DRC Strengthening Collaboration With Faculty
To bolster its efforts to promote accessibility for University of Arizona students, the Disability Resource Center is taking a more pointed approach to working with faculty.Â
The University of Arizona center, which has a nearly 40-year history of serving students with disabilities, restructured its unit this year to more readily respond not only to students, but also to faculty working with them.Â
"Before, our work was primarily in dealing with the student," said Meghan Sooy, one of the center's access consultants. "But what we're doing is a total evolution."
Sooy is part of a team focusing on faculty and upper-division students; another is working primarily with incoming students and other Student Affairs units.Â
The shift was initiated to allow the center's structure to more appropriately reflect its driving philosophyÂ â€“ one that argues that issues of accessibility are chiefly the concern of institutions, not those with disabilities.
As part of the restructuring, the center's staff is initiating collaborations with faculty "as a preferred tool in creating access rather than relying only on the delivery of accommodations," said Carol Funckes, the center's associate director.
In the past, the center's staff would often wait to be contacted by faculty. Now, staff members have begun taking the first step.
"In the past, I think we did a nice job, but we have been reactive," Funckes said.
"With a new view of disability based on the work of disability studies scholars, we must make system changes and changes to the environment," she added.
"We're trying to relocate the problem of access," Funckes said, noting that the "problem" is not with the student who has a disability. The problem, she said, is with the environment.
Funckes said: "We're asking, 'How have we acted in ways that create barriers?'"
This year, the center began working more proactively with faculty to develop curricula and to structure courses in a way that would be accessible not only to students with disabilities, but to all students.
More broadly, the idea is grounded in the universal design approach, which the Center for Universal Design describes as an effort to "simplify life for everyone by making products, communications, and the built (physical) environment more usable by as many people as possible at little or no extra cost."Â
The center, located at North Carolina State University, also adds that the approach "benefits people of all ages and abilities."
The Disability Resource Center encourages faculty to consult with its staff for assistance in creating an inclusive learning environment.Â
One particular concern is the number of exams the UA center administers on behalf of facultyÂ â€“ approximately 15,000 annually.Â
That is a number the center's staff would like to see reduced.Â
Diedre Lamb, one of the lead access consultants at the Disability Resource Center, noted that among the center's suggestions for faculty are that they consider sharing their course notes online, allow for collaborative work among students and also offer exams in a range of formats â€“ not just in the form of timed tests.
"We want to create options, and a variety of assessment tools," Lamb said. "And we would like to be a point of contact so that faculty know they can call on us to help."