Foreman illustrates making learning accessible

Assistant Professor of Psychology and Educational Studies Jennifer Foreman presented the first Karl W. Weiss, ’87, Faculty Lecture Series on Wednesday, Sept. 11, with her presentation “Beyond Captions: Making Learning Accessible through Universal Design.”

Foreman’s lecture focused on the Universal Design for Learning and how educators can better aid those with disabilities in an academic setting.

Foreman began her post-secondary education studying religious studies before completing her master’s degree in instructional leadership from Robert Morris University. Foreman went on to receive her doctorate in educational psychology from the Neag School of Education at the University of Connecticut.

During his introduction of Foreman, James Niblock, associate professor of music, not only included highlights from Foreman’s education and career, but also revealed one of Foreman’s talents.

“(Foreman) is a marvelous singer and has been singing in the community choir,” Niblock said.

Foreman began her lecture by reading a few paragraphs from a paper one of her former students titled, “Lessons in Dyslexia.”

To protect the identity of her student, Foreman gave her the pseudonym “Katie.”

Before she began reading, Foreman encouraged everyone in the room, specifically other educators, to think about Katie’s use of the word “saunter” in her writing.

“I saunter to class dreading the class, dreading the test that awaits me,” Katie wrote. “I have studied for this test since the beginning of the week and I can only hope that this one is better than the last.”

Katie was not diagnosed with dyslexia until she was in seventh grade, meaning she was years into her education before she received necessary support.

“(Seventh grade) is a very, very long time in a learner’s life to be without necessary accommodations and curricular changes,” Foreman said.

Foreman then asked what everyone thought about the word saunter as it was used in Katie’s essay.

“It does not quite fit,” Foreman said. “This is a young woman, and I may just be interpreting this, but she probably did not get a lot of chances to read books growing up because she had dyslexia that went undiagnosed and probably was not exposed to audio book formats of them, so when she gets to college her vocabulary is a little week.”

Foreman explained that Katie most likely tried to compensate for her underdeveloped vocabulary by using a thesaurus to find synonyms of everyday words.

“Maybe if (Katie) had had some more exposure to audio books and other sources that would have worked for her, that would not have been the case,” Foreman said.

UDL began in the 1960s in conjunction with many other social movements. At that time, learning disabilities were seen as being inherent qualities of the individuals, according to Foreman.

However, in the ’60s ’70s, the social model of disability was proposed. The social model of disability is a “civil rights approach” to thinking about learning disabilities as a “disadvantage bestowed by a society that treats these ‘impairments’ as abnormal, thus unnecessarily excluding these people from full participation in society,” according to the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities.

There are a number of ways people with learning disabilities are disabled by society, according to the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities: prejudice, labelling, ignorance, lack of financial independence, families being over protective, not being given information in accessible formats.

The social model of disability was initially created to destigmatize and accommodate physical disabilities. However, the movement has recently been applied to learning disabilities.

“Cognitive differences are very, very common, especially among students and more commonly, students in higher education,” Foreman said. “There has been a movement recently, that is kind of similar to the social model of disability, that embraces these cognitive differences. It is called the neurodiversity movement.”

The neurodiversity movement views cognitive differences as valuable components to human diversity, according to Foreman.

“Neurodiversity says the way that peoples’ minds and brains work have a lot of functional differences, and that that can be and should be praised as a valuable thing,” Foreman said.

Foreman explained that UDL is a practice from which everyone can benefit because it makes learning as accessible to all, including those who suffer from learning disabilities, as possible.

“If we can design curriculum and instruction to really make things accessible to those who are furthest away from what we consider the norm, then we really are going to be doing a lot to be making learning accessible to everyone,” Foreman said.