August 19, 2019 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn

Dr. Jeff Preston of Disability Studies presented on “The Accessible Experience & Universal Design for Learning” at Western University’s Weldon Library on July 10, 2019. The presentation was part of Western’s Equity and Human Rights Services Lunch and Learn.

Dr. Preston described the presentation as “part-pedagogy presentation and part personal-history.” The personal history aspect discussed his experiences as a disabled student. “Typical classrooms are structured upon the ableist assumption that all students have similar physical and cognitive abilities,” says Dr. Preston. He explains those students who do not have those abilities are either excluded or the burden of change is placed upon them to conform.

What Dr. Preston imagines are classrooms being disabling spaces for all, not just those with diagnosed disabilities, while changing the way educational experiences are built inside and outside of the classroom.

As part of the presentation, Dr. Preston discussed his review of the Universal Design for Learning (UDL), rooted in the premise that not all learners are built alike. 

“Everyone has different skills, abilities, and competencies they bring to the classroom and it would behoove us, as educators, to design adaptable curricula that acknowledge this premise as opposed to demanding students conform to specific/singular teaching methodologies,” says Dr. Preston. He explains while UDL began by focusing on developing best practices to include disabled students within "mainstream classrooms," it has grown to imagine different ways of teaching for all students, not just those with disabilities.

Dr. Preston explains there should be a shift in thinking to look at the ways simple changes, such as providing lecture material ahead of time and focusing on the learning outcome as opposed to the mechanical production of “work,” can make a huge difference.

“I think this message really resonated with people who have struggled against “paper barriers” (those caused by policy/rules) within the classroom,” he says.

Dr. Preston was happy to see “a great mix” of those in attendance of the presentation, both from within and outside Western University. One of the most common comments he received afterwards was how thankful people were to hear a different way of thinking about accessibility. 

To learn more about Disability Studies, please visit

To view a video of Dr. Preston's presentation, please visit