TTU Office of Disability Services unlocks the doors to learning

Posted by Lori Shull - Friday, September 30 2011
lshull@tntech.edu

thumb UniversalAccessChester Goad wants to make sure learning at Tennessee Tech University is unlocked and available to all.

The director of TTU’s Office of Disabilities Services is launching the Universal Access Initiative to raise awareness of physical and academic strategies that accommodate students with disabilities. The effort, he says, will make TTU a more welcoming place and help improve retention.

“My ultimate goal is for everyone in every office and cubicle on campus to look around and say, ‘If a blind student or a deaf student came in here, would I be able to help?’ or ‘Can a wheelchair navigate around my office area or building?’” he said.

The initiative’s symbol is an open combination lock. It is meant not only as a reminder of the office’s mission, but also to tell all students, regardless of disability, that they can achieve here.

“The lock is open, our campus is open, this initiative is open,” Goad said. “Everybody is still focused on the wheelchair. Even though that’s the universal symbol for disabilities, it still represents only one disability.”

Goad is encouraging people across academic divisions and administrative offices to look at what they do and what they offer and find ways to accommodate students with disabilities. His office will provide self-evaluation rubrics to anyone interested in participating in this voluntary initiative.

The initiative builds off the “universal design” movement that has been gaining traction in recent decades. Universal design is not a single, one-size-fits-all solution, but a variety of flexible approaches that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs, according to the Center for Applied Special Technology. For example, rather than making all students turn in a paper, faculty may give students the options of writing a paper, doing an oral presentation or completing another kind of project for the same credit or to meet the same requirement.

“I do not just lecture. I use technology such as PowerPoint to highlight information and use various colors and font sizes,” said Laura Graves, TTU special education professor. “In some classes, I do not have tests, rather the students are given options to choose from or come up with their own way of sharing what they have learned.”

Though access issues for disabilities like blindness or immobility tend to get the most attention, Goad said the greater challenge lies in understanding and extending access to people with invisible disabilities, like attention-deficit disorders, dyslexia or students on the autism spectrum.

“Universal access for learning in the classroom is one of my main concerns because it’s not understood,” he said. “If classes are truly universal, there will be something for everybody. There will be something for the visual learner, there will be something for the other learning styles. By virtue of planning for that type of diversity, there will be less need to go back and redesign or retrofit.”

“I don’t want our campus and the services we offer to be ‘us and them,’” Goad said. “Universal access is all about ‘we,’ so you don’t have to go back and redesign and retrofit.”

For more information about the Universal Access Initiative, students and faculty can visit the Office of Disability Services in RUC 112 or call 931-372-6119.

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