Accessibility conversations can get a little scary. We could talk about Harvard and MIT finding themselves in court over free online classes, (and here). I could tell you about Miami University and Penn State, or you could have a look at these recent settlements and pick your own. There are serious things we must consider regarding serving students with disabilities. But right now, I think the best thing to do is to talk about Santa.
Well, maybe I should back up a little bit. First, it’s good to remind ourselves what the terms “accessibility” and “universal design” mean. Put simply, in a higher education environment, accessibility means that all students can obtain the same information, engage in the same interaction, and enjoy the same services as all other students, and universal design helps to ensure that happens:
Both inside and outside of higher ed, the ideal of accessibility has been linked to the very best impulses of modern society. Being accessible means being inclusive, tolerant, and respectful of human variety. Being accessible isn’t simply a legal standard; it’s the right thing to do.
And this brings me back to Santa.
As I write this, it’s the winter holiday season, and children all over are standing in line to see Santa Claus. And just like in a classroom, or any other place where lots of different kinds of people gather, a mall Santa is presented with the full spectrum of human variety.
Did you know that Autism Speaks and affiliated mall programs provide special times for children with autism and other challenges to meet Santa during the quiet hours before malls open? Local Wichita malls participated on December 4th this year. This kind of accommodation helps make Santa available to children who could not have access to him during traditional times.
The challenge of accessibility is to incorporate a spirit of accommodation throughout the experience. For, example, take a look at how this Santa switched gears last year when he realized the little girl on his lap couldn’t understand speech very well:
Now, that’s an accessible Santa!
Perfect accessibility is a high bar. It goes beyond issues of ability and includes race, religion, gender, and all ways the human population can vary. It may be an unattainable goal. But its worth lies in the effort we each take to achieve it.