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The DARCs System

A key change strategy used by the ACCESS-ed Project involves the creation of a DARC (Department Accessibility Resource Coordinator) system, and delivery of practical UD resources for faculty and staff for implementation. Conceptually, the creation of a DARC system establishes a channel for information about UD to flow from national experts and a central repository directly into post-secondary institutions at the departmental level. While components and variations of this approach have been used in higher education, we have framed the DARC System as a new strategy specifically designed to increase the likelihood of success, in contrast to the shortcomings of other approaches (e.g. unilateral top-down or bottom-up). We envision the DARC system to be an important change agent at the unit level across a campus.

For a number of years, the University of Wisconsin-Madison has implemented a system of Access and Accommodation Coordinators, primarily to implement standards for web accessibility. ACCESS-ed builds on this success and promotes it to the next level by broadening the content and attempting the mode on other campuses as DARCs. DARCs are viewed as the key link between their unit and the UD information, strategies, and tools. DARCs are trained and supplied 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 universal design strategies.

An initial Project ACCESS-ed activity involved creating a protocol about how to create DARCs on a campus. The DARC protocol describes how to implement DARCs and creates a set of "getting started" materials to include: background information, answers to common questions, how to select a campus DARC Manager, how to recruit DARCs from departments, integrating DARCs with existing workloads, approaches for different size campuses, setting up initial and subsequent trainings/meetings, and more. The protocol also details the different roles of DARCs. An ACCESS-ed DARC Coordinator will provide training and be a central point of contact for all partner campuses. Each campus will designate a campus DARC Manager who will help create the campus set of DARCs.

It took me several years of struggling with the heavy door to my building, sometimes having to wait until a person stronger came along, to realize that the door was an accessibility problem, not only for me, but for others as well. And I did not notice, until one of my students pointed it out, that the lack of signs that could be read from a distance at my university forced people with mobility impairments to expend a lot of energy unnecessarily, searching for rooms and offices. Although I have encountered this difficulty myself on days when walking was exhausting to me, I interpreted it, automatically, as a problem arising from my illness (as I did with the door), rather than as a problem arising from the built environment having been created for too narrow a range of people and situations.

Susan Wendell, author of
The Rejected Body: Feminist Philosophical Reflections on Disability