According to experts in educational design, the University of Minnesota is behind in shaping classrooms around a model of “Universal Design,” where learning environments fit any and all kinds of learners.
The Universal Design principle presents an alternative to standardized, “one size fits all” models of teaching by creating physical and virtual classrooms suited for all students.
By accommodating students with and without disabilities, the idea is that no one has to ask for special adjustments.
Here at the University, for fear of uncooperative professors or feelings of embarrassment, some students go as far as to avoid disclosing disabilities. Last year, 2,300 students used the University’s Disability Resource Center to coordinate with professors and write accommodation letters to balance their needs with essential course elements.
Since 1990, public institutions have worked to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and make buildings and workplaces more accessible for everyone. Jeanne Higbee, a retired University professor who has researched Universal Design, says the University has fallen behind in implementing those measures in nuanced ways.
It’s beneficial for everyone when classes and classrooms accommodate all learners — it reduces the need for individual accommodations and reduces feelings of embarrassment or discomfort for students.
It’s wonderful that students with disabilities are increasingly reaching out to take advantage of services already in place to help them manage schoolwork, but the University should start seriously considering whether the basic models of coursework and classrooms serves all of its students.