From Ableism to Accessibility in the Universal Design University

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Justin J.W. Powell


universal design, accessibility, disability


Educational expansion has reached the tertiary level; however, inclusive higher education remains an elusive goal despite the ratification, in more than a hundred countries, of the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities since 2006. The Convention mandates inclusive education throughout the life course and thus increased access to universities. Enhancing accessibility requires us to remove barriers and defeat ableism. Analyzing contemporary trends in Europe and North America, this article compares universities’ attempts to implement elements of the “UniversalDesignUniversity.” Because universities serve as role models and provide community services, these organizations can and should implement universal design principles. Universities have myriad opportunities and responsibilities to enhance access to their programs. In embracing social and political paradigms of disability, in giving voice to diverse participants, and in implementing universal design principles, the university can engage and change public awareness and attitudes. Advancing the educational and social inclusion of persons with disabilities in higher education provides benefits far beyond the university campus.

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