Universal Design at McGill University

Universal Design for Learning has the potential
to benefit everyone. Rather than always trying to transform the
individual to fit into the system, the idea is to transform
the system so that individuals with differences
can be accommodated without effort within that system. Universal Design encourages us to consider how we can help students access
university services in a sustainable way. There is so much more to explore and put into
place, and such UD initiatives benefit the entire McGill community. Disability is often seen as a problem that needs to be solved or cured. The focus is on the individual who is disabled and what they can do to overcome life’s challenges. But more often than not, the environment in
which they live is disabling. So if we change the environment, we remove
disability. If you think about a person in a wheelchair, who encounters a set of stairs, then you immediately see that this person
has been disabled by their environment. If we create environments that include people
with impairments in their design criteria, then we can eliminate disabling situations. Disability Studies calls this the Social Model
of Disability. When we identify disability as coming from the environment, attitudes,
and systems instead of from the individual, we are empowered to work together to make
an accessible campus. The way the OSD provides accommodations currently means that they have to provide
me with a note taker in every class, every semester. Universal Design would mean that the notes
are available to everyone, including myself, without any special accommodations. This makes sense both economically and is
far more sustainable. We can see from the statistics that we have now dozens and dozens of different
diagnoses, be they physical or related to mental health,
so it becomes literally impossible for disabilities service providers to be targeting specific knowledge to specific situations, creating sustainable practices that will be able to do the same thing we
do, but do it in the classroom environment and do it irrespective of self-diagnosis or
of disclosure to anyone who requests it or requires it in
the classroom. So as a course instructor, I feel it’s extremely
important to encourage students to engage with the materials coming from a variety of perspectives. Imagine the make up of a classroom that includes students from all walks of life, with physical and sensory disabilities, but also learning disabilities, mental health challenges, chronic illnesses, and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). If you put all of those people in a class where a professor talks for an hour, many of those students will struggle to focus, to engage and learn. Their environment is not fully accessible
to them. But if you add PowerPoint, group work, online tools, digital engagement, and flexibility, you begin to connect with many more of those
students, allowing them to interact with the material and express themselves in ways that they are
comfortable and efficient in. The classroom can become enabling for all
students, not only students with disabilities, but non-traditional students, second language
learners, and the whole diversity of students that we
see in one class. Universal Design for Learning adapts curricula delivery, instruction, and assessment, and proactively meets the learning needs of a diverse student population. Neuroscience shows that peoples’ learning
abilities are as unique as their fingerprints and their
DNA. Universal Design for Learning encourages this
diversity in the classroom by offering three principles that help a variety of students learn. Universal Design for Learning has three principles: multiple means of engagement, multiple means of representation, and multiple means of action and expression to help all the students in the classroom
succeed. Universal Design for Learning provides multiple
means of engagement, which helps keep me motivated and interested
in the course material. I think there’s two kinds of interaction that
are important in a class. One is the interaction between the professor
and the students, and the other one is the interaction between
the students themselves. It’s very hard in a big classroom environment
to get either of those kinds of interactions, but there’s a couple
things. So, if I’m teaching about rocks, bring in
some rock samples, give the rock samples around, and give people
a chance to discuss them. So that gets them talking with each other and they can actually teach each other a huge
amount because maybe they’ll have shared misconceptions, or somebody will have learned something that
the other people didn’t get. So by talking about the rocks between themselves, they actually learned a lot and they make
learning bonds between each other. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) encourages multiple means of representation, so that both content and material can be provided in different
ways. It’s important that the material you represent is not geared to target only one type of learner. You want to reach the entire class and there’s
going to be a variety of learning styles within the class
so it’s important that professors are aware that they should try and think critically about the presentation of their material and
incorporate different forms of representation. So when I introduce a new idea, I understand that the students prefer to learn in certain ways. So what I do first is I give the example with a numeric problem that’s in context. So that they can see how it’s applied, so that it’s relevant to them. But then if I can, I also draw a picture illustrating the idea so that people who are more visual can have some kind of
a visual to remember. And I also do, if I can, a purely mathematical proof or example without numbers to show people the generalization of the idea, so if they’re
more algebraic, that helps them. Learners have different strengths; Some people learn more effectively visually, others through audition, others through action, and professors are encouraged to think critically
about the format they’re presenting materials in. UDL offre plusieurs moyens d’agir et de s’exprimer en favorisant plusieurs moyens d’evaluation
et de participation. UDL presents multiple means of action and
expression through mixed formats of evaluation and participation. So, in my class called Sociology and Materiality
of Texts, I have a mixed diet of assessment. So we have an exam at the end of term, an essay that students have to do, students
do presentations in groups, and there’s a participation grade, and there’s
some in-class quizzes. And those different kinds of assessment gives students with different learning styles
or different approaches to the material a chance to show their abilities in different
ways. And so by giving students multiple different
ways of demonstrating that understanding, I think that I have a better chance of actually assessing the thing that really
matters to me as a teacher. The three principles of Universal Design for
Learning can benefit me, but they also can benefit everyone else. Universal Design doesn’t just help students
with disabilities, it helps all the students registered at the
University, including mature students and second language
learners. The idea is that rather than having a model
wherein specific services are set up to accommodate
individual differences and different abilities, the idea is that the system itself will be transformed so that those individuals can operate within it. Universal Design isn’t just about teaching; it can be applied across campus. Student Services is a prime example of how Universal Design can widen access in all aspects of student life. The mission of Student Services is to promote and facilitate student success
and wellbeing. And Universal Design plays a huge part in
achieving this goal by benefitting all learners.

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