Monthly Archives: February 2015

Universal Design by Degrees

It’s been a while, busy back in the classroom, experimenting with varying degrees of flipping the classroom, “think-pair-share“, POGIL — I feel confident that the new ways of getting people to learn, to construct knowledge, have the potential for success, but it is by degrees.  When an in-class activity works, you can almost hear the students learn as they “argue” about concepts, premises, assumptions and guesses.  And it is still difficult to not answer, to redirect student questions and clarifications requests back to other students, but they are adjusting to it as well.

Regarding research, I am very excited to be pivoting into a new world of accessibility (which I am slowly moving away from and into the term “universal design,” more on that later).   Five of the last six thesis projects where I serve as supervisor fall under the areas of accessibility and assistive computing tools, also to varying degrees of success.  And I am working with a group on developing a mobile app for the parent on the go, especially those who have children with with special (translation: vast) needs.

I wanted to share a video I saw where a cable company is offering accessible services (full disclosure, it is my cable provider, but I have no choice; that’s another topic!).  In this project, they construct a movie as experienced by a lovely girl who is also blind (and thus open to her own interpretation).  It is publicity, I realize, and quite effective.  But I am hoping that providing such accessible services becomes more than the norm, but rather a feature in the goal of universal design.  The difference (as I have recently learned) is the shift from accommodation (which is an attempt to “duct tape” existing services and tools for people with disabilities, special circumstances) to design for all from the start.  I did have this thought years ago, and like a good professor proposed and offered a course on “Software Development for Accessibility” where accommodation was considered from the start of the project.  I did find the term universal design, and at that time that term appeared to apply to the interface only.  I am now working to get people to think inclusively, about the largest domain of users — just like we try to get programmers to think about the largest domain of input (i.e., weakest precondition).

But universal design is hard, as the size and diversity in the universe is vast, so we proceed to increase UD one step, one idea, one innovation, one mistake at a time ….