The Support Centre for Inclusive Higher Education (SIHO) supports the Flemish higher education (Belgium) to become inclusive. SIHO is led by the UN-Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and works from a Disability Studies perspective.
SIHO received quite some questions inspired by medical model thinking. For example faculty asked for manual-like information on how to deal with students with disabilities (how do I deal with students with autism, dyslexia, …?). The aim was to find an appropriate answer to this questions.
Since October 2009 we picked up the work on UDL. Since then we use different means to implement UDL in the Flemish higher education: we give workshops, trainings, conferences, coaching, we have a website on UDL and ICT.
We aim to reach all stakeholders in higher education on the importance of UDL by giving concrete tools and an inspiring framework. Staff involved in teaching can use the material directly. Policy staff gets entrances for implementing UDL at institutional level.
We spread the word on UDL constantly and through different media. Staff members of all the higher education institutes in Flanders participated in trainings, workshops, coachings and use the material on our UDL-website.
Trying to get a view on the reach, we see that from May 2012 till May 2013 the UDL-website got 11676 visits. Since October 2009 we organized or participated in 40 events to inform about UDL. Since then more than 130 people get coached on implementing UDL in their work. Next to their own practice, these people influence their colleagues, departments and institutions.
Offering UDL as a method to create equal chances, was received very positively. It recognized teaching staff as competent actors in connecting to all students. It showed the key role that teachers can play and made it very accessible for them how to play this key role.
The framework of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) was the perfect answer to these questions. Instead of discussing how to look at disability (medical or social model) it leads people to the educational practice. Every learner is different. It’s impossible and not necessary to know everything about disability, but to focus on the learning instead.
UDL fits the disability studies perspective: “It sits at the intersection of biology and society and of agency and structure. Disability cannot be reduced to a singular identity: it is a multiplicity, a plurality“ (Shakespeare & Watson, 2001, p.19, as cited in Gabel & Peters, 2004). This multiplicity and the fact that next to UDL individual adjustments will always be needed, makes disability to be an inspiration for accessible and quality education.
Gabel, S. & S. Peters (2004). Presage of a paradigm shift? Beyond the social model of disability toward resistance theories of disability. Disability & Society, Vol. 19, No. 6, October 2004. Pp. 585-600.