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On November 12, 2019, Western Theological Seminary had the privilege of hosting Dr. Jay Dolmage, professor and associate Chair of the Undergraduate Communication Outcome Initiative (UCOI) at Renison University College, a part of the University of Waterloo in Ontario. Dr. Dolmage is very active teaching, lecturing, and writing on the topic of disability rights. He is the founding editor of the Canadian Journal of Disability Studies, which is an open access journal, available for everyone who is interested in expanding their knowledge on disability arts, advocacy, community organization, and policy. 

Dr. Dolmage is passionate about the importance of universal design for learning in order to bring positive change to learning environments. In his lecture he discussed the topic: Academic Ableism. His discussion explores how traditional approaches for learning can create significant barriers within the learning process. He questioned what value they have had for people of all abilities and all learning styles and suggests a new standard: Universal Design for Learning. In his lecture, he laid out three guiding principles necessary for a successful shift towards universal design for learning. He states:

Universal Design For Learning encompasses:

  1. Multiple means of representation to give learners various ways of acquiring information and knowledge;
  2. Multiple means of expression, to provide learners alternatives for demonstrating what they know;
  3. Multiple means of engagement, to tap into learners' interests, offer appropriate challenges, and increase motivation.

As a professor who has been teaching and lecturing for many years, Dr. Dolmage speaks from personal experience on the value of incorporating these principles into education. In his lecture at Western Theological Seminary, he references his initial years as an educator when he followed traditional concepts in teaching. One grade he always felt was challenging to mark was the participation grade. He felt this was one area where academic ableism needed to be discussed.

How are we giving students who are gifted with different abilities and learning styles a way to properly express their understanding of the course material? Are we giving space for everyone to engage and to participate? Dr. Dolmage challenged his students to explore their own ways of participating. This was highly successful, highly creative, and broke down traditional barriers to participation in the classroom. 

Dr. Dolmage challenges all of us to be aware of where academic ableism exists. What can we do to break down the barriers for learning? Here is a list of ideas that Dr. Dolmage has curated to help us navigate through this shift in paradigm. In analyzing the ways in which we can be more inclusive, Dr. Dolmage believes that we will be shifting to a culture that is more expressive and more creative as a society.

Dr. Dolmage has also written a very informative book: Academic Ableism: Disability and Higher Education. Please note that he has given open access to this book for all of us who wish to learn and explore more on this very important topic. At the end of the book is an extensive list of articles on the topic of academic ableism. 

In order to bring more voices into the conversation, Dr. Dolmage has gifted us with complete access to his notes, PowerPoints, and many other very informative articles. All these items can be found on his blog: Academic Ableism

How can we bring positive change to our own environments and churches?

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