Universal Design: Is Your Campus Inclusive?

Universal design is imperative in your facility. And here’s why.

Jenna Allen was on her way to class on her first day of college. However, she soon found herself at a single step that kept her and her wheelchair from entering the building where her class was located.

She was embarrassed to ask for assistance which would require a stranger pulling her up the step. Plus, she did not know what other obstacles might lay ahead. As a result she turned back to her apartment. She contemplated whether or not online classes would be the best option for her.

There are some things one can’t realize until they experience it firsthand. And one of those things is living with a disability. It’s easy to take for granted the effortlessness in which so many people live their everyday lives — i.e. the ability to walk up the stairs which is something most would grumble about, or the gift of clear sight. The world might be a more humble place if people could experience it in someone else’s shoes for a day.

Inclusive design uses these ideals to create an experience that doesn’t cater to a one-size-fits-all mentality — a social construct that in truth does not cater to the majority of people.

One might argue school systems are the most important place for these ideals to be implemented — where kids are becoming adults, students are becoming professionals and young minds are learning and deciding where their place is in the world.

EXTRA CREDIT: Jerrell Kelly of Western Kentucky University shares how their adaptive sports program was born through a local partnership.

Over 30 years ago, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was implemented. Today, nearly 90% of institutions reported enrolling students with disabilities. Yet, there are many that still focus on the minimal legal requirements or question the usefulness of universal design entirely. The students with disabilities and the disability advocates would argue even the law itself doesn’t go far enough to meet the needs of disabled persons.

Yes, the ADA requires postsecondary institutions must be accessible to students with disabilities but with room for interpretation. As a result, the standard can greatly vary from college to college. If the modification causes “undue financial or administrative burden,” then there is no requirement to do it.

To disabled students, “accessible” can often mean just enough to get by. Universal and inclusive design allows persons with disabilities not only to feel more included but to actually be a part of the society around them. This is not a secondary technique — it’s foundational. It’s how people learn and absorb the world around them. It’s knowing some people are visual learners, some are hearing impaired or have vision disabilities, and some have learning impairments. And, it’s knowing all of these things and building an institution that caters equally to as many abilities and backgrounds as possible.

It’s not “undue burden.” It’s equality.

Marley Cunningham is the marketing director at Aqua Creek Products in Missoula, Montana. Reach her at mc@aquacreek.com, or visit aquacreek.com.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Campus Rec Magazine