Tools for Disability Inclusive Adult Education Programs

June 18th, 2024 | Blogs


Adult education programs have always served learners with disabilities. With the advent of the disability rights movement and an increase in awareness about disability justice, requests from the field point to the need for explicit guidance and tools. In response, the SABES Program Support Professional Development Center at World Education has used the available research and combined it with the knowledge from adult educators to create the Basic Disability Screening for Adult Education (BDSAE). The BDSAE contains practical tools and approaches that help adult educators increase the inclusion and support of persons with disabilities in their programs. The BDSAE suggests three levels at which programs can work at increasing disability inclusion: institutional, program, and individual. 

After introducing the BDSAE to a group of adult educators, we asked how they would use the tools and responses included: “Help students become aware of what works best for them”, “Refer students out to services we might not be able to offer” and “Use a “real” tool to help students with what they need”. 

Institutional level 

While some of the tools in the BDSAE are designed for use with individual students, our approach suggests a larger shift towards accessibility, Universal Design for Learning and a celebration of disability culture throughout your adult education program. We can create disability inclusive programs by designing disability-conscious environments and activities at all levels of program delivery: creating disability-inclusive organizational culture, infusing Universal Design for Learning in the instruction, and by providing easy access to accommodations for all learners. After learning about this larger shift, adult educators reflected that this is “about creating a different lens” and that they planned to “implement disability-related community building opportunities into programming.”

Program level

Perhaps the most important starting point in designing a disability inclusive program is the inclusion and promotion of disability culture in all aspects of programming. When an agency’s culture reflects respect and recognition of disability culture, students and staff with disabilities will more likely feel accepted and valued. One simple way to signal a program’s welcoming message is to display art made by disabled artists or interpreting disability experience, or showing famous disabled people. 

In addition to increasing disability visibility, a program may choose to assess its own ADA readiness. Using the Basic Accessibility Checklist for ADA Coordinators and Administrators tool (p.19), programs may begin to evaluate ADA compliance and disability-conscious program administration, and assess programs’ current preparedness to welcome disabled adult students into the program.

Student level 

Program staff can increase inclusion of persons with disabilities in adult education through collaborating with each student with disabilities to develop accommodated teaching and learning plans. The process may be carried out by instructors, advisors, or ADA coordinators in collaboration with the student. It consists of three steps to be completed in tandem with students individually or as a group activity:

  1. Use the Brief Basic Disability Screening form (p.11) to start the conversation about disabilities and barriers and facilitators of learning. If the screening indicates that the student has difficulties accomplishing many of the tasks the screening addresses, refer the student for further testing. The Brief Basic Disability Screening is designed to help providers and students begin the conversation about students’ desire and need for required professional assessments and accommodations
  2. Use the list of Common Accommodations form (p.14)  to identify possible accommodations for the learner. Feel free to add items to this list based on your experience and knowledge of accommodating strategies for teaching and learning. The Common Accommodations for Adult Learning form contains common accommodations for adult learners which you can use to inform your discussion with students about their past and present accommodation needs.
  3. Use the Preferred Accommodations Plan form (p.18) to summarize preferred accommodations for teaching and learning. The student may choose to share this plan with relevant program staff. The Preferred Accommodations Plan is a form you may choose to record students’ accommodation priorities and monitor the implementation of their accommodation plan

What’s next?

BDSAE is created to address the historical and contemporary fact: people with disabilities are a part of adult education systems and programs. They join adult education programs as students, instructors, and staff. As educators and builders of a more equitable world, we must accept this fact as an opportunity to design adult education programs with a strong commitment to disability inclusion.

Call to action:

To continue to work on increasing disability inclusion in your program we suggest the following introductory steps based on the BDSAE:

  1. Explore the BDSAE
  2. Try out a screening on yourself or a colleague and reflect on it
  3. Share the BDSAE with friends and colleagues
  4. Share and discuss the BDSAE at a staff meeting.
  5. Raise questions that make sense for you and your program. For example: 
    1. What do we want to try out from this approach?
    2. Which tools do we want to use?
    3. How would we adapt these tools?
    4. What resources, support and guidance from leadership do we need to continue this work?

This work was developed through an ongoing partnership between Dani Scherer from the SABES Program Support PD Center at World Education, and Andjela H. Kaur, PhD (she/they), an academic-practitioner who teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in Biobehavioral Health, Rehabilitation Counseling, Human Services and Disability Studies. The SABES Program Support Professional Development Center is a project of World Education, funded by a grant from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Contact with inquiries. 

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