Universal design for learning as a framework for supporting CUNY students with disabilities in higher education

Jessica Bacon, Assistant Professor; Merrill Parra, Director, Student Disability Services Lehman College Universal design began as an architectural principal that focused on designing buildings, products, and environments so that they could be used by the widest number of users possible. In the mid 1980‚Äôs, the Center of Applied Special Technology (CAST) was one of the first groups to apply architectural concepts of universal design to teaching and learning, establishing what is now widely referred to as universal design for learning (UDL) (Zeff, 2007). Based on research from the fields of learning, neuropsychology, and developmental studies, CAST identified three core principals of UDL where a curriculum provides multiple means of representation, expression, and engagement (CAST, 2002). UDL quickly became identified as a best practice for teaching students with disabilities alongside their general education peers in K-12 settings. More recently experts and researchers have begun documenting the benefits of applying UDL principals for supporting institutional and faculty development within higher education (Scott, McGuire, & Foley, 2003; Rose, Harbour, Johnston, & Daley, 2006; Zeff, 2007; Chita-tegmark, Gravel, Serpa, Domings, & Rose, 2011). As higher education campuses and classrooms diversify and increase the number of students with disabilities that are served, more attention has been given to how to use UDL to instructionally support college students with diverse learning needs in higher education. This presentation will report on the benefits of this work at Lehman College, CUNY. This presentation will be comprised of two components. The first will include an overview of a project that was undertaken by faculty and staff from Lehman College in the Bronx. The project, currently in progress, was intended to provide faculty and staff with training on best practices for addressing the needs of diverse students in higher education, including students with disabilities. The project has focused on three key areas of research that have been found to have a positive effect on learning: Culturally Relevant Teaching (CRT), Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and Cogenerative Dialogues (Cogens). This project is sponsored by grants awarded from the CUNY Diversity Project Development Fund and AACU‚Äôs Bringing Theory to Practice initiative. The second component of the presentation will focus on UDL as a framework to enhance the learning of students with disabilities at Lehman College. Presenters will outline best practices for applying UDL in higher education and will provide a synopsis of the content taught to Lehman College faculty and staff about UDL. The experiences of Lehman faculty and staff who have begun applying the UDL principals to their instruction will be woven throughout the presentation. The presentation will also include an overview of the merits of collaboration between faculty and staff across the Lehman College campus in order to improve the learning experiences and supports offered to students with disabilities. The presentation will conclude with future plans for this project and identify potential tactics to broaden this work to wider audiences throughout the CUNY system.   Bio Dr. Jessica Bacon Dr. Jessica Bacon is an Assistant Professor of special education at Lehman College, The City University of New York. Dr. Bacon teaches courses in both the masters special education program as well as in the undergraduate disability studies minor. She received her Ph.D. from Syracuse University in December 2012. Dr. Bacon‚Äôs dissertation and recent publications have investigated the impact of the standards-based reform movement on special education. Her investigation of standards-based reform is part of a larger research agenda, which focuses on understanding inclusive and special education systems through a disability studies perspective. She has integrated her research and service commitments by working closely with community members who are parent-advocates, self-advocates, and students with disabilities. She has also been enthusiastically involved in promoting the inclusion of people with disabilities within higher education. Dr. Bacon has conducted trainings for pre-service teachers, educators, parents, and community members regarding teaching practices that support people with disabilities within classrooms, including Universal Design for Learning.   Merrill D. Parra Merrill D. Parra has worked in the field of higher education and disability services for more than thirty-five years. She currently serves as the director of the Office of Student Disability Services at Lehman College and is also responsible for the revitalization of Lehman‚Äôs program for veterans and military affairs. ¬†Prior to coming Lehman College, she served as the director of the national model Homebound Program (T.R.I.O.) at Queensborough Community College. As a pioneer in distance learning, Ms. Parra worked closely with faculty to offer innovative methods of course delivery for students who were homebased because of reasons of disability. She has served on many committees at the local, state, and national levels and is well versed on issues confronting low-income and first-generation college students from diverse backgrounds. She is one of the original members of AHEAD. Ms. Parra is a proficient grant writer, an educator, an activist and an advocate for independent living.¬† She is has extensive knowledge of the many social and political challenges that confront students with disabilities in higher education. She has served as the Chairperson of COSDI (Council on Student Disability Issues) and the Board of Directors for the Queens Independent Living Center.¬† She spearheaded the effort to establish the NYS ADA TAP program for students with disabilities, and served on the New York State Education Department‚Äôs Task Force for the implementation of the E-text legislation (Chapter 219).¬†¬† She currently serves on the Executive Committee of the New York State Disability Services Council.¬† Ms. Parra earned a bachelor‚Äôs in sociology from Queens College and a Master’s in social work from Columbia University. Click here to go back