this principle include:

  • Eliminate unnecessary complexity;
  • Be consistent with user expectations and intuition;
  • Accommodate a wide range of literacy and language skills;
  • Arrange information consistent with its importance; and
  • Provide effective prompting and feedback during and after task completion. 

General design examples for this principle include the moving sidewalks found in airport terminals and other public spaces, or the kind of lavatory faucets that make their operation readily apparent and relatively easy.

Ikea manual

Remember instruction manuals that either use overtly technical terminology or visual instructions that are impossible to follow? Instructional materials would be readily accessible to more people if they take into account the principle of simple and intuitive design, for instance by combining plain language and drawings alongside the text. Avoiding unnecessary complexity and jargon applies to any instructions—including those created by university offices for use by staff, faculty, and students.

The design of our campus facilities should facilitate immediate understanding about the purpose and utilization of each design feature. Moreover, its means of use should be intuitively obvious so that it operates as anticipated by the user who can, therefore, use it spontaneously.

For a faculty perspective this month, we invited Julie E. Maybee, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Lehman College and Adjunct Associate Professor of Disability Studies here at CUNY SPS, who suggests a number of ways to apply this principle to the design of online and hybrid courses in Blackboard (Bb).

To make course navigation more simple, I aim to minimize the number of clicks required for students to figure out what work they need to do each week. I create a folder for each week in a content area on Bb called “Weekly Modules” or “Weekly Folders.” The folder description includes the date range for each week, as well as special due dates (such as for essays, or drafts of the final paper)—hence, the “Weekly Folders” section almost serves as a course calendar as well.

Each of the folders contains all the work the students have to do for that week. Moreover, in the interest of simplicity, each folder has the same structure:

  • An item introduces the week’s topic and study questions or learning outcomes;
  • A list of assignments students have to complete during that week—i.e., what to read, what work to submit, etc.;
  • A list of the week’s readings; and
  • Links, with assignment instructions, to the specific Bb tools students will use to submit their work, e.g. a link to the relevant discussion board (or blog) or to submit an assignment.

Each folder is thus a completely self-contained place where students can go to complete all their work for the week.

screenshot julies course1

There are also a few ways to make the course design more simple and intuitive. For one, providing multiple access points to the same items can help your students to navigate the course site more easily. For example, aside from the links in the Weekly Folders, I provide shortcuts to the discussion board or blog on the course menu for faster access. In addition, I create a link to the “Help with Writing the Final Paper” folder both within the “Assignment Information” section (for students looking for information about the assignment) as well as the “HELP!” section of the course (for students who think in terms of needing help with the paper). In other words, whichever way they might think, students will find a link to the information they are looking for in either place.

Also, limiting the variety of tools you assign is an easy way to simplify the design of your course—for both the instructor and the students. Each feature in Blackboard works a little differently; e.g., replying to a discussion forum is different than commenting on a blog or editing a wiki, and using the assignment tool is different from taking a test. So, instead of trying to use them all, I give similar assignments from week to week, or at least in multiple weeks. For instance, in some of my courses, students do the exact same discussion assignment for weekly readings: students must post four posts to the discussion board, some of which must answer study questions I provide on each of the readings, and some of which must respond to my or other student’s posts.

Making your assignments repetitive also helps to convey your course expectations to students. When an assignment is the same every week, students will find it easier to learn what they are expected to do, and they also have multiple opportunities to learn (and respond to) your expectations for that kind of assignment. If you then grade the discussion every week—preferably by using rubrics, which Blackboard makes fairly easy to do—you will also be providing consistent feedback to students that helps them to understand what these expectations are.

Last but not least, assigning different levels of writing assignments helps to accommodate students with a wider range of literacy and language skills. Since I do not typically grade discussion posts for grammar and style, I use the discussion board as a place where students can write more informally. Short blog/paper assignments can be helpful as a scaffold for the final paper by giving students lower-stakes opportunities to practice skills they will need when completing the more significant assignment later. In my own discussion posts and in grading feedback, I encourage students to provide citations to back their claims, to interpret quotations in their own words, to offer scholarly evidence from the readings for their views, and so on.

These are just a few ideas about some of the ways our courses can be more simple and intuitive—and hence more accessible—for students.

This article is part of an ongoing series introducing the concept of Universal Design (UD) as it applies to the context of higher education and to our work at CUNY SPS. Each month we cover one of the seven principles of UD with practical examples for both faculty and staff, including things you might not immediately associate with accessibility—or inaccessibility. Catch you next month! Questions or feedback? Email Antonia Levy or Christopher Leydon.

 

 

Part 3: Flexibility of Use, the second principle of Universal Design
by Antonia Levy & Christopher Leydon

Welcome back, dear followers, to a fresh New Year’s edition of UD Nosh! This month, we’ll be discussing the second principle of Universal Design (UD): Flexibility in Use. Generally speaking, this means that the design of any product should accommodate a wide range of individual preferences and abilities. Flexible design seeks to:

  • Provide choice in methods of use
  • Accommodate right- and left-handed access and use
  • Facilitate user accuracy and precision
  • Provide adaptability of the user space.
Pruners for left and right handed use

Image source: http://www.ncsu.edu

Practical examples for this principle include not only the familiar architectural features like  restrooms and other facilities that are physically accessible to individuals who use wheelchairs or face other mobility challenges, but also consumer items like scissors or computer mice made for both left and right handed users.

This UD principle is important because design that fails to provide flexibility in use can lead to problems that are hard to fix later on. One enormous example of this kind of failure is the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, which accommodates cars, trucks, and busses. Yet when it was build fifty years ago, no provision was made for a rail link between Brooklyn and Staten Island, nor for use by pedestrians or cyclists. The latter is currently being considered though it entails an expensive retrofit.

An emphasis on flexibility when designing products or environments brings into focus the difference between accessible (or barrier free) design and universal design. While the former is legally mandated to permit access for those who may be excluded because of a disability, universal design aims at inclusiveness in a broader and more integrated sense.

“Universal design places increased emphasis on the critical goal of meeting the needs of as many users as possible. … By increasing the number of people whose needs are being addressed in a single design solution, universal design encourages an integrative approach rather than multiple separate solutions.” (The Center for Universal Design)

In a university environment, disability services offices are usually tasked with primary responsibility for providing support to students with disabilities. This approach is based on the accommodation model, in which reactive adjustments are made by request to render an educational environment accessible to an individual with a disability. (In the case of a faculty or staff member, such requests are submitted to the human resources office, which arranges for reasonable workplace accommodations.) By contrast, a proactive UDL approach promotes the expanded goal of making these environments welcoming and inclusive from the start to groups that are diverse in many dimensions, including gender, race and ethnicity, age, socio-economic status, ability, or learning style. Such consideration on the front end helps prevent the need to redesign down the road when a user arrives on campus and indicates the lack of accessibility.

Accessible classroom chairs and furniture

Image source: https://www.ideo.com

More concrete examples include UDL-inspired classroom furniture such as tablet desks that can accommodate both left and right handed users or height-adjustable tables that can easily accommodate a range of user sizes and preferences. Furniture that can be readily moved allows us flexibility for different learning activities and student groupings. For staff, allowing for various delivery methods of documents to the school (by mail, fax, hand delivery, web form, or email attachment) or of paychecks to employees (by mail, direct deposit, or pickup) are consistent with the practice of flexibility in use. The School’s new website includes responsive design elements in its code (HTML5 and CSS3) that allow for automatic re-sizing to accommodate access from phones, tablets, laptops, and desktop computers. Blackboard, our learning management system, is also available through mobile app. And even CUNYFirst has features that provide accessibility and flexibility of use.

This principle applies as much to teaching and learning—whether online or in a brick-and-mortar classroom—as it does to the physical campus. The diversity of students we encounter include a variety of learning styles and preferences: Learners might differ in the ways that they perceive and comprehend information, the ways that they can navigate a learning environment and express what they know, as well as in the ways in which they can be engaged or motivated to learn. By utilizing varied instructional methods to include different modes of learning and different learning preferences, we not only meet the needs of students with the greatest barriers, but also improve access for a wide range of learners.

If you are curious, check out this questionnaire by VARK Learn to find out about your own learning preferences. Instructors could use the questionnaire as an icebreaker during the first week of classes to start a discussion with students about the way you teach and they learn.

This article is part of an ongoing series introducing the concept of Universal Design (UD) as it applies to the context of higher education and to our work at CUNY SPS. Each month we cover one of the seven principles of UD with practical examples for both faculty and staff, including things you might not immediately associate with accessibility—or inaccessibility. Catch you next month! Questions or feedback? Email Antonia Levy or Christopher Leydon.

References
Darby, Alexa (n.d.). Understanding Universal Design in the Classroom. National Education Association (NEA): http://www.nea.org/home/34693.htm (Accessed January 11, 2016).
The Center for Universal Design, NCSU (n.d.) Introduction to Universal Design. https://www.ncsu.edu/project/design-projects/sites/cud/content/UD_intro.html (Accessed January 11, 2016).

Part 2: Equitable Use, the first principle of Universal Design

by Antonia Levy & Christopher Leydon

Last month we defined Universal Design (UD) as a concept for including accessibility in everything we do. There are seven principles of UD, all of which seek to promote access and consideration of diversity as integral parts of what we make and do, rather than an afterthought. This month we introduce the first UD principle, equitable use.

Equitable Use seeks to make “design useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities.” More concretely, this means:

  • Providing the same means of use for all users—identical whenever possible, equivalent when not;
  • Avoiding segregating or stigmatizing any users;
  • Offering provisions for privacy, security, and safety equally to all users;
  • Making the design appealing to all users.

For example, curb cuts: designed to accommodate wheelchair users, they also benefit anyone pushing a stroller or shopping cart and kids on skates or scooters. The point of UD is not just to build in access for people with disabilities, but to improve the user experience for the widest possible range of people.

Accessible Staircase Robson Square

Image Source

As discussed previously, UD has also been applied to many educational products, such as computers, websites, software, and textbooks, and to environments such as classrooms, libraries, and online education. In practice, Universal Design in Education (UDE) can benefit all students, while reducing or even eliminating the need for students with disabilities to request individual accommodations.

For instance, captioning of videos used in class provides equitable use of those instructional materials for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. But captions are also useful to English language learners (ELL), students with certain learning disabilities, and anyone who searches the time-stamped transcript of the video to review a particular topic.

Want to find accessible videos online? Here is how to using Google Search: On the page displaying your search results, select “Video,” then click on “Search Tools” and change “All videos” to “Closed Captioned.” See screenshot below.

 

Screenshot illustrating google search for accessible videos

How else might implementation of “equitable use” apply to our work at the University? Depending on your role as faculty or staff, this may entail:

  • Providing multiple options for completing an assignment for your course;
  • Ensuring that all school information available online is accessible to screen-reading software, including websites and the learning management system (LMS); or
  • Posting job listings in formats accessible to people with a broad range of abilities and disabilities, racial and ethnic backgrounds, and ages.

This article is part of an ongoing series introducing Universal Design (UD) as it applies to the context of higher education and to our work at CUNY SPS. Each month we will cover one of the seven principles of UD with practical examples for both faculty and staff, including things you might not immediately associate with accessibility—or inaccessibility. Catch you next month!

Questions or feedback? Email antonia.levy@cuny.edu or christopher.leydon@cuny.edu.