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Can Tech Help Create Belonging? with Rachel Kruzel

Welcome to Episode 99 of the Think UDL podcast: Can Tech Help Create Belonging? with Rachel Kruzel. After over ten years working as an Assistive Technology and Accommodations Specialist in Disability Resource Offices at various higher ed institutions, Rachel Kruzel is now the Higher Education Specialist at TextHelp where she supports colleges and universities to implement accessibility based solutions to help create more inclusive, equitable, and accessible learning environments for all students. During her time in higher ed, she built and developed assistive technology programs at both schools she worked at, as well as coordinated the provision of accommodations. Rachel is a national expert in the areas of assistive technology, digital accessibility, accessible course materials, and accommodation provision around testing and notetaking. In this episode, we discuss how technology helps, hinders, and relates to access, inclusion and belonging. We discuss a culture of collaboration on campus and how technology can be a catalyst for change on a campus that values diversity, accessibility, and inclusion. 


Contact Rachel Kruzel on Twitter @th_rachelk or LinkedIn at Rachel Kruzel or email her at

Learn more about TextHelp at
To Build More Inclusive Technology, Change Your Design Process
 – Harvard Business Review Article

Encouraging Equitable Decision-Making in Academic Technology – EDUCAUSE Review Article

Disability as Diversity – Inside Higher Ed Article

UDL in Higher Ed – CAST web resource




students, campus, learners, disability, support, offices, learning, accessibility, faculty, technology, people, accessible, belonging, classes, assistive technology, creating, udl, classroom, building, inclusive


Lillian Nave, Rachel Kruzel

Lillian Nave  00:02

Welcome to think UDL, the universal design for learning podcast where we hear from the people who are designing and implementing strategies with learner variability in mind. I’m your host, Lillian nave. And I’m interested in not just what you’re teaching, learning, guiding and facilitating, but how you design and implement it and why it even matters. Welcome to Episode 99 of the think UDL podcast can tech help create belonging with Rachael Cruz will after over 10 years working as an assistive technology and accommodation specialist and disability resource offices at various higher ed institutions Rachael Cruz Hill is now the Higher Education Specialist at Texthelp, where she supports colleges and universities to implement accessibility based solutions to help create more inclusive, equitable and accessible learning environments for all students. During her time in higher ed, she built and developed assistive technology programs at both schools she worked at, as well as coordinated the provision of accommodations. Rachel is a national expert in the areas of assistive technology, digital accessibility, accessible course materials and accommodation provision around testing and note taking. In this episode, we discuss how technology helps hinders and relates to access, inclusion and belonging. We discuss a culture of collaboration on campus, and how technology can be a catalyst for change on a campus that values diversity, accessibility, and inclusion. Thank you for listening. Thank you, Rachel, for joining me today and spending your time with me on the think UDL Podcast. I’m glad to have you.

Rachel Kruzel  02:00

I’m glad to be here today.

Lillian Nave  02:02

Yes, I have some questions. So a lot of things I want to talk to you about because of your scope and dealing with a lot of higher ed institutions and accessibility and inclusion and belonging. But before I get there, I wanted to ask you my favorite question, which is what makes you a different kind of learner.

Rachel Kruzel  02:23

So to think on this one a little bit, just thinking back to learning as an adult learning as a student. And what I’ve come to learn about myself is I comprehends any type of auditory information, way better when I have it in writing in front of me, whether that’s interview questions, I think back to job interviews, like having them printed in front of me helps tremendously to help comprehend and understand. I think about trainings, webinars, even sitting in a lecture as a student, having something printed just helps me comprehend it that much better. I think back to all the inclusion work that’s being done on campuses around transcripts and captions that are just part of the curriculum. Now, how much of a game changer that would have been when I was a student 20 years ago in college, for example, and how that just would have made a huge difference, you know, I would have been able to comprehend more and not that I was a struggling learner, but just those things help everybody, not just those that are struggling.

Lillian Nave  03:21

Absolutely. And as I do, every time I interview someone, I have a notepad, where I just keep writing. And I, it helps me to process. So I know exactly what you’re talking about. And I have to kind of write down a couple of keywords. But I remember when I was teaching art history, I would have students who would use that paper and doodle. And, and I remember thinking and being offended, actually, because I didn’t know what I was thinking and didn’t know what I was doing when I was like 24 and teaching art history. And and they were doodling. And I thought what are these people? You know, they’re how I was, I didn’t understand that. That’s just another way to process, you know, what’s going on. You know, they’re it’s, it’s how people take in information can be so different. And it took me a long time to figure out oh, and they’re just kind of doing the same thing I’m doing except they need to kind of write something different than I need to write. And I would much rather have captions now for everything. You know, it’s just a different world that we have that accessibility for.

Rachel Kruzel  04:30

We think about professionals, even at conferences or in meetings that I see pull out their knitting needle. Yeah, some people are offended by that. And it’s like, no, they’re just processing. That’s how they process they need something to keep their hands busy, something to help them focus their attention that isn’t the speaker necessarily. And that’s true for any learner these days, too. Anytime that we’re processing and in taking information, yes.

Lillian Nave  04:50

And I’m reminded to, you know, make space for that and to provide that flexibility so that I’m not stopping my students. or people listening right from from learning because they have to process in their own way. So great. All right. So we’ll just keep writing and processing during our interview. So you’ve worked on and with a lot of universities over the years, and I wanted to ask you to start off with, who are the students that you’re serving what is included? When you describe today’s diverse campus, if I put those two words in quotation marks, what is a diverse campus, because you’ve seen quite a few and work with a lot.

Rachel Kruzel  05:34

I have, I’ve been lucky enough to work with tons of universities and colleges throughout my tenure. I mean, I started my career 1012 years ago, working in Disability Resource offices, when they were very much that reactionary accommodations, working mostly with students with disabilities. But really, given the work that I was doing around assistive technology and kind of thinking that bigger scope outside the institution or within the institution, outside of my office is what I should say, ie there were things around assistive technology that we learned in, you know, the mid 2010, to 2014 2015, where assistive technology was good, really, for any learner that there were benefits, sort of for anybody. And so my work started to bring me outside of just the Disability Resource office, then really became the push for digital accessibility, working, you know, institutionally on those type of initiatives, then being lucky enough to because of that work being so innovative at the time working in the state of Minnesota, and then in the Midwest around these initiatives and getting to get outside of just my institution, but those neighboring institutions as well. And then working eventually sort of nationally, with, you know, a head, for example, and being able to work with all of these different schools across the country and working alongside them and learning from them and networking. And because of that really having this ability to see campuses as this lens more holistically, not just these learners with disabilities in the single office that I’ve worked with, but really nationally. And now in my role here, what I’m doing, being able to see that again, from a more assistive technology digital accessibility lens. When we think about disability resource offices, the staff that are working in those offices are primarily working with those students that are coming to that office saying I have a disability, and I need accommodations and support, which is great. But that’s typically 10 12% of a college campus, maybe if you’re pretty innovative, pretty getting the word out there, you’re getting maybe 15% of students coming to your office, if you’ve really broken down some of those stigmas around support and having a disability. But you’ve got this whole other population of students on your campus that fit into all these other sort of diverse, diverse categories, essentially, when we think about students who have a disability, but aren’t coming to the Disability Resource Officer accessibility resource office for a variety of reasons, they, they don’t know about it, they don’t want to because of the stigma. Culturally, they can’t say that they have a disability, even though they know that that’s probably what’s going on. That’s anywhere from another nine to 12% of students on campus, then we get into the student population of students who maybe have a disability but aren’t diagnosed with one for a variety of reasons, again, culturally, financially, or they are diagnosed but not diagnosed with sort of the right diagnosis, or they’ve got multiple diagnoses. So that’s additional group of students. Now, with this big push nationally around neuro diversity, I mean, that’s anywhere from 11 to 33% of our student population that’s being considered neurodiverse. So slowly, we start building up these groups of learners that kind of have a disability or fit into that group of learners. But then even more widely, when we think about diversity and inclusion, we’ve got those learners that are coming from different cultural backgrounds, different socioeconomic status, backgrounds, different racial backgrounds, religious backgrounds, and then just even on top of that, the preparedness level of students coming in students who you know, right now, three years in COVID, learning online, what is their preparedness level coming in? What are their life experiences that are bringing them to the table. So disability is a huge part of any campus population, it’s in the fabric, it’s who campuses are, there’s so much richness, but again, we can start to think more broadly of really, who these students are. And we really need to be understanding that recognizing that giving space for that honoring that and making sure that when we are creating our classrooms, when we are creating our learning spaces in our campuses, we’re making sure that we’re taking into account all of this diversity. Diversity isn’t going away. It’s growing every year with our learners coming in between within amongst them, and we just need to know that that’s that’s where we’re at. That’s today. That’s tomorrow, that’s months and years to come. And we need to be making sure that what we’re doing we’re supporting these learners really as they are are no matter what sort of what population what intersectionality? They’re coming into campus

Lillian Nave  10:04

with? Yeah, you know your answer to the first question about wanting to see the questions written. And as you’re hearing them makes me think about that, that kind of that last category as you were broadening out students who come from a different cultural, or specifically a language background, so how important and how helpful it would be, if you’re listening to a lecture and you, you come across kind of a new word that might be within the context of this subject matter chemistry are something that you are unfamiliar with, but you wouldn’t even know how to spell it. So if you had the correct name for this chemical compound, you could actually go, you know, stop the video or go back and and find out what that answer is. And that could be for, you know, somebody who speaks English as a native speaker. But imagine even so, so much better, that we got somebody from a different cultural or ethnic background, and I say, like a different cultural background, too, because I found that I use phrases, or different analogies, and realize that my students who are now my children, I have three children all in some form of college right now. And they’ll laugh at me, you know, like, Mom, what? That doesn’t mean what you think it means, right? Or what do you even talking about and realize that I’m using a metaphor or some sort of cultural reference, that doesn’t make any sense. And to be able to look that up or to be able to have a way to investigate that further means you’re not just my students aren’t just sitting there lost in a lecture, like what is what does this even mean? Or how does this connect to? And I’m now starting to really pay attention to that. So when I talk to faculty that are in other countries, which I’ve done before, I’ll ask them, I said, Do do you know, and they’re like teaching English, right? So English is their subject matter. And I’ve had the great fortune to work with some Fulbright fellows who go back to their home countries all over the world and teach English. And I give them like five different phrases and ask them, Do you know what this means? If I asked you to put your John Hancock on this? And, you know, I said, Well, us, many people, at least my generation would know, that means put your signature on something, but they’ve never heard of it. And, and it’s very confusing. And just realizing that there are barriers that sometimes we don’t even know we’re creating. And even just having that accessibility, that a transcript, right, that a student can go back and go, you know, look further into it, or even now write an email and say, You sent this during lecture, and I’m not sure you know exactly what this means. We just didn’t have that, right. 20 years ago, I couldn’t go back and get the spelling of something that I didn’t quite understand.

Rachel Kruzel  13:06

When I think about my work, working with students being sort of this hub of support on campus, when I did work on campuses and disability resource office, we had innovative faculty on campus are ones that were so in tune with student support, that would bring some of their international students or those students who were, you know, here to learn from another country, English learners, for example, or even just struggling learners who came to us and said, what can you do just to support this learner and you know, we had some barriers, because, again, we were charged with supporting learners with disabilities on our campus. That’s sort of what we were doing, we had to be careful that we weren’t making accommodations for learners without disabilities, given our role. But also, those faculty were really pushing the bounds saying, I noticing that the student is learning differently. And I know that what you’re giving these learners with disabilities would benefit these other learners that are in my classroom. And so a lot of the conversations we would try to have with them would be around, well, are there things you can do that would support this learner or any learner? You know, they’re coming saying, Hey, I would think the student would benefit from a comprehension standpoint to have a little bit more time in their tests, like your learners who maybe have learning disability or executive functioning or disability that impacts executive functioning. Can you do that here for the student? No, we can’t. But can’t you just build that into your classroom? Can’t you just give students as much time as they need or give students, you know, a transcript? Or can you just turn on closed captioning type of there’s things that we can do and build that in from the ground up that again, can help every learner and universal design for learning perspective.

Lillian Nave  14:39

Right, right. Oh, my goodness, you’re totally moving me into this next question. In fact, you started to answer it. But I’m so going to ask you for more about so what are some of these successful ways you’ve seen campuses create a culture of accessibility but I’m even going to push further because I do talk a lot about accessibility on this podcast, but I’m really interested and how that moves into inclusion and belonging, because that’s where I really want us to be. And I think UDL helps a campus to get there. So what are some successful ways that you’ve seen?

Rachel Kruzel  15:14

Yeah, there’s a variety of different things that I’m seeing going on on campuses and have historically as well, I think first and foremost, we there will always be a need for the current time for us to be sort of reacting and supporting learners with disabilities in some type of a disability or accessibility resource office, we haven’t moved the needle enough from a systemic level, to be able to say there’s no need for that. So having a robust office with enough resources for students with disabilities to be able to have that there to get the support, they need to get those accommodations in a timely manner. And likewise, from a more sort of inclusive perspective, making sure that there are offices on campus for those other learners based on the diversity of needs that they have, whether they’re international students, students who might be struggling just from an academic preparedness perspective, students who might be sort of on probation, because, you know, poor grades one semester, things like that, you having those offices that students can go to, but then also making students aware that they’re there, to get that support that they need is really going to be key. One of the things I hear all the time when working with providers in student support offices is you know, we’re being pushed to do more with less, and we don’t have the resources financially, your student personnel wise, and one of the things that I really try to work with them on is, there are resources on your campus just around making a case for that and getting allies to help you make the case to say, you know, we need more resources, and being able to provide data and reports as to why this is as well as being able to provide impact statements from students saying, by being, you know, having the opportunity to work with these offices, this is what it means to me as a student, this is the type of support I’m getting. So I think that’s really one way. Traditionally, our instructional designers, our faculty training have been really focused on Universal Design for Learning, inclusive pedagogy when working with faculty, whether it’s in person classrooms, whether it’s online, those hybrid classes that are so popular right now for students. But you’re making sure that faculty are attending these trainings, making that something that’s mandatory, I know that it can be challenging to have faculty join these things with all the commitments that they’re doing. But knowing that, you know, being on the cutting edge or learning something from a training that you can bring back to your classroom to meet your students where they’re at, given the diversity of the population of students that’s coming in, is really going to be a game changer by you working with students in a way that’s going to again, support them, they’re going to look back at that faculty and say, Wow, that faculty really cared about me, they really get me they get my classmates, they get where we’re coming from. So I think that’s really key. And some of that is around again, that UDL just more inclusive pedagogy, but also from a sort of digital accessibility standpoint, as well, there are things that faculty can do with a little bit of training, to make their classrooms that much more accessible for students with disabilities, and inclusive for everyone else. There are campuses that are doing huge amounts of work leaps and bounds around digital accessibility right now, huge initiatives, lots of staff lots of resources towards this. They know either from sort of a legal perspective, they need to be doing that, but also from a sort of, it’s the smart thing to do, it’s the right thing to do these learners, the staff are on our campuses, we need to be making things accessible. We see schools who are in a very different place, just sort of dipping their toes in the water on this, but what I would say is even tiny steps on digital accessibility, even some small, little low hanging fruit can really make a difference on campus and get you some of that momentum to get that work moving forward. And to build interest and to get supporters around this as well. Likewise, you know, some of these larger accessibility initiatives, like we’ve been talking about captioning and transcripts and what a difference that can make. You know, that’s going to be huge for learners, no matter who they are. Even small things, PDF files, making sure that their optical character recognized at a minimum when they’re being posted online. So students can interact with that in a way that works best for them to be able to interact with that PDF have assistive technology available. For learners and or, again, we know that that 80 that’s out there, a lot of these educational technology tools can really support any learner. The other thing we’re really seeing right now is these Diversity, Equity and Inclusion offices. We’ve really realized in the last handful of years, the necessity for having an office like this or a person on campus who is really paying attention to this, again, as a result of kind of the history but also who our learners are that are coming to our campuses. I mean, we know that diversity, fuels innovation, and it brings different voices to the classroom and to our environments and our workplaces and it’s always up positive thing. And so now we have people who are really being tasked at making sure that the institution is being inclusive and is being equitable. What we find a lot of times is that these professionals or these offices tend to be well resourced, they have the backing of the board or the senior leadership, and they have some sort of influence on campus to get work done around this, which I think is really key. And they have the ability to kind of bring people together around this people who, you know, are more so working independently of each other, or kind of trying to do what they do sort of on a day to day basis. But they have the ability to really look at this from a top down approach. One of the things that I wish that we could kind of do more of is have disability really be prominent in the sort of dei initiatives. Right now they’re working on so many different things, so many different groups of individuals who kind of fit under the DI umbrella. But we see so often that disability kind of gets overlooked, or isn’t as cluded as prevalently compared to these other groups. But yet, it’s a huge part of our population, like we were talking about, you know, somewhere upwards of 33% of our individuals on campus have a disability or being considered neurodiverse. That’s a huge number of our population. So if we can get more of that work spearheaded under dir offices to get some of that momentum and those resources, getting those voices at the table, I think it can really shape campuses in an important way.

Lillian Nave  21:29

Yeah, you know, a lot of the things you just mentioned, has a lot to do with money. Like you said, can we get more data when you’re talking about doing more with less, right, we need to support these offices, and you need more resources. And I know funding models for different state institutions. And I’m not sure how all the private schools work, but it you lose revenue when the student fails out. And if you don’t have a good graduation rate, your bottom line, sadly, we have to think about this is worse off. And so when we actually fund these initiatives and fund a disability office, that’s not just disability services, but maybe a Disability Cultural Center, right to flip the script and, and make it more positive and and have a higher profile on campus. neurodiversity brought in to the DEI initiatives. I’ve heard many people say it’s not really a dei initiative if you’re not including neurodiversity. But when these different areas are funded, where they have the staff, and they have the the right people, well, I’d say that but the the people in charge who can do this are giving resources to it, it actually works out better for students, and it works out better for the university, because we have higher retention, students are passing more classes. So that D FW rate, which is if you’re going to D or fail or withdraw, that goes down that because it creates a more equitable learning environment. So a lot of the disparities between, let’s say, well prepared students and underprepared students is the gap is closed when we are adding even the small things like digital accessibility captions and transcripts and readable PDFs. So that when I used to get, you know, a paper packet, that’s what you got, there was no digital, but some of those paper packets just became pretty much a picture on a screen, and then you can’t read that, like, you know, the computer can’t read that, because it’s pretty much a picture. It’s gotten so much better now many of them are, but even just paying attention to that. It’s, um, it’s so it seems like it’s the wrong thing to think about the money. But in essence, it’s, it fixes the problems to, to invest in this area. And then you’re not having to recruit new students because you still have the same students that that you have, and then they become successful and also helps our students because nobody wants to go to two years of school, incur debt and not have a diploma at the end. That’s just not a good result at all, and happens too much in this day and age and, and that’s

Rachel Kruzel  24:38

really what students are on campus for ultimately, they’re there to get a degree to gain skills to learn something. And if you work in education, that should be why you’re there. That’s part of your why is making sure these students are getting through school. Ultimately, they’re graduate, they’re persisting, they’re retaining, they’re passing their classes. And again, we we don’t want to Make it success based like K 12, when we’re talking about higher education, but can we make it such that the students have the ability to learn to show what they know? And ultimately get through to ultimately where they want to go? Which is graduation to take those skills with them? So what can we do as campuses? What can we do as groups on campus offices, faculty, that are going to meet those students where they’re at to help them ultimately get to their end goal? That’s key. Yeah. And then that does tie back to everything you just said around pension and resources? And yeah, recruitment and enrollment, which is a whole Oh, boy, education with the enrollment list that’s been looming for years, and is now officially here.

Lillian Nave  25:45

Yeah, so fewer and fewer students are going to be enrolling in higher ed and and colleges don’t know what to do, because so much of the funding basis is based on enrollment and growing your classes. And now we just have, there was a dearth of births about 18 years ago. So we’re going to need to find more students or do something differently. And I say, we’re finding something different. Yeah.

Rachel Kruzel  26:11

That we are, I mean, it’s one of the top five priorities that boards and college presidents and senior leadership are worried about when you look at any kind of those organizations out there that work with higher ed that do these sorts of analyses every year is enrollment. And with that comes again, student support and retention of students, they all kind of go hand in hand, we have to be doing something different. Otherwise, we’re never going to survive as institutions and campuses. Yeah. And a lot of that I feel like feeds back into this conversation we’re having of meeting our students where we’re at and recognizing who these students are, that are coming to our campuses, and making sure that the resources are there to ultimately support them in what they’re looking to do, which is again, gain skills, learn, persist, and ultimately graduate. Yeah.

Lillian Nave  26:54

And so many of the things you mentioned about disability offices, diversity offices, even programs, you said, you know, to support students with executive function, I see a growing number of supportive programs like for students who are degree seeking, who have autism who are autistic. So having, you know, programs like that to help students persist. And that is a lot of the social parts. And so many of this is social, like identity groups and things like that. And in the last couple years, especially when I’ve been doing a lot of work about online teaching excellence and things like that, I’m learning about something called the community of inquiry model, which looks at kind of three parts of a course. And there’s a social presence. And so it just means that on an online course, you know that there’s actual real people that your teachers are real person, your instructor is the other students are real people in the class that you’re actually having, you know, this intellectual but social discussion. And then there’s the teaching presence. So are you attentive? Are you giving feedback, that sort of thing as the instructor, and then the cognitive presence, which is the last part there, which is, you know, are you connecting with the actual material, and we often just think of just that one, the material, here’s the material, get it in your heads, and we forget that teaching presents, as the facilitator or the instructor, the sage on the stage, or the guide on the side, whatever it’s going to be, but the groundwork is the very beginning, the building block, and the foundation is the social presence. So if you’ve got students who feel disconnected and unsupported, then they feel like they don’t belong, then they’re not going to persist, and they’re not going to graduate all these things. And I think we’ve forgotten how important that social part of even being a college, you know, campus, is that it? Yes, that community of inquiry works for a college course, but I’m pulling it out to the whole campus right there, there has to be a social identity and a social belonging, sense of belonging. Otherwise, why do we even have a campus at all right? Why? Why do we even need to be there, it could just be you know, take these classes from home, that sort of thing. And we have such a diverse group of students now, we need to be really supporting and creating the spaces where they, they feel like everybody feels like they belong, everybody wants to belong.

Rachel Kruzel  29:29

When I think think back to the students I’ve worked with, and they come in at the end of a semester, or they’d come in in the middle of a semester, and they’d say, Rachel, the student, this faculty just gets me like, I’m just really connecting or you hear time and time again, the faculty whose name just bubble up to the surface and I can name you know, 610 12 of them off the top of my head right now. The institution’s I worked with where students would just say all they’re the best two best faculty and you’d ask them what it was and it was it was that social connection, that feeling like I’m cared about out that that faculty wants me to succeed. I mean, this is something that I’d known for years working in higher ed that we would just hear all the time. But a student who connects with at least one adult on a college campus really feels heard really feels listened to whether that’s a professional support staff member, whether that’s a faculty member, it doesn’t matter who it is, as long as they have one person where they really feel supported and heard and valued by that student is more likely to succeed every semester to pass their classes to persist, and then ultimately graduate. And so I think if we sit and think about that, as professionals, as faculty on campus, that if I can make sure that every student that I’m working with feels connected, whether it’s with me or with somebody else, ultimately, again, it goes back to that student is going to work their way through college and ultimately get to that end goal of graduation. And that’s something I always thought about when I was working with students is am I showing up for students giving them the support that they need? Or are we getting them the resources and getting them to somebody else? Who can be that person? Yeah, that’s, yeah, I feel like

Lillian Nave  31:03

yeah, so. So we’re talking about kind of, you’ve listed a bunch of all these things that are helpful for identity groups, Office of Disability Services, or a cultural center, our office of diversity, inclusion and inclusion, our chief diversity officer, right, so we’ve got all these various parts on campus, which you and I both worked on college campuses, those tend to be siloed, meaning this kind of like a little fence and a nice little yard around each office. Right? So what do you suggest? How, what ways how can all these various siloed parts of campus come together in a more systematic way to better support our learners?

Rachel Kruzel  31:46

Yeah, siloing, I feel like is one of the biggest hindrances and moving a college campus forward. And, and it’s, it’s not necessarily anyone’s fault fault. It’s not, it’s not something we’re intentionally doing. I mean, there are some schools across the country that are doing a great job working across offices, they just have this cultural collaboration. And the silos really have been broken down historically. But there are so many that I work with that you’re just you’re just stuck in your silo, because you’re just trying to get through a day, and you’re just trying to support the learners that you’re doing that you don’t have time to kind of get out. And that’s something I hear all the time is Rachel, I just don’t have time to get out of my day to day work and do that bigger work on campus, like, I know it’s going to be useful, I know it’s going to be beneficial. And this is the fun work. This is why I got into this is really moving the needle and creating systemic change. But then you get the butt of laundry list of all these other things that you’re doing. And so when I work with schools, I very much recognize this, I understand it, I very much I’m like I’ve been in your shoes. I’ve been in those weeks where literally it’s back to back to back to back to back students, there’s not even time to have lunch or to run on the hall and do need to do type of thing. But I really push them kind of on on two things. One, advocating for those resources, like we talked about, ultimately, if you can get those resources that you are needing, you’re going to be able to do that more systemic work again, if you have the funding to be able to have those resources to have the right amount of staffing. And that doesn’t come overnight, that comes with lots of advocacy, and lots of like we talked about making a case and not taking no for an answer and continuing to really push and show with data that, you know, this is what supporting students looks like in our office, if we had x, y, z, this is how it would be different. And we’re going to better support our learners. And then also with that comes the time and the ability to do that more systemic work to break down those silos to work across campus with these other offices. The second thing I really push with them, which easier said than done, I fully admit is really making the time and you putting on your calendar that there’s two hours on Wednesday afternoon, or Friday morning from 10 to noon until lunchtime. That is my dedicated time every week of working on these more systemic issues on campus. And this can start very simply of just you know, meeting with offices seeing what’s going on being able to see how can I help you, you help me and what we’re doing, and really breaking down the silos and starting to do this more systemic work. Again, I hear all the time is like I just don’t have time for anything outside my office. My students our priorities, I can’t give up any more time. But what professionals know and what we see is that if we can take a couple hours a week or an afternoon, once a month to really push these wider campus initiatives, while it’s maybe two or four hours a month or a week or whatever, you’re going to see that return come back exponentially over time. And what we see is when we’re able to get these more sort of systemic students supports across campus or again, these wider initiatives where we’re working with other offices from a top down approach, we see a lot of times that the amount of reactive work we’re doing on campus around accommodations or around student support, if it’s just built into the fabric, it actually kind of lessens, that load lessens that work that we’re doing. So it’s going to take more work up front, and it’s gonna change sort of how you do your work. But ultimately, it’s going to better support our students. Now that we’ve got these wider initiatives around digital accessibility now that we’ve got these cultural centers now that we’ve got these people in positions of leadership around diversity, equity inclusion, I think if you can be a leader, or if you can start the charge, if we can get these people all at the table together and say, how can we work across campus? Because what you’re doing here is similar to what I’m doing here, why would we keep doing the same thing in our own little silos when we can partner and actually maybe save time, or work collaboratively on this and ultimately push campus forward. But again, I think that takes the resources. And it also takes sort of honoring that time, it’s going to be better for our students, it’s going to be better for our campus, it’s going to take us further faster, farther, and ultimately be better for all of us to be innovative. To support our learners. Yeah,

Lillian Nave  36:16

it’s a same thing that I hear now you’re talking systemically, but with as a UDL practitioner, is it’s some extra work at the front end, but it makes the back end so much better, it makes my teaching life easier when I can design for this. So this is just campus design, to get this accessibility, get the connections going, that social part is going to help all of our students and our offices and our people to better serve our students. And then everybody is, you know, successful in their goals. In essence, so Okay, so you work with tech, Ed, so I’m going to ask you a start asking you some technology questions. And we talked about the social part, like people just getting out and, and having lunch and getting to know each other and creating these connections. But how can technology then be a catalyst and perhaps not a hindrance? Because that happens to to support our learners? What sort of ideas do you have around that?

Rachel Kruzel  37:24

Yeah, as you said, I’ve been working with tech for 13 years of my life and the higher education setting and an educational setting. And this comes with the knowledge that we live in a tech centric world. I mean, tech runs our life, like our cell phones, our wearables give our whole day, there’s not a piece of our day where technology isn’t infused in it. And so when people talk about, well, why would why would we use technology as a catalyst to support our learners? It’s like, well, why wouldn’t we? We use it everywhere else in our day to day life, like why wouldn’t we consider this a key way of supporting our learners. And that’s something that always boggles my brain, when we get pushback from people around implementing technology to support learners. Like why wouldn’t we there’s so many things we do on a daily basis where technology supports us and helps us to be more effective and, and more efficient. I mean, we’ve known for the history of assistive technology, which is my background, that technology can help individuals with disabilities. We’ve known what’s good for some, a lot of times ends up being good for all this then sort of throughout history came the blurring of that line of assistive technology becoming just educational technology. Again, that was good pedagogy to have that happened in the last five to 10 years or so. And because of that, I mean, there’s a huge market for this now in, in the technology, space tools that can support the way that we learn the way that we complete work, the way we read, the way we write the way kind of any of those things we know that it’s good for learners who have different disabilities, but it’s also good for that diversity as well. My background is mostly working with students with learning disabilities, ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, mental health disorders. I mean, I think about this from sort of the basic type of technology that I worked with students on every day some type of literacy support or text to speech. So it’s no wonder now that I work for a company that does support and provide this technology across the world to learners because we believe we know we’ve seen the studies that these types of technology that’s going to read aloud a passage for our students, whether they’re reading a textbook, they’re reading a test question or reading an article online, a journal article is going to help with comprehension. It’s going to help with the ability for them to learn more effectively, more efficiently, being able to have things like dictation and so many people take advantage of their dictation tools that are on their phones or on the computer and that again goes back to being a piece of assistive technology. thing that we’ve just ubiquitously adopted as a society because it’s more effective. It supports people when they’re learning, executive functioning tools, being able to have organizational support, to do lists online, being able to regulate time management. I mean, the list goes on and on of all of these different tools that if we stop and think about how they intersect with our daily lives, they’re there and they’re supporting us. So why wouldn’t we provide these to our learners? If we know that it’s going to help them be a better student? If it’s going to support them? I mean, it’s not a question of if a student’s going to struggle sometime in their educational career. It’s, it’s a matter of when and why wouldn’t we proactively provide tools to learners so that they can self select and say, I’m struggling today, I need this extra support. This is a better way for me to learn this content or to create content to show what I know, why wouldn’t we make that investment if it’s ultimately going to help our students that are coming to our campuses?

Lillian Nave  40:59

Yeah, yeah, we need to and, and everything is tech, you know, it used to be you write with a slate and a piece of chalk. And that was tech, you know, and then paper comes around. And like, wait a second, you don’t know how to use a chalk and slates, we need to make sure you, you know, we did it the same way we used to. And this just keeps getting better and better. And we can do so much more. And I find often my students can teach me a lot about how I can better use tech just like my college aged children often have to do. And I can get so much more done, it makes me a better teacher. The more we can embrace it. So my next question might want to open up a little bit about how can faculty work with and embrace this technology to create this is the end, we want a more equitable learning environment, just like you said. But the new kind of thing that is that we are dealing with at least are things like AI, artificial intelligence, and programs that can now spit out papers for students. Whoa. And if you want, they could write my lesson plan, you know, for that matter, so. Well, what do we do about that? Rachel, I want to know,

Rachel Kruzel  42:23

you might open Pandora’s box a little bit here. Yeah. There is huge potential in the emerging technology area. I mean, emerging technology is nothing, nothing new, per se. It’s just what is considered emerging technology. In this day and age, if we look back three years, something was emerging technology, five years, 10 years, it has incredible potential for us to really transform the way that students learn the way that our classrooms are constructed, how classes are held, it’s thrilling and exciting, and it’s invigorating. And for those faculty and those classroom creators, you know, it just is It’s cutting edge. As society as a world, a lot of times, we can get caught up in the thrill of something which is just it’s human nature wanting to be on the cutting edge, because something is flashy, and something exciting, and the latest and the greatest. And it’s, it’s fantastic. But a lot of times, we don’t always stop and think about what those implications and those impacts are on the populations that are using them or that are around us, or in the case of education, those learners who are using the tools, until after we’ve kind of gotten caught up in it or potentially even implemented it. So I think with all of this excitement that’s going on, we need to take pause, just briefly. Whenever we’re thinking about these types of technology and implementing them and thinking about and being able to answer a couple of different questions around a are these tools digitally accessible for all or almost all of the learners that are in my classroom? Is this going to actually make my classroom more equitable and more inclusive? Or is it actually going to create some type of a fissure or divide? Or if there is already a divide around accessibility or inclusion, and equitability? Is it going to make that actually bigger and kind of have two different groups of students? So while I’m intending for this, to really, you know, be innovative and exciting and bring my learners together in some way? Is there something that you’re not thinking about of it actually, excluding? The other thing I think we need to be mindful of is really, who is building these technologies? And are they reflective of the people that are using these tools? I think when we think about these technologies, again, who is building them? Who is creating them who is on the cutting edge who is on the forefront of this? Do they look like are they reflective of the population of learners that are using these tools? Do they look like them? Are they the same diversity? Do they have students with a third P But with disabilities creating these tools, do we have people from different cultures having their voice in this process? Because if not, and I think there’s a lot with AI. For those people building AI and machine learning. If it doesn’t look like and isn’t reflective of the population, it’s not a true representation of who is going to be using that. Yeah. And so because of that, again, we’re creating these fissures in these devices. Yeah. So I have a couple of examples. Sure, if you want me to do. So I think about these lockdown browsers and testing platforms that have become extremely popular over the last three, four or five years. I mean, they came into our market with the intent of helping with academic integrity and making sure that students who were taking tests in these online environments weren’t cheating and actually sort of showing what they know, which is fantastic. It’s a need that colleges have. And then when the pandemic happened, and everyone was online, we needed something like this. But a lot of times campuses adopted these without going back and asking those exact questions. I said around, are these tools equitable? Are they inclusive? Are they even accessible? And what we found is that they’re really not in many ways, Oh, yes. And that all are seeing the lawsuits that have come out like it is again, creating that divide of the students who can use it in the students who cannot for a variety of different reasons. And so now, our friends in the disability accessibility resource offices and our cultural offices on campus, we’re working with our learners that, again, or maybe international students, or Latino Latina x, or you know, name, the cultural group here who are struggling to get access to these tools are actually creating more work for those offices, they’re having to be more reactionary, they’re having to come up with accommodations, in order to get the students access to these tools, which again, good intent of bringing them in. But had we taken pause and stop and thought about? Is this going to, again, create inclusion, create accessibility, while also solving this problem we have? Or is it not? Yeah. I think about the metaverse right now, which is all abuzz right now. Is this going to be like the Internet where it’s taken years and years and years and years for us to make sure that the internet is accessible, for example? Or is this something where yeah, they are, they are thinking about accessibility from the get go so that it is going to be more inclusive. But right now, it’s, you know, kind of few and far between these conversations around accessibility and hearing. And then like I talked about with machine learning AI right now, and who is building it? Who is it reflective of our communities? Or is it reflective of our world? I think that we as schools, we as faculty, we establish those who are creating these communities for our learners to come and learn in, we have an obligation to make sure that whatever we’re adopting, is accessible and inclusive. And we’ve already seen in, you know, the last 510 years that we’ve adopted technologies with the best of intentions, but yet we come to find out kind of on the backside that we have excluded a group of learners, it’s not truly accessible. So we need to sort of stop this cycle of perpetuating exclusion for these groups who have traditionally faced exclusion. If we really want to be inclusive, we really want to be accessible, we need to stop sort of repeating history, and kind of after the fact saying like, Oops, it’s not accessible, we’ve got to kind of figure it out. Or, you know, this need on our campus trumps the need for accessibility and inclusion, because that’s, that’s not the direction of our society. I don’t think anybody on a campus wants to exclude someone once and not be inclusive and equitable. So again, we have this obligation that sort of no matter how flashy or how cool technology is, we’re sort of at this point in history, and we’re at this point in academia, where these are questions that need to be at the forefront, they need to be some of the first questions as not an afterthought or not something after we’ve sort of decided that this is where we need to go. Yeah, because again, like we’ve talked about, I mean, these learners, they’ve come to our campus for a reason. And we need to make sure that we’re sort of holding up our end of why they’ve come and make sure that our campuses are inclusive and accessible, so that they can ultimately graduate without facing all these barriers and feeling like I don’t belong here.

Lillian Nave  49:28

Yeah, you know, going back to So kind of the beginning of our conversation and your work with neurodiverse students, students with ADHD, on the autism spectrum. These are the students that are kind of targeted by the lockdown browsers. If your eyes are moving around. If you’re kind of distracted in your environment, you’re gonna get flagged and it’s because just like you said, Who is making this, if you’re a neurotypical that’s making this LockDown Browser, then you’re going to be As your metrics, your, what is good and bad on a neurotypical behavior, and so yeah, so it, then it becomes, in essence, I’m gonna use some air quotes on a podcast illegal to be neurodivergent. Because you’re now outside that norm and that norm has been made, the only way to pass or the only way that is considered the legal, in essence, way to pass the class to get the exam done or whatever. And so if you’re not modeling on neurodiverse students, then they are going to be kicked out, they’re going to be flagged there, they’re going to be wrongfully, you know, pointed out. And then like you said, the office of disability has to then, or somebody, hopefully, somebody can rectify it, rather than here are the students who are marginalized are now marginalized even more. And same thing with cultural backgrounds, differences, where if the AI if the computer is based all on one ethnic group, then if you start to have students who do not come from that one ethnic group, then they’re not recognized. I’ve seen colleagues and have learned about, if you’re trying to do a virtual background, they don’t even recognize what is the face, right, right as what is the actual human because the AI is based on only, let’s say, Northern European, right, or an American, or something like that. And if you are Southeast Asian, or you know, come from a different part of the world, that technology doesn’t actually serve to, you know, do the its intended purpose, because of who’s making it and not thinking about all that diversity, that could be the people who will eventually use it. So again, we’ve like, jumped into these things. And we’re like, oh, this is great. Oh, perfect, just in time for the pandemic. And then we we use them, and then we realize, Oh, whoops, we didn’t see that glitch, we didn’t see that, you know, blipping the matrix. And now we’ve excluded the people, we are actually trying to serve

Rachel Kruzel  52:13

the nail on the head right there and imagine, and I just think about students who they already have so many things that they’re bringing to campus with them, as learners, what shaped them, and then to be a part of these different marginalized groups, and maybe potentially the anxiety, the imposter syndrome, all these students are bringing to them. And then to sit down and take a test, which is already an anxiety, you know, invoking situation for most people, most people don’t breeze through a test and love being assessed in academics, right, and then have to stop and worry about or come into this test or be doing this test, trying to focus on the content and showing what you’ve learned. But making sure that your eyes don’t look up into the left too far. So that your flag because that’s just the way you process information, yes, or needing to have that text read out loud, because you have a disability, or it’s beneficial to hear it read out loud. Because again, we’re talking about inclusivity. But that technology that you rely on for access not being welcomed in this environment. So it’s just it all just kind of builds on each other. And again, we’re creating these barriers, these hurdles for our learners, whether mostly, you know, not intended, but yet they’re there. So how do we react? How do we go back and rectify that situation?

Lillian Nave  53:37

I really appreciate the questions that you gave us about thinking before you adopt this technology to really think about how accessible it is what what gaps is this going to perpetuate or worsen? Will it actually closed the gap, we want it to close. And there are some universities that do really well with this, I know and then there are some that barely can get by with we need, you know, we need to just grab this and go with it. And so these are really important steps to be thinking about as a head of learning technologies at a campus or even a professor who is ready to jump onto a new technology needs to be asking before we do it. And I remember when I shifted everything online in 2020 and actually I was a little ahead of the ahead of the curve because we were trying to get a course online before that and going through all of the new technologies about oh, I want this to be interactive. I can we you know use this on our learning management system where it asks questions, I have this great video and and students can interact and then find out that as much as I’ve done, there’s no captions or it couldn’t you know, we had like one thing that made it completely inaccessible and I have spent so much time. And then that’s when I was like now every time I’m going to find out from the very beginning, before I put all my work in, is this an accessible technology so that I won’t have, you know, two years down the road five students who say, I can’t even do this, because you know, it has this glitch in the matrix that’s not allowing me even to participate. Right. So

Rachel Kruzel  55:24

yeah, I mean, we, I focused on lockdown browsers. But I could go back to, you know, 2010 22,009, when I started working in this field, and I could list out half a dozen different technologies that has sort of been at the forefront of conversations around accessibility and adoption. And again, best of intent around this. But yeah, if if we can’t get students access, if, if we are building these courses without thinking about at some point, there might be a learner who can’t access this. It’s again, it’s not a matter of if it’s a matter of when. And so if we can just think about at some point in my tenure, I am going to be teaching a student who has a learning disability, I’m going to be teaching a student who might be deaf, a student who is blind or low vision, you have to assume that that’s going to happen. Again, if we do that proactive work, if and when that student does arrive in our classrooms, whether we know it or not, especially now with this online and hybrid learning, you might never know that that student is blind or is deaf, or has a learning disability or has ADHD, whatever, insert disability here, if you build it inclusively, you don’t have to do any of that retroactive and reactive work to make your course all of a sudden accessible or have to change or at the last minute, adopt this technology or find an alternative, you just have done it from the ground up with, again, thinking about UDL, thinking about inclusion and thinking about equity thinking about digital accessibility. If you do that from the forefront, you’re just again, you’re you’re creating, you’re building these spaces that honor the students that are coming to us.

Lillian Nave  57:06

Yeah. And like you said at the very beginning, like the first second question you are answering after your learning question, is it it doesn’t, even when we do all this, there’s still a place for our Office of Disability Services, right, there’s still, we’re not saying we’re going to completely get rid of it. But it does make it so much more accessible and equal for a wide number, a wide variety, a large number of students, and I’ve seen it in my own classes, whereas I used to get so much more have, can you do this, I need this help. Or I need this different slightly different. And if I just chosen a different tool, I wouldn’t have had that problem. If I just done a little homework in the very beginning and chosen between two tools and found the accessible one, then I wouldn’t have had that trouble. So I can switch over you know, and do it. And so it’s these kind of steps to take as we’re looking at new things, to be really systematic and think about this as we plan. So I’m gonna ask you about advice. So you’ve done this a lot, you’ve been in this field a lot. You’ve told us a lot, actually, I appreciate that of the kinds of decision trees we need to be doing. But what are some advice for first steps to make it either an individual instructor or maybe a campus to make your learning environments more accessible, inclusive, and provide that sense of belonging, that social aspect that’s so important?

Rachel Kruzel  58:47

I think first and foremost, it starts with a recognition with ourselves internally as a group, whether it’s a department on campus and our campus as a whole that, again, there’s this variability coming to campus and our students that not everyone is like us and everybody learns like us. And, again, diversity is here, that variability is here, it’s not going away. It’s only growing every year. And so if we can recognize that, first and foremost, it’s going to help us get to the next step of the actual what we can do. If if you don’t buy into the recognition of why this is going on, it’s going to be more challenging for you to even want to make things more accessible or inclusive or make your campuses more you know, have that belonging in your classrooms for example. So that recognition first and foremost, I think is really what’s key. Once you recognize this once you get the why behind it once you get that this is good for learners. There are countless number of things you can do to make your learning environments your classrooms more inclusive, more accessible. I think the key and one of the push backs we get a lot is, this is going to kind of lower that rigor or by doing this, it’s going to make my class easier for students. And that’s not the case at all, when it comes to making classes more accessible, more inclusive, making sure students feel like they belong. It’s, that’s not it at all. I think that’s kind of the second piece in this puzzle, too, is, what you’re doing is not lowering that regard or not lowering that standard. So once you kind of again, recognize that, you know, their students are here, not everyone is like you. And then also knowing that you can still keep that rigor. There are tons of things you can do, you know, documents, you can very quickly and easily make sure that they’re accessible. And even just baseline very basic accessible, making them more accessible, you know, making sure they’re OCR, we talked about that. So if students are using technology to access and interact with them, they’re able to do so without having to take extra steps. You know, thinking about Universal Design for Learning, which is a great framework and pedagogy for making classrooms more inclusive and accessible, you know, giving students voice and choice in their assignments, not having every class or every assessment be a test. I’m sure that you know, we know faculty, we are faculty, where we have four assessments throughout a semester and a final exam. And that’s it, that’s the only way that students are assessed in your class. Even adding a couple of papers in there, there’s a faculty I worked with many years ago who, at the end of every kind of part of the course it would be an exam, and it would be a paper that was equally weighted, so that students who excelled at taking tests had the ability to show what they know that way, they also had the ability to if you excelled writing a paper, you could also write a paper and have that be equally weighted again. And that doesn’t take a lot more time. It doesn’t take a lot more energy for you to grade 100 page or 100 question exam, versus a 50 question. And then adding two page paper in there type of thing, you’re still grading type of thing, you’re still having students show what they know, thinking about not having the same type of class every you know, not just being like you talked about that sage on the stage and lecturing every day for an hour or 75 minutes or however your classes and then again, having students take that assessment, you know, can we make it be group work? Once in a while? Can there be some type of interactive assignments, can we meet students with what they’re doing, and there’s a million creative ideas out there of what you can do to make your classes more inclusive, more accessible. And again, like there’s tons of ideas out there, and the sky’s kind of the limit. Again, if you’re willing to put a little bit of work in at the fore front of a class, when you’re planning when you’re updating when you’re going back and revising it for the next go around. And again, and then that student is going to feel like they belong in that classroom. Students are coming from K through 12. Having this type of classroom, this is their expectation. So when they come to our campuses, and it’s not like that, there’s a whole other learning curve that they’re they’re having to kind of get up to speed with but this is the way things are done. So again, if we can look at what’s being done, again, we’re not lowering standards, we’re just giving students a different way to learn. And a lot of times, those those things students are learning, they’re able to make different connections, they’re able to have that kind of sink in, they’re seeing how what they’re learning really applies to the real world. And that’s ultimately what they’re going to take with them wherever they go next, whether that’s furthering their education, or getting a job somewhere, they’re going to see how this all fits in the bigger picture and make them better citizens, better critical thinkers, ultimately better preparing them to really push our world forward. And that’s again, I think, what we want, we want these students to leave here and to make an impact on the world around us. And if we can do that, at the highest degree when they’re at our institutions, it’s just better for our learners at the end better for our campuses and better for our world.

Lillian Nave  1:04:01

Absolutely, I can’t even add on to that. It’s, it’s, that’s what we want. I believe you believe here that our universal design for learning all of these tools can help get our students where they want to be where we want them to be. It’s not a competition, it is a it’s a collaboration to to move our students forward so they can learn. So thank you. Thank you so much, Rachel, I really appreciate having the chance to talk to you and learn from you and have this really, you know, kind of systematic way of thinking about how to use and choose technology and what to do and also how to integrate that into our campuses to make a place where our students belong and can persist and and eventually be those better people and successful people. So thank you very much for your time.

Rachel Kruzel  1:04:56

Thanks for having me. There’s so much potential here for creating more accessible, inclusive and equitable campuses. And that’s what’s so exciting is we have so many places we can go with this Yes.

Lillian Nave  1:05:12

You can follow the think UDL podcast on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to find out when new episodes will be released. And also see transcripts and additional materials at the think website. Thank you again to our sponsor Texthelp. Texthelp is focused on helping all people learn, understand and communicate through the use of digital education and accessibility tools. Texthelp and its people are working towards a world where difference, disability or language are no longer barriers to learning and succeeding, with over 50 million users worldwide. The Texthelp suite of products include Read and Write equates to an orbit note, which work alongside existing platforms such as Microsoft Office and G Suite, enabling them to be integrated quickly into any classroom or workspace with ease. Texthelp has changed the lives of millions worldwide, and strives to impact the literacy and understanding of 1 billion people by 2030. Additional support for the podcast is made possible by Appalachian State University where if you call it Appalachian, I’ll throw in Appalachia. The music on the podcast was performed by the Odyssey quartet comprised of Rex Shepherd, David Pate, Bill Folwell and Jose Cochez an I am your host, Lillian Nave. Thank you for joining us on The think UDL podcast

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