The Washington State University Access Center has broadened its primary mission of providing accommodations to students with disabilities to include promoting awareness of disability issues, networking with faculty, advising event planners, and fostering systemwide collaboration. The changes address institutional and attitudinal barriers and help all students.
“From a social justice viewpoint, access is about removing barriers in the environment for students,” said Meredyth Goodwin, Access Center director. “People with disabilities would not experience limitations if the environment was always accessible to them.”
Giving classroom issues a voice
Many teaching strategies adopted during the pandemic address those barriers. Guided by universal design principles that aim to improve the academic environment for all students, the strategies include recording lectures, making slide presentations accessible, and providing flexible attendance so that students who need to miss a class because of a medical condition, for example, can keep up with their course work.
Goodwin and her team are encouraging faculty to adopt these practices permanently. To help facilitate conversations with faculty, the Access Center created a liaison group consisting of representatives from each college and several academic departments.
Bill Davis, interim vice provost for academic engagement and student achievement, believes this group can play a crucial role in making classrooms across the system more equitable for students.
“Leveraging this group so it can be a voice for these issues will help immensely,” Davis said. “The more we can take a holistic approach to helping students, it will be a better experience for both faculty and students.”
A multi-pronged approach to awareness
Goodwin said a large part of creating an accessible environment is educating the community about the nature of disabilities, how students are impacted by them, and what people can do to be more inclusive.
Davi Kallman, the Access Center’s assistant director, leads a multi-pronged strategy to spread awareness that includes the center’s high-profile Disability Awareness Symposium in the spring and a speaker series in the fall. The center also hosts a popular virtual disability and intersectionality book club.
“The narrative around disability has changed and people want to know more about the intersecting identities of people with disabilities,” Kallman said.
New this year is a Disability Allyship training for faculty and staff. As part of the Community and Equity Certificate Program coordinated by Human Resource Services, it provides the history of disability, the ways in which language has evolved over time, and different forms of allyship.
All the center’s activities bring to light the challenges people with disabilities face and encourage reflection on the role everyone can play to make our campus communities more inclusive.
Student leaders add to success
Kallman attributes much of the success of the Access Center’s educational programming to support provided by the Disabled Students and Allies Club (DSAAC), which is 100 members strong.
DSAAC Awareness Coordinator Hailey Palm, an elementary education major with a special education endorsement, joined the club to get involved in the disability community and learn how to become an effective ally.
“It’s easy for disability awareness to get swept under the rug,” Palm said. “This club is important because it works alongside the Access Center to educate people about how much is inaccessible in our daily lives, and that anyone can be impacted by disability at any point in their life.”
Goodwin said educational efforts on campus and in society have empowered more students with disabilities to seek assistance. Since Goodwin arrived at WSU 10 years ago, the number of students the Access Center serves has grown from about 300 to 1,500 a year. The increase has spurred new opportunities to forge partnerships.
“We are still a small office, but we are an office that is making a strong impact in the WSU community,” Goodwin said. “I am excited about the changes that are taking place and the support the university has given us.