Argosy Presentation Introduction

Before I begin, I want to give my thanks to Dr. Nahid Aziz for thinking of me and giving me the opportunity to speak on this important topic. I also want to thank your department of psychology and the training committee for hosting this event. As you may know, I have been at the APA for 11 years serving as its director of the disability issues office. Over that period of time, many students with disabilities have contacted me to share their experiences of applying to or being in psychology training programs. Some have been positive recounts of their experiences; many have been negative.

So, I want to begin my talk today by sharing one of these stories about a young psychology doctoral student with a disability seeking an internship. Her story I hope will elucidate some of what I will be discussing in my talk.

  • This is the story of a young woman named Pat (not her real name) who from all accounts seemed as competitive as any other student seeking a postdoctoral internship. She had publications under her belt, good clinical experiences, held leadership positions both during her undergraduate and graduate years, and garnered academic awards including induction into Phi Betta Kappa. Her dissertation was nearly complete.

  • Pat is also deaf, and in her essays to potential internship sites, she disclosed her disability. 

  • She also -- being both a pragmatist and behaviorist at heart – identified this hearing loss in her cover letters to ½ of the sites she applied to – these resulted in denials of an interview in every instance. To the other ½ where she didn’t disclose her disability, those yielded an invitation for an interview every time.   

  • Now, of those sites that did extend an interview, many floundered stating that they did not know she would need a sign language interpreter, or they did not have the financial resources to pay for one, or simply that they did not know how to go about hiring one. More than one site emailed her with the cost specifics of the interpreter, stating that they could not absorb this cost even for one day. One site went so far as to rescind its interview offer upon learning that it would need to secure and pay for interpreter services.

  • Now, the fun didn’t end there … it continued on to interview day when rather than asking questions related to her clinical skills, most sites focused on her disability and routinely asked inappropriate, illegal questions that raised concerns about her competency due to her disability.  

  • She left these interviews deflated, demoralized, and what she heard from the field that she was so passionate about being a part of was How can you be a psychologist with a disability? How could you possibly think that a deaf person could be successful as a psychologist; after all who would ever want to work with someone who couldn’t hear music?

Now Pat’s experiences are not unique. There are countless numbers of students with disabilities who go through similar experiences. Not only do some encounter blatant discrimination as Pat did, but many face rampant attitudinal barriers, physical barriers, and lack of access to the myriad of programs, activities, and services which other students are afforded. In a survey conducted by my office in 2008 of psychology students with disabilities, respondents were asked to indicate “the biggest barriers facing people with disabilities in studying psychology”. The largest single category of responses (54%) concerned stigma and discrimination, and negative attitudes held by faculty and staff. This was followed by lack of appropriate education and faculty training about disability issues (22%) and inexperience working with persons with disabilities (21%).

Slide 1 (PDF, 334KB)

Traditional Models of Disability

So … how did we get to this point? What explains why we hold those with disabilities in such a negative light? Well, one reason could be that since the mid-1800s and still pervasive today, the medical model has been the predominate way we conceptualize and thus treat people with disabilities. The medical model, simply put, views disability as a defect in or failure of the bodily system and as such is inherently deviant, abnormal and pathological. In other words, a disabled person is seen as faulty and in need of fixing or curing.

Using this model, the person is defined by his or her disability, and disability becomes the central characteristic and defining aspect of that person. This further serves to marginalize members of this population, and perpetuates the stereotype of people with disabilities as sick and as patients, as recipients of services, and as dependents and burdens on others.

The model fails to consider the effects of the physical and social environment in which people with disabilities are forced to function, and the cultural, social and institutional barriers that they face in trying to lead independent and productive lives. So, it comes as little surprise that we often picture people with disabilities as unfortunate, different, oppressed, sick, and incompetent; needing to be helped by trained professionals rather than as professionals themselves or as leaders of their communities. 

Another way of conceptualizing disability is the moral model which views disability as an embodiment of evil, a punishment for a family member’s or ancestor’s transgression, a divine gift, fate or a test of faith and opportunity to overcome a challenge. Without realizing it, we may be affected by these deep-seated historical constructs in a way that influences our relationships with and our views towards those with disabilities.

In 1990, things changed in a big way for people with disabilities and the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law. This meant that even if the way we looked at and conceptualized disability failed to evolve, the way in which our businesses, educational programs, and public and private institutions interacted with those with disabilities surely would have to by law. So, with that let me go through major aspects of this important legislation.

Slide 2 (PDF, 334KB) 

The Americans With Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) is the key civil rights legislation pertaining to people with disabilities in the United States. It emerged from a series of workplace antidiscrimination laws and court rulings that trace their origins to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Both the civil rights law and the ADA were intended to eradicate discrimination against certain protected groups, and in each case Congress’ intent was to level the playing field so that everyone had the same access and opportunity unhindered by prejudice. Those of you who have had to evaluate students requesting ADA-type accommodations must therefore understand the concepts that form the nucleus of these antidiscrimination laws which are fundamentally different from those at the heart of special education mandates. The educational model seeks to foster successful learning in students at the elementary and secondary levels, provide services for poorly achieving children, and to yield more positive outcomes. By contrast, the antidiscrimination model is outcome-neutral. The ADA doesn’t dictate that a student must pass every course or exam. The student who contends, “because I am learning disabled, therefore you must set conditions that allow me to pass” misreads the intent of the law.

Slide 3 (PDF, 334KB)

Otherwise Qualified

The ADA specifically uses the term “otherwise qualified” to guarantee that those individuals who are otherwise qualified  -- meaning those who meet the essential technical and academic standards established by the school, program, or activity -- will not be denied access simply because they have a disability. In essence, the law says 2 things: (1) you cannot discriminate against someone who is capable of doing the job simply because of non-job-related hindrances imposed by a disability, and (2) you cannot consider an individual with a disability unqualified because of the inability to perform marginal or incidental job functions.

Slide 4 (PDF, 334KB)

But the flip side also holds sway. You are not required to accept into your programs, or retain disabled individuals who are unable to perform the essential tasks associated with a job or position or who cannot meet academic standards. Federal courts have readily upheld insistence that such students meet "academic" standards (for example, a requirement for all students to maintain a certain GPA) and "technical" standards (for example, a requirement that all interns be able to administer, score, and interpret traditional projective and objective assessment instruments). Moreover, persons whose disabilities who manifest a "direct threat" to the health and safety of themselves or others may be excluded from an educational program. On the other hand, a student with a disability may be permitted a year longer to earn a degree than is accorded to students under the published rules of the college. By instructing academic programs to distinguish carefully between what is essential and what is tangential, the courts have used Section 504 and the ADA to create equal educational opportunity for the disability community without lowering academic standards.

Cases of students who may not be qualified for educational programs can get complicated. Consider the following: a student has failed to pass many of her basic courses during her first 2 years. Her clinical supervisors have also expressed concern about her lack of competence in performing certain important clinical functions. As a result she puts in so much effort to succeed that she becomes anxious, depressed, and has trouble concentrating. She consults a psychologist whose psychological testing reveal that almost all of her skills tested are below what is typical of a psychology student. Nonetheless, the psychologist recommends to the school that the student be accorded reasonable accommodations under the ADA. Is the psychology program obligated to provide accommodations? The program could very well make the argument that the student is not qualified to perform the essential functions associated with being a psychology student. And how could they accommodate to such skill limitations? The program could also contend that this student might be far better off seeking a career more suited to her abilities. As you might imagine, such cases can become extremely complicated and there is a balancing act between the student’s right to educational opportunities and the rights of programs to maintain academic integrity and train competent professionals. The ADA will increasingly call on you to find this balance.

Slide 5 (PDF, 334KB) 

So, as I have indicated – a qualified individual with a disability is one who meets the skill, experience, education, and other task-related requirements of a position held or desired and who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of a job or position. I will now discuss another central feature of the ADA. 

Slide 6 (PDF, 334KB)

Reasonable Accommodations

The ADA has provided the opportunity for increasing numbers of students with disabilities to attend institutions of higher education through the provision of what are referred to as reasonable accommodations. In the case of academic settings, reasonable accommodations are adjustments to the curriculum, programs, or activities that allow individuals with disabilities an equal chance to succeed.

Reasonable accommodations include:

  • Modifications to rules, policies or practices such as allowing a student to have a service animal in a "no pets" building

  • The removal of architectural, communication or transportation barriers, such as adapting a classroom to meet the needs of a student who uses a wheelchair

  • The allotment of extra time to a student with a learning disability on examinations

  • The provision of auxiliary aids and services such as providing a sign language interpreter or note taker

Slide 7 (PDF, 334KB)

Student Obligations

To receive reasonable accommodations under the ADA, a student is obligated to self-identify as having a disability and in need of accommodation. If a student knows that he or she will require accommodations, it is best to encourage the student to disclose, either orally or in writing, to the appropriate person early in the academic year. As long as your program gives reasonable notice of how to request help, the courts and the Office of Civil Rights have been fairly consistent in placing the responsibility on the student of disclosing his/her disability.
The next step in this process is for the student to provide documentation that establishes the disability, specific recommendations for accommodations, and why the accommodation is necessary, based on their disability. Documentation can be test results, clinical observations, psychoeducational histories, standard medical diagnostic reports, or any other written materials provided by someone with pertinent expertise. The responsibility to secure this documentation also rests with the student who has requested the accommodation.

Slide 8 (PDF, 334KB)

In receiving accommodations, the student has the further obligation to meet course objectives, and be able to perform the essential functions identified by the program or training site.

Slide 9 (PDF, 334KB)

Institutional Obligations

Your legal obligations to a disabled student begin when the student identifies to you as having a disability. You must consider the request for accommodations if you agree that the documentation establishes the disability and that the accommodations being requested are "reasonable.“ Under certain circumstances, the failure to provide a reasonable accommodation to a student with a disability is a violation of law, putting in jeopardy, among other things, an institution's receipt of federal financial assistance. On the other hand, misunderstanding what the duty to provide reasonable accommodations means is often a source of suspicion and fear. Some, for example, worry that providing accommodations will force colleges and universities to lower academic standards and foist onto society a generation of unqualified professionals, or simply compel faculty to violate their own concepts of fair treatment of all students. Properly understood and implemented, however, accommodations will lead to none of these feared outcomes. Remember, students with disabilities are required to meet the "essential" "academic" and "technical" standards of the program, with or without reasonable accommodation. An accommodation should not compromise the essential elements of a program, course or curriculum; rather they should be seen as providing alternate pathways to accomplish the course or program requirements by reducing the effects of disability-related barriers.

Slide 10 (PDF, 334KB)

Reasonable Accommodations

Now, I want to outline some factors to consider as you choose a reasonable accommodation for a disabled student. It seems that many such students have the mistaken belief that their program or site must provide any and all accommodations that they request. There is no such absolute obligation imposed upon you. While the preferences of students are and should be a factor in determining which accommodations will be provided, their preferences are not controlling. The mere fact that a student prefers or has always used a particular auxiliary aid, service or academic adjustment does not establish an entitlement to that particular aid, service or adjustment. The pertinent issue is not the preferences of the student but whether the accommodations offered are/or will be “effective” in providing meaningful access. Thus, accommodations should be chosen based on the specific nature of the person’s functional impairment, and the environment in which the student will function.

Secondly, the evidence of disability and the need for a specific accommodation should be logically connected. For example, it is not self-evident why an individual with lower-body mobility impairment would need double time on an examination. Accommodations should be task-specific and are meant to eliminate or reduce the impact of the disability on a particular activity. Thus, a student who requires a ramp to access a building because of limited ability to walk would not need additional time to complete cognitive tasks such as examinations and assignments. In essence, in thinking about accommodations, there must be a demonstrated match between the disability and task requirements. 

Sometimes a student will request an accommodation this is simply not in keeping with the nature of his/her functional impairment. The following case serves to illustrate: a student submitted documentation to a licensing organization that he suffers from irritable bowel syndrome. He makes two accommodation requests. First, he wants to be seated near the restroom because he may need to use it often during the day. There was no problem granting this request. Next, he also wanted double the allotted time to take the examination. Here the court balked. What are the functional impairments associated with irritable bowel syndrome that would require extra time to work on the test? This case makes clear that accommodations must flow logically from a specific assessment of both the disability and of the task demands.

Slide 11 (PDF, 334KB)

As has been indicated, the intent of the ADA is not to guarantee success in a particular program or academic endeavor. For example, the focus of an accommodation should not be on what would help the student pass the exam or ace a course. The orientation is on providing accommodations that would correct or circumvent functional impairments that would otherwise preclude a fair opportunity to take a course, become an intern, or sit for an exam. I want to share with you another court case that illustrates this point. This is of a student with MS who was granted the use of a scribe for recording answers during her comprehensive exams. This accommodation was deemed wholly reasonable because her disability led to a functional impairment in writing that could be fairly accommodated through dictation. It turns out that even with these accommodations, she failed her exams and then petitioned the school for both a scribe and extra time for the next exam cycle stating that “having a scribe was not enough to help me pass the test. Now I need extra time so I have more time to think about my answers.” Needless to say, this request was denied and the courts agreed that the ADA does not mandate that accommodations be applied until success is achieved.

Now … rather than provide a litany of reasonable accommodations that can be provided for students with specific disabilities, I thought it would be more interesting to share a case example of a psychology student and the types of accommodations one program provided to her.

Slide 12 (PDF, 334KB)

Issues Related to Interviewing

Now, I want to return to Pat, who as you may recall faced blatant negative attitudes that manifested themselves in the form of discriminatory questions that asked not of her clinical skills but rather were those that focused solely on her disability. For example, she was asked if she could read. How would she work alone in her office if she couldn’t hear the fire alarm? How could she be a psychologist and not hear the tone of concern in a parent’s voice? Or, why she would ever think that as a deaf person, she would be qualified to work with the non-disabled? The common thread throughout all of those inquiries should be obvious – they are neither legal nor appropriate. So, let’s review the types of inquiries that should never be asked during an interview of any disabled applicant:

  • The existence, nature, or severity of disability

  • Condition causing disability

  • Prognosis and treatment

Slide 13 (PDF, 334KB)
   
*These questions are probably too broad to be directed to ability to perform a job function, and instead are regarded as inquiries into the existence of a disability. These types of questions are not allowed under the ADA because of the potential for discrimination on the basis of disability. As importantly, when these type of questions dominate an interview, other questions that would be routinely asked about one’s training and competency for the position become relegated to afterthought status if at all.

During the interview, you can ask questions to determine whether or not a candidate is qualified to do the job. You may ask if an applicant can perform essential functions of the position, as well as ask the applicant to describe or demonstrate how he or she would perform the essential functions of the position with or without reasonable accommodation. So, for example, if a candidate for your intern position is a deaf applicant and the position involves the opportunity to see career counseling clients as part of the regular caseload, it would be most appropriate to ask how she/he would administer such tests as the Strong Interest Inventory and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator with an accommodation. It would not be appropriate to ask how the applicant might handle a hypothetical situation in which a patient tries to attack intern and the intern does not hear him coming (not essential to the intern role), or how long the person has been deaf (this question will elicit information about a disability).

Again, I think it is perfectly appropriate to want to understand how a deaf intern applicant, or a blind student applicant, etc. can meet the requirements of our programs. But I think it is important to ask questions of them in a way that is going to broaden the discussion beyond cost and the limitations posed by the disability. Instead, open the dialogue by asking the applicant what can we do to make those can’ts possibilities. Ask how they’ve been successful before? And, I truly believe that clients can accept deaf, blind, or otherwise disabled service provider if the program is a well-respected one, its program trains its students well, and the therapeutic relationship is handled competently by the trainee. In fact, I have never heard otherwise. One student wrote that a client of hers “appreciated that she too had had to overcome obstacles and can therefore better understand somebody like me.”

Slide 14 (PDF, 334KB)

Financial Issues

Another critical issue facing students particularly those who are deaf involves the use and cost of sign language interpreters. Nearly all of the internship sites that interviewed Pat expressed concerns about both the impact of interpreters on the clinician-patient relationship and the cost involved. More than one site contacted Pat with cost specifics of the interpreter stating that they could not foresee being able to pay for this cost for even one day let alone for an entire year.

It is clear that many training sites and programs are being forced to do more with less in terms of financial resources. Yet, the ADA requires you to make a good faith effort to provide an effective accommodation. While organizations are expected to make accommodations that do not constitute an undue hardship, this is measured against the total resources of the institution not just the budget of the psychology training program, department where it is housed, or training site. So, just because one way of fulfilling the obligation to provide an accommodation may be unduly burdensome, it does not automatically relieve you of seeking out other ways to meet this obligation.

First, please remember that deaf interns and students do not bring interpreters with them; nor are they expected to pay for interpreters. Providing sign language interpreters is considered a reasonable accommodation under the ADA and needs to be provided for by the program or site. You should also:

  • Work with your institution in assuring that institutional monies – not only your department funds – will cover costs

  • Work with other departments to secure funding, particularly if your student is part of a multidisciplinary team or provides consult to other departments.

  • Consult with the disability services office on campus to see if your institution centralizes the budget for all accommodations to both patients and staff within the larger institutional budget.

Slide 15 (PDF, 334KB)

  • Hire a full time interpreter versus paying per hour which could result in significant savings.

  • Establish connections with community resources which can be an important and often essential component for successful placements for some students with disabilities.

Slide 16 (PDF, 334KB)

Major Attitudinal Barriers

Aside from the cost concerns that some students with disabilities confront by programs, the most devastating barriers for students with disabilities to overcome are the attitudinal barriers erected by other people. As one student told me, “It’s more about how people are going to treat you because you have a disability. I spend no time thinking about [being blind]. I spend more time advocating for my basic rights of equal access. It is not uncommon to hear people with disabilities say that overcoming the limiting attitudes of those who are uninformed about disability is far more difficult to adjust to than the disability itself. So with that, let me introduce the major types of attitudinal barriers that many people with disabilities frequently encounter. These are:

Backlash
Many people believe individuals with disabilities are given unfair advantages, such as easier work requirements. As we have already discussed, the ADA does not require special privileges for people with disabilities, just equal opportunities.

Denial
Many disabilities are "hidden," such as learning disabilities, psychiatric disabilities, epilepsy, cancer, arthritis and heart conditions. People tend to believe these are not bona fide disabilities needing accommodation. The ADA defines "disability" as an impairment that "substantially limits one or more of the major life activities." Accommodating "hidden" disabilities that meet the above definition can retain valued students and open doors for new ones.

Fear
Many people are afraid that they will "do or say the wrong thing" around someone with a disability. They therefore avert their own discomfort by avoiding the individual with a disability. As with meeting a person from a different culture, frequent encounters can increase the comfort level.

Hero Worship/Sensationalizing Disability
This occurs when people consider someone with a disability who lives independently or pursues a profession to be brave or "special" for overcoming a disability, or to describe highly successful people with disabilities as “superhuman” Such individuals are referred to as being “incredible” or “extraordinary” because they strive to overcome their limitations and serve as role models or yardsticks for measuring personal achievement. While people with disabilities have had to overcome obstacles they generally have the same range of talents and dispositions as non-disabled people. Portraying them as superstars creates unfair expectations.

Ignorance
People with disabilities are often dismissed as incapable of accomplishing tasks and not given the opportunity to display their skills. In fact, people with disabilities often accomplish the same tasks and have the same experiences as those without disabilities. People with quadriplegia can drive cars and have children; people who are blind can tell time on a watch and visit museums; people who are deaf can play sports and enjoy music; and people with developmental disabilities can be creative and maintain strong work ethics.

Pity
People feel sorry for the person with a disability, which tends to lead to patronizing attitudes. People with disabilities generally don't want pity and charity, just an equal opportunity to earn their own way and live independently.

The Spread Effect
People assume that an individual's disability negatively affects other senses, abilities or personality traits, or that the total person is impaired. For example, many people shout at people who are blind or don't expect people using wheelchairs to have the intelligence to speak for themselves. Focusing on a person's abilities, rather than his or her disability, counters this type of prejudice.

Stereotypes
The other side of the spread effect is the positive and negative generalizations people form about disabilities. For example, many believe that all people who are blind are great musicians or have a keener sense of smell and hearing, that all people who use wheelchairs are docile or compete in para-olympics, that all people with developmental disabilities are innocent and sweet-natured, or that all people with disabilities are sad and bitter. Aside from diminishing the individual and his or her abilities, such prejudice can set too high or too low a standard for individuals who are merely human.

Slide 17 (PDF, 334KB)

Removing Barriers

Many of these attitudes can be overcome by first changing the way we conceptualize disability. Earlier, we discussed the medical model which because of the focus on the impaired person, it invariably fosters existing prejudices in our minds because the person is seen as "lacking" or "abnormal". The Social model of disability, on the other hand, places the onus upon society and not the individual. It is defined as the loss or limitation of opportunities to take part in the normal life of the community on an equal level with others, due to physical or social barriers. It takes the focus away from the person’s disability, and shifts it toward the designer of the environment and the removal of barriers in the environment. If the problem lies with society and the environment, then society and environment must change. If a wheelchair user cannot use a bus, the bus must be redesigned. This Model implies that the removal of attitudinal, physical and institutional barriers will improve the lives of disabled people, giving them the same opportunities as others on an equitable basis. Taken to its logical conclusion, there would be no disability within a fully developed society.

The social model suggests that the individual and collective disadvantages faced by disabled people are due to a complex form of political, institutional, economic, educational, and social discrimination. Disability then is the product of the physical, organizational and attitudinal barriers present within society, which lead to discrimination. The removal of discrimination requires a change of approach and thinking, and society has a responsibility to address barriers that prevent the participation of persons with disabilities. Clearly, this model has fundamentally changed the way in which disability is regarded and has had a major impact on anti-discriminatory legislation.

Slide 18 (PDF, 334KB)

  1. Perceived attitudes by others is one of the major reasons for the reluctance of interns and students to disclose the existence of disabilities. Many do not disclose because of fear of prejudice or discrimination, or because they have no idea that they may be entitled to additional support. When an individual's disability is not visible, it can be a real dilemma to decide whether to tell others about it. Internships and postdoctoral programs can encourage this decision by providing increased opportunities for prospective trainees to disclose disabilities on application forms and to discuss disability-related needs. This is a crucial first step in communicating that the institution is taking a positive, proactive approach towards inclusion of individuals with disabilities. Ultimately, however, if a trainee chooses not to disclose or refuses the support offered, then that choice must be respected. But by providing a positive, welcoming, and encouraging arena, you can begin to create an environment where differences are not viewed as negative impediments and where individual strengths are recognized. Awareness of your institutional policies on disability and of how to support trainees with disabilities appropriately is also very important.

  2. One of the most common barriers to academic and career advancement for students and interns with disabilities is low expectations on the part of those with whom they interact and by those who directly provide training and supervision. By maintaining high expectations for our students with disabilities with the expectation that they will succeed will go a long way towards helping them to develop and accomplish their goals.

  3. Be aware that each individual with a disability will have a different level of functioning, even within the same disability category. Also, compensation skills will vary widely from one person to another. Factors such as personality, intelligence, culture, family environment, degree of disability, age of onset, and whether the disability was congenital or acquired, all affect a person's level of adjustment and adaptation. It is always best, therefore, to establish employment-related needs by consulting directly with the individual rather than making assumptions about his or her capabilities. It is the trainee who is the "expert" regarding his or her disability-related needs, and who can usually suggest solutions or alternatives to a specific concern or problem, or ways that tasks or activities can be modified so that he/she can participate in what may become a valuable learning experience.

  4. Allow such adaptive devices and services such as sign language interpreters, tape recorders, notetakers, screen reading software, and so forth when disability requires such usage.

    Slide 19 (PDF, 334KB)

  5. Identify the essential competencies for your program or course and make this information available
    Unlike physical and systematic barriers, attitudinal barriers that often lead to illegal discrimination cannot be overcome simply through laws. The best remedy is familiarity - getting people with and without disabilities to mingle as coworkers, associates and social acquaintances. In time, most of the attitudes will give way to comfort, respect and friendship.

    Slide 20 (PDF, 334KB)

Concluding Remarks

In so many instances, we need only give the disability community an opportunity to cross the threshold, and disabled individuals will teach us ways we never envisioned to accomplish critical tasks and professional responsibilities. A friend of mine who is blind showed me how she used the computer throughout law school as a "virtual" law library, and used software that enabled her computer to read aloud everything from e-mail to websites to textbooks. For anything that did not come in an electronic version, she was able to use a high-speed scanner, which turned pages into electronic versions her computer could access. Another student, whose speaking facility was limited by advanced multiple sclerosis, showed me how he could "speak" by using a keyboard and a scrolling electronic sign board placed in the front of the classroom.

Section 504 and the ADA should be welcomed for the opportunities they offer to postsecondary education for rewarding self-examination. No other set of laws so entreats academia to take its own temperature, examine its traditions, and thoughtfully deliberate about which of its standards are essential and which are merely unexamined habits.

Whether from the insights we achieve from integration or from self-reflection, the unconventional, nontraditional, innovative ways in which individuals with disabilities accomplish tasks place us on new paths that benefit us all. The term "universal design" signifies inclusive planning, structures, tools, and methods of teaching that take into account the range of physical and mental characteristics that spans human diversity. Because flexibility and provision of alternative approaches to the same objective are an inherent element of universal design, it gives all individuals, disabled or not, the freedom to choose the paths that best serve them without marginalizing them through "special" or segregated treatment.

In architecture, universal design yields ramps that help every person pushing a stroller or pulling a suitcase on wheels. Universal design has also fostered Web authoring tools that allow us simultaneously to communicate on the Internet through the visual, auditory, and tactile senses. More universal benefits are on the horizon. In instruction, universal design unsettles the assumption that everyone who is qualified to attend a particular college is identically and evenly endowed across all of their intellectual domains. Our colleges are composed of auditory, visual, linear, and intuitive thinkers. Some students are most adept at accessing and retaining information, while others’ greatest strength is in how they process information, however it is acquired. How many of us can say that our teaching methodologies are sufficiently broad to address these forms of human variation? Inclusion of individuals with disabilities crystallizes these issues and entreats us to revisit time-honored teaching methodologies. For example, facing attrition by bright students with learning disabilities, some mathematics professors were inspired to develop new ways to teach mathematics that benefit all students.

And there is more with regard to the content of our curricula. The rich literature, art, and history of the disability community are ripe for addition to academia’s exploration of the human condition. Creating equal educational opportunity by providing reasonable accommodations to students with disabilities is a journey we need not fear. Indeed, it may be embraced for the opportunities it presents to us all.

Slide 21 (PDF, 334KB)