Disability Studies · Pedagogy

The Accessible University: Applying UD and UDL to Writing Environments

For my dis/ability class, we were asked to create personal philosophy statements that incorporate concepts from the class readings with our ideas about inclusive education. Because I’m not a K-12 instructor like most of the people in the class, I decided to frame my response in terms of accessibility and thought I would share the highlights of that response here:

  • When we talk about education, we must account for both classroom spaces and flexible pedagogical practices, denormalizing our ideas not only about students but also about teaching, learning, and composing practices.
  • Universal Design (UD) is a spatial theory that emphasizes the importance for all spaces to be as accessible for the widest range of people possible, regardless of bodily differences.
  • Writing centers are historically spaces with flexible practices—e.g. a tutor and student can interact with texts by reading them aloud and discussing them, by drafting outlines or revision strategies by hand or on the computer, or by looking up resources in books and online. These multimodal practices are great for giving students multiple means to learn and compose, but they privilege highly individualized instruction.
  • Applying UDL to writing center pedagogies asks tutors “not to think of how they might adapt their tutoring for students with disabilities” because “all students come to sessions with a variety of differences” (Kiedaisch & Dinitz 50).
  • Because first-year composition courses and writing centers must potentially serve all students in the university, these spaces must as accessible to the widest range of students as possible.
  • For instruction, this means providing information in multiple modes—through spoken word, handout, group work, and electronic presentations. We must also create flexible assignments that allow students to compose projects that are most useful for them; for example, I can create assignment goals—e.g. exploring a central thesis statement and integrating research—while being flexible about how students apply these concepts. A final project, for example, could be a research paper, website, extended blog or social media project, visual collage, or photographic essay. The key is to create a flexible curricular base that allows students to choose the medium that works best for them.
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