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Let's play it safe: using a team approach to curriculum development.

Abstract: Research has shown that individuals with disabilities have an increased likelihood of becoming victims of crime. As a result of a community needs assessment in rural southern Illinois, our organization designed a personal safety curriculum specifically for individuals with disabilities. Utilizing a team of multi-disciplinary professionals, we collaborated to develop a curriculum designed with the aforementioned problems in mind. This article outlines our experience using a team approach to curriculum development, challenges to this process, and recommendations for other professionals seeking to improve services in their community.


It is widely accepted that individuals with disabilities are disproportionately more likely to become crime victims than are non-disabled individuals (Evans, 2001; McMahon, West, Lewis, Armstrong, & Conway, 2004; Tyiska, 1998). The Office for Victims of Crime (Tyiska, 1998) recommends that training materials be developed for use by disability service providers to educate consumers. A new curriculum has recently been developed to provide health education programs for individuals with disabilities regarding crime prevention and safety. The development process included the use of a community-based writing team approach. This educational program was developed following a community needs assessment which identified that there was no consistent method of teaching safety and prevention to individuals with disabilities in our region.

Although little systematic research has focused on vulnerability of individuals with developmental disabilities (Nettelbeck & Wilson, 2002), it is believed that persons with developmental disabilities are 4 to 10 times more likely to become crime victims than those without a disability (Davis, 2005; Sobsey, 1994; Tyiska, 1998). Our organization decided that there was a need to develop a consistent, theory-based curriculum designed to lessen crime victimization of individuals with disabilities. It was felt that a tailored approach was warranted as there are unique barriers and characteristics which impact an individual with disabilities' experience as a crime victim and through the criminal justice system (Tyiska). Educational programs that ignore these unique characteristic will miss the mark when it comes to addressing the problem holistically.

With these concerns in mind, our organization began the process of developing a community team to address these problems in our rural community. The theoretical framework outlined in Ralph W. Tyler's Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction (1949) was used to guide the team through the process of developing a curriculum to serve this unmet need.


Identifying a model of curriculum development in which to base a community curriculum was beset with challenges. While there is an abundance of information concerning curriculum development in the schools, models that are appropriate for adults with disabilities in the community setting were not as easily identified. Essentially, our goal was to have the process of curriculum development guided by a straight-forward model which was easily adapted not only to the population we wished to serve, but also one that would be versatile in terms of the setting and individuals teaching from the curriculum. Ultimately, the model that was the most relevant and useful for our goals was Ralph W. Tyler's four fundamental questions of curriculum development, as described in Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction (1949). This model outlines four basic questions that professionals should ask throughout the process of curriculum development. This article will demonstrate how Tyler's questions are relevant to developing a community curriculum using a multidisciplinary team approach.


Question 1: What Educational Purposes Should the [Community] Seek to Attain?

Tyler's first question, "What Educational Purposes Should the School Seek to Attain?" was the starting point for our investigation into the current problem of disproportionate victimization of individuals with disabilities. For our purposes, rewording of the question was necessary as our goal was to create a curriculum for teaching at the community level rather than in the schools.

The process of working with a community-based writing team for curriculum development first involved the selection of professionals or community members who work closely with individuals with disabilities. The selection of members from organizations serving individuals with disabilities was beneficial as those team members identified areas of primary concern based on their experiences. Professionals were also chosen from local law enforcement agencies, as their expertise in crime prevention and safety was critical. Team members with expertise in education were available through the local university and were chosen because of their knowledge of education and curriculum development. Also, we were fortunate to have group members with disabilities on the team, which provided important insight into the development process.

Once the professional team was established, an outline was developed and each team member identified a special interest area from which to conduct a review of the literature. The individual reviews were compiled by this team member who then wrote a summary of the information gathered. Among information that was most relevant to our goals were reasons that individuals with disabilities may be more likely to be crime victims. Regular team meetings were held to plan and discuss outlines of the content being developed; to review and edit materials; to develop handouts, active learning materials, graphics, and PowerPoint[R] materials; and to discuss teaching methods to be incorporated.

There are several factors that make individuals with disabilities more likely to be victimized and less likely to receive needed services. According to Tyiska (1998), several obstacles contribute to the additional risk of victimization. Included in this list are: isolation, limited accessibility, underreporting, and limited advocacy. These barriers are among those addressed in the development of this curriculum.

Physical and social isolation are barriers that affect individuals with disabilities in our society. Accessibility was also identified as a barrier to individuals with disabilities; this includes both physical and attitudinal accessibility (Tyiska, 1998). Attitudinal accessibility refers to the impact of society's attitudes towards individuals with disabilities. Barriers due to attitudinal accessibility may be more difficult to identify and remedy than barriers due to physical accessibility. In addition, researchers examining victimization of various groups point to the actuality that social factors cannot be ignored (Marley & Buila, 2001; McMahon, et al., 2004; Nettelbeck & Wilson, 2002; Nosek, Hughes, Taylor, & Howland, 2003). Higher incidence of poverty, institutionalization and other equal rights barriers are compounded when an individual with a disability becomes a victim of a crime (Tyiska, 1998). Team members discussed the impact of physical, attitudinal, and social barriers, and determined a need to address these issues throughout the curriculum.

Based on a community needs assessment and literature review, the team collaborated to decide on the main goal of the curriculum. The educational purpose of this curriculum is to provide individuals with disabilities in our community access to an educational program that would lessen their chances of being victims of crime by teaching them 1) how to protect themselves, 2) how to seek help, and 3) how to self-advocate.

Question 2: How Can Learning Experiences Be Selected Which Are Likely to Be Useful in Attaining These Objectives?

Tyler's second fundamental question began to be addressed in the early stages of curriculum development with members of the multi-disciplinary team. Brainstorming sessions on content areas were held to identify self-defense, self-advocacy, and crime prevention tips to be target areas to address in the curriculum. Discussion of the importance of delivery of content was also addressed in the early sessions. Suggestions by multiple team members were made to come up with the goal of including role-playing activities, games, activities, discussions and scenarios to accompany lessons.

The initial review of the literature was of significant value in determining learning objectives with the premise of self-advocacy in mind. According to Tyiska (1998), training individuals with disabilities to self-advocate is critical for a crime prevention program. A concern with current programs is that the crime victims' movement has not systematically identified issues and challenges to address a more effective community response to victims with disabilities (Tyiska, 1998). Tyiska's recommendation for change is to prioritize the improvement of service delivery based on the premise that all crime victims, including those with disabilities, deserve justice and quality service. A section of the curriculum was developed to instruct individuals how to navigate through the criminal justice system, how to self-advocate, and where to go for additional assistance.

During curriculum development meetings the group identified a name for the curriculum, sectional topic areas and potential active and experiential learning activities to include in the training. Each member of the group selected a topic area for writing and development based upon primary interest and expertise.

Question 3: How Can Learning Experiences Be Organized for Effective Instruction?

The university writing team coordinator typed the outline developed by the group and forwarded this electronically to group members. Group members added onto this document and forwarded this information back to the writing team coordinator. Development team members listed their references and the university team edited to writing style. Having a university writing team to assist and lead the development process garnered graphic and production capabilities which may not be available in all communities.

The curriculum "Let's Play It Safe" (2005) is focused on the most significant safety issues for people with disabilities. It is written in sections that can be presented all at once or broken up by topic. One of the advantages of this curriculum is that it can be easily tailored by health educators or other trainers to the population they serve. The following is a brief description of the curriculum, with the unit subjects italicized.

The beginning of the curriculum concentrates on crime prevention in general by giving overall prevention tips along with information on how to respond when in danger. The curriculum then promotes a discussion about home security. Some of the topics covered in this section include personal security around the home, paying special attention to drapes and shades, outdoor lighting, landscape issues, doors/locks, hidden/extra keys, windows, visitors, and phone harassment.

The following section centers on consumer protection, a growing problem in our society. Solicitation by phone, mail, email or in person is discussed, precautions, and how to keep personal information safe. Travel safety for persons with disabilities is explored, beginning with safety precautions to take before you leave your home. Travel tips using different modes of transportation are discussed as well as steps to take upon your return home.

The next section focuses on boundaries as to how it relates to personal safety. Information is provided as to how danger can arise in relationships and with poor communication with others. Healthy and unhealthy relationships are described and steps outlined to take if a person feels that they are in a destructive or dangerous situation. This unit was essential to the curriculum due to the reality that individuals with disabilities are more likely to be revictimized by a caregiver or family member (Marley, 2001; Tyiska, 1998).

Hiring issues for people with disabilities can also be an issue of safety. This section discusses procedures for background checks, interviewing candidates by phone or in person, checking references, responsibilities to and from the potential candidate, developing a back-up plan for care, and communication with a personal attendant.

As previously mentioned, the team decided that extensive information on seeking help was required. Possible sources of help are discussed, such as a trusted friend or family member, personal assistant, neighbor, police or sheriff, or the emergency room. Criminal identification and preserving evidence is also addressed as steps to take if a crime has been committed.

Question 4: How Can We Determine Whether These Purposes Are Being Attained?

The curriculum is currently being pilot tested through staff of a local Center for Independent Living. Responses to the curriculum thus far have been positive. "Let's Play it Safe" is designed to be able to be used individually or in groups. This curriculum may be used for individuals with any type of disability except severe cognitive disabilities where a basic understanding of concepts may be limited. The program may be used in large groups and has a corresponding PowerPoint[R] presentation included in the training manual. Modifications of the curriculum for individuals with visual impairment using large print or Braille may be developed soon.


Developing curricula with community writing teams can be a rewarding activity for all participants. The combination of professional community based expertise and university resources fosters the development of interesting and practical information relevant to addressing real life dilemmas of community members. Writing team members are able to experience a process of producing a unique and helpful resource not only for their consumers, but also for use in far reaching communities. The rewards are great for all involved.

One of the larger challenges is editing materials, assuring all independent writing matched for font, style, headings, etc. and assuring that sources are fully cited. It is important to carefully recruit writing team members who have expertise in the target area, insight and interest to follow through. Sometimes it may be necessary for the writing team coordinator to search for document sources, as materials used in the community may have been obtained during a training or conference and may not include the referenced source. Our experience working with community based writing groups is that it is a worthwhile and interesting endeavor that can address a community's needs. Based on our experience using Tyler's model of curriculum development, we developed guidelines so that others may model this approach.


Davis, L. (2005). People with intellectual disabilities in the criminal justice system: Victims and suspects. The Arc: Suspects, Offenders and Defendants. Retrieved April 17, from

Evans, J., & Williams, C. (2001). A need for consistency: Policy response to crime and abuse against people with learning disabilities. The Journal of Adult Protection, 3(1), 15-24.

Ford, T., Whipple, K., Sanders, K., Phelps, G., Campagna, N., Maddox, K., et al. (2005). Let's Play it Safe. Unpublished curriculum, Center for Rural Health and Social Service Development, Southern Illinois University.

Marley, J. & Buila, S. (2001). Crimes against people with mental illness: Types, perpetrators, and influencing factors. Social Work, 46(2), 115-124.

McMahon, B, West, S., Lewis, A., Armstrong, A., & Conway, J. (2004). Hate crimes and disability in America. Rehabilitation Counseling Bulletin, 47(2) 66-75.

Nettelbeck, T., & Wilson, C. (2002). Personal vulnerability to victimization of people with mental disabilities. Trauma, Violence & Abuse, 3(4), 289-306.

Nosek, M., Hughes, R., Taylor, H., & Howland, C. (2003). Violence against women with disabilities: The role of physicians in filling the treatment gap. In S.L. Welner and F. Haseltine (Eds.) Welner's guide to care of women with disabilities. (pp. 333-345). Philadelphia: Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins.

Sobsey, D. (1994). Violence and abuse in the lives of people with disabilities: The end of silent acceptance? Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.

Tyiska, C. (1998). Working with victims of crime with disabilities. Crime Victims with Disabilities OVC Bulletin. Retrieved November 3, 2005, from

Tyler, R. (1949). Basic Principles of Curriculum Instruction. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

A Team Approach to Curriculum Development: A Checklist Using Ralph W. Tyler's Principles of Curriculum Instruction (1949)

Question 1: What educational purposes should the [community] seek to attain?

* Identify research-based, socially relevant educational need in community

* Identify professionals from community agencies that work in areas of identified concern

* Choose members based on maximum contribution across varied disciplines

* Identify areas requiring research, each team member contributes literature review to relevant areas

Question 2: What educational experiences can be provided that are likely to attain these purposes?

* Identify learning characteristics present in target population

* Identify teaching strategies appropriate to target population

* Choose the most appropriate setting: (e.g. small workshops, lecture format, combined approach)

* Address qualifications and training needed for individuals to teach curriculum

Question 3: How can these educational experiences be effectively organized?

* Consider continuity, sequence and integration in effectively organizing material

* Through brain storming session, group develops target outline

* Choose which area(s) each team member will write

* Throughout writing process, team members proofread and assist one another with technical aspects

Question 4: How can we determine whether these purposes are being attained?

* Conduct pilot testing

* Revise based on results of pilot testing

* Pretest-posttest to provide quantitative data on effectiveness

* Gather qualitative feedback on experience provided by teachers and learners


Responsibility II--Planning Effective Health Education Programs

Responsibility III--Implementing Health Education Programs

Tess D. Ford, RN, PhD, Kim Sanders, MBA, and Jennifer Zeien, MA, are all affiliated with the Center for Rural Health and Social Service Development at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Please address all correspondence to Tess D. Ford, RN, PhD, Center for Rural Health and Social Service Development, Mailcode 6892, Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Carbondale, IL 62901; PHONE: (618) 453-1262; FAX: (618) 453-5040; EMAIL:
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Author:Zeien, Jennifer
Publication:American Journal of Health Studies
Date:Jun 22, 2006
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