073: Universal Design: Living and Learning on Campus

We discuss a home environment that’s often overlooked… college. It’s a place where individuals can live, work, play, learn, and thrive so it needs UD too!

Good Fit Poor Fit
Good Fit Poor Fit
073: Universal Design: Living and Learning on Campus
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Show Notes:

Postsecondary Education Quick Information System

Article from Kent State University

UDL Guidelines

Transcript:

[00:00:00] Sarah: You’re Listening to Good Fit Poor Fit. A podcast that explores the interaction between people, design, and activity. Good Fit Poor Fit is part of The Universal Design Project, a nonprofit organization with a vision for every community across the USA to have a surplus of homes and opportunities for social participation that are universally and financially accessible.

[00:00:23] Learn more at universaldesign.org.

[00:00:27] Nate: Hello listeners! Welcome back for another episode of Good Fit, Poor Fit Podcast. You may notice a new voice. My name is Nate Pickett, occupational therapy student working with The Universal Design Project over the past couple of months. If you caught our last episode, I am working alongside fellow OT student Alee, who is the host of our last podcast on service animals in the home.

[00:00:49] Before we begin, I would just like to thank Sarah, Scott, Alee, and all the other members of the Universal Design Project for allowing me to come on here as we chat and continue the growth of universal design in our communities as well as non-traditional OT practice.

[00:01:03] Today we’ll be talking about a place. Rather, a home, at least for a couple of years, that is so often overlooked. A place where individuals live, work, play, learn, and thrive. All aspects of a home that are often forgotten about in this place. This place, being college.

[00:01:20] Attending college, which has quickly become a norm of our society, is one of the biggest achievements, challenges, and transitions in one’s life. It is a time where some of the fastest growth occurs. This four-year stretch goes by quicker than any other four years in one’s life. That is why it is so important to choose a place that is a good fit for you. As a prospective student wondering how to pick a college, you’re always told, you’ll just know. It’ll feel right, and it’ll feel like home.

[00:01:47] Home. A powerful word. Physically, sure, it means the four walls around you and the roof standing over your head, but there’s layers to a home. It’s not just the physical space. It’s the emotions you feel when you open the door, it’s the social connections you create in and around it. It’s the spiritual power that it holds, giving you a drive or purpose for your daily activities.

[00:02:08] So sure, college should feel like a home, for it’s where the next four-plus years of your life may be spent. But for some, is it even physically possible for a college to feel like a home? The answer to this will be explored a little bit later on in our conversation.

[00:02:21] But before we even jump into accessibility at college, I wonder, what made your respective schools feel like home for you?

[00:02:27] Seeing we all attended different universities, there are elements that maybe some of us experience that we value more than others, and that drove our decision. And so Sarah and Alee, what are some things that you value in a home? And what made your universities feel this way?

[00:02:41] Sarah: There are so many things that drive our thoughts for choosing a college, but having that feeling that the campus just feels like the right fit can definitely be described as our home away from home.

[00:02:52] I chose my undergraduate college for a variety of reasons, but when I visited campus, it really did seem like an extension of my hometown. There were quite a few people I knew from my high school and other local schools that attended there. And an even bigger plus, I already had an option for a roommate! This friend of mine was an acquaintance from my first job at an ice cream shop, and we had a lot in common.

[00:03:15] Knowing I was going away from home the very first time, and I was going to room with a friend was really appealing to me. I also loved the options for extracurricular activities, including choir, band, and intramural volleyball, all things I wanted to continue after college.

[00:03:32] I had no idea what my major was gonna be, so knowing that I could explore things at a liberal arts school was enticing to me as well. In addition, I really appreciated the small school atmosphere and was drawn to smaller class sizes and felt like I wouldn’t get lost in the crowd. It ended up being a great experience for me, and I still have lifelong memories and friendships even today from my experiences there.

[00:03:57] Alee: Sarah, we seem to have been very much on the same page with what made our college campus feel like home. I also went to a small school in a little town in the Virginia Blue Ridge. The small, tight-knit community was something that really drew me to it.

[00:04:11] Inside the classroom, I liked the intimate space where I could get to know classmates and professors well. Outside the classroom, it was really easy to form community, as you knew just about everyone on campus. Every face was familiar.

[00:04:22] This and the fact that the campus was small and easily navigated, a huge pro for someone who is a bit geographically challenged, made it easily feel like home and not overwhelming in the least. We all know that going to college could be overwhelming enough as it is, and when there were times that I needed help, I felt like I knew my resources and could access them without a ton of hassle.

[00:04:44] Like you, Sarah, I was also drawn to a lot of the extracurriculars that were offered there, especially because many involved the outdoors. I loved the fact that I could easily get to the river, hiking trails, and camping with friends.

[00:04:57] Nate: I think that all of the points you mentioned capture the feelings that many people have, and being able to prioritize those feelings is extremely crucial! Similarly, I was drawn to the social connections and open-arm atmosphere that every faculty member created on each and every one of my visits. It truly is interesting exploring what makes certain places feel like home for some, and I am glad that everyone found a place that worked for them.

[00:05:20] Unfortunately, there are some that aren’t as lucky, or those that have to make unnecessary settlements. So picture this: You have 12 years of hard-earned education under your belt and countless hours put into your college application. All the extracurriculars and commitments you made are all in hopes of landing and securing a spot at your dream school.

[00:05:37] All of this, to only find out that one in every three colleges are not prepared to provide you universal access to all campus features you’ll be paying for, but this is only the beginning of your struggle. Why?, You may ask. This is because you are among 300,000 students that use a mobility device to access a college campus.

[00:05:55] Statistics gathered from the Post-Secondary Education Quick Information System, identify that only 68% of private four-year universities enroll students with a mobility device. This means that the remaining 32% are not actively ensuring that their accessibility standards are up to code for students and members of the university community.

[00:06:14] These numbers are very alarming. While it is a sample size of only private universities, there are approximately 2,675 private universities in the US. This means that close to 900 private universities are not well prepared to enroll a student that relies on a mobility device. This severely limits the choices that the individuals have in where they want to call home.

[00:06:36] Alee: I agree, Nate. Those statistics are pretty disappointing. Thinking back to my experience and what attracted me most to my school, I realized they were exactly what might deter somebody with a mobility disability from attending my school. For instance, I loved the fact that it was historic and the old buildings, but this would be an absolute nightmare for someone using a mobility device.

[00:06:57] The uneven, narrow brick walking paths between buildings, or old, winding stairwells would be far from charming and pretty dangerous for someone in a wheelchair or other mobility aid. I also really liked how upperclassman housing was spread out amongst old houses in the country. But how could this work for somebody with a disability?

[00:07:16] These homes are lacking in everything they might need. No paved driveway, stairless entry, open floor space: The list goes on! It’s interesting that these accommodations never crossed my mind when looking for a school, but they have to be at the forefront for 300,000 or more students.

[00:07:34] Sarah: Very good points! Thanks for sharing these stats, you guys. You are right, Alee, those initial things that drew us to our campuses would give us a different perspective now, if we were thinking in the lens of accessibility. That is quite a lot of students for having to think about moving around campus and living in the available housing, and that’s only those who have a mobility impairment.

[00:07:56] My undergrad campus mostly had housing in dorms, apartments, and older homes within walking distance of all other campus buildings. I’m pretty sure none of these housing options had an elevator, but I do remember a few that had rooms on the main floor that provided a no-step access. There wasn’t any off-campus housing options, except for those who are choosing to commute from home.

[00:08:18] Alee, thinking about your comment for off-campus housing not being accessible, I actually never thought about people commuting or living off-campus due to the lack of accessible housing options on campus. Maybe this was the case for some, I always attributed this to commuters driving into school for the main reason of saving extra money, or maybe they were married.

[00:08:39] Older buildings and dorms without elevators, I can now see looking back that would make campus difficult to do certain tasks as well. Thinking broader, some schools have already done the hard work of thinking through some of these accessibility issues regarding mobility and their infrastructure, yet others still have some work to do, as the statistics note.

[00:09:02] I know there are many factors that go into upgrades and changes to this capacity on a campus-wide level. Some features may be easier to put into place than others based on the age of the school, finances, and advocates wanting to implement the basic elements of the ADA, or potentially go beyond, to implement more widely functional universal design features.

[00:09:25] Nate: Thank you both for sharing, and you each make great points about accessibility, and the process to make change on a larger-scale level. To your point above about overlooking certain accessibility features, Alee, this is a common thing that happens, but it’s important to know that, this is no fault of your own. That’s the goal of our conversations here, to increase awareness, and continue to draw more attention to the accessibility in more than just those who may need these features.

[00:09:48] So switching gears just slightly, accessibility at college is a topic that aligns well with the work of the Universal Design Project.

[00:09:55] As mentioned, college becomes home for a period of time in one’s life, and everybody deserves access to their home. Therefore, exploring the inner workings of accessibility at college is very relevant to the expansion of universal design.

[00:10:07] Studies surrounding the current state of accessibility on college campuses reveal severe disparities that unfairly limit access. An article written by a Kent State University student talks about their experiences accessing campus, while being a wheelchair user. It highlights that it takes the able-bodied student, on average, about 15 minutes to get to class. Obviously, this changes depending on the size of your campus, but again, a good number to keep in mind as an average.

[00:10:32] On the other hand, those who use a mobility device require at least double the amount of time, and oftentimes more than that. Student testimonies also reveal that technology and other accessibility features often don’t work, or located in inconvenient locations. Students need to sometimes plan for an entire extra hour just for transportation and access to where they need to be. I don’t know about you guys, but this would severely alter the routines that I had established for myself in college. I also imagine that it takes very valuable time out of one’s day to simply access the places they need to be, something that their very valuable dollars should be paying for anyway.

[00:11:07] Sarah: Oh yes, this is a very interesting study. Thinking back to my undergrad experience, I would say I could probably get to most places in about 10 minutes, but that is if I kept a certain pace, I didn’t stop and talk to anyone, and I kept on the sidewalks. We all know those little shortcuts we find through campus to get places a little faster.

[00:11:26] However, like these articles mentioned, when someone with a disability is planning their route from class to class, and figuring out the time it takes to get there, they also have to figure out in the amount of time it may take them to get out the door in the morning, take that restroom break in the middle of the day, grab a bite to eat, and getting their classwork done, meeting in groups for projects, and managing all the items needed to take to class.

[00:11:49] Sometimes people with disabilities have to make compromises for what they participate in because things just generally take more time than their able-bodied peers. It’s not as easy to just zip across campus with inaccessible routes or run into the bathroom of the closest building.

[00:12:04] I know when Scott was on campus, he had to decide if he was going to drive or use his chair to get across campus, depending on the timing of his classes and their location. Sometimes, he had to choose between extracurricular activities and completing certain ADL tasks, due to the time constraints he had.

[00:12:22] I know as a student, I had lots of bad dreams of not being able to find my class or get to class on time, but if I had a disability, this would be even more of a worry of mine, and I am sure this would pop up unintentionally in my brain while I slept.

[00:12:39] Alee: Sarah, I have definitely had that dream before, and I think most of us can reflect on those jitters of figuring out your class route before the first day of school. Calculating the time to get from building to building, arrive on time to class, and bake in whatever extra minutes you need to grab a meal or the restroom, was stressful.

[00:12:57] Planning my route took a decent amount of time, and that was on a small campus. I also can’t imagine what it would be like for someone who has mobility challenges like Scott. Not only would it double the stress and planning time, there’s also far more decision-making involved as you mention.

[00:13:12] Someone with a disability not only has to figure out a faster route, but must also determine what entrance is accessible for them. They need to pick out classes that are spaced out enough to allow them the extra time to travel, which involves a lot more research and figuring. Like you said, they have to eliminate some of their options or activities that they would like to do, simply because time does not allow. All of this planning could quickly turn an exciting experience of college into a miserable one if campus does not have what you need.

[00:13:42] Nate: Thinking further than just visible or mobility disabilities, there are students attending colleges with other visible and invisible disabilities all over the country. Their needs are not always at the forefront of colleges and universities either.

[00:13:55] As an undergraduate student, I pursued a minor in special education, which paired well with my pre-OT degree. A quick synopsis about the ultimate goal of special education is to keep students in their general education classroom, alongside their peers, for as much time as possible, and fill in with the supports as needed to keep them there. Students are only taken out of the general education classroom if they absolutely need to be.

[00:14:17] This is often a misconception about special education as the goal is not to remove them. Supports that students receive can take many forms, including environmental organization, peers or paraprofessional supports, or activity or assignment modifications or accommodations. It was here I was introduced to the Universal Design for Learning, which aims to create a learning environment for all students to have the supports they need to be successful in a general education setting.

[00:14:42] While this is a deeply researched, and highly effective method of learning that ensures ease of access for as many students as possible, not every university is using it. Universal design that has proved to be useful to many, but is not always being used. Hmmm. Does that sound familiar to anyone?

[00:14:57] Similar to the work at the Universal Design Project, the first step in making change is through educating others on the topic that others don’t see the value in on the surface level.

[00:15:07] Alee: You’re right, Nate, and it’s important to look at the evidence. After all, we are taught as OTs to think with an evidence-based mindset, and that evidence shows that universal design is effective.

[00:15:18] I think a reason why it’s not always implemented in the classroom is because it can be really difficult for educators to reinvent their teaching strategies, especially if they’ve worked for them in the past. However, while these strategies could have worked for most of their students, it’s important that they design education to work for all of their students.

[00:15:35] I think they have difficulty seeing the full picture of how universal design really can work for everyone, even if it is extra work on their part.

[00:15:44] Sarah: From an OT perspective, I can’t help and jump in here and not mention that the main occupation of students at this stage of life is learning. Notice I said main, because, I think many would also add in that there are other valued social experiences that come along with college, but the main intent is to learn more to either go out into the workforce or advance to another level of higher education.

[00:16:08] We talked a lot about mobility disabilities getting around campus, but I think, Nate, that you are insightful in making sure we bring up how students are taking in information in their classrooms, so of course, it’s a great opportunity to talk about UD for Learning.

[00:16:24] Our organization at the Universal Design Project mainly focuses on universal design for the home environment, but the concept of UD for Learning can be applied in the classroom for different disabilities, whether they’re invisible, learning disabilities, vision and hearing impairments, sensory, and with the focus of using different techniques for students to learn the concepts being taught and how they’ve learned the material.

[00:16:49] These learning strategies can be applied via teachers as they present the material in a variety of ways for different learning styles. For example, I know I learn better from being able to visualize the information with pictures better than if it’s said to me or written out in words. I also have times where I need to be by myself to sit with the information and think about it independently, but other times I thrive off being able to talk it out in a group.

[00:17:15] I’ve always done well remembering information if I can connect it to something else, like a song, or doing a hands-on activity. Because there are so many different types of learners and we all take in knowledge differently, having an instructor that utilizes a variety of these teaching techniques is helpful to a wide range of learners in the classroom.

[00:17:36] So straight lecture might not be the best for all students. In addition, instructors can also provide different ways students can be tested on material from tests, presentations, practical application of skills, and projects. Some of the techniques I’ve seen used as an adjunct professor are group class notes, as some students may capture information differently than peers, but everyone can benefit from seeing the collaborative notes, captioning on videos, and more.

[00:18:04] Visual schedules, frequent breaks, and opportunities to review the information in practical ways can all help students learn, while helping those who need these strategies for specific needs. I’m gonna share a link in the show notes that discusses more UD for learning guidelines than I can go into here, but being able to connect any information in different ways, always takes creativity, time, and trial and error.

[00:18:28] While it’s important to implement these strategies in our classrooms, Alee, I totally get your point that this does take extra time to explore different options, and it’s a process that builds upon itself year-to-year, as teachers and students find strategies that work better than others.

[00:18:46] Nate: Making these changes to help students thrive in the most accessible environment, can make all the difference in the world for them. Furthermore, accessibility features and how to implement them doesn’t have to be a difficult learning process. While it takes time, a few small changes can be the difference between a student passing or failing, or graduating or transferring, or worst case dropping out entirely.

[00:19:06] Luckily, all the aforementioned dilemmas are being recognized by some, and initiatives are being sparked to address this unjust disparity. Disability advocates affiliated with the University of Washington dug into this disparity and created a self-assessment resource to determine how accessible your campus is.

[00:19:23] This great resource, which is linked in the show notes, explores how a universally accessible campus has to meet all the needs from administration, to architecture, to education, in order to truly be universally designed. I highly recommend checking out this great resource, as it has a great diagram that breaks down the four areas of universal design at the secondary education level, which include instruction, services, information technology, and physical spaces.

[00:19:48] Exploring the elements that make college universally designed, it made me think. As OT practitioners and students as well as disability advocates, what can we do to help out those who may not have a voice that is always heard?

[00:19:59] Alee: I know we’re taught as OTs in school that a big part of our role is to act as an advocate for our clients. In a college setting, there are many ways to do so. An OT could work with a student to help them figure out what their resources are at the school, such as a disability services office.

[00:20:15] They can facilitate communication with deans and professors about how the school can accommodate their needs, or coordinate with housing facilities to make adjustments to their living spaces.

[00:20:25] Sarah: This resource sounds excellent, Nate, and you are right, Alee, while we as OTs can help those we are working with that are in college, facilitate some of this process, it’s great for individuals with disabilities themselves to learn where to go to advocate for themselves and who to talk to.

[00:20:41] The process of accessibility on campus is multifaceted, and all of these areas need to be addressed to make the experience of being in school as functional as possible. We can address the environment of getting around, but if the ways of participating in learning isn’t conducive to a wide variety of needs, then there’s still barriers to consider. And it’s gonna be different for every person, right?

[00:21:03] We often say in our organization, that you only know what you know, and every person’s interactions with things on campus is different. One person’s needs with autism, a spinal cord injury, or a learning disability can be just as different than someone else with the same diagnosis.

[00:21:21] As OT practitioners and students as well as disability advocates, situations like these are great opportunities to educate others on ways to make things better and not have our first emotion of frustration at the lack of accessibility to overwhelm us.

[00:21:36] There could be many reasons why something is less than accessible. Could be financial, lack of knowledge, or something else. And advocacy and education is a great way to share these barriers with hopes of meaningful change.

[00:21:50] Nate: That’s a great point that you make, that barriers for every person are going to be different. But, funny enough, the solution isn’t to address this disparity from person to person, but rather attempt to make that access easier for all. And that would be through universal design.

[00:22:04] All in all, universal design could benefit us in countless ways: In the classroom, in the spaces we interact with, and certainly at the places we call home. Part of college includes living there and engaging in many of the most basic activities of daily living. So, why isn’t it always treated as a home?

[00:22:20] College can present a wide range of feelings. Some can be the butterflies on move-in day, nervous for what the future holds. Others are reflections that come years later, thinking upon a great time of growth, learning, and opportunity, and certainly some fun. So yes, college is a home and it’s time to be treated as such. And this can only be done when there’s complete and uninterrupted access to all that the home has to offer.

[00:22:43] Thank you all for listening to yet another episode of the Good Fit or Fit podcast. I hope that this episode helped you to view college through a new lens, at least for a few moments. As mentioned, it has become a growing norm in our society to attend college, and it often comes in some of the most crucial years of our development. New hopes, dreams, opportunities, and faces highlight what our college years have to offer. So if they truly are the best years of our lives, as so many people say, shouldn’t all people have the opportunity to experience that same feeling?

[00:23:12] Universal design from administration to architecture is the only way to make this possible. So make sure your decision for a home isn’t taken lightly, and make sure that it has everything you want it to be a good fit. So thanks again for listening, and we encourage you to keep the conversation going in your own communities.

[00:23:28] We hope that you have a great day.

[00:23:33] Sarah: Thanks for listening to Good Fit Poor Fit. I’m your host Sarah Pruett, Program Director and Occupational Therapist at The Universal Design Project. Learn more about our work at universaldesign.org, and find more episodes and links to subscribe at goodfitpoorfit.com If you have questions or topics you’d like to discuss, email us at [email protected]

[00:23:58] Thanks for fitting us into your day!

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