Project ShIFT Grant
In August, 2008 the Center for Accessible Resources department was awarded a three year grant for more than a million dollars from the Department of Education to improve the quality of higher education for students with disabilities using Universal Design Principals and social model thinking.
U.S. Department of Education Grant Performance Report (ED 524B) Executive Summary for the Project ShIFT Grant
Project ShIFT (PR/Award P333A080082) has been conducted by Lane Community College in Eugene, Oregon, during the grant's three-year duration (2008-2011). These Department of Education funds have provided an opportunity to develop a national focus in higher education on reframing disability practice in the disability services (DS) departments of project participants, thereby achieving the grant's stated goals.
This demonstration research project began with the selection of 26 participants (an increase from the proposed 20) out of an application pool of almost 70 disability services professionals from across the country. The selected participants represented a cross-section of colleges and universities: two- and four-year schools, public and private institutions, having both large and small student populations. The participants also represented a wide range of experience, from professionals who were new to the field to seasoned professionals who were already recognized leaders in the field of disability services.
A major component of this project consisted of three week-long summer institutes where project trainers worked closely with project participants to guide them in considering the definition (or frame) that society has placed on disability, and how it informs their office mission, vision, values, goals, policies, procedures, and practices, and the image of disability that they perpetuate on their campuses. In the first institute, participants examined their core beliefs, discussed their perspectives on social justice, and examined the power of framing, focusing on disability frames in language, media, and design. By the end of the institute, participants developed detailed work plans to guide their efforts over the course of the project.
In the second institute, DS professionals were accompanied by faculty partners from their home institutions. They worked both individually and in pairs to identify inclusive course designs, as well as infuse disability into the curricula. DS professionals also reviewed the changes in office practices they'd made over the past year, examined their communication practices, explored additional disability perspectives in the curricula, and planned other significant changes on their campuses.
The final institute's themes included discussions about being an effective change agent, critical reflections and in-depth analysis, language disambiguation, faculty culture, techniques for further engaging with faculty, and honing participants' communication skills.
In addition to the week-long institutes, participants were supported during their transformative changes throughout the project by working closely with the four project trainers, who are national leaders in the field of disability services and inclusive design. The trainers led monthly teleconferences with participants, focusing on technical and educational support. They also addressed complex issues with participants through individual email and project listserv discussions. And they provided one-on-one coaching on a sustained basis to address the variety of challenges encountered as participants developed and implemented changes on their campuses.
The work of the grant visibly supported the first project goal: to improve the quality of higher education for students with disabilities. DS professionals on any campus are typically the first point of contact for disabled students as they navigate the challenges that present themselves on a regular basis in pursuit of their educational goals. Many DS professionals place an emphasis on documentation, medical diagnosis and accommodations, rather than focusing on removing environmental and curricular barriers. The changes necessary to support and improve the quality of higher education for students with disabilities start with DS office staff who have reframed their view of disability and are equipped to affect changes across their campuses.
The project's second goal was to improve the sustainability of institutional change among DS offices toward a social model of disability. This goal was achieved through the training, support, and coaching provided to project participants throughout the grant. Many steps were taken to ensure that DS professionals had the tools necessary to be successful change agents on their campuses, in their states/regions and nationally. These included developing action plans, implementing routine self-monitoring practices that measure progress, and the ongoing creation of curricula that focus on inclusion and examines disability culture and perception.
The project's third goal, to disseminate materials for advancement of the disability field and for replication purposes, was achieved in a variety of ways...
First, project leadership and participants have become increasing engaged in the national organization of disability professionals, AHEAD (Association for Higher Education and Disabilities), through presentations and leadership positions. In the second year of the project, the project director presented a poster session at the AHEAD national conference. During the third year of the project, participants served on the AHEAD board of directors, as the AHEAD Conference program chair, and as topical track coordinators at the conference. Several project participants are on national committees and all use these and other opportunities to infuse social model concepts into the field of disability services. It is clear that participants will persist in assuming additional leadership positions within both state chapters and the national organization. In doing so, participants will be able to extend their reach to campuses in their home state and across the country, ensuring that the changes supported by Department of Education funding through Project ShIFT can continue to advance the field.
Second, project trainers and participants offered a one-day preconference session at the AHEAD 2011 Conference to enlighten conference attendees about the changes (or "shifts")happening on Project ShIFT campuses. Lively discussions engaged attendees in re-thinking their philosophy and office practices, encouraging additional self-reflection and efforts to seek out more information about the socio-political view of disability.
Third, several articles are in various stages of development for publication in leading journals in the field to expose a wider audience to the socio-political view of disability and the changes that were made on campuses engaged in Project ShIFT.
Finally, the central location for dissemination of Project ShIFT resources is a website called: Refocus: Viewing the Work of Disability Services through a New Lens. This web-based tool is designed to encourage professionals in the DS field to examine current practice, consider the implications of those practices, and imagine how they might be reframed and redesigned.
Project ShIFT has had a transformational effect on the philosophy and practice of project participants. Funding from the Department of Education not only facilitated change on ShIFT participants and their campuses, but catalyzed meaningful and long-lasting change in higher education and the field of disability services.