CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo.,
Sept. 14, 2009 – Melanie Thompson, director of Learning Assistance Programs and Disability Support Services (DSS) at Southeast Missouri State University, was recently selected as one of 25 disability services administrators in the nation to take part in Project ShIFT. The three-year U.S. Department of Education grant-funded project began last month in Denver, Colo.
Project ShIFT (Shaping Inclusion through Foundational Transformation) is designed to help people “shift” their focus of disabilities from a medical perspective in which the difficulty lies within the individual to a social perspective in which the difficulty for people with disabilities is in the environment, Thompson said.
“To be perceived as a professional who can have an impact on these aspects at Southeast was and continues to be an honor,” Thompson said. “I am excited about the possibility of what might come about through my participation with the grant, and I look forward to being able to collaborate closely with a faculty member in an effort to make a positive change for students across campus.”
The project also focuses on Universal Design (UD) and Universal Design for Learning (UDL). UD and UDL are concepts of having materials, programs or equipment that can be used by many or all types of learners in different formats so the widest range of students can be reached.
Thompson said Project ShIFT encourages the use of multiple and flexible methods of presentation, expression and engagement to improve educational outcomes for diverse learners.
Initially Project ShIFT will concentrate on creating progressive philosophical constructs of disability within the DSS office, leading to uncovering and correcting negative messages that are transferred to faculty and staff while trying to incorporate concepts of UD within classrooms and around campus.
The DSS staff will serve as leaders for faculty in the redesign of curriculum and the use of UD instructional strategies by the end of the three-year grant.
“The goal of the Project ShIFT grant is to demonstrate that by shifting one’s perspective in the classroom, and incorporating UDL, more students will be retainedᾰincluding students with disabilities,” Thompson said.
Thompson attended the first summer institute last month. At the institute, she and other higher education professionals examined policies and practices of their offices and discussed how to infuse a social construction of disability and UD into their operations.
In summer 2010, Thompson will invite another member of the faculty to accompany her to the institute where they will design a curriculum and teaching strategies based on the new conceptualizations of disability and UD.
The third institute in 2011 will focus on summarizing, documenting and sustaining successful changes and in increasing capacity with UD.
“In my experience, it can be daunting for a student with a disability to reach out and ask for help when he or she looks around and doesn’t see or know of many other students with disabilities on campus,” Thompson said. “Expanding UDL on campus will not only benefit students with disabilities by reducing the barriers that students encounter but also benefit our many diverse students, such as international students, students with English as a second language, non-traditional students, returning students and those with multi-modal learning styles.”