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Education and Training Boards Ireland welcomes the launch of the ALTITUDE Charter

As a National Collaborator in the Project, ETBI welcomes the launch of ALTITUDE – the National Charter for Universal Design in Tertiary Education, kickstarting a national conversation about how the sector can adopt the Charter and over time, work towards embedding a universal design approach.

 Upon its release, Paddy Lavelle, General Secretary, Education and Training Boards Ireland (ETBI) noted this landmark achievement:

“ETB FET provision nationally is characterised by an inclusive approach to engage a broad diversity of learners ensuring every learner can flourish through their participation. Universal Design acknowledges learner diversity as central to the design and delivery processes and the AltitUDe Charter, toolkit and technical report enables ETBs to explore the opportunities for implementation of Universal Design principles in many aspects of FET provision. This process will complement the strong levels of engagement in Digital Badges by their teaching and support staff which have enabled and inspired them to embed Universal Design already in their practice.”

About the Launch

ALTITUDE, the National Charter for Universal Design in Tertiary Education, was launched today at the AHEAD ‘Panorama’ Conference, focused on widening inclusion in tertiary education, marking the start of a national conversation about how the sector can more strategically embed a universal design (UD) approach. A working group of senior leader representatives from across the further education and training (FET), and higher education (HE) sectors, is currently being devised to guide the development of a formal adoption process for institutions, with adoption expected to become available to institutions by late 2024/early 2025.

Before this formal process becomes available, institutions are encouraged to begin strategic dialogue across functions in the institution to consider what an effective working group structure to drive implementation would look like.

The launch of the ALTITUDE Charter, which represents a vehicle for institutions to declare their intent to make incremental and sustainable progress towards embedding a UD approach, is accompanied by the ALTITUDE Technical Report. This report outlines the context for the development of the Charter, the evidence base that underpins it, the alignment of the Charter with legislation and policy, and contains recommendations on its implementation. A more practical Toolkit to support implementation of the Charter is in the final stages of development and will be released in the coming months.

About the ALTITUDE Charter

Go to the Charter Launch page and download the Charter and Technical Report.

The learner population in tertiary education is becoming increasingly diverse, and students’ lives are also increasingly complex. The responsibility on educational institutions to provide equitable access for all is now strongly embedded in Irish legislation, and national tertiary education strategies contain more specific goals to implement a Universal Design approach, (SOLAS, 2020; Higher Education Authority, 2022).

The aim is to move towards a system where ‘Inclusion is Everyone’s Business’, where all staff play their part in delivering an inclusive educational experience.

Universal Design, or UD for short, offers us an evidence-based approach to engender this mindset, and is increasingly seen as a central tenet of our response to rising diversity, (Centre for Excellence in Universal Design, 2022). But how can we embed a UD approach in our institutions?

That’s where ALTITUDE – the National Charter for Universal Design in Tertiary Education – comes in to play.

Funded by the HEA under PATH 4, the ALTITUDE Project is an extensive cross sectoral collaboration involving six national agencies, fifteen higher education (HE) institutions and six Education and Training Board (ETB) representatives, nominated by Directors of FET to represent the Further Education and Training sector.

The vision of the project looks to a future in tertiary education where ‘all learners are transformatively included through universal design in education’, deriving the name ALTITUDE. It seeks to move us in that direction by supporting HEIs and ETBs to make sustainable progress towards systemically embedding a UD approach…. – one which places human diversity at the heart of tertiary education design, and fosters student success for all learners.

The ALTITUDE Charter, and the associated toolkit and technical report, build on significant existing work on UD in the Irish tertiary education landscape (Kelly & Padden, 2018), and through these outputs, provides a clear roadmap for institutions to make progress.

Drawing from national and international literature, the Charter recommends key strategic enablers, which institutions should put in place over time to support the sustainable implementation of UD, and proposes collaborative action to work towards goals under 4 key pillars of our institutions:

  • Learning, Teaching & Assessment;
  • Supports, Services & Social Engagement;
  • the Physical Environment;
  • and the Digital Environment

Institutions who adopt it will over time benefit from:

  • a more unified language of and commitment to a universal design approach in their institution
  • a greater culture of shared responsibility for UD, access, and inclusion, operationalising the ‘Inclusion is Everyone’s Business’ mindset.
  • a more effective and learner centred approach to compliance with national legislation and policy
  • and most importantly, the iterative development of programmes, services, and environments that enable equitable opportunities for all learners to thrive and be successful.

The cross-sectoral development of the ALTITUDE Charter   represents a landmark moment for the tertiary education sector, signalling its intent to place human diversity at the heart of its design and delivery.

Go to the Charter Launch page and download the Charter and Technical Report.