By Melissa Lyon
In April, the Cerebral Palsy Association of BC hosted a workshop on Universal Design where Karin Pasqua was the presenter. Karin is an Accessibility & Universal Design Specialist and has a wealth of knowledge and experience on the topic of Universal Design. The workshop was fantastic and the presentation got me thinking about how the Universal Design framework has been extended, and could be extended even further, to incorporate other aspects of support for people with disabilities. Read on and I will explain what I mean.
Universal Design involves removing barriers and accommodating the needs of everyone so that physical spaces are equally accessible to all. These accessibility options often benefit not only those who have a disability, but other people as well. As Karin pointed out in her workshop, Universal Design is a framework that allows us “to live, work, and play with equity”. She said that “Universal Design is more than just getting in a building, it’s about creating an equitable experience for everyone that is not only accessible, but also functional and meaningful”. Karin gave a great example of how giving access to a person in a wheelchair through the back door in the dingy alley at the back of a restaurant might be an example of accessibility, but it is not the meaningful access that we strive for in Universal Design, where everyone has the ability of having an equal experience when doing something such as accessing a restaurant.
Universal Design for Learning
An extension of the Universal Design framework is Universal Design for Learning (UDL). UDL is a framework that is a highly recommended method of teaching in the classroom, whether online or in person. Just like Universal Design, it is all about giving options. UDL consists of three principles: Engagement, Representation, and Action & Expression. The Engagement principle focuses on providing a lot of options to get students engaged in what they are learning. The Representation principle gives students various ways to access the course content. The Action & Expression principle allows students options for how they show their learning. It is important to note, that just like in Universal Design, the options that are given in UDL must be both meaningful and available to everyone. You can see several examples of UDL by visiting the CAST website.
Universal Design for Thinking
I would like to propose that we extend the models of Universal Design and Universal Design for Learning to what I’m going to call “Universal Design for Thinking”. Just how providing options for Universal Design and Universal Design for Learning benefits everyone, I think that purposefully moving towards a way of thinking that considers options for supporting and including people with disabilities would also benefit everyone. It is all about focusing on options rather than roadblocks.
For example, when meeting a person with a disability, instead of letting your mind immediately jump to the common fixed mindset of thinking about what that person can’t do, consider options for supporting that person. Options could include:
- What accommodations does this person need?
- How can I support this person emotionally and physically?
- Who can I partner this person with so they feel supported and valued?
- What education does the group need to have to fully accept and value this person?
- What barriers might arise for this person and how can we avoid them?
- Have I talked to the person to find out their perspective on adaptations and what they need to feel included?
- How can I help others value the unique perspectives and skills that this person may bring to the group?
Research has shown that people with disabilities have skills, abilities, and attitudes that are beneficial not only to workplace environments, but also to society in general1. So, the next time you are interacting with a person who has a disability, I challenge you to incorporate a model of “Universal Design for Thinking” and consider options rather than roadblocks. Small changes in your thinking can help to make the world a more inclusive place.
- Understood.org – The Hidden Value of Disability Inclusion by Rachel Bozek.
- CAST – Universal Design for Learning Guidelines Version 2.2 Website: http://udlguidelines.cast.org.
** Thank you to Karin Pasqua for the Universal Design ideas she contributed to this article – email@example.com
About the Author:
Melissa Lyon is a disability consultant for the Cerebral Palsy Association of BC. She has a master’s degree in Special Education and has worked hard to get to where she is now. As a person with mild cerebral palsy and epilepsy, Melissa is a strong advocate for people with disabilities. When not working, Melissa enjoys doing karate, where she is working on getting her black belt.