Operationalizing an Expanded Concept of Access in Higher Education: Best Practices from University of Arizona, USA

Last week, Dr. Amanda Kraus, Assistant Vice President, Campus Life and Executive Director and ADA504 Compliance Office, Disability Resource Center, University of Arizona USA, spoke about the importance of integrating best practices to cater to the needs of persons with disability. In her address, Dr. Kraus noted that disability access is vital for disabled students, employees and guests to the university so that they can have a similar if not identical experience with respect to campus access as their non-disabled counterparts.

One of the key steps that she highlighted for institutions of higher learning to employ in order to integrate disability access is through universal design. Universal design is a design that can be used by all people to the greatest extent possible without the need for adaptation or specialized design.

The principles of universal design are equitable use, flexibility in use, simple and intuitive use, and perceptible information, tolerance for error, low physical effort and the size and space for use.

These principles are a guiding factor in disability access. Universal design for learning then means allowing room for multiple or flexible methods of assessment for instance lecturers could give oral, audio or audio visual tests as opposed to issuing written tests. This then allows for persons with disability to demonstrate their capabilities and to have an exciting learning experience. It also inculcates engagement, representation, action and expression.

Disability access is a human right and not a compliance exercise and with this in mind our focus then shifts from an individual accommodation for persons with disability to a universal holistic approach.

Reframing what access entails includes understanding what ableism and disablism mean. Disablism is a set of assumptions, conscious or unconscious, and practice that promote differential or unequal treatment of people because of actual or presumed disabilities. Ableism is a system of beliefs that favor non-disabled people.

Dr. Kraus highlighted that because our environments oppress people with impairments, we should work to increase systemic inclusion and decrease individual accommodation. Disability is naturally occurring on the spectrum of human difference hence we should work to enhance access as justice, not minimal compliance obligation or charity.

“Disability access is an institutional obligation and must be a campus commitment,” emphasized Dr. Kraus. USIU-Africa is committed to giving persons with disability an equal experience.

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