We recently came across a comprehensive video by Stanford Neurodiversity Project on incorporating universal design principles to create an inclusive dorm community. The video was created by undergraduate college students as a final project for a psychology course and features two neurodivergent students sharing their experiences living in college dorms.
We reflect on the actionable takeaways from the video to foster an enriching living experience for all our campers.
Creating Activities with Structure and Intention
At Beyond Akeela, we consciously build in evening activities like trivia night, mini-golf, and bowling, that offer teens opportunities to socialize while simultaneously giving them the option to focus on the activity without feeling overwhelmed by the pressure to interact with others. Additionally, all our dorm lounges have a variety of games for teens to have more choices on how they socialize during their free time.
Being Mindful of Sensory Stimulation
We intentionally schedule most group activities outdoors or in a spacious room to minimize sensory overload. We also establish group norms for being mindful of sensory stimulation indoors, such as snapping instead of clapping and normalizing stepping out from an overwhelming space.
Encouraging Multiple Means of Communication
At Beyond Akeela, we understand that initiating a conversation about a challenge with an advisor or peer can sometimes feel stressful. Consequently, we encourage teens to harness the power of different communication modalities. For instance, teens can leave their advisors a note explaining what they want to discuss to frame the face-to-face conversation.
Practicing Compassionate Humility
Advisors at Beyond Akeela support campers using a strengths-based approach and center the teens as the experts of their experience. We seek to learn from our teens and intentionally incorporate their feedback to ensure they receive the individualized support they need to thrive.
Overall, the video emphasized how simple, tangible actions can profoundly improve accessibility and how accessibility allows every individual to tap into their potential. We carry these reflections with us as we continue to empower our teens by designing an enriching and inclusive community.