Inclusive Design: Physical/Virtual, Emotional, Social, and Intellectual Accessibility

Sep 18th, 2017 | Category: Early Childhood Education, Elementary/Middle School Education, Faith/Learning, Lutheran Education Commentary
By Andrea Dinaro

We all share a desire to be valued, a desire to matter. When we speak of people who are in need, let us speak not only of their need, but also of what they love, what they resent, what wounds their pride, what they aspire to, what makes them laugh. Because if we do, then we are reminded of how similar we are in the midst of our differences.

—Chimamanda Negozi Adichie (2016)

Motivated by Chimamanda Negozi Adichie’s speech for a World Humanitarian Day event, I have reflected on the significance packed into her brief 8-minute speech. It is a call to action regarding individual and collective efforts to help others in need. To draw a parallel to the field of education, a primary way to begin an effort to help others is to first provide foundational supports (i.e., UDL the Universal Design for Learning. UDL is a foundational support for learning It is a clear and strong process of lesson planning and implementation that outlines classroom strategies. It moves from the initial guiding question to the closing wrap-up and provides an exit assessment that points back to the opening, guiding question. More information is available at Thus, there is less of an abrupt or systematic distinction between needs and intensity of supports, because much of the supports would be available upfront and in layers, to all. There are times when students, colleagues, or families clearly experience the need for more assistance, and then we provide further supports. When we do this, as Adichie says above, we must be conscious that we see the person, rather than the label that describes their need. Need and support should be viewed as neutral terms, not as a status. Further, sometimes needs and supports may represent a misunderstood strength, cultural capital waiting to be valued, a characteristic, or an emerging positive identity.

As a learning community, it is vital to expand our approaches to learning environments that are planned for, designed, implemented, appraised, and sustained for all. The next step in efforts to help others, is to be willing to grow in areas that (a) we are cognizant we do not know, or (b) we are not aware that we do not know. In other words, let’s grow something new to you, or new to others around you, to address potential or current needs as overall elements of access for all.

Students benefit from working with teachers who display thoughtfulness, willingness, and commitment to ensuring that access is a priority (Hehir, 2002; Stolz, 2010; Ware, 2008); that each student feels valued and that they, in all of their characteristics, aptitudes, personalities and identities, feel that they matter. An environment where everyone feels they matter is an environment that is accessible across physical/virtual, emotional, social, and intellectual spaces. Attention to these spaces for learning will allow teachers to effectively and creatively meet the needs of all students. Because we are rooted in our desire and passion as educators for learning and leading we can make well developed, thought-out choices for expanding access beyond our perceived capabilities. Together, as a global community, a nation, a church, a school, a grade level team, a department, an IEP team, or a PTA we can effectively provide programs and possibilities to help all students gain access to classroom learning, Individually as a coach, teacher, administrator, student, or teaching assistant we can provide opportunities for engagement and enrichment for all students in their quest for learning.

Below are descriptions of, the ASCD Whole Child tenets in each of the physical/virtual, emotional, social, and intellectual spaces. ASCD’s Whole Child approach is an effort to transition from a focus on narrowly defined academic achievement to one that promotes the long-term development and success of all children.

I recommend using the outline below as a guide for the analysis of your local program or classroom. After reviewing the descriptions, identify what is already occurring in your school community that (a) promotes access, (b) supports human welfare, and (c) influences successful outcomes. Highlight the great things that are occurring, locate the gaps, and find opportunities for improvement. As a stakeholder, reflect on your findings (e.g., teacher, parent, learner, leader, community). In our school, to what degree are students apart from or a part of a learning environment for all?

The ASCD information is reprinted and modified with permission.

ASCD Whole Child Tenets:

Safe:                 Each student learns in an environment that is physically and emotionally safe for students and adults.

Engaged:         Each student is actively engaged in learning and is connected to the school and broader community.

Supported:      Each student has access to personalized learning and is supported by qualified, caring adults

Challenged:     Each student is challenged academically and prepared for success in college or further study and for employment and participation in a global environment.

Healthy:           Each student enters school healthy and learns about and practices a healthy lifestyle.

Physical/Virtual Access; Are physical areas and virtual spaces available to all?

Safe:                  Consider layout of room assignments, meeting spaces, furniture and equipment. Creating Accessible and Inclusive Meetings or Events (University of Minnesota, 2016). accessible-and-inclusive-meetings-or-events

Engaged:          Assess layout, interaction, and sense of purpose. An example from Australia: The Cognitive [Intellectual] Disability Digital Accessibility Guide: an Invaluable Resource for Web Professionals (Jenkinson, 2016). http:// disability-digital-accessibility-guide-an-invaluable-resource

Supported:      Expand awareness of current and future types of physical and virtual access, such as Netflix, website accessibility tutorials. Accessible Technology Bulletin v10(4). (Great Lakes ADA Center, 2016). Publications/ATBulletin/

Challenged:     Explore accessibility and teach how to advocate. WebAIM—web accessibility in mind (Center for Persons with Disabilities Utah State University, 2017). http://

Healthy:           Provide physical and virtual tools and resources to recognize areas and goals. Healthy People 2020: Healthy People Tools and Resources (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2016) https://www.healthypeople. gov/2020/tools-resources

Embrace a global perspective on accessibility utilizing the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Key Indicators of Accessibility Toolkit (Together We Rock, 2016). http://www.togetherwerock. com/inspiring-resources/2016/7/13/key-indicators-of-accessibility-toolkit-global-alliance-on-accessible- technologies-and-environments-may-2015

Emotional Access; Are learning opportunities (e.g., content, process, product, school-wide assemblies, events) emotionally available to all with varying levels of support?

Safe:               Provide an environment that recognizes the relevance of intensive social justice and civil rights topics with the understanding that individual student and family experiences may elicit a range of strengths and needs. ChapelTalks (LCMS School Ministry office, 2016): http://

Engaged:       Allow learners to build skills and capacity of SEL by teaching with the evidenced based approaches. Illinois Social/Emotional Learning Standards (ISBE, 2005) http:// Social and Emotional Learning Study Guide (ISBE, 2011) http://

Supported:     Teach the art of listening and being responsible and responsive peers and colleagues. Acknowledge emotional availability. Assist staff to actively understand emotional elements of learning. Children of Military Families (ISBE, 2016) htm Illinois Social/Emotional Learning Resources (ISBE, 2016) resources.htm

Challenged:    Develop awareness and application of strategies to provide emotional access with behavioral supports videos. ISRC eLearning Academy (Illinois Service Resource Center, 2016) Fostering Emotional Literacy in Young Children: Labeling Emotions (CSEFEL, 2009) kits/wwbtk21.pdf

Healthy:          Provide social emotional learning supports for families. Family Tools: Parent Training Modules (CSEFEL, n.d.). LSEM Resource Center Director Kara Bratton’s article on accommodations, in the Lutheran Education Association’s most recent newsletter Accommodations: What is Fair? (Bratton, K., 2017). html

Social Access; Are social events, opportunities, perspectives, and spaces available to all?

Safe:               Model how to express emotions. Empower students with scripted stories for social situations. Practical Strategies for Teachers/Caregivers (CSEFEL, 2016). http://csefel.

Engaged:        Evaluate and build capacity to make online learning and information sharing accessible. Making Your Website Accessible (University of California, Berkley, 2016) https://

Supported:      Actively seek the disability perspective. NeuroTribes (Silberman, 2015). shots/2015/09/02/436742377/neurotribes-examines-the- history-and-myths-of-the-autism-spectrum

Challenged:    Create deliberate spaces (e.g., embed into curriculum and activities) to recognize diversity as a natural part of the human experience and a value in society. Where the Wild Things Are [Sendak, 1963 Publisher: HarperCollins, ISBN: 0060254920] in ASL (McFeely, 2016). Sr8SqTH2Hso

Healthy:         Relate readings to self, text, other texts, and the world. Making connections and self-questioning are helpful reading and SEL strategies. Making Connections (Allen Simon & ILA/NCTE, 2016) http://www.readwritethink. org/professional-development/strategy-guides/making- connections-30659.html

Intellectual Access: Are activities, rigor, communication, discourse and materials available and obtainable for all?

Safe:               Welcome new strategies to improve instruction for English Learners. Graphic Organizers for Content Instruction (Haynes, J., 2004) graphic_organizers.php

Engaged:        Review how a common goal may contribute to an engaged learning community. Guide to Creating Inclusive Volunteer Programs (State of Illinois, 2016) serve/Pages/Inclusive-Programs-Guide.aspx

Supported:      Assess and promote Universal Design for Learning (aligns with every other area as well). Applications of Universal Design in Primary and Secondary Education (The Center for Universal Design in Education—DO IT, 2016) http:// design-education/applications-universal-design-primary- and-secondary

Challenged:    Help students to visualize and create alternate approaches.

Provide access for a global environment, future employment and academic success. Illinois Assistive Technology Support Site for K – 12 schools (Infinitec & ISBE, 2016).

Healthy:         Provide direct instruction for all students to set goals for well-being. Teach skills and share self-advocacy resources for students, schools, and families. Self-advocacy (Center for Parent Information and Resources, 2016).


In our schools, to what degree are students apart from or a part of a learning environment for all? LEJ


Adichie, C. N.,(2016, August 19). Leading speech at the World Humanitarian Day. New York. Retrieved from watch?v=oj5F5XaLj2E

ASCD (2017). Whole Child Tenets. Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development. Retrieved from

Dinaro, A. (2016). Learning Environments for All. IL ASCD Newsletter Fall 2016, 62(3), 18–22. Retrieved from http://publications.catstonepress. com/i/733515-fall-2016/17?m4=

Hehir, T. (2002, Spring). Eliminating ableism in education. Harvard Educational Review (72)1, pp. 1–32.

Stolz, S. M. (2010). Disability trajectories: Disabled youths’ identity development, negotiation of expectation and experience, and sense of agency during transition. University of California, San Diego, CA: Unpublished Doctoral dissertation.

Ware, L. (2004). The politics of ideology: A pedagogy of critical hope. In L. Ware (Ed.) Ideology and the politics of (in) exclusion. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 183-203.


Thank you Dr. Yurimi Grigsby at Concordia University Chicago for providing the resources on the topic specific to supporting English Learners. Special thanks to Dr. Jamie Kowalcyk at Concordia University Chicago for sharing the video:

Author Information

Andrea Dinaro joined the faculty at Concordia University Chicago in 2016 where she is an Associate Professor of Special Education. Previously she was curriculum and professional development coordinator for the A.E.R.O. Special Education Cooperative a behavior intervention specialist and assistive technology department supervisor. Her areas of research interest include special education, disability studies, and special education leadership.