It is important to encourage students to communicate directly with you if barriers to full participation are encountered. Barriers may be experienced due to the design of lectures, web-based information, in-class activities, format of exams, program timelines, lay out of Blackboard content, or online references. This is communicated to students through a statement in the syllabus and an announcement at the first class meeting each term. As instructors incorporate strategies that are effective for a broad range of students with varying abilities and backgrounds, the majority of students with disabilities will be able to fully participate in the academic setting without the need for specialized adaptations or accommodations. Universal design is an approach for making classes accessible to and usable by most, if not all, students.
One of the main ways that students communicate with instructors is by providing a notification letter from the Accessible Education Center that outlines appropriate accommodations and confirms that the student is registered with the AEC. This information, as well as any information that the student chooses to provide to you verbally must be kept confidential. By providing this information the student is opening a dialogue with you about your specific class structure, design, and any specifically needed accommodations. This provides an excellent opportunity to ask the student about their experiences in the class and how the course and evaluation design is working for them. It may not be known if a class is fully accessible until a problem arises. Coordinated services include sign language interpreting, computer-based notetaking, classroom relocation, exam modifications, and alternative text conversion. In some cases, policy modifications may be appropriate such as the substitution of some degree requirements or flexible attendance policies.
Access to Technology
Access to technology has become an increasingly important factor in creating equal educational opportunities. The AEC facilitates an Accessible Technology Program which provides orientation and training to students on current accessible technology, information on web accessibility, and is a resource to other technology providers on campus.
A Welcoming Classroom Climate
For many students, having to initiate a conversation about needed accommodations can be very intimidating and uncomfortable. Just like with any other group of students there will be exceptionally gifted students as well as those who may have less interest or motivation. Instructors have an opportunity to make students feel more at ease with requesting accommodations by not expressing judgment or making assumptions about a student’s abilities or needs. How you respond can have a tremendous impact on the student and the importance of this response should not be underestimated. In addition to individual interactions with students, being able to set a welcoming tone up front in the classroom greatly increases how comfortable students will be to initiate a conversation about their needs or barriers experienced in the class setting.
Tips for creating a welcoming climate
- Establish ground rules. One option to create effective ground rules is to elicit them from the class. Students with hidden disabilities, especially those that are psychologically based, may be fine with their instructor knowing about their disability, but may be very concerned about ridicule or harassment by their peers.
- Attend to the physical needs of all students. Telling them where the bathrooms are and allowing occasional breaks in longer classes lets them know that you have an interest in their comfort.
- Avoid singling out students. If you need to talk with a student, for example, about alternate testing arrangements, do it in private.
- Recognize the expertise and authority of personal experience. The student with the disability is most always the one who best understands the disability and how it impacts learning.
- Share your own experiences, as your comfort level allows. Vulnerability is a quality that students with disabilities have identified as important in people they decide to trust.
- Honor diversity and cultural differences.
- Develop an inclusive syllabus statement and highlight it verbally the first day of class. This is a powerful way to communicate to students with disabilities that a class will be accessible to them, and that you are open to creating ways to increase inclusiveness in the course.
For assistance with access or disability-related questions or concerns, contact the Accessible Education Center.