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Pillars of Inclusive Design & Design Justice for Courses and Curricula

Inclusion emphasizes accessibility, but also extends benefits to address a wide range of student diversity

Accessibility is an important focus of inclusive design and design justice but we must also recognize learners’ needs that go beyond or that are not addressed by accessibility only. The Inclusive Design Research Center notes that, just as indents in curbs improve accessibility for everyone, not just those with limited mobility, many educational approaches focused on accessibility can and should have broader benefits. For example, accessible practices such as providing multiple formats for course videos (e.g., video, audio-only, text transcript) extends benefits not just to students who have an accessibility request but also to students who are English-language learners or students who have limited time due to their work schedules.

Gut check questions:

  • Do I provide accommodations and flexibility to all students, or just to students who have an approved ADA accommodation? 
  • Which students might benefit from more accessible and inclusive approaches in my course?

Inclusion moves from good to just practices

"Our students can see inequality. Many of them experience its injustices on a daily basis. . . . In order to dismantle and correct these designs and patterns, they must first be able to notice and name them. That's the kind of design thinking I hope and wish for: Where 'what's wrong?' drives our pursuit of 'what if?'”  - Sherri Spelic

Justice means we have to ask, "What's wrong?" and then work to fix it. Making gestures toward inclusive design and design justice without committing to the transformation required to change the structures of inequality and oppression that shape our students' lives only serves to reinforce what Patricia Hill Collins calls the matrix of domination/oppression, which are interlocking systems of oppression based on race, gender, sexuality, class, and privilege. 

Gut check questions:

  • What’s wrong--how might my course further exacerbate systemic inequities faced by marginalized and disenfranchised students?
  • What could I do to make my class a place that advances the cause of justice--of breaking down systemic barriers faced by marginalized and disenfranchised students?

Inclusion involves co-design & centering diverse perspectives, especially those of marginalized students

Both inclusive design and design justice emphasize the importance of bringing diverse voices to the design process, a process sometimes known as participatory design or co-design. For design justice advocates, co-design must involve centering the perspectives of folks who are typically marginalized by designs. Co-design is not easy, and it can surface tensions around power and privilege that are often underlying design processes. As part of designing courses and curriculum, a co-design approach may involve bringing current, former, and/or prospective students to participate. Some faculty do this by leaving some parts of the syllabus, the course activities, or the assessment “undesigned” until students can give their input; some do this by providing ongoing opportunities for students to share feedback that lead to changes in the course.

Gut check questions:

  • What parts of my course would be good opportunities for co-design? What might that look like?
  • How will I address issues of power and privilege that may crop up, especially given the power differentials between faculty and students?

Inclusion focuses on the impact, not the intent of designs

According to the Design Justice Network’s Principles, design justice “prioritize(s) design’s impact on the community over the intentions of the designer.” Good intentions are not enough; we must look at the impact of our designs on the people for whom we are designing (and perhaps on those for whom we are not designing). This means that inclusive approaches are not a checklist that you follow, but instead require constant reflection and iteration based on feedback. Focusing on the impact of our course designs means listening, seeking input, and being willing to adjust our designs--not just at the end of the semester.

Gut check questions:

  • What are ways that I can seek to understand the impact of my designs on students?
  • How will I hold myself and others accountable for using student input to continually seek inclusion and justice for students?
Last Updated: 10/5/21