Eight adults in business attire sit on a L-shaped couch smiling.

Access Everywhere: Starkloff Welcomes Kazakhstan’s Education Ministers

On April 18, Starkloff Disability Institute welcomed an international delegation of education ministers from the Republic of Kazakhstan.

This wasn’t our first time on the global stage. One of our founding programs, the Universal Design Summit is the largest in North America and attracts international presenters and attendees. Since going virtual with our individual career development programs, we’ve connected with disabled professionals in Germany, South Africa, and more. We were thrilled with this opportunity to advance disability inclusion through this new relationship.

These ministers visited St. Louis as a part of a training partnership between Kazakhstan and Webster University’s School of Education. The inclusion of students with disabilities in schools is an issue of high priority for Kazakhstan. This partnership highlights how decades of laws like the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) make disabled students’ experiences different here than in Kazakhstan. Webster is hosting multiple Kazakh cohorts through this partnership and the training includes visits to schools and advocacy organizations to witness inclusion in action.

Webster University is one of our community partners. Currently we are helping them assess and increase physical accessibility on their campus. Stephanie Mahfood, interim dean of the School of Education and Kazakhstan project lead, knows the value of our expertise and lived experience. She recommended the officials participate in a training with Starkloff during their visit.

The group spent an afternoon with our disability inclusion consultants discussing a range of topics, including physical accessibility and the legislative frameworks guiding accessibility standards in the United States. The concept of Universal Design, pioneered by architect Ron Mace, was a focal point of the conversation.

Universal Design emphasizes creating spaces and environments that are usable by everyone, without the need for adaptation or specialized design. We shared our insights into the principles of universal design, like equitable use and flexibility, and illustrated their application in physical and learning environments.

Following this workshop, Dean Mahfood took the ministry officials took a tour of Webster University’s campus. “We were purposeful in showing them examples of accessible spaces as well as spaces that required further adjustments. By the end of the tour, the ministers were stopping me and pointing out areas that they were finding concerning and making recommendations for improvements,” Dean Mahfood said. “I am so grateful for our time with Starkloff. They equipped these leaders with an entirely new lens to see the world: accessibility! I’m excited to see how they apply their new-found knowledge to the ongoing work in Kazakhstan.”

Starkloff’s engagement with Kazakhstan marks a significant step towards fostering inclusive education on a global scale!

Our Universal Design programming has several exciting things in the pipeline! Stay tuned for more details later this summer.