In this article, I discuss how we can make the law school classroom more accessible through the use of universal design features. There are two key benefits to a discussion of universal design principles.
First, the use of universal design features will lessen the need for students to identify themselves as disabled and seek to use an often-clumsy accommodation process. It is expensive to receive a disability diagnosis from a trained professional, and some universities require documentation with adult norms that would not have been used for K-12 testing, when students were not yet adults. Further, some universities require students to renew their requests each semester. Even if the renewal request is automatically approved, it is time-consuming, anxiety-producing and disrespectful to one’s dignity to have to say “yes, I still have a visual impairment.”
Second, all students benefit from many universal design features. On my end-of-year student evaluations, I often get comments from students thanking me for my use of a universal design feature, such as posting Powerpoint slides in advance of class, even though they do not identify as disabled. My students with disabilities often also thank me for allowing them to access instruction more fully without going through an accommodation process. The “universality” aspect of universal design has broad appeal. It saves time and money while respecting the dignity interests of students with disabilities.
I look forward to hearing from others who have tried to use universal design principles in the classroom and hope we can each improve our practice. The link below is to a pdf version of the article.