From Accommodations to Inclusion: Shaping a Universal Design Mindset

Concurrent Session 4

Brief Abstract

Participants will leave this dynamic session with a universal design toolkit and action plan (inspired by design thinking) meant to address issues of accessibility and inclusivity on their own campuses and in their classrooms. Expect to engage in applying the principles of design thinking and interact with your peers!


Kate Sonka is the Assistant Director of Academic Technology at the College of Arts & Letters at Michigan State University. She is interested in second language acquisition, the role of language in identity development, and the intersection of accessibility and experiential learning. Her instructional experience includes a first-year writing course for non-native English speakers; a study abroad on language acquisition and global English in China; a study away to Los Angeles for students to explore and meet leaders in the film and creative industries; and a study away to Silicon Valley for students to engage and build relationships with tech companies around accessibility. Kate is the Executive Director of Teach Access, has consulted with the U.S. Department of Labor on accessible hiring practices, and is the founder and director of the Accessible Learning Conference at Michigan State University.

Extended Abstract


For the past several years, OLC Innovate and other organizations have provided numerous opportunities to engage with design thinking, both at OLC conferences, and other opportunities on my own campus. Through these experiences, we have found that one challenge of accommodation cultures on campus is that they lack many design thinking principles including: empathy and needs analysis, an inclusive solutions design process, and a lack for testing and iterating on existing prototypes intended to meet specific needs. Additionally, by only focusing on accommodations, institutions are taking a reactive approach that address the needs of specific individuals, but avoids transforming the learning experience to reflect what we know about universal design and designing for difference. By incorporating both design thinking and universal design into the design process, we have the opportunity to create an inclusive and improved learning environment for all individuals involved. Session facilitators will begin by sharing examples from their own institutions where they have learned about applying this process to everything from case management and dialogues with students, building inclusive communities for advocacy, improving accessibility practices in our LMS, and transforming how faculty think about inclusivity as pedagogy.


This session will focus on providing a brief background on both universal design and a modified design thinking process. From there, participants will roll up their sleeves and apply this combined toolkit to their own campus challenges. This session will include a focus on the opportunity to explore and integrate solutions that reflect both emerging technologies and learning designs. The ultimate goal is for participants to walk away with an empowering toolkit for addressing these challenges on their own campuses.

In this session, participants will:

  • Trace the history of universal design as it relates to both the fields of product design and learning.

  • Introduce and apply a framework for solving accessibility challenges on-campus, moving from a reactive culture to one that is inclusive and proactive.

  • Identify accessibility and universal design partners and stakeholders on your own campus.

  • Identify areas for application and collaboration on your own campuses.

  • Describe and imagine where universal design mindsets could be used to improve the quality of instruction and learning in the classroom.