UDL in Occupational Therapy Education

A young man with crutches walks through a door held open by a clinician.Occupational therapists work with just about every human condition you can think of. Their clientele is diverse, but are their professional teaching methods suited to a diverse population? This question is the subject of a new article from the United States.

The article reports on a survey of occupational therapy (OT) educators. They found that while most respondents knew about Universal Design for Learning (UDL), less than half could define it. 

The article discusses how the respondents fared with the three tenets of UDL: multiple means of engagement, representation, and expression. They found that OT assistant education used some UDL techniques such as games, feedback and incentives. These strategies were not evident at higher education levels. 

OT educators focus is on ensuring all content is delivered. That’s because the content covers such a broad spectrum and is subject to accreditation standards. However, the American Occupational Therapy Association has identified research priorities to find teaching methods that maximise learning for practitioners.

The authors sum up that with the recent pandemic the “need for a greater understanding and implementation of UDL tenets is more important than ever.” It will ensure today’s students become competent practitioners.

The title of the article is, Implementation of UDL in Occupational Therapy Education. It is open access.

Abstract: This exploratory research surveyed educators’ use of universal design for learning (UDL) in occupational therapy education. Most common methods of engagement were displaying enthusiasm, providing examples, and offering learner feedback; representation was primarily offered through class discussion, lab experiences, and images; methods of action or expression were most frequently class discussion, projects, practicums and tests. The type of program, years of educators’ clinical experience and faculty rank influenced some factors of UDL implementation. Further use of UDL principles that could facilitate improved learning outcomes of diverse learners within occupational therapy education is discussed.

A short article by Bethan Collins looks at both sides of UDL – for OTs and for clients.

Design for participation – inclusion will follow

A whiteboard with design concepts in word bubbles around a drawing of a electric light globe. It indicates brainstorming ideas.Designers can relate to the term “inclusive design” more than other terms. This was one of the findings of a Swedish study. Designers had a general sense of “accessibility”, but they felt intimidated by the term. They thought it was for extreme cases for a few people and something they could ignore.

Designers also thought accessibility was a higher requirement than inclusive design. They felt inclusive design sounded more inviting and positive than accessible or universal design. The workshop method used in this study drew out many fears and anxieties designers had about people with disability. The workshop process was therefore a way of educating and allaying these fears and other perceived difficulties. 

This is an important study for design educators, advocates for people with disability and older people, and creators of guidelines. Perception is everything – it underpins attitudes and in turn, designs. The caveat of language is that the study was not conducted in English. So the direct translations might not apply elsewhere. But the study has much more to offer than terminology.

Terminology for inclusion has always been a problem in design disciplines. It’s also an issue for people working in the world of universal design, inclusive design and design-for-all. Each of these terms, and others, such as human centred design and user centred design, have evolved from different spaces. But their aims are all the same. Regardless of the term, getting users to participate in designs, not just comment on prototypes, will result in inclusive outcomes.  

The title of the article is, “Inclusive Design Thinking: Exploring the obstacles and opportunities for individuals and companies to incorporate inclusive design”. It’s by Esra Kahraman from KTH Royal Institute of Technology EECS, Sweden. 

Design for Participation and Inclusion will Follow, the title of this post, is from a separate paper on digital inclusion by Stephan Johansson who is quoted in the article. 

Abstract:  Exclusion by design can be seen in every corner of our society, from inaccessible websites to buildings and it has a significant impact on people with disabilities. As designers and people who have a hand in shaping our environment, having a more holistic view of the target groups when designing for available and new technologies is essential, something that is currently missing. Not only to combat design exclusion but also to challenge and improve current and future products. Related research shows that there are ways to challenge design exclusion but the question of why more inclusive design practices are still not in place remains. This study aims to answer the question: What are the obstacles keeping designers from making more inclusive design choices and what opportunities are there? What are the internal and external factors and how can they be tackled?
The methods chosen to answer these questions were primarily qualitative in forms of interviews, field study, and a workshop. The results from the interviews and empathy building activities done in the workshop highlighted common obstacles the designers felt in their workplace, both on a personal and corporate level.

Easy Read COVID-19

A poster with three graphics. One of a rugby goal post, one of a calendar with the start date marked, and one showing a television set.Access Easy English has fact sheets and posters on staying COVID-safe. As each state changes their rules a new fact sheet is produced. That makes a lot of fact sheets and posters. They cover sport, schools, travelling interstate, quarantine, childcare and more. 

Each state has its own set of fact sheets that you can download in both Word and PDF. Here are some examples:

Come to South Australia explains who can and who cannot go to South Australia.

We can go out. ACT explains when it started and the number of people you are allowed to meet up with.

The website also has information on Easy Read and Easy English on the home page. With more than 40% of the Australian population with low literacy skills, easy to understand information is vital for everyone. Even people with good literacy skills! 


Inclusion should be a choice

A group of young women stand in a circle with their forefingers and middle fingers spread out and joined up to make a star shape.One of the findings from a study of an inclusive youth summit was that inclusion should be a choice. A group of young people with and without disability were brought together to explore art and social justice. Group behaviours were observed and documented in an honours thesis. There are some good take-away messages from this event.

The thesis is by Megan Price, who is a youth coordinator. She describes the context, the participants and behaviours and the story of the event. The implications from her observations were:

    • Neurotypical young people needed one to one leadership to understand and practice inclusion
    • The ableist model in the outside world perpetuates excluding behaviour
    • Inclusion needs to be a choice, not forced – you have to want to be included.
    • Building trust and confidence to see how identities overlapped
    • Being open and honest with group members and treating them as people

Megan Price comments in the concluding remarks:

“I feel that a properly done inclusive program should be rooted in something that isn’t disability focused. It can be video games, it can be social justice, it can be education or art, it can be literally anything else. But when we make the target group the group’s focus, we’re already offsetting power and inputting a dynamic. Inclusive groups can’t get rid of power imbalances that their larger society has created but they can
acknowledge them and work to counteract their effects within the group. “

There is much to gain from reading this thesis as it brings the topic to a grass roots level and out of an academic focus. 

The title of the thesis is, “What Makes Inclusion Work: An Autoethnography on Coordinating an Inclusive Youth Advocacy Program”. 

Abstract:  In this autoethnographic thesis, I analyze my observations as the co-coordinator of an inclusive youth advocacy program (YAP) to detail what made inclusion successful, and what was ineffective. I had the unique position of facilitating conversations and workshops around social justice issues and how to advocate using self-expression and art. In this thesis, I will reflect on the Inclusive Education Conference (IEC) in Spring of 2019, and the Summer Summit in the summer of 2019, both in Portland, Oregon. At the IEC some of the observations noted as harmful to inclusion included: people wanting to silence the youth, inclusion being coerced, neurotypical youth segregating due to lack of support, youth creating a hierarchy based on disabilities, and inability to support youth due to lack of knowledge.

The biggest takeaway was the importance of intersectionality. The observations around detrimental practices led to changes for the summer summit. Changes included: having more understanding of workshop, interview the youth to determine their motivation for being involved and their goals, schedule breaks to encourage socialization outside the workshops which led to more inclusive workshops, and being transparent with the youth so they felt comfortable to express themselves and make mistakes. Ultimately, the most damaging elements to the inclusive youth program were 1) When neurotypical youth are neglected due to the focus on inclusion. 2) when the outside world is still modeling ableist behavior. 3) when inclusion isn’t a choice. The key finds that made inclusion most successful for this program were 1) the focus on intersectionality. And 2) being transparent and open with the youth. I also strongly encourage inclusive youth programs to not be rooted in disability as it already offsets the power dynamic of the group: rather have the group focus on a common interest.


The myth of the accessible bathroom

A bathroom with red tiled wall has a white wc pan and two drop down grab bars. It's indicative of an accessible bathroom.Videos explaining universal design, almost universally start by showing a person in a wheelchair. This is one reason why people think universal design is disability design. It’s also why they think they don’t need it – it’s for the “others”. 

When the classic 7 Principles of Universal Design were devised in 1997, the concept was envisioned as mainstream. Hence the use of the term “universal”. However, universal design does benefit people with disability most. And it’s difficult to explain universal design without including people with disability

A video from the United States, titled Laying the Foundation for Universal Design, also starts with wheelchair users. In the second half it moves onto the 7 Principles as originally intended. It emphasises that universal deign goes beyond compliance. In this case, the American with Disabilities Act (ADA). 

One speaker captures the concept well, “I laughingly talk about the myth of the accessible bathroom, because there are so many ways you can meet the intent of the law, and still it doesn’t meet everyone’s needs”. Looking for flexibility in the solutions available is the key. It’s critical to think about how different people respond, perceive or interact with a design.

This video is one in a series and good for introducing people to the concept of universal design. It has some good take home messages. However, the focus is on people with disability. There is little mention of children, older people, people who are neurodiverse, and those using wheeled devices other than wheelchairs.

Similarly to Australia, the US legislation, ADA, does not require universal design. Compliance usually results in accessibility as an afterthought. Universal design is a set of performance guidelines that explain why it should be done.

Thanks to LifeMark in New Zealand for this find. The video was created by Tools for Life Georgia AT in the US. It is one of a series.


How to make a Universal Design Toolkit

As with all educational materials, toolkits should be designed with everyone in mind. If not, key sections of your community could be missing out on your information. After all, learners come in all shapes and sizes and different frames of reference. This is especially important if the guideline is about accessibility, inclusion and/or universal design.

So how do you universally design a toolkit or guideline? 

When devising a customer engagement toolkit, the Centre for Excellence in Universal Design in Ireland also documented their process and lessons learned. While the document is focused on tourism, the method and principles are relevant to any field of practice.

At 100 pages this is a lengthy document. You might want to skip the first part and go directly to the section on Guidelines to Toolkit Authors, which is at the end. Each of the headings and subheadings form a guide to developing and designing instructional toolkits and guidelines for practice. Here are some of the key points from this section about the structure of the toolkit:

Step 1: ‘Perception’, the ability to understand information regardless of the user’s ability to see, hear or touch
Step 2: ‘Discoverability’, providing flexibility in use so that the user can find the information they want
Step 3: ‘Understanding’, how easy it is for the customer to interpret and understands how to use the content; regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level
Step 4: ‘Use’, the design prevents from accidental or inadvertent actions, forms, controls and navigation are usable and the customer decides on how to use and act on the content presented

The title of the report is Lessons from Good Practices to Guide Universal Design Toolkits

Living the message is an important point in the universal design world. Anyone who writes, educates or speaks about universal design and inclusive practice should live the message. For example, a slideshow presentation about universal design with tiny font is contrary to the message. 

Editor’s note: This document looks to be for an academic or professional audience and perhaps not following their own guidelines. Regardless of the intended audience, applying UD principles helps understanding and retention of information.

Including everyone in the library

A row of computer workstations line a wall. There are no people in the picture.The digital age has transformed libraries with computers taking centre stage. Library computer kiosks are part of this transition. Consequently, computer kiosks and work-spaces need to be accessible and inclusive.

In a semester long project students were tasked with designing a library kiosk using universal design principles. The process and outcome is reported as a case study. Some components were already available, such as height adjustable desks and fully adjustable seats. The technology was assessed to ensure assistive devices could be used.

The paper covers additional considerations in the design and discusses lessons learned. In concluding, the authors say accessibility is everyone’s responsibility. It is the key role of librarians to provide leadership for inclusion in all aspects of the institution. That includes facility design, collection management, technology and instruction. 

The title of the paper is, Universal Design Creates Equity and Inclusion: Moving from Theory to Practice.

This paper is not just about designing a library kiosk, it is also about educating students and other library staff. This kind of project demonstrates a leadership role for inclusion across the institution. 

Abstract: Universal design focuses on small changes that can be made to benefit everyone. Universal design principles can be applied to both physical and virtual environments and help provide universal access to technology and information. This paper provides a case study of the design of a library computer kiosk in an academic library, using principles of universal design to create a universally accessible workstation. The paper provides an overview of features included in the workstation, images of the workstation, and includes discussion of additional considerations and lessons learned from the design experience.  

Design details and everyday experiences

Title of the article in white text over an image of the top of an escalatorWhat is it about designs that either include or exclude users? Many designs are everyday – the things we hardly notice. That is, until we have difficulty using them. Design students need to see how exclusion happens.

Deborah Beardslee takes the perspective of physical ability to analyse how inclusion and exclusion happen in the design process. She notes that most designs work reasonably well for most people even if they aren’t designed that well. But we are all familiar with some degree of compromised experience. For example, hard to read instructions, doors that are difficult to open, places difficult to navigate and generally unappealing places.

Beardlee’s article will be of interest to design educators as well as practitioners. It focuses on examining everyday interactions with commonplace items with analysis of several examples. The aim of the paper is to encourage strategies for educating designers to be more inclusive. 

The title of the article is, Inclusive, High Quality Decisions? Macro/Micro Design Impacts within our Everyday Experiences, and was accessed from SEGD.org Universal Design webpage.

Abstract:  Age and physical ability are natural filters for assessing the successes of designed objects, messages, and experiences. Design problem solving contributes (or not) to the resolution of challenges faced by aging and/or physically challenged individuals as they interact with products and contexts in the built environment. This paper examines some design details, solutions, and situations that impact everyday inclusivity and quality of experience, and suggests approaches toward understanding and increasing interaction success for all of us.

The comparisons presented in this work are intended to initiate an evolving platform for the discussion and development of design education strategies and content that prioritize aging and physical ability issues. Some familiar macro and micro examples have been chosen to illuminate everyday user interactions, challenges, and considerations. Ideally, increased exposure to these aspects, through audience-, age-, and ability-related projects, courses, and curriculum, will strengthen awareness and empathy in young design students, and encourage thoughtful, and more inclusive, design in the future.

Home Coming? Housing policy e-learning

A graphic in shades of green showing various types of dwellingsI am pleased to announce CUDA’s new e-learning course is now live!

Home Coming? Framing Housing Policy for the Future is open access. That means it’s free for anyone to do. In just one hour you can get your head around the issues and see how universal design in housing provides solutions to many of the policy problems. 

Housing is a complex area. So we’ve cut to the chase to cover the critical issues, the key statistics, and shown how it’s about households, and the role of universal design and the Livable Housing Design Guidelines.

The course is primarily designed to assist policy makers, urban planners, housing professionals and home builders. Home designers and home owners will find it useful too. But anyone with an interest in housing will find it interesting.

If you are still unsure about universal design, you might want to look at our baseline course, also online and free, Introduction to Universal Design

Jane Bringolf, Editor.

Online learning: does it work for everyone?

Online learning is not new for many higher education students and teachers. Accessibility of online content is improving but there is still a way to go. Students with hearing loss are at a greater disadvantage than many others. Hearing loss is not something you only get as you age. Many young people aren’t even aware they have a hearing loss. An article in The Conversation discusses the issues and provides links to some resources.

Students with hearing loss rarely speak up about it, so lecturers will never know who is missing out or how many are missing out. Regardless, all students learn better with captioningThere are some myths about the cost of captioning. Yes, before Google and YouTube developed Do-It-Yourself captioning, it was expensive to get videos captioned. But times have moved on. However, live captioning with a stenographer is another matter.

The title of the article is, How to help students with a hearing impairment as courses move online. It has good, easy to do advice.

If you want more tips on making sure everyone is included in videoconferences, have a look at the previous post, Videoconferencing: Zoom in to hear