Although accessibility is widely understood as a much-needed consideration within educational contexts, it’s premise remains somewhat ambiguous. In a nutshell, something that is accessible can be effectively utilized by all people, regardless of disability or special needs. The need for greater accessibility in all facets of society is reflected in the increasing demand for inclusive learning content and physical spaces in higher education. This trend has generated a great deal of discussion, in which three key themes have repeatedly emerged. The three C’s, if you will: 1)Collaboration:
Along with accessibility, recent focus is being placed on Universal Design for Learning (UDL), which is essentially a framework for flexible learning environments, intended to accommodate a wide range of student needs and preferences. The guiding principles of UDL are evident within databases such as the State University of New York’s FLEXspace. It has grown into a popular peer-reviewed platform for post-secondary institutions to share ideas and solutions for inclusive learning spaces on campus. Think: Pinterest for all things Universal Design. 2)Communication:
An article recently published by EdTech highlights the importance of shared responsibility between all levels of a post-secondary institution. Senior leaders must set the tone and devise a strategy for campus-wide acceptance and prioritization of accessibility. Likewise, professional development among faculty and IT personnel, as well as ongoing feedback and input from students, allows post-secondary institutions to adapt in accordance with accessibility demands and policies. 3)Customization:
With regards to faculty-specific involvement, there appears to be an emerging trend of DIY Accessibility. Florida State University, for instance, has developed a digital open source tool, intended to pinpoint and rectify any accessibility issues within existing online course content. This function allows faculty to make necessary pedagogical changes in a manner that is customized to the specific needs of their students. Connection: The Fourth C? As we identify the key features of truly accessible learning environments in higher education, we must also consider the spaces that surround and intersect lecture halls and classrooms. Where student connection with the campus community replaces structured pedagogy. One simple, yet positive, approach might be to invite Student Life leaders and administrators to participate in professional development and ongoing conversation. Surely, they have a great deal of insight to offer and knowledge to gain surrounding accessibility, and the more the merrier, right? In order to reap the benefits of accessible learning spaces, we must first get students in the door and on their devices. After all, accessibility is a journey rather than a destination, spanning across all hours of the day, within and outside of formal learning contexts.