At Plymouth State University, approximately 600 undergraduate students have a documented physical, psychiatric, or learning disability, or often, a combination of the three. This number represents approximately 15 percent of our population, which is consistent with national trends. Students with disabilities face significant barriers to a successful and meaningful college experience and the intersection of disability and income inequality complicate this problem (half of all students with disabilities at Plymouth State University also come from families with limited income, based on twice the federal poverty line, (50,000 for a family of four). In order to retain these students and help them persist to graduation, we must make cultural shifts towards accessibility. Adopting a commitment to Open Education, which combines inclusive pedagogy and low or no-cost course materials promotes accessibility for all learners and may help remove barriers that students with disabilities face in their educational attainment.
Once we overcome the challenge of moving our institution forward with widespread adoption of Open Education, we have a new challenge of making sure new curricular designs and course materials are accessible for all learners. No cost is a great start, but what good does that do if we aren’t also making inclusive design choices?
The above challenge has been driving my work since attending ATI in May 2018. A bit of an outlier, as a non-faculty participant amongst folks who were largely there to learn how to create their own textbooks, I wondered whether my desire to create a resource for faculty that would help make their courses accessible would be a welcome idea. To my surprise and delight, it was met with support from faculty who, across the board, said, WE NEED THIS.
The Power of a PLN:
My first step in making sure I was doing this thing correctly was to get connected to people with experience in the emerging field of Open Education. Urged by colleagues, I committed to repurpose my years-old, rarely-used Twitter account that was followed by fewer than 10 people. I read about how to curate solid, academic content, and used my colleagues’ networks as a starting point. My followership grew, first slowly, maybe a new person or two every week. But in the year since my first tweet at ATI, I have gained over 200 followers, all with whom I have shared professional interests. The knowledge, resources, and sense of community I have developed since building this PLN was is even more valuable than I had anticipated. We share information, but also motivate one another to continue our good work. Twitter allows me to connect with people across state and national borders, and to collaborate with them from a distance. Next week, for example, I have Zoom meetings with two members of my PLN from Tennessee and Vermont, neither of whom I’ve met in person, but the latter will likely become my partner in curating content for the website I am in the process of building as a faculty resource.
As is typical of my experience in exploring any new topic in academia, the more I read, the less I know. I spent most of my dedicated ATI project time this year getting my bearings in the research and theoretical frameworks for the resource I am creating. This was time consuming, but necessary. My audience is faculty: critical thinkers who will demand to know why they are doing what they are doing. Below is a bibliography of texts I found most influential in my emerging understanding of the nexus between Open Education and Accessibility
Allen, I. E. (2014). Opening the Curriculum: Open Educational Resources in U.S. Babson Survey Research Group.
Americans with Disabilities Act. (1990).
Coolidge, A. D. (2015). Accessibility toolkit – 2nd Edition. . Victoria, BC: BCcampus.
Costanza-Cook, S. (2018). Design justice: towards an intersectional feminsit framework for design theory. Proceedings of the Design Research Society .
Freire, P. (1970). Pedagoy of the Oppressed. New York: Bloomsbury.
Geiger, R. (2015). The History of American Higher Education. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Haller, B. A. (2006). Promoting Disability-Friendly Campuses to prospective students: An Analysis of University Recruitment methods. Disabilty Studies Quarterly, 1-18.
hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to Transgress. New York: Routedge.
Mangan, K. (2011). Disabled students declare independence by design. Chronicle of Higher Education, 19-20.
May, M. (2018, April 2). Breaking down accessibility, universality, and inclusion in design. Retrieved from Adobe Blog: https://theblog.adobe.com/different-breaking-accessibility-universality-inclusion-design/
S., D. R. (n.d.). From OER to Open Pedagogy: Harnessing the Power of Open. . In O. Jhangiani R. & Biswas-Diener R, Open. London: Ubiquity Press.
Section 504 . (1973). Rehabilitaion Act of 1973.
Ueland, S. (2018, April 23). 16 tools for website accessibility. Practical Ecommerce.
Yuknis, C. a. (2017). Supporting students with non-disclosed disabilities. In E. a. Kim (Ed.), Disability as Diversity in Higher Education. New York: Routledge.
I feel I accomplished a great deal in terms of growing my knowledge about Open Education, connection with other committed professionals, and presenting my ideas in, both formally and informally. Now that the foundation is solid, my intention is to spend the next year blogging here while building the site into a resource to help faculty increase accessibility in their courses and think critically about inclusive design.