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The Inclusion & Universal Design Project

scissorsCreating change and opportunity one pair of adaptive scissors at a time

The Preschool Development Grant: Inclusion & Universal Design Project, is a partnership between the Center for Inclusive Design and Engineering (CIDE), University of Colorado Denver, and the Colorado Department of Human Services – Office of Early Childhood. It was designed to meet a statewide need for more inclusive and universally designed child care options for families of children with developmental delays and disabilities. The Colorado Shines Brighter Needs Assessment (2019) identified creating more inclusive early learning environments as one of the state’s twelve key early care and education needs.  As part of the Needs Assessment, 1 in 7 parents identified their child as having a delay, disability, or special need. Of those families, 34% indicated that their preferred child care provider was unable to accommodate their child.  As a result, parents had to access a less preferred child care option. This project addresses that need.

CIDE envisions a world where all persons with disabilities and those aging into disability are engaged in everything life has to offer. Through the use of technology, barriers or obstacles to active participation are minimized and often eliminated.  This CIDE project builds on previous work, expertise, and research to help improve access to high quality child care for young children with delays and disabilities.

The Inclusion & Universal Design Project works closely with a select group of licensed family child care homes and child care centers. It builds a foundation of knowledge with participating child care providers through an Introduction to Universal Design training, five topic-specific small group meetings, and individualized reflection sessions. Participants then receive an Adapted Materials Kit full of products and examples of how to adapt and modify classroom tools, toys, and materials. The kit, together with the training and small group meetings, develops Colorado child care providers’ skills and confidence to effectively support children with delays and disabilities.

The project, funded through Colorado’s Preschool Development Grant, will run for three years, slowly adding more childcare providers each year, with plans to support 50 programs this year. The providers will be located in both rural and urban areas throughout Colorado. They represent center-based and family child care programs serving at-risk populations, and families with diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds. The first group consisted of 25 programs with a goal of 125 total programs included before the project ends. Each year the project will be refined and improved based on input received.

Kids’ Castle in Aurora, Colorado is one of the first 25 programs. The family child care home opened in 2010 and recently had their Colorado SHINES Level 5 rating renewed. They are currently caring for 10 kids, four of whom have disabilities.

“The program has been amazing, we have been learning and learning,” said Steph Olson, Kids’ Castle co-owner. “Receiving the first box of classroom manipulatives was like Christmas here at Kids’ Castle. The box was filled with items aligned to enhance our intentional teaching moments for children with special abilities.”

Many of the participating child care programs have reported benefits to the children they serve through small adjustments that they have learned through participating in the Inclusion & Universal Design Project.

A participating child care reported that they have had a child with a diagnosed disability whose caregivers have decided to keep the child enrolled at their smaller child care rather than transferring to a specialized program because of the learning and growth they have seen from the small adjustments that have been made after participating in the Inclusion & Universal Design Project. The child was previously only engaging with a single page in a book. Once the providers received instruction on how to adapt books by adding page fluffers and tactile objects, the child “now feels the [different] stickers and wants to turn page after page.”

Another child care center reported benefits a child received after the providers learned about adapted scissors. The providers reported that this child had previously shown “no interest in using traditional child-sized scissors.” On the day the looped scissors from the Adapted Materials Kit were introduced, “it took [the child] only a few seconds to engage in cutting paper. [The child] now uses the sign for “cut” to communicate [a] desire to cut paper!”

Research has consistently shown that trialing assistive technologies before purchasing prevents device abandonment and saves time and money. The Preschool Development Grant project is currently working on developing a loan library of low-tech assistive technology and adaptations available to participating child care providers. Child care providers are also encouraged to partner with a qualifying child’s team of specialized providers to access more high-tech assistive technology in the loan library through CIDE’s Tech for Tykes program for early intervention or SWAAAC program for school-age providers.

“We are purchasing four iPads to put in the Preschool Development Grant lending library that we have loaded with developmentally appropriate apps to enhance learning,” said Christa LeGray, CIDE early intervention program coordinator and research instructor. “We also have a lot of low-tech equipment in the library so that the child care programs can try it out and decide if it is worth purchasing. We help organize and manage the loan library as part of the project.”

Project coordinators are optimistic that a little knowledge, resources, and support will foster inclusive, universally designed early learning environments. The participating child care providers are already seeing the impact of simple changes and adaptations. “… we think about how we can improve… not only for our kids with disabilities but for everybody,” said Olson. “It’s all for the kids, and everyone is benefitting. It’s amazing.”

The Inclusion & Universal Design Project – creating change and opportunity one pair of adaptive scissors at a time.

By: Diddiery Santana, student writer & communications major

CU Denver Engineering, Design and Computing View All

At the CU Denver College of Engineering, Design and Computing, we focus on providing our students with a comprehensive engineering education at the undergraduate, graduate and professional level. Faculty conduct research that spans our five disciplines of civil, electrical and mechanical engineering, bioengineering, and computer science and engineering. The college collaborates with industry from around the state; our laboratories and research opportunities give students the hands-on experience they need to excel in the professional world.

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