New community of practice aims to improve accessibility in higher education

Ahead of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on Sunday, Dec. 3, members of the Brock community are invited to join a new community of practice on Universal Design for Learning (UDL) guidelines.

The initiative builds on the research of Applied Disabilities Studies master’s student Amanda Bailey (MA ’23), who completed a thesis entitled “Perception of Universal Design for Learning in Online Higher Education” after conducting focus groups with Brock instructors and students with disabilities about UDL and online learning.

Bailey, who describes UDL as “a framework for making learning accessible through multiple means of representation, expression and engagement,” says her research interest was sparked by the abrupt shift to online learning at the outbreak of the global pandemic in 2020.

“I had a very difficult time transitioning to online learning, and I am a student with a disability,” she says. “I really wanted to target those challenges I faced finding accessibility in the online arena of education during the COVID-19 transition.”

Under the supervision of Assistant Professor Laura Mullins, Bailey completed exploratory research that uncovered perceptions about how to apply UDL guidelines in online learning contexts among faculty members and students with disabilities.

It soon became clear that the discussions around UDL could and should continue in Brock’s community of scholars, with 100 per cent of faculty members and 88 per cent of students who participated in Bailey’s focus groups expressing interest in taking part in further activities.

“The community of practice will take the results about guideline use and areas of need and then get everyone together — students with disabilities, non-disabled students, faculty and other staff members — to talk about our experiences and how we can work together in the larger Brock community to target results,” she says.

Senior Educational Developer, Accessibility and Inclusion Ann Gagné in the Centre for Pedagogical Information says she is excited to see the community of practice forming as it aligns with her goals of supporting faculty members in building courses that are inclusive and accessible.

“It’s a really great opportunity to make Brock even more inclusive,” says Gagné. “It’s important to increase awareness about universal design for learning, and not just with instructors — we can apply those UDL principles to a lot of different spaces at Brock, like the way that we run meetings or share information.”

Thanks to Match of Minds funding awarded to Mullins and Bailey, the community of practice is set to launch soon. The researchers say they are thrilled to see it getting off the ground.

“When doing exploratory research, you can find some of the gaps, but it takes a community to make a change, with ongoing conversation that includes all voices and perspectives working together,” says Bailey.

Anyone interested in getting involved with the new community of practice is encouraged to contact the research team.

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