SDAP Staff and Students Present at the UDL Digicon Conference

Appalachian State University’s Scholars with Diverse Abilities Program (SDAP) staff and students presented at the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Implementation and Research Network’s international conference, UDLHE Digicon, which was held virtually February 4-5. The focus of their presentation was on supporting inclusivity in higher education.

Dr. Rebekah Cummings, SDAP Academic and Lifeskills Coordinator and course instructor for “Beyond Normal”, and former SDAP director Anna Ward, presented in the Equity and Justice strand. The title of their popular talk was "Going Beyond Normal: Providing equity in an inclusive college classroom through UDL and a strengths-based approach." 

In addition to Cummings and Ward, current SDAP scholar Tyler Shore, from Boone, North Carolina, and SDAP alumnus Kieron Dyck, from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, participated in the interactive presentation, along with App State students, Jackie Perez-Albanil, a junior social work major from Durham, North Carolina, and Kara Raichle, a junior psychology major and special education minor from Boone, North Carolina.

Slide from presentation

"In the process of putting this presentation together, I had such heartwarming conversations with my former student panelists,” said Cummings, who designed the innovative and popular “Beyond Normal” course. She explained that many of the ways she had designed the course to make it inclusive of the SDAP students “turned out to be strategies my other students valued and remembered.” Some examples she gave were:  

  • having choices in how they completed assignments; 
  • having a peer support network of four to five other students within the class they could reach out to for help; 
  • starting class with a one to three minute mindfulness meditation to help them bring themselves into the classroom space; and
  • facilitating lots of in-class large and small group discussions and activities “that 'forced' them to get to know each other and listen to different perspectives.”

Cummings’s course is taught as one of the offerings for First Year Seminar. Students in her course include SDAP scholars and first-year students. The course explores the topics of disability and advocacy. 

“The experience was great,” exclaimed Shore. “My favorite assignments in the Beyond Normal class were either the reading assignments or the disability related event reflection assignment.”

“I liked the reading assignments because my peer supports and I chose different roles to take on for it,” he continued. “I liked the disability related event reflection assignment because I got to attend a sensory-friendly film with my caregiver.” 

Shore also noted the opportunity to hear from author Bryan Stevenson, whose book, Just Mercy, was selected as the university’s Common Reading for the 2019-2020 academic year, as a highlight of his experience in the course.

On the course evaluations, one of Cummings’s students remarked, “People living with disabilities can do what we can, they just may need assistance or modifications to get to the end goal.”

On the course evaluations, one of Cummings’s students remarked, “People living with disabilities can do what we can, they just may need assistance or modifications to get to the end goal.”

SDAP aims to prepare college-aged students with intellectual disabilities for personal growth and occupational success. The goal upon completion of the two-year program is that students obtain competitive, integrated employment and live independent, fulfilling lives. 

The presentation was well received. For the resources from the presentation, click here.

Contributed by Dr. Susan Hedges.

Anna Ward and Rebekah Cummings
Published: Feb 16, 2021 10:37am