Elizabeth Thompson staff photo. She has long, curly blonde hair and is wearing a white shirt and black blazer. She is standing in front of trees and smiling at the camera

Thompson Earns Universal Design Certificate

Elizabeth Thompson has been involved with HDI for a while, but she’s always ready for an opportunity to learn more. 

Thompson, who works with the RETAIN project in Administrative Support, recently received her certificate in Universal Design for Learning. 

“I started my journey with HDI350-Introduction to Universal Design in the fall of 2022, and then I finished it up this most recent semester in ’24,” Thompson said. 

The certification program teaches seven basic principles of universal design – Equitable Use, Flexibility in Use, Simple and Intuitive Use, Perceptible Information, Tolerance for Error, Low Physical Effort, and Size and Space for Approach and Use – then explains how to apply these ideas in multiple different spaces. 

Though Thompson was already acquainted with aspects of universal design, she came away with a much broader and wider perspective on the subject. 

“I was able to stretch my own thoughts and opinions about what universal design is,” she said. “Whatever you’re looking at, especially websites and…documents and things like that, that there is just so much that can be improved for people to increase the accessibility.”

And while learning about digital accessibility and the many tools that can be used both to enable it and to assess it. 

However, as much as she appreciated learning about those things, when they began to cover universal design in terms of physical space, Thompson got really excited. 

“That’s always been my thing,” she said. “I’ve remodeled several houses for my own living and one for my parents, so I really, really like that physical world of making sure that someone has full access and can go as many places as possible.”

Thompson also talked about how earning this certificate helped her learn about the ways in which universal design can help everyone, not just people with disabilities. 

“A ramp makes it accessible for someone who uses a wheelchair or power wheelchair,” Thompson said. “But the mother or father with a stroller, that ramp is very useful for them. Even somebody who’s walking their pet. Not all animals like to go up and down steps. It just broadens the access.”

All in all, Thompson said the entire process was an excellent learning experience that gave her a lot of new knowledge and tools that can help a lot of people. 

“There was no part that didn’t excite me,” she said. “Universal design helps the world to be more accessible for everybody.”

To learn more about the UDL Certificate, follow this link: https://hdi.uky.edu/undergraduate-certificate

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State of HDI: Communication Q&A with Jacqui Kearns


[Patti Singleton]

All right. Hello and welcome and thank you for joining us on the state of HDI. A podcast of the University of Kentucky Human Development Institute. This is Patti Singleton. And with me in the studio again is Jacqui Kearns, program director of Communication Initiatives. Jacqui has spent her career as a champion of students with significant disabilities and ensuring all students have access to communication. Jacqui, welcome.

[Jacqui Kearns]

Thank you for having me. I’m excited to be back.

[Patti Singleton]

Yes, And this is a follow up to the episode four of the state of HDI, where we had an opportunity to really kind of talk through what communication is and why it’s important. And today we are going to actually walk through some facts or fiction based on Jacqui. A lot of the information that you’ve gathered over your career.

So what I’ll do is state something and then you can follow up with whether that is actual fact or fiction. So to start the absence of clear expressive communication, like oral speech or a sign and the perceived presence of intellectual disabilities means that the student may not benefit from communication intervention. Jacqui Is that fact or fiction?

[Jacqui Kearns]

That is fiction. The fact is the belief that children who experience delays in communication and cognitive development are unable to benefit from language intervention has not been substantiated. And that’s from our researchers. Buchanan and Miranda and the National Joint Committee on the Communication of Persons with Severe Disabilities, which still exists. Their most recent one is 2016. So, there is no literature that says students with intellectual disabilities will not benefit from communication intervention.

All students benefit from communication intervention. I can’t say that strongly enough, loud enough. And the more emphasis, less emphasis. It’s truth or intervene. Do it now.

[Patti Singleton]

For our next one. Speech language services should be discontinued if the student is not going to use oral speech. Jacqui, is that fact or fiction?

[Jacqui Kearns]

That is also fiction. The fact is that speech language services should be continued in order to facilitate language development. The use of robust augmentative alternative communication systems or devices, literacy and social engagement. And this is part of the American Speech and Hearing Association practice guidelines. So releasing students for students from services based on their lack of development of progress in oral speech is fiction now progress in learning to use a device depends on the extent to which the people in their circles, their communication partners use that device with them.

[Patti Singleton]

All right. Jacqui, next fact or fiction? The student’s perceived level of cognitive functioning has an impact on their candidacy for use.

[Jacqui Kearns]

And this one is also fiction. And very similar to the first question we had. The fact is, no empirically validated method for making candidacy decisions based on cognitive ability exist. That was in 2003, and it continues to this day. There is no empirical validated data to say, well, you have a severe disability, therefore you aren’t eligible. That is incorrect.

What is more important is that we find the factors that impact a student’s ability to communicate, and we mitigate those factors. And we found the right system that matches them their abilities.

[Patti Singleton]

So next, Jacqui fact or fiction? Inclusive settings are not conducive to intensive communication intervention.

[Jacqui Kearns]

Well, interestingly, this is kind of counterintuitive. This is also fiction. The fact is students with disabilities and communication challenges in general, education classes were involved in significantly higher levels of communication interactions than those in self-contained settings. So that was in 2004 and then most recently repeated in a study by Kathy Ji in 2018 or 2019, in a randomized pairs study where communication improved so students in the inclusive classrooms who had communication needs significantly improved when compared to the peer who was in a self-contained classroom with a similar level of communication need.

So inclusive settings counterintuitive but inclusive settings are the best place for students with complex communication needs because of the presence of robust peer of peers who have robust use of communication and language.

[Patti Singleton]

Next, we must require the student to use the AC device for all communicative intentions. Is that fact or fiction?

[Jacqui Kearns]

Well, best fiction too. The fact is we all use a variety of ways to communicate our intentions. We use facial expressions, we use body language. We do use our vocalizations or our words and those are, in our words are effective. But that means that kids need to have devices that have words on them. So we want to we want the students to use the device for the things that that they can’t communicate otherwise.

And for the purposes that require our more robust system for communication, for making sentences, for saying I hurt, I hurt here, my fingers hurt, rather than pointing and maybe getting it or not being able to point. And I have something that hurts and not be able to tell you.

[Patti Singleton]

So, fact or fiction? AC as instead use interferes with the development of speech.

[Jacqui Kearns]

You know, I’m so glad you this one is in here. First of all, a speech generating device is an SD speech generating device. And the fact that it interferes is a big miss. The fact is AC has been shown to facilitate the development of oral speech. And we’ve seen this over and over in our core vocabulary training, even with a folder that has pictures on it that makes sentences when the model, when the communication partner models the use of that folder, they have to slow their speech down because they have to find and point to the picture.

I want more, which is different than I want more if I want more. When you slow your speech and you model and most people are modeling backwards to you know that you give the person the communicator, enough time to process what you just said. And so that improves their use of verbal speech. So does it make a huge improvement?

I don’t know. We don’t know that. But it does improve, improved significantly. So that gives them another mode. They have both a speech generating device for when it’s not working, but then that also gives them some improvement in some of the other modes that they use.

[Patti Singleton]

All right, Jacqui, last one factor fiction Aided language modeling is an evidence based practice for communication intervention.

[Jacqui Kearns]

And that one is the fact it is an evidence based practice. And I just described it. When you are using a device and you are using it and you’re pointing to the pictures for the student, and what’s important about aided language modeling is there’s not a requirement that they follow the model, just that you model. When we teach children to speak, we don’t say now say it.

We say, “Oh, you want more? Okay, here’s more.” When you’re modeling, you go, “Oh, you said you want more.” So, you’re showing them how to use the device where the words are. The words don’t move on the page. They stay in the same place. And then we go ahead with the communication exchange. They get to see how it works.

Then when they need to use it, they’ll be able to find it.

[Patti Singleton]

Jacqui, thank you again for sitting down with us today. And any last words.

[Jacqui Kearns]

I would say, the last word is never too early. It’s never too late. Using a device does not make an individual dependent on it. And we want to use all the communication modes that a person has. We want to use the device, but we also want to use all the facial expressions and body language and all the ways that we all communicate.

And we want to be good communication partners. And maybe our next segment will be how to be a good communication partner. Thank you for having me.

[Patti Singleton]

Absolutely. Thank you.

Gayle Bartilow Staff Photo

Dr. Bartilow receives Cooter Social Justice Advocate Award and dissertation of the year

Dr. Gayle Bartilow was not prepared for how much of an effect her dissertation research would have on her. 

When she traveled to South Africa to do research on how apartheid had affected educational opportunities and how modern South Africans are working to decolonize education to build a better system, she expected that she would hear some difficult stories, but she had no idea exactly how intense it would get. 

“I was not prepared for the level of, hardship, violence, and the heart wrenching stories that came out,” she said. “I did not expect to hear that some of the people that I interviewed actually engaged in warfare. I didn’t know that it was that intense. I wasn’t prepared for the number of people that had died during that time. And I found out about how violent that period…the bloodshed, and the people that I interviewed were students. They were children when this happened.” 

Though the work may have been difficult, Bartilow feels it was important – and Bellarmine University, the school where she received her doctorate, agrees, given that it recognized Bartilow with its Dissertation of the Year and Robert and Kathleen Cooter Social Justice Advocate Award. Bartilow said she was honored and humbled to receive the award – and driven to honor the stories that her participants told her.

“The participants are really entrusted in me a lot when they shared those very personal stories,” she said. “I feel as if I have a responsibility to share that.”

Bartilow said that confronting such difficult subject matter had a profound effect on her. The stories were often difficult to hear. 

“I had to check my own mental health,” she said. “While I was interviewing the participants, I started to struggle. with my own mental health. I was having bad dreams, and I could feel the tension and the stress in my body, headaches and trouble sleeping. So I had to just be really mindful about caring for myself as well.”

But Bartilow’s work was ultimately focused on life beyond those difficult stories, on how the people who lived them changed the world in response. She specifically focused on educators who were in school during the apartheid era, and on what they had done to offer today’s students opportunities they had been denied. 

“One of the themes that came through was the need to build up others, support community,” she said. “My participants made the point of telling their students that they need to support others, they need to create a pathway for others to succeed as well.”

That’s ultimately what the Cooter Social Justice Advocate Award celebrates – a dissertation that works towards a more equitable world. Bartilow is joyous that she got the chance to do research that was found worthy of it – and to learn about people pushing past hardship to make the world a better place. 

“It’s about creating positive change,” she said. “Social change and social justice for people who have had extraordinary difficulties, circumstances that limited them and denied them opportunities.” 

wheelchair at the airport

HDI Collaborates with CVG to Promote Accessible Air Travel

Dr. Walt Bower has been involved in disability advocacy for a while but even he is continually learning about the difficulties of air travel for passengers with disabilities. 

Bower, HDI’s Pre-Service Training Coordinator recently teamed up with Dr. Julie Pfeiffer, a research assistant at HDI, to hold a panel on wheelchair accessibility during air travel in partnership with the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, known by the airport code CVG. 

“Airplanes are the only type of public transportation in the United States that do not have spaces for wheelchair users,” Bower said. “Without such a space, thinking about traveling by air for many individuals with disabilities continues to be challenging, frustrating, nearly impossible, and sometimes even life threatening.”

The panel started with an introduction by HDI’s Jason Jones, who is also a wheelchair user, followed by a panel of wheelchair users which included Dr. Kara Ayres, David Allgood and Paul Erway, who talked about challenges they’ve faced in the past when flying.

“They described their experiences with air travel, some of the anxieties and concerns that they have related to their wheelchair when traveling,” Bower said. “They also talked about, what they wished airports, airlines, TSA agents and others knew about passengers traveling in wheelchairs, or with other disabilities. And they also explained what their wheelchair means to them and their daily life.”

Often, Bower and Pfeiffer said, this includes accessibility on the plane itself, where a narrow central aisle makes it challenging to navigate, and small bathrooms with few accessibility features cause additional issues. 

“Although the bathrooms are deemed accessible under the Air Carrier Access Act, they’re typically not accessible to wheelchair users, because they don’t follow the same requirements of accessibility as we would find in the ADA,” Pfeiffer said. 

These problems, she added, can be difficult to fix. 

“It’s such a large problem because you have to reimagine what an airplane looks like and reimagine the size of things like aisles, doors, and seats,” Pfeiffer said. 

However, there are areas cited as major problems by people with disabilities where airlines and airports can make changes far more easily, such as providing additional training on how to prevent loss of and damage to wheelchairs. For example, approximately 32 wheelchairs or scooters were lost, damaged or delayed each day in the American air travel industry during 2023. 

“When it comes to other issues that wheelchair users face in air travel, like having their wheelchair damaged when it’s stowed under the plane or difficulty with safety when transferring from their wheelchair to the airplane seat, I think the most impactful thing we can do in those areas is improve training, education and awareness among airline personnel, which is why we held this panel,” Pfeiffer said.

The panel was also recorded so not only CVG, but other airports can continue to use it as training material to ensure that people with disabilities are treated with respect as they travel. 

“Through that event, we hope that the conversation and panel moves us forward to bridge the gap between accessibility and airline travel for greater inclusion for all people with disabilities,” Bower said.

Dr. Rachel Womack represents HDI at Disability Policy Seminar

Dr. Rachel Womack represents HDI at Disability Policy Seminar

When Dr. Rachel Womack attended the Disability Policy Seminar, she wasn’t entirely sure what was in store for her.

Womack, who serves as HDI’s Training Director, had been to academic conferences before, but policy seminars were a new experience – and one she enjoyed. 

“It wasn’t just sharing information, it was sharing, ‘Hey, here’s the relevant information and here’s what you can do with it,’” she said. “It was learning the valuable skill of how do we affect change at a policy level through education.”

The seminar was geared towards not only professionals, but also self-advocates and family members. 

The first couple days were dedicated to identifying the biggest issues in the disability community right now, which Womack said included employment, home and community-based services, Medicaid waiver programs, housing inclusive education, and the Autism CARES Act. They also learned how to advocate and educate without directly lobbying. 

“What we’re doing when we lobby is we are telling a lawmaker whether they should be in favor of or against a specific policy,” Womack said. “When we educate…what we can do is we can talk about just broadly, the importance of policies.”

She used the Autism CARES Act as an example, stating that, while she could not advocate for or against its reauthorization, she could talk about the importance of funding for autism research and training efforts in general. 

On the third day, attendees took to Capitol Hill to meet with their local lawmakers and put all the skills they’d learned to use. Womack traveled with LEND trainee Hannah Keene and teamed up with other members of Kentucky’s disability community to speak with lawmakers about the issues of the day and how they could affect Kentuckians with disabilities. 

“There was no discussion at all of a specific policy, but what we explained is that people with disabilities in Kentucky and across the nation want to work,” Womack said. “They can work. They can contribute very valuable things to the workforce. We talked about the difference between, things like sheltered workshops and, integrated competitive employment settings and kind of the impact that being in one of those environments versus the other can have on someone’s life.”

It was Womack’s first time attending the Disability Policy Seminar. But she doubts it’ll be the last.

“There are not enough spaces where professionals, students, self-advocates and family members can come together for one cause,” Womack said. “The tools that folks gain at events like the Disability Policy Seminar are so important because they’re so useful. It’s not something where we just go home and we say, ‘Hey, I learned this really interesting thing today.’ It’s, ‘Oh, I go home and now I know how to affect change, in the political arena because I’ve learned how to do that appropriately.”