Grant, workshops aim to improve disability awareness

by Brad Ellingson

Not all professors have similar teaching styles, and not all classrooms provide the same physical experience.

With the steadily growing diversity of student needs throughout the University, some University faculty members have attended workshops to examine new approaches in teaching.

According to Disability Services – a part of the Office of Multicultural and Academic Affairs – 9.2 percent of first-year students report having a disability.

General College and Disability Services have secured a three-year, $750,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education called Curriculum Transformation and Disability.

The CTAD grant focuses on a method of teaching called Universal Instructional Design, which aims to provide accessibility to an array of students.

CTAD program director Judy Fox said approximately 52 University faculty members have completed the 12-hour workshop.

“It’s one of the best workshops I’ve attended here at the University,” said Brian Shapiro, acounting professor.

The workshop aims to make University faculty more aware of disabilities.

“It helps you realize that students are not some monolithic population,” said journalism professor Nancy Roberts. “It made me more sensitive about making sure that I’m reaching all the students.”

Upon completion of the workshop, faculty members receive a $1,000 stipend, Fox said.

The CTAD grant will run out in September, said Bobbi Cordano, director of disability services.

Not only have some professors become more aware of disabilities through workshops, some have updated technology in the classroom to accommodate different styles of learning.

Shapiro said he utilizes WebCT, a Web site where he can post handouts, grades and class discussions. While WebCT is relatively new, some students believe the tool can help communication with other students and faculty.

“Basically it’s an easy way to communicate outside of class,” said Craig Stier, a senior in management information systems and accounting.

CTAD grant officials are uncertain of the grant’s future when it runs out, but remain optimistic.

“It could be funded for a second round, but we don’t know that for sure yet,” said Donna Johnson, assistant director of disability services and co-principal investigator of CTAD.

While CTAD is primarily for students with disabilities, other students can benefit.

“This whole idea of accessibility applies to everyone,” Shapiro said.

“What you might do for one student with a disability can have benefits for the entire class,” Cordano said.