Building an Inclusive Future: University of North Dakota Leads the Way in Accessibility and Inclusive Education (And What You Can Do To Prioritize Accessibility At Your Institution)

Four students sitting in a cafeteria and chatting while eating fast food. Behind them is a banner that says “we are leaders, innovators, resilient, forever UND”.

Dara Faul, the associate director of the Teaching Transformation and Development Academy (TTaDA) at the University of North Dakota, is working with multiple units within the university to create a more accessible and inclusive environment for all learners. The TTaDA helps faculty make classroom content more accessible to disabled students, primarily focusing on Universal Design for Learning guidelines and the university’s accessibility solution known as Anthology Ally.

Faul emphasizes the importance of increasing disability awareness in higher education, citing the common misperception that accessibility is only a concern when a formal request is made by a disabled student. She notes that hidden or temporary disabilities can also create barriers to learning, which highlights the importance of universally accessible content. 

However, barriers to accessibility remain due to a tendency towards reactive rather than proactive approaches, and because many faculty members lack the experience or knowledge to effectively support students with disabilities. To address these challenges, the University is actively fostering a culture of accessibility. It is also aspiring to make learning material as inclusive and accessible as possible right from the outset instead of retrofitting later. As part of these efforts, the university has been inspired by the book Academic Ableism, which discusses disability in higher education.

The university is implementing several initiatives, including the creation of an “accessibility lab” where faculty can learn how to deliver accessible content. The lab, which launched last month, provides resources and trainings on universal design. Faul also mentioned plans to hire an instructional accessibility specialist to foster collaboration between TTaDA and the Accessibility for Students office and promote universal design principles across campus.

Overall, Faul and the University of North Dakota are dedicated to prioritizing accessibility to create a more adaptable and inclusive learning experience for all students.

watch the video below to learn more about what UND’s Office of Community Standards is doing to make accessibility and inclusion a priority.

Source: Forbes

UND is clearly on a progressive path to make inclusion and accessibility a priority on a much larger and transformative scale, but a lot of schools, universities, and other organizations may be much behind or may not have the means to make larger leap in this realm. For those institutions, there are many ways to start small and get some quick wins in. Here are some ideas that may be helpful to get started.

If universities and schools don’t have the resources to implement all the suggested measures at once, they can start small and focus on quick wins that will help make a case for prioritizing accessibility on a larger scale. Here are some practical steps they can take:

  1. Raise Awareness: Begin by raising awareness about accessibility among faculty, staff, and students. Conduct workshops, training sessions, or awareness campaigns to highlight the importance of inclusivity and the benefits of accessible learning materials.
  2. Establish an Accessibility Committee: Create a small committee or task force dedicated to accessibility. This group can consist of faculty, staff, students, and disability support representatives. Their role is to identify accessibility issues, propose solutions, and advocate for accessibility initiatives within the institution.
  3. Conduct an Accessibility Audit: Start with a simple accessibility audit of the institution’s website, learning management system, and commonly used digital tools. Identify any glaring accessibility issues and prioritize fixing them. This will demonstrate the need for further accessibility improvements.
  4. Develop Accessibility Guidelines: Create basic accessibility guidelines or a checklist that faculty and staff can follow when developing learning materials. These guidelines should include tips for creating accessible documents, presentations, and videos. Make these resources readily available to all faculty members.
  5. Provide Training on Accessibility Basics: Offer short training sessions or online modules that cover the basics of accessibility in education. Focus on topics such as creating accessible documents, captioning videos, and using inclusive language. This will help faculty members understand the importance of accessibility and provide them with practical tips they can implement right away.
  6. Collaborate with Students: Engage with students with disabilities and involve them in discussions about accessibility. Seek their input on the challenges they face and their suggestions for improvement. By involving students in the process, institutions can better understand their needs and demonstrate a commitment to inclusivity.
  7. Showcase Success Stories: Highlight success stories where accessibility initiatives have made a positive impact. Collect testimonials from students who have benefited from accessible learning materials and showcase these stories on the institution’s website or in newsletters. This can help build a case for further investment in accessibility.
  8. Seek External Resources: Look for external resources and grants that support accessibility initiatives. There may be organizations, government programs, or foundations that provide funding or expertise in accessibility. Collaborating with external partners can help institutions start small and gradually expand their accessibility efforts.

Remember, it’s essential to start somewhere, even if resources are limited. By demonstrating small but impactful changes and gathering support from key stakeholders, universities and schools can make a compelling case for making accessibility a priority on a larger scale.

This blog was written mostly using chatGPT, a potential tool for increased accessibility. Do you think this is an appropriate use of chatGPT? Why or why not? Let me know!

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