Drawbacks of the Accommodation Approach
There are considerable burdens both on the individual and on the community when we follow an accommodation-centered approach.
Impact on Individuals with Disabilities
- The individual has to seek help and wait for that help to materialize.
- Retrofitting content takes time. Students may lose time to work on assignments, fall behind in classes, and even have to drop out.
- Individuals have to formally identify as having a disability to receive accommodations.
Impact on Faculty and Staff
- Disability support offices carry the majority of the burden for ensuring accommodations are followed. With electronic accessibility, this task is impossible for just a few people to handle in a timely fashion.
- Faculty and staff have to retrofit their content at the last minute. This leads to unexpected stress for the instructor who did not anticipate having a student with a particular need in their course. Timeliness can become a huge problem, depending on the volume of materials.
- Faculty and staff may need additional training to provide the accommodation, which also affects timeliness.
Benefits of Inclusive Design
Inclusive Design, also known as Universal Design, is a proactive approach to electronic accessibility. With Inclusive Design, we focus on eliminating the barriers in the environment so that fewer accommodations are needed.
The following image demonstrates how the environment is the barrier to being able to reach the whiteboard, not the person. It shows how designing our environment in a way that naturally includes people with disabilities reduces the need for accommodations.
Note that in the accessible example the person is still using the walker, so some accommodation is still needed. However, the environment meets their needs and no extra retrofitting is required. In an electronic example, the person would still need to use assistive technology to read a PDF, but the PDF would be readable without modification.
When we design electronic materials to be accessible as part of our process instead of fixing problems after the fact,
- We establish a baseline of access for the community
- Accessibility becomes part of the workflow
- Less retrofitting is needed
- Timeliness is significantly improved
- Benefits also extend to people without disabilities
The following video shows students (both with and without disabilities) talking about the different ways they access their readings and how inclusively designed content benefits them.
Benefits to Individuals with Disabilities
There are considerable benefits both to the individual and the community when we follow an inclusive design (or universal design) approach.
- Individuals can access electronic content independently with their assistive technology, without having to request help.
- Timeliness: because materials are already accessible, assistive technology users can access them at the same time as others.
- Those who don’t want to identify formally as having a disability also benefit.
Benefits to the Community
- The responsibility for making our community inclusive is more evenly distributed.
- Disability support offices can focus on complex cases where additional accommodations are still necessary.
- Faculty and staff don’t have to rush to fix content on demand.
- Everyone in the community can use materials in a way that works best for them. Inclusively designed materials are flexible to use with a variety of technologies.