By Darren McDonald. Securing a career in trades just became more of a reality for students with disabilities thanks to a new $150,000 partnership between the University of the Fraser Valley and the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology.
Funded through a grant from B.C’s Ministry of Advanced Education to specifically focus on helping people with disabilities access training programs for high-demand job skills, the new initiative is designed to shift away from an accommodation model, where students with disabilities adapt to standard curriculum. Instead, the new accessible learning project trains faculty and staff about disabilities, their impact on learning, and how learning can be improved through a curriculum developed using universal design principles.
“As part of our Skills for Jobs Blueprint, our government’s priority is to make sure relevant post-secondary education and training programs are accessible to all British Columbians,” says Advanced Education Minister Amrik Virk. “This partnership between UFV and NVIT will increase the success of students with disabilities in developing the skills that will lead to jobs.”
UFV’s recently approved proposal was spearheaded by a collaborative team of UFV leaders, including Vice President of Students Jody Gordon, John English and Rolf Arnold, dean and director (respectively) of Applied and Technical Studies, and Maureen Wideman, Teaching & Learning director.
“Rather than training students to fit into our programs, you teach faculty to make their curriculum applicable to more people,” says Wideman, whose experience with similar work in Ontario proved invaluable during this process.
Since joining UFV in January, Wideman has been keen to integrate UFV’s institutional learning outcomes with the university’s commitment to indigenization – both of which are well represented in the accessible learning initiative.
“Not only are we going to produce something innovative, we’re also weaving the aboriginal way of knowing into the way we introduce information to our students, thanks to this partnership with NVIT,” Wideman says.
The two institutions have a history of working together, in particular with a partnership that saw graduates of the Chemical Addictions Worker advanced diploma (ChAD) program ladder their credential into a UFV Bachelor of General Studies degree.
The recently announced accessible learning funding will be divided into $75,000 for each institution, providing an excellent foundation to deliver this innovative training, says Gordon.
“NVIT has extensive experience offering the Native Adult Instructor Development (NAID) program to their faculty as well as faculty from other post-secondary schools and community organizations. Given this, NVIT has extensive experience in facilitating training for people to work with diverse populations,” she says.
“This partnership seems right for both institutions. At UFV this project could not have been realized without the knowledge and extensive experience of Maureen Wideman. Her knowledge of universal design for learning (UDL) was invaluable for putting this project in place.”
UDL is a scientifically based educational framework that guides the development of flexible learning environments to accommodate individual learning differences.
By pooling resources, UFV and NVIT can develop a training program designed to inform faculty and staff about disabilities and their impact on learning, and how learning can be improved through a curriculum developed using universal design principles. Largely based online, the training could theoretically open doors to similar training beyond the Faculty of Applied and Technical Studies.
“Each student with a disability brings their own challenges to the course to access course materials. We’re trying to inform faculty members about what these challenges are,” Wideman says.
For example, a dyslexic student might have the opportunity to answer oral questions in lieu of writing a prohibitive essay.
“Student success is the ultimate goal here. The important aspect is the student knows the information the trade requires.”
In the end it’s a win-win-win for students, faculty, and UFV and NVIT.
“I’m just thrilled to be a part of it and have our proposal accepted by the government,” Wideman says.
“This is an excellent opportunity to help more students find success.”