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25 years later, local seminar looks to enhance ADA

If You Go

The Going Beyond the ADA
Workshop will be held at Library
building of Purdue Calumet beginning at 10 a.m. Tues. Walk-ins are accepted, and the event is open to the public and free.

Updated: June 24, 2014 8:16PM



HAMMOND ­— Twenty-five years after passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act, or ADA, it’s time for the country to look more broadly at designing public spaces, particularly classrooms, to accommodate anyone who wants to use them, disability rights advocates say.

At a Purdue University-Calumet seminar Tuesday, nearly 100 educators, administrators, and business people will be among those on hand to discuss going beyond the ADA and exploring universal design, the philosophy of building barrier-free environments to promote education for everyone, before people with extra needs even ask for them.

The concept of universal design goes further than the ADA, fundamentally changing the way professionals think about public spaces, especially classrooms, said Dr. Mary Lee Vance, director of academic advising for PUC.

Universal design is making sure there are no barriers for everyone to learn, she said. That may include instructors relying on videos with captions, building in extra time for test-taking for students with learning disabilities, or flexible attendance policies for veterans struggling with PTSD.

It may also include designing college campuses that make it easy to maneuver for people using scooters or wheelchairs or for visually impaired people.

Much of the seminar will be based on the new book “Beyond the Americans With Disabilities Act: Inclusive Policy and Practice for Higher Education,” published by the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators.

Vance is the lead editor of the book, a collection of essays, empirical studies, histories and best practices for promoting universal design in institutions, particularly colleges and universities.

“Even today, we are still dealing with issues of inequity” in public transportation, employment, universities and more, said Vance, an energetic, passionate advocate who is physically disabled. “Universal design is when society recognizes you are important part of society, and it’s our responsibility to be sure we are accessible to you.”

The seminar will include comments from disability rights advocates and sessions on topics such as building a universal design curriculum and making Internet access easier for all students.

“It’s about removing barriers for all students, even commuter students, for first generation students,” said Dr. Dhanfu Elston, a seminar leader and one of the book’s contributors. “What kind of signal does universal design send to all of our students across campus? I felt as if many of my colleagues and many administrators only looked at the ADA at a fundamental level of what do we need to do to make sure we don’t end up in the news.”

The ADA continues to challenge local municipalities and businesses, so discussing a higher level of thinking like universal design is a tough but necessary sell, Vance said.

“A lot of people are afraid universal design costs more money, or they have a really hard time visualizing having a society that is truly accessible to the diversity of people we are. We want to educate people, in particular students affairs personnel, that they need to start changing the way they do business.

“It’s a systemic process that needs to be built into the way schools do business.”



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