Equal Access: Universal Design of Your Project

A checklist for making projects welcoming, accessible, and usable

by Sheryl Burgstahler, Ph.D.

As increasing numbers of people with disabilities participate in academic opportunities and careers, the accessibility of classes, service offices, libraries, computer labs, electronic resources, events, and specific project activities increases in importance. The goal is simply equal access; everyone who qualifies to use your resources or participate in sponsored activities should be able to do so comfortably and efficiently.

Legal Issues

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments of 2008 mandate that no otherwise qualified person with a disability shall, solely by reason of his or her disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination in public programs. This means that courses, student services, information resources, and project activities should be accessible to qualified individuals with disabilities.

Universal Design

An approach to making facilities, information, and activities accessible to and usable by everyone is called universal design (UD). Universal design means that rather than designing for the average user, you design for people with differing native languages, genders, racial and ethnic backgrounds, abilities, and disabilities. Make sure that project staff and volunteers are trained to support people with disabilities, respond to specific requests for accommodations in a timely manner, and know who to contact regarding disability-related issues. The universal design of your project offerings will make everyone feel welcome and minimize the need for special accommodations for individual participants.

Guidelines and Examples

Addressing the following questions provides a good starting point for making your facility, information resources, and project activities universally accessible. This content does not provide legal advice. Contact the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) about legal mandates.

Planning, Policies, and Evaluation

Consider diversity issues as you plan and evaluate services.

  • Are people with disabilities, racial and ethnic minorities, men and women, young and old students, and other groups represented in the project planning process in numbers proportional to those of the whole campus or community?
  • Do you have project policies and procedures that ensure access to facilities, events, and information resources for people with disabilities?
  • Are disability-related access issues and other diversity issues addressed in program evaluation plans and instruments?
  • Do you address issues related to the inclusion of participants with disabilities in grant proposals, perhaps by partnering with an organization with expertise in this area?

Information Resources and Technology

If career services uses computers as information resources, ensure these systems employ accessible design, that staff members are aware of accessibility options, and systems are in place to make accommodations.

  • Do pictures in your publications and website include people with diverse characteristics with respect to race, gender, age, and disability?
  • In key publications of your project, do you include a statement about your commitment to access and procedures for requesting disability-related accommodations? For example, you could include the following statement: "Our project's goal is to make materials and activities accessible to all participants. Please inform organization leaders of accessibility barriers you encounter and request accommodations that will make project activities and information resources accessible to you."
  • Are all printed publications available (immediately or in a timely manner) in alternate formats such as Braille, large print, and electronic text?
  • Are key documents provided in language(s) other than English?
  • Are printed materials in your facility or at an event within easy reach from a variety of heights and without furniture blocking access?
  • Do electronic resources, including web pages, adhere to accessibility standards adopted, your institution, or your project or funding source? Section 508 Standards for Electronic and Information Technology (www.access-board.gov/guidelines-and-standards/communications-and-it/about-the-section-508-standards/section-508-standards) and Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) (www.w3.org/WAI/) are most commonly used. For example, are text alternatives provided for graphic images on web pages? Can the content be accessed with a text-only browser and by using the keyboard alone? For general information about making your website accessible to everyone, consult the video and presentation World Wide Access: Accessible Web Design at www.uw.edu/doit/Video/www.html.
  • Do you include a statement on your website affirming your commitment to accessible design? For example, you could include the following statement: "We strive to make our website accessible to everyone. We provide text descriptions of graphic images and photos. Video clips are open-captioned and audio-described. Suggestions for increasing the accessibility of these pages are welcome."
  • Do videos developed or used in the project have captions? Are they audio-described?
  • Is an adjustable-height table available for each type of workstation to assist participants who use wheelchairs or are small or large in stature?
  • Do you provide adequate work space for both left- and right-handed users?
  • Is software to enlarge screen images and a large monitor available to assist people with low vision and learning disabilities?
  • Do you provide a trackball to be used by someone who has difficulty controlling a mouse?
  • Are staff members aware of accessibility options (e.g., enlarged text feature) included in computer operating systems and of assistive technology available in the facility?
  • Are procedures in place for a timely response to requests for assistive technology?

For more information, consult Creating Video and Multimedia Products That Are Accessible to People with Sensory Impairments at www.uw.edu/doit/Brochures/Technology/vid_sensory.html and the Working Together videos and publications at www.uw.edu/doit/Resources/at.html. For making distance learning accessible, consult Real Connections: Making Distance Learning Accessible to Everyone video presentation and publication at www.uw.edu/doit/Video/real_con.html.

Project and Activity Facilities

Ensure that facilities, activities, materials, and equipment are physically accessible to and usable by all participants, and that all potential characteristics are addressed in safety considerations.

  • Ensure physical access, comfort, and safety within an environment that is welcoming to visitors with a variety of abilities, racial and ethnic backgrounds, genders, and ages.
  • Are there parking areas, pathways, and entrances to the building that are wheelchair accessible and clearly identified?
  • Are all levels of the facility connected via an accessible route of travel?
  • Are aisles wide and clear of obstructions for the safety of users who have mobility or visual impairments?
  • Are wheelchair-accessible and child-friendly restrooms with well-marked signs available in or near the facility?
  • Is at least part of a service counter or desk at a height accessible from a seated position?
  • Is adequate light available?
  • Are there ample high-contrast, large-print directional signs to and throughout the facility, that include directions to accessible routes? When appropriate are these signs marked in Braille?

Consult the ADA Checklist for Readily Achievable Barrier Removal at www.ada.gov/checkweb.htm for more suggestions. For computing facilities, consult the Equal Access: Universal Design of Computer Labs video and publication at www.uw.edu/doit/Video/equal.html.

Staff

Make sure staff are prepared to work with all program participants.

  • Are all staff members familiar with the availability and use of, the Telecommunications Relay Service, assistive technology, and alternate document formats?
  • Do all staff members know how to respond to requests for disability-related accommodations, such as sign language interpreters?
  • Are project staff and contractors in specific assignment areas (e.g., web page development, video creation) knowledgeable about accessibility requirements and considerations?
  • Are all staff members aware of issues related to communicating with participants who have disabilities? Do staff deliver conference presentations and exhibits that are accessible to all participants? See Presentation, Exhibit, and Other Communication Hints at the end of this publication. For further suggestions, consult Effective Communication: Faculty and Students with Disabilities at www.uw.edu/doit/Brochures/Academics/effective.html.

Checklist Updates

This checklist was field tested at more than twenty postsecondary institutions nationwide (see www.uw.edu/doit/Brochures/Academics/admin.html). A nationwide survey to test face-validity of checklist items led to further refinement of the checklist. To increase the usefulness of this working document, send suggestions to sherylb@uw.edu.

Additional Resources

For further information about applications of universal design consult www.uw.edu/doit/Resources/udesign.html or The Center for Universal Design in Education at www.uw.edu/doit/CUDE/. The book Universal Design in Higher Education: From Principles to Practice published by Harvard Education Press shares perspectives of UD leaders nationwide.. To receive a 20% discount on your order of this book through DO-IT, visit www.uw.edu/doit/UDHE/coupon.html.

About DO-IT

DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology) serves to increase the successful participation of individuals with disabilities in challenging academic programs such as those in science, engineering, mathematics, and technology. Primary funding for DO-IT is provided by the National Science Foundation, the State of Washington, and the U.S. Department of Education. DO-IT is a collaboration of UW Information Technology and the Colleges of Engineering and Education at the University of Washington.

To order free publications or newsletters use the DO-IT Publications Order Form; to order videos and training materials use the Videos, Books and Comprehensive Training Materials Order Form.

For further information, to be placed on the DO-IT mailing list, request materials in an alternate format, or to make comments or suggestions about DO-IT publications or web pages contact:

DO-IT
University of Washington
Box 354842
Seattle, WA 98195-4842
doit@uw.edu
www.uw.edu/doit/
206-685-DOIT (3648) (voice/TTY)
888-972-DOIT (3648) (voice/TTY)
206-221-4171 (fax)
509-328-9331 (voice/TTY) Spokane

Founder and Director: Sheryl Burgstahler, Ph.D.