Universal Design:  Moving the Campus Ahead Through Organizational Change and Collaboration

AHEAD 2006 Conference July 18 – 22nd, 2006 - San Diego California

Sharon Downs, University of Arkansas at Little Rock
Melanie Thornton, University of Arkansas at Little Rock
Barbara Blacklock, University of Minnesota

Carol Funckes, University of Arizona


Part I: An Invitation to AnyTown University

Part II: Creating Campus Change on Your Own Campus

PowerPoints in HTML Format



Program Description

Increasing numbers of disability service professionals are recognizing the promise of universally designed campus environments.  We embrace the sociopolitical model of disability and the concepts of universal design.  We work to incorporate the principles of UD in our work with students and in our consultations across campus.  Yet we also often feel powerless to initiate change at higher levels of our institutions.  We struggle to change ingrained systems, to identify allies, and to see a sustainable impact of our work beyond each individual student.  This symposium is designed to assist DS professionals in implementing the organizational change necessary to move their campuses in more progressive directions.


Universal Design as a Construct

Universal design is a conceptual framework for designing and developing inclusive environments.  It stems from the attitude that environments are disabling to individuals and that they could be designed in ways that are usable by a majority of people with a variety of personal differences.  Universal design reframes the concept of accessibility from “special features for a few” to “good design for many.” 


Comparison of Medical Model and Sociopolitical Model

Medical Model

Sociopolitical Model

Disability is a deficiency or abnormality

Disability is a difference

Being disabled is negative

Being disabled, in itself, is neutral

Disability resides in the individual

Disability derives from interaction between individual and society

The remedy for disability-related problems is cure or normalization of the individual

The remedy for disability-related problems is a change in the interaction between the individual and society

The agent of remedy is the professional who affects the arrangements between the individual and society

The agent of remedy can be the individual, an advocate, or anyone who affects the arrangements between the individual and society


Comparison of the Accommodation Approach with the Universal Design Approach

Accommodation Approach

Universal Design Approach

Access is a problem for the individual and should be addressed by that person and the disability service program

Access issues stem from an inaccessible,  poorly designed environments and should be addressed by the designer

Access is achieved through accommodations and/or retrofitting existing requirements

The system/environment is designed, to the greatest extent possible, to be usable by all

Access is retroactive

Access is proactive

Access is often provided in a separate location or through special treatment

Access is inclusive

Access must be reconsidered each time a new individual uses the system, i.e. is consumable

Access, as part of the environmental design, is sustainable


Part I: An Invitation to AnyTown University

Sometimes we all get stuck in our perspectives. It is difficult to see how new ideas might be applied in the settings where we live and work everyday. Participants are invited to spend some time at AnyTown University where they can leave their own institution for a while and work together toward a common goal. Participants who are committed to the values of inclusion and universal design are invited to share ideas and begin the work of opening minds and changing the culture here at Anytown U. and in our community.

View Full Presentation Proposal > >

Opening Quotations

“Freedom doesn't come with a piece of paper. A piece of paper doesn't end a long history of intentional and purposeful discrimination.  Ignorance is our greatest enemy... excluding someone from society simply because of disability is WRONG.”
Bill Clinton
Former U.S. President

"A law cannot guarantee what a culture will not give."
Mary Johnson, editor of Ragged Edge Online

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

"Now is the time for all of us to take our power back and become, each of us, Extreme Leaders in our own right.  We have to set a new example of what’s right …to be audacious enough to follow the examples we respect and challenge the ones we don’t."
Steve Farber, The Radical Leap

"Three different responses to change:


"We can do anything we want to if we stick to it long enough."
Helen Keller

"We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily differences we can make."
Marian Wright Edelman

"If you ever think we are too small to make a difference, try spending the night cooped up with a mosquito."
Swahili proverb

"There is a simple way to package information that, under the right circumstances, can make it irresistible. All you have to do is find it."
Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point

"... the channel with the greatest influence in America is neither the traditional media of tv, radio, or print advertising nor the new medium of the World Wide Web but the “human” channel of individual, person-to-person, word-of-mouth."
Ed Keller and Jon Berry, The Influentials

"Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm."
Ralph Waldo Emerson

"If the shoe doesn't fit, must we change the foot?"
Gloria Steinem

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
Margaret Mead

"Be the change you want to see in the world."
Mahatma Ghandi

"If we are to achieve a richer culture, rich in contrasting values, we must recognize the whole gamut of human potentialities, and so weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which each diverse human gift will find a fitting place."
Margaret Mead

"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world."
Nelson Mandela


How Organizational Change Happens

There are many theories about how change happens within an organization. Some even theorize that it is not possible to effect an organizational change. However, among those that agree that there are practices that can help move an organization along, several common themes emerge. The following are often seen as important.

Lewin’s Three-Step Model of Organizational Change

Stage 1. Unfreeze
  1. Examine status quo
  2. Increase driving forces
  3. Decrease resisting forces

arrow pointing down to next stage

Stage 2. Move
  1. Take action
  2. Make changes
  3. Involve people

arrow pointing down to next stage

Stage 3. Refreeze
  1. Make change permanent
  2. Establish new way of things
  3. Reward desired outcomes
Figure 1.  Source:  Lewin (1951) Field Theory in Social Science, Harper and Row, New York.

Lewin's three-step model illustrates one of the many ways of conceptualizing organizational change.


Creating a Shared Vision

The following questions were posed to the AnyTown University faculty and staff who were in attendence and their responses are posted in these bulleted lists.

How will things be different at AnyTown U?

How might the role of disability services change?


Identifying and Responding to Concerns

The following concerns were identified as those which might keep people from adopting new ways of thinking about design. Some of the responses were mentioned during the session and others have been provided as a follow-up. This session will be updated as others share their comments about how to respond to the concerns that were identified.

Concern: People want to maintain the status quo.

Our response: Maintaining the status quo is actually a very normal response to change. When you think about the extra psychological, emotional, and cognitive energy it takes to make a change, then it is understandable that remaining frozen in the present way of thinking and doing things would be the path of least resistance for the majority of folks with whom we interact. We respond to this by getting people involved, engaging them in conversation, making the new way of thinking and behaving appealing and the old way less appealing and comfortable.

Concern: People say, think, feel, "This is too much work" or that they are being asked to do "more work without increased pay."

Our response: Acknowledge: "Learning new things can be overwhelming at first, but eventually it won't feel like more work. We used to feel that way about email and using computers but now those things are simply rolled into the way we do things." Find changes they can make that actually save them time. Show concern. Support them in any way you can.

Concern: People see universal design as tied to the budget.

Our response: Acknowledge: "There may be additional costs in the short run but there will be long-term payoffs. Provide examples of creative designs that increase usability and save money and resources."

Concern: People will ask if it’s legally required.

Our response: Acknowledge: "Equal a ccess is required by the law. How we provide that access is not specified in many cases as long as it meets certain criteria. Universal design offers a seamless approach to providing access which allows us to be in compliance while implementing approaches to design that are more usable by everyone."

Concern: Faculty want the freedom to teach the same as in the past.

Our response: It is important that professors and trainers find effective teaching strategies that suit their personal style. When you enjoy what you are doing and the way you are doing it, that comes across to the students. We have worked with some professors who define their academic freedom by being creative and experimenting with various strategies to see if they increase their effectiveness and student engagement. Others professors have taken the approach of just making incremental changes to see if it made a difference for the students. Both approaches are fine. Encourage instructors to choose the approach that works best for him/her. Change does not have to be overnight or to be radical. Small changes can make a big difference when it comes to usability. Be prepared to provide examples of small changes that increase usability. Find other faculty who can teach workshops and show how they have implemented concepts of universal design.

Concern: Some people are just not interested.

Our response: Engage those people in conversation and find out what does interest them. Sometimes what interests them does have a connection to universal design.

Concern: This could water things down, compromise AU’s integrity, and decrease the value of a degree from AnyTown U.

Our response: "Universal design is not about removing the challenge of a course or degree plan. In fact, a sociopolitical perspective would take issue with the idea that things need to be easier for people with disabilities to succeed. Reducing the challenge would be contrary to this philosophy. Sometimes people get the idea that proponents of universal design are saying that environments and courses should be designed so that everyone should succeed. This is a misinterpretation. Our goals are the same as the goals of AnyTown University. We want to engage all learners in ways that support and increase their fluency with the subject at hand. We want all students to get the full AnyTown experience. We want student knowledge to be assessed in ways that effectively measure student learning. We want all students to have the opportunity to leave AnyTown University with a degree that is meaningful and one that they can feel satisfied that they have earned."

Concern: Assistive technology may give the student an unfair advantage.

Our response: Acknowledge: "Cheating and equity are real and understandable concerns for all of us. We want to maintain the integrity of our programs and courses. Most any tool that might be used in testing can be used with integrity or to cheat. Our IT Environment Consultants will work to ensure that this possibility is minimized. At the same time, we encourage faculty to consider these questions: 'What are the essential requirements of this course? What is the learning outcome that I want to be able to measure?' Sometimes we may consider the use of a certain tool as unfair or cheating because we were not clear on what we were really trying to measure. The use of a calculator provides a good example for this. Years ago, they were not used at all, but over time, we have realized that usually we are not trying to see if people know how to calculate on paper or in their heads but that they are able to solve certain mathematical problems. If we get clear on what our objectives are, we are more likely to determine the appropriate tools that might be used to accomplish any given task."

Concern: Some people have misconceptions about people with disabilities and think that they are not likely to become employed.

Our response: Demonstrate the inaccuracy of this belief by inviting guest lecturers with disabilities from a variety of disciplines. Have examples ready of students who have graduated from AnyTown University and talk about where they are currently employed. Acknowledge that people with disabilities are indeed underemployed but it is in large part the myths and misconceptions that perpetuate the problem of underemployment.


Defining Resistance in New Ways

Change of any nature is bound to bring resistance. All to often we respond to resistance from others in ways that are not helpful. We see resistance as an obstacle to avoid instead of just expecting some people to resist change. We sometimes become defensive or take comments from resistors too personally. If we are to both increase driving forces, and decrease resisting forces, we must think about resistance in new ways. We must see those who are having difficulties with the change in a new light. We need to think about the dynamics of change on an individual level to better understand at least some of the resistance that we see. Here is one way to think about what is happening with at least some of the folks who might be resistant to new ideas or behaviors.

The figure below shows movement of a person through stages of change as conceptualized by the Gestalt theory. A simple way to think about these stages would be to consider what happens to you when you have to do something in a new way. Consider driving, for example. When I drive to work each day I do it with little thought. I can listen to a news program on the radio or daydream about what I'm going to do over the weekend and pretty soon, there I am, at work. I remember very little about how I got there. We go through our days doing many familiar tasks in this same way. It is as if they are happening in the background of our minds. However, put me in Italy where I have to drive on the opposite side of the road and suddenly I have to be much more intentional about driving. Suddenly I am aware of a certain amount of incompetence. With time and practice, I can become better at it and eventually will be able to drive in Italy with the same ease as I drive here in the United States. When we ask folks to change the ways they are doing things or think about things in new ways, it requires an added effort on their part for a sustained period of time. It introduces a feeling of incompetance with a new task or an insecurity that they were doing things wrong all along.

Gestalt Competency Model
from Cameron & Green (2004)
Making Sense of Change Management

Unconscious competence
Unconscious incompetence

Down arrow shows flow toward

Conscious incompetence

Down arrow showing flow toward

Conscious competence

Down arrow showing movement toward

Unconscious competence

Figure 2.   A Gestalt perspective of how change happens as what is in the background of our unconscious comes to the foreground or into the conscious mind. 

Therefore, we need to think about ways to support people through the change process. This Gestalt perspective offers on glimpse into the dynamics of learning a new task. The following model offers additional insight.

Holistic Approaches to Individual Change

In order to support people in our organization who may be having difficulty accepting new ways of doing things, we need to consider the whole person.. Difficulty learning new tasks, a history with unsupportive management, misunderstandings about the change means for them and AnyTown, are just a few possible sources of resistance. We need to try to identify the source of resistance for that person in order to respond in positive ways.





Venn diagram showing the overlap of behavioral, humanistic, cognitive, and psychodynamic aspects of the individual





Figure 3.  A holistic approach involves attending to the behavioral, cognitive, humanistic and psychodynamic aspects of the individual who is going through a change.

Finally, we need to remember that verbalized resistance is a positive thing. When someone verbalizes his/her concerns we can respond to that, we can engage that person in dialogue and it may actually inform how we are presenting information or approaching our campaign for change.


Brainstorming for a Change


Becoming an "Extreme Leader"*

To begin our campaign for a change here at AnyTown University, we also need to change the way we think about leadership. Old ways of thinking about leadership involved a leader and lots of followers. We need all of you to think of yourselves as a leader. We need you to be extreme leaders—to be bold and audacious! Being an extreme leader means you are willing to accept the challenge to change the world. That sounds like an overwhelming task, but it doesn't need to be, because you can define what your world is! The world you change may be as small as one simple procedure or as large as the department or college you supervise. Start small if you need to and let's all celebrate the wins together!

The term "Extreme Leader" is borrowed from The Radical Leap by Steve Farber. See www.stevefarber.com.


Part II: Creating Campus Change on Your Own Campus


Change in Approach

From… looking at barriers and opportunities for
college students with psychiatric disabilities to…

How to Create Campus Change



Promise us this information will not sit on a bookshelf somewhere.

Consequences of Not Doing Anything

Benefits of Campus-Wide Action

Provost Committee on Student Mental Health Committee Members 2005-2007


Mental Health Syllabus Statement

As a student you may experience a range of issues that can cause barriers to learning, such as strained relationships, increased anxiety, alcohol/drug problems, feeling down, difficulty concentrating and /or lack of motivation. These mental health concerns or stressful events may lead to diminished academic performance or reduce a student’s ability to participate in daily activities. University of Minnesota services are available to assist you with addressing these and other concerns you may be experiencing. You can learn more about the broad range of confidential mental health services available on campus via www.studentmentalhealth.umn.edu

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.
--Margaret Mead


PowerPoints in HTML


Introduction - PowerPoint Presentation (Slide by Slide)

Introduction - PowerPoint Presentation (Outline Version)

Invitation to AnyTown University

Part 1 - PowerPoint Presentation (Slide by Slide)

Part 1 - PowerPoint Presentation (Outline Version)

Creating Change on Your Own Campus

Part 2 - PowerPoint Presentation (Slide by Slide)

Part 2 - PowerPoint Presentation (Outline Version)


Introduction and AnyTown University (Word)

Introduction and Part I (PDF)

Part 2 Worksheets (Word)

Part 2 Worksheets (PDF)

Contact Information

Barbara Blacklock
University of Minnesota

Sharon Downs
University of Arkansas at Little Rock
501.569.3143 v/t

Melanie Thornton
University of Arkansas at Little Rock

Carol Funckes
University of Arizona