Accessible Curriculum: A Faculty Resource for Universal Design for Learning at SFU

Grant program: Teaching and Learning Development Grant (TLDG)

Grant recipient: Coleman Nye, Department of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies

Project team: Weldon Haywood, research assistant

Timeframe: April 2016 to April 2017

Support provided: $5,000

Final report: View Coleman Nye's final report and guidebook (DOCX)

Description: I would like to (1) evaluate the accessibility needs of students at SFU with disabilities, (2) assess what they find works for them in classroom and curriculum design and what they find doesn’t work or needs improvement, (3) assess the needs of SFU faculty in making their classrooms accessible, (4) examine examples of other Canadian universities' curricular accessibility protocols that may be working well, and (5) develop a curricular resource based on the educational accessibility needs of students, course-design needs of faculty, and examples of other successful programs, which will be made available online for SFU faculty to consult in their course design. Ideally, this will be a digital resource, but for this first phase, I will work to create a simple document with links to be expanded into a digital resource.

In my time working with disabled students at SFU, I have become aware of the limitations of the orimary model of disability access being used by instructors and the Centre for Students with Disabilities. At present, SFU has an individual-based accommodation model that treats the student’s disability as an educational barrier that should be addressed through a limited number of technological and bureaucratic mechanisms. This model does not consider universal design or approach inaccessibility at the curricular and campus-level as a barrier to student learning, and I have observed the negative impact this omission has on learning for disabled students. This study hopes to develop a concrete teaching resource for SFU faculty based on the input of faculty and disabled students that will help faculty to implement universal design at the level of course development and easily make their courses more accessible for students with different learning needs. 

Questions addressed:

  • What are the accessibility needs of disabled undergraduate and graduate students at SFU? What currently works and what improvements would they like to see?
  • Are there faculty who are designing their courses with accessibility in mind? What have been their successes? What barriers have they faced? What types of needs do they have in implementing accessible course design?
  • How have other universities in Canada helped their faculty to make their courses accessible?
  • Do faculty and students find this resource helpful?  What are their suggestions for improving it?

Knowledge sharing: The first draft of this resource will be available as a pdf online for all colleagues at SFU. We will ultimately apply for another grant to turn this into a more interactive web-based resource. Finally, we will also write a short article on our process and findings and are willing to offer workshops at the university or departmental level.

The teaching resource resulting from this project stands to benefit all of my colleagues at SFU. It will be a widely available resource that faculty can consult as they attempt to implement universal design for learning in the course structure and content. Such a resource does not exist and could provide invaluable support to faculty and both disabled and nondisabled students.

Keywords: accessibility; students with disabilities; curriculum design; classroom