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Universal Design
Research Connections
Fall 1999

State and Regional Perspectives

Universal design shows promise for supporting many state and regional incentives.

Supporting State Outcome Goals in Maine

In Maine, which collaborated with CAST in these activities, the Learning Results— has been accepted by the Maine Legislature— the results that all students are expected to achieve. According to Kathy Powers of the Maine Consumer Information and Technology Training Exchange (MaineCITE), a project of the Maine Department of Education, universal design is an important component in developing strategies and techniques for identifying and circumventing barriers in existing curriculum materials and delivery methods.

"Using technology to increase the accessibility of the curriculum itself shifts the responsibility for change from the individual to the learning environment," Powers tells us. "The ultimate goal of these efforts is the creation of accessible, inclusionary classrooms." MaineCITE has identified universal design as a viable strategy to help all Maine students achieve high standards under the Learning Results initiative.

As might be expected, Maine's Learning Results initiative is having a significant effect on the professional development of teachers. Powers and her colleagues have been working to make universal design part of teacher professional development opportunities. "If we are going to include all students in standards-based reform, an understanding of universal design concepts must be part of this professional development," Powers explains. "From a state perspective, this means being able to capitalize on the resources already in place and integrate this new initiative into an existing one."

In an effort to institutionalize universal design concepts, MaineCITE is collaborating with the Maine Educational Center for Assistive Technology and Software (MECATS) at the University of Southern Maine. Funded in part by OSEP, MECATS provides educators and parents with information, training and technical assistance with assistive technology— more recently, universal design. The goal for MaineCITE is to incorporate universal design into MECATS' ongoing inservice work, both within school districts and among colleagues in institutions of higher education.

Libby Cohen, director of MECATS, describes current activities as being focused on inservice educators. Teams from local school districts are trained in universal design concepts. They are given software to use that incorporates universal design principles. In addition, teams are expected to design their own lessons and curricula using universal design principles over the course of a year.

Increasing Access to Universities in Oregon

The Northwest Center for Technology Access was developed to assist the State of Oregon and the region in meeting the challenges imposed on individuals with disabilities by the rapid infusion of information technologies into all aspects of society. According to Center Coordinator Ron Stewart, the primary purpose of the center is to promote universal access to technology by individuals with disabilities and to develop and promote cost effective, efficient, and systemic solutions to meet the goal of anytime, anywhere technology access. Stewart's goal is to increase the number of individuals with disabilities who attend the university. He believes this will happen with improved services. "Modern information technologies inherently present some very significant challenges for individuals with disabilities," Stewart points out, "but these challenges can be overcome."

Universal access to information is a part of Oregon State University's ongoing commitment to establishing a barrier-free learning community. As such, the university has developed a set of physical accessibility guidelines for software, hardware, and web sites (you can review copies of these guidelines at: http://www.orst.edu/dept/is/).

According to Stewart, new technologies pose additional challenges. One such technology is distance education, which is being increasingly used at universities, as well as by states to disseminate coursework and training programs. "The complexity of distance education makes providing accessibility a challenge," says Stewart. For example, access issues must be considered for the following areas:

  • Site accessibility. All aspects of the site facility must be accessible, including architectural considerations (e.g.,ramps).

  • Technological accessibility. Any tools required by participants must be accessible (e.g., magnification systems and optical scanning systems that allow a user to access printed information).

  • Program accessibility. In addition to the actual broadcast program, this includes accessibility of all web sites pages, video workbooks, and session materials used in the session.

Next: Contacts & Resources

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