The Purpose of ACCESS-ed

Institutions of higher education provide services to students with disabilities predominantly in a one-to-one student-staff service delivery model. However, a variety of factors limit the effectiveness of this model. A primary problem in this model is that students must declare their disability to be served. Therefore, it fails to serve students who do not declare their disability, and it is not scalable to support high incidence disabilities. Secondly, this is an accommodation model that does not make the higher education community more accessible by design. Finally, a large proportion of service provision tends to be delivered by disability student services personnel.

The ACCESS-ed Project is designed to demonstrate how a pro-active, multifaceted model can inspire a campus climate shift from accommodations toward universal accessibility. The ACCESS-ed Project is developing, infusing and testing a process to deliver an infrastructure that can self-sustain a campus-wide universal design (UD) instructional environment.

The ACCESS-ed Project implements a set of strategies and activities to shift the campus climate from one of traditional individual accommodations for students with disabilities towards UD. The major activities, a) teach methods and strategies surrounding a UD approach, b) synthesize research and information by aggregating the web sources, software and other curricular materials into a centralized resource website on universal design and education (UDE), and c) provide specific professional development and training sessions through an innovative department-based process using ‘DARCs’ (Department Accessibility Resource Coordinators.)

To achieve these goals, a multi-faceted change process simultaneously implements top-down, bottom-up, and middle-out change strategies. The project acknowledges barriers often cited by administrators, faculty and staff and has specifically designed processes to surmount them. To respond to the need for more practical UDE ideas and resources, the ACCESS-ed Project has created a searchable web resource database, aggregating an inventory of UDE strategies and tools, providing friendly access. Additionally, new key supports specific to higher education are being created, such as protocols for universally designed documents and forms review protocols for support services, such as in procurement - developed as "quick tips" or "posterettes".  The Project is advancing quantifiable measurement of accessibility and usability of both educational items and the built environment through the development of AUDIT's (Accessibility and Universal Design Information Tool).

To energize the faculty and staff with these ideas, the ACCESS-ed Project is utilizing a change agent on the departmental level called the DARC (Department Accessibility Resource Coordinator.) The ACCESS-ed team is revising, implementing and expanding a model that was successfully used in the last decade on one of the 26 University of Wisconsin campuses to promote awareness of disabilities legislation as it relates to higher education. DARCs are being empowered as the key link between their unit and the universal design information, strategies and tools. They are instructed with specific ideas for dissemination, such as asking to be placed regularly on the department meeting agenda. DARCs receive regular in-service opportunities to grow their knowledge and expertise in UD strategies.

The goals and activities of the ACCESS-ed Project are tiered by years and initially focused on the core personnel of campuses and then spread to larger geographic areas and more diverse campus organizational structures. In the first year, the ACCESS-ed Project has engaged in development and implementation at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and at University of Wisconsin-Madison. Year two featured expansion to four more campuses, including University of Wisconsin-Platteville and University of Wisconsin-Parkside from the University of Wisconsin-system.  Year three expands across both the materials development goals and expansion to other campuses goals.

A comprehensive evaluation plan includes student experiential sampling, campus self-audits, plus UD knowledge and skill testing of staff and faculty. The evaluation protocol targets the measurement of the impact of the ACCESS-ed Project as viewed by all stakeholders (e.g., students, faculty, staff, administrators). The intent is to document the success of project change strategies and their impact on educational outcomes for everyone, and particularly discerning the impact for students who have hidden and undisclosed disabilities.

A lot of people with a disability say, "This is who I am. I don't come here hoping my disability will go away, but because I want to participate."

Carolyn R. Thompson