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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Don’t ban laptops!!! If you feel strongly about this, consider discouraging them but not banning them outright.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Provide reading lists, assignment schedules, and/or course outlines well in advance.
- 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.
- 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.
Relevant Quotes from #academicableism on Twitter
- “Two weeks ago my professor mentioned an assignment in class. No email instructions. No updates to Blackboard. Had a major panic attack.”
- “No break in our 2 hour seminar AGAIN despite me asking and her [the speaker] promising to. I'm struggling”
- “I was frustrated by the experience [dealing with an accessibility challenge]. I’ve realised lately that part of the challenge of securing access arrangements as a disabled student in higher education is that it can feel like you need to stick a maximally disabled version of yourself on a pole ten feet in front of you and use it to herald your arrival, to clear the inaccessible brush to create yourself a usable path through the world, through institutions.”
- ”Only 9% to 10% of undergraduate STEM students in the United States have disabilities, compared with approximately 20% of Americans overall. Among those who obtain Ph.D.s, the number falls to just 1%”
- "If you're struggling [because of your disability] now, you're only going to struggle later." The advice given to me early on in grad school.”