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Universal Design Infusion of Technology and Evaluation for Accessible Campuses of Higher Education (UD-I TEACH)

UD-I TEACH is a model demonstration project, housed in the R2D2 Center at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Post-Secondary Education.

The use of technology in higher education is rapidly expanding parallel to society’s adoptions of innovations in our daily lives. Unfortunately, while technology has improved, educational methods, materials, and technology pose new barriers for many students. It is also clear that our student populations with disabilities extend far beyond the 5-7% typically reported who declare their disabilities and seek services from disability student service offices. Our recent statistics reveal that nearly 12% of postsecondary students describe specific intrinsic impairments that stage educational risk and demand intervention. An additional 8% of students are not native English speakers. Combined, this 20%, or 1 out of 5 students, have the potential to benefit from Universal Design (UD) approaches.

Successful UD implementation, however, demands that faculty and staff throughout campuses “buy in” to the methodology. They require resources that they believe will benefit them and students without taxing their time. Campuses also need accessibility assessment tools. Few instruments are available to comprehensively identify access barriers and thus identify where interventions are needed. Likewise, campuses must vigilantly watch emerging instructional technologies (such as Second Life, Facebook, classroom response clickers, podcasting) to predict accessibility problems. Without this analysis, campuses will fail to assure equal educational access.

This project proposes to implement and measure Universal Design in Higher Education across a system of 26 campuses and develop UD resources to help administrators, faculty, staff, and students better incorporate technology into their day-to-day educational activities. Key approaches to maximize success include creating UD resources that are user-friendly and quick to implement, then disseminating training and materials on location through an infusion network, an annotated website and webinars.

Five key project objectives have been designed to enhance the recruitment, retention and success of students with disabilities in postsecondary education: (1) Create a comprehensive web-based instrument that over 300 students will complete as a pilot study to document accessibility barriers and diagnose institutional needs, (2) Identify the accessibility and usability issues in existing and emerging educational technologies and develop technical reports, (3) Implement and institutionalize campus-wide UD interventions, (4) Disseminate project materials and training, and (5) Conduct monthly formative and annual summative evaluations, overseen by an independent evaluator with the assistance of an expert national advisory panel, to assess the impact of the project.

This UD infusion project is based on a solid foundation of experience and an actively involved interdisciplinary team with technological, pedagogical, and disability expertise representing consumer, academic, administrative and service perspectives. The project is based in the University of Wisconsin System, led by the urban-based Milwaukee campus, but with a minimum of 4 partnerships from suburban and rural campuses, and both 2 and 4-year institutions. Additional replication will be encouraged outside of Wisconsin with new support features on our ACCESS-ed website, and through national presentations. Additionally, the project will showcase its work and invite presentations from other UD innovators by hosting a UD in Higher Education Symposium in the second year.