12 Easy and Important Tricks to Make Your Teaching More Accessible (PDF)

The following are simple, relatively easy to implement steps for teachers that make a world of difference for disabled students. These suggestions are meant to supplement conventional ways to support disabled students; i.e. using Universal Design principles with course content and including a diversity/accessibility statement about accommodations on the syllabus.

  1. Do everything in your power to not delay accommodations; i.e., posting in-class readings, distributing accessible practice keys, or transcribing your instructor notes if necessary. If you need help, delegate to Teaching Assistants.
  2. MAKE ALL YOUR SLIDES AVAILABLE ONLINE, WELL BEFORE CLASS. Even if you update slides as you go. Even if they are last year’s. Something is better than nothing.
  3. USE VIDEOS WITH (human-made) CAPTIONS. If you make your own videos, make captions and/or provide a transcript. Similarly, provide descriptions and captions for diagrams in the notes.
  4. If possible, use typed versions/searchable PDFs of texts for the class, not scanned copies. It makes a world of difference for students who use screen readers.
  5. Make your slides visually easy to read. Use spacing, optimize font sizing per slide, and use different formatting tricks like highlighting important words, etc. Example.
  6. Don’t ban laptops!!! If you feel strongly about this, consider discouraging them but not banning them outright.
  7. Update everything—announcements, assignments—online and in class. Period. Announce on your syllabus and in class if you plan to have surprise attendance-based quizzes or assignments.
  8. Be intentionally redundant with course announcements and links. If you hand out a practice exam key, upload it to Blackboard/whatever course website you use. Do not be exclusive with content to students that attend class.
  9. Do not offer your opinion on the students’ documented accommodations or ask about their disability. Accept them, make a plan, and move on. Do not try to circumvent them.
  10. Provide reading lists, assignment schedules, and/or course outlines well in advance.
  11. Offer make-up exams/quizzes for reasonable and/or sincere excuses and requests. If a student has a documented extended time accommodation, keep in mind that they may need extra time on other assignments or projects.
  12. Make sure all your websites are accessible.

Author’s Note:

As a researcher, Learning Assistant, and former Teaching Fellow at Breakthrough, I get the considerable workload teachers have. I support classroom rigor and I agree that the onus of success in college lies largely on the student. This does not, however, excuse poor teaching or lack of compassion, which are unacceptable. Disability is NOT a weakness; when you fudge students’ documented accommodations, you discriminate against them. As a disabled college student, I have my own perspective on policies that harm disabled students. I attempted to include the perspectives of students with many different types of disabilities here, but please contact me if I left something out.

If you want justification for each/a particular trick, read the articles below. After that, if you want more details/rationale, email me. This blog post came about as a reflection on my trip to SIGCSE in 2018, generously funded by AccessComputing, who organized a panel of Computer Science students with disabilities, which I spoke on. I highly recommend AccessComputing as a vital resource for people/students with disabilities in computational fields.

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