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Universal design

The Disability Resource Centre, General Board and Cambridge Centre for Teaching & Learning are working in collaboration at present on the promotion of 'universal design for learning', facilitating a move away from the resource-intensive model of individual needs-based adjustments for disabled students. More information can be found in the DRC Annual Report.

The impetus for the shift arises in part from the continued increase in students who have disclosed disability - mental health conditions in particular - to the University. In July 2019 the number of students registered with the DRC stood at 3268, representing around 14% of the overall student body. Of these students, 1043 disclosed a mental health condition, a category which rose by 30% between 2017-18 and 2018-19, in comparison with a general disclosure rise of 8%.

 

The contribution of content notes

Within the context of this shift to universal design for learning, content notes can serve as an important proactive effort on the part of Faculties and Departments to reflect and develop these principles within their own specific academic contexts.

As well as those with PTSD, content notes also benefit students with other mental health conditions. Our survey of University of Cambridge students registered with the Disability Resource Centre found that 36% of all students with mental health conditions felt they would personally benefit from the provision of content notes on their course, with a further 36% stating that they might benefit.

It is also worth noting that not all students with mental health conditions will have disclosed these to the DRC, particularly if they are already registered with the DRC for another disability. The proportion of respondents to our student survey, though a small sample size, indicated a significantly higher proportion of students with mental health conditions (77%) than is reflected in DRC records.

The proactive and widespread provision of content notes - where the onus to request accommodations is not on the individual student - could therefore make a substantial contribution to promoting equity of learning experiences between disabled and non-disabled students, helping to eliminate awarding gaps and address disadvantage in student learning.

We also believe that content notes can play a crucial role in levelling the playing field for minoritised students of all kinds, as well as enriching the educational experience for all.

 

Next: Benefits for other students