My dear husband, Dave, had to have surgery on his foot a couple of weeks ago in an effort to clean out some mess that still existed from an almost 40-year old basketball injury. For a typically very independent person, Dave has had to rely on others to do things for him he always does for himself. He needed a wheelchair to get to the car after his surgery. He needed assistance with bathroom issues the first few days, as getting to the actual bathroom took WAY too much time. He needed help getting in and out of the shower.
Luckily, there have been great strides in medical equipment, the knee scooter being one of the coolest inventions. With this little handy invention, when we go to Costco, Dave motors around the store faster than I do! In fact, I keep telling Mario Andretti he needs to slow down or he'll get a ticket.
All of this reminds me of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), which provides a way to create instructional goals, materials, and assessments that work for everyone. Based originally on architectural design needs for folks with disabilities, UDL creates flexible designs which allow all learners to progress from where they are. In other words, it is intended to remove barriers to access for all. Check out the Cast.org website to learn more about UDL.
Just take a look around schools, grocery stores, libraries, and the mall to see how UDL is constantly in action. What things make it easier for everyone to access everyday places and items? The first thing people usually think of are ramps. As anyone with a wheelchair (or a knee scooter or even a wheeled piece of luggage) can attest, these ramps make life easier. But what are the "ramps to learning" that we can provide for any of our students in need? In other words, how can we make learning accessible to all students? I'm not talking about giving someone the answers to a test so they can "pass" like other students. Giving equal access simply means giving each student a fair chance to access the material or instruction in a way that allows them to progress in their own learning. Something as simple as cutting down the number of math problems on a page can help students with attention issues attend to the task at hand. Same premise with "window paper" that creates a window so distracted students only view what is in the window at one time. How can communication boards allow non-verbal students with autism express their wants and needs? UDL can help.
I think about what I need to make my life easier---highlighters to accent the jobs I am doing (one color for each consulting company for which I work), an alarm on my phone to wake me up at the right time each morning, despite being in different time zones, a lapboard to keep my computer from heating up my legs when I type my blog, and so many more. Unfair advantage? I would say not. It just makes life easier.
We all need a little help in this world, some days more than others.
Just for today, why not take a look at all the ways in which we are assisted and perhaps look for ways we can make education a bit easier for those with special needs.