Strategies for Accessible Teaching and Learning

Strategies for Accessible Teaching and Learning

To best support the diversity of students, teaching, and learning should be designed to be accessible and accommodate the unique needs of learners.

Consider the following strategies for communication, course materials, inclusive teaching, and learning environments as you develop and instruct your course. 

Effective communication is essential in the classroom. Communication and the transfer of course information via the senses may be impacted by a student’s speech, learning, hearing, or other disability. Through accessible course design and thoughtful integration of universal design tools, you can limit the impact of barriers to communication for students with disabilities and improve communication for all students in the classroom. Specifically, important details, course dates, and learning materials should be provided via multiple means of expression (i.e. verbally and as text) to ensure students of all abilities can successfully access and process communicated information as intended. In addition, by providing multiple ways for students to communicate and express their learning (i.e. verbally as well as in writing), instructors are better able to adequately assess student knowledge and understanding.

Barriers Affecting Communication

  • Neurodiverse students value logical, clear, and concise instructions and expectations. Providing this information also assists English as a second language students who may have more difficulty navigating context. All students will appreciate having specific instructions and examples of how to be successful in the course.
  • Deaf or hard-of-hearing students, those with an auditory processing disorder, or those sitting in a noisy room may be limited in the information they can process auditorily, presenting information via text provides another mechanism for those students to access it.
  • Students with speech disabilities, anxiety disorders, who are hard of hearing, or those who speak English as a second language may have difficulty verbally responding in class or standing in front of the class to present. Providing engagement opportunities beyond verbal exchanges allows these students to participate via a mechanism more preferential to their individual needs.

Strategies

Course Syllabus
  • Add the ISU Accessibility Statement and refer students that may need accommodations to Student Accessibility Services.
  • Provide details on how and when students may communicate with you and when they might expect a response. Share the How to Email a Professor guide to reinforce professional communication etiquette.
  • Create a structured outline of course dates, assignments, exams, projects, group work, etc.
  • Break large assignments into smaller assignments with due dates leading to the culmination of a final project.
  • Consider eliminating course policies such as rules about laptop/mobile phone access that might negatively impact students with disabilities (Colker, 2017).
  • Consider your attendance policy. Is “in seat” attendance essential to learning in the course? What does participation look like? Are there other opportunities for students to “attend” without being physically present in the classroom? Clearly communicate the established policy to students.
Prepare Students
  • Send an introductory e-mail or open your Canvas course early, and share learning objectives, course materials, communication preferences, and expectations of students.
  • Before each class share a synopsis of the learning objectives, activities, and participation expectations. This allows students to prepare as well as avoid any triggers.
  • Provide a rubric that details requirements and expectations for each assignment. Consider scaffolding and sequencing writing assignments.
  • Before the first exam provide a sample exam or sample questions to introduce your exam style. If the exam uses software such as Respondus Lockdown Browser, ensure students have access to download and test the software ahead of time.
In Classroom/Learning Environment
  • Foster an encouraging, validating academic environment. Utilize culturally relevant and appropriate examples and use person-first language.
  • Provide information in multiple formats to support and enhance student comprehension, and provide text-based instructions as well as verbal explanations.
  • Consider body language and social cues. Some students may have difficulty interpreting sarcasm, body language, or other social cues. Provide literal explanations as often as possible.
  • Communicate, with ample notice, any changes to class routine, classroom environment, and syllabus. In addition, if students will be expected to participate in some way (class discussion, small group, etc.), provide a warning and a few minutes for students to prepare mentally.
  • Read text aloud, verbatim, and provide descriptions of images, maps, tables, etc. that are presented in class.
    Remain visually accessible. Maintain an awareness of each student’s ability to see your face and body cues while you are speaking.
  • Provide opportunities for students to share anonymous feedback about the course and their experiences. Use this feedback to inform adjustments and identify areas that require further instruction.
  • Wear a microphone and repeat questions and statements made by students.
  • Consider live-streaming your lecture. Enable auto-captions so that students (including those in class) may follow along with the text. This also allows students to easily view and follow along as you share course notes, PowerPoints, and written examples.
Class Discussions
  • Establish rules for classroom discussions and interactions, engage students in the process of creating these rules, and ensure safety for students in the classroom.
  • Provide students with a quick overview at the start of class so that they have time to prepare for participation requirements. Preview class discussion questions to allow students time to consider responses.
  • Allow for only one speaker at a time during class discussions.
  • Provide ample time after asking a question to ensure all students have time to process information and formulate responses.
  • Allow students to participate in communication activities/discussions according to their own needs/preferences (i.e. allow students to utilize chat boards, written responses, or use anonymous polling).
  • Move students into smaller groups for think-pair-share sessions and ask groups to identify a volunteer to report to the class.
  • Refrain from randomly calling on students, allow students to ‘pass’, or assign a class rotation to ensure that students have time to prepare.
Responding to Communication Challenges in the Classroom
  • If you notice a change in a student’s demeanor that is negatively impacting their academic performance engage the student, asking them to identify what isn't working. This demonstrates to them the concept of collaborative problem-solving. Rather than referring the student to campus resources, support and guide the student through the cause of the problem and help them map a solution by offering opportunities to address any issues.
  • Another way to demonstrate the concept of collaborative problem-solving is to allow students to resolve conflicts in group projects, whenever possible. Encourage the students to communicate what isn't working and map out ways that they can overcome what isn't working in order to move toward project completion. 

Academic Accommodations

You may receive a Notification Letter from Student Accessibility Services to inform you of a student’s need for academic accommodation.

Selecting and creating a variety of well-formatted and accessible course learning materials allows students that utilize accessibility technology (i.e., screen readers, captions, etc.) access. It also allows students to engage with learning in multiple ways, reduces barriers to perception for students with disabilities, provides students the opportunity to identify connections between the materials and prior knowledge, and improves comprehension. Student Accessibility Services has a number of provided services and recommended learning technology.

Barriers Affecting Learning Environments

  • Students with visual disabilities, those with learning disabilities that impact reading, as well as students with long commutes will benefit from the opportunity to access materials auditorily via text-to-speech software or audio textbooks. 
  • Students with physical or mobility disabilities, as well as students with financial concerns, may benefit from having access to electronic course reserves that they neither need to carry nor maneuver rather than a large, heavy, expensive textbook.
  • Deaf or hard-of-hearing students, students with auditory processing disorders, English language learners, and students taking courses with difficult terminology benefit from captions and text-based key-term glossaries.

Strategies

Course Materials
  • Select digital course materials (textbooks and learning supplements) that meet accessibility guidelines or ensure that the publisher is willing and able to provide alternative formats.
  • Provide multiple modes of delivery (i.e. videos, interactive lessons, discussion boards, written activities, illustrations, demonstrations, readings, etc.) to appeal to the preferences and accessibility needs of all learners.
  • Create and/or select video content that has closed captions. Ensure that these captions are not auto-generated.
  • Provide a lecture terminology glossary/form to assist students with spelling and pronunciation during lectures.
  • Provide transcripts for audio-only presentations or materials.
  • Format all documents (Word, PowerPoint, pdf, etc.) for accessibility so that they may be read using a screen reader.
  • Utilize concise, bulleted statements and provide clear and detailed instructions, rubrics, and examples.
  • Instead of photocopies of course readings (i.e., journal articles or textbook chapters), download original electronic files from publisher or library sources or request accessible digital files via Parks Library Course Reserves
  • Utilize Canvas to create math assignments and quizzes. The math editor tool in Canvas’ Rich Content Editor allows you to create math problems and notations that are accessible to screen readers. Images and non-electronic math problems cannot be interpreted by screen reader software.
  • Enable live automatic transcriptions during online meetings. CELT's Learning and Teaching webpage has instructions for enabling automatic transcription on each of ISU's approved online meeting platforms. 
Responding to Accessibility Challenges in Course Materials

Iowa State University has a number of resources available to assist with ensuring the accessibility of course materials.

Academic Accommodations

You may receive a Notification Letter from Student Accessibility Services to inform you of a student’s need for academic accommodation. 

An inclusive classroom reflects the world we live in whether students participate in a course face-to-face (in-person), hybrid, or online. By implementing inclusive teaching practices, we can create learning environments where all students feel they belong and achieve high levels. Through resources and professional development programs, CELT supports creating inclusive classrooms.

Taking the time to consider the accessibility of learning spaces and adjust accordingly prior to the start of class ensures all students have the opportunity to participate in the entirety of valuable course time. Physical spaces require forethought to the needs of students with physical disabilities, who are accompanied by a service animal, who require access to food/drink/restrooms, and ensure all students are comfortable in the setting. Digital learning spaces also present access barriers for students. Ensuring learning tools meet accessibility guidelines, turning on available accessibility features, and remaining flexible will ensure all students are able to participate and engage.

Barriers Affecting Learning Environments

  • Students with mobility disabilities, especially those who use wheelchairs or walkers, may have difficulty maneuvering to and through off-campus locations. These students may also utilize public transportation capable of accommodating their equipment, as do students who do not have access to a personal vehicle. Unfortunately, these services often travel limited routes.
  • Neurodiverse students appreciate consistency and structure. Last-minute changes to class locations cause confusion and distress. Providing ample notice of any updates to the class routine will also provide students with anxiety, PTSD, sensory disabilities, and others to make adjustments and mentally prepare prior to class.
  • Online learning spaces require the use of technology. It is imperative that the technology is accessible to screen readers and those who use keyboard commands.
  • Flexibility related to camera requirements and engagement opportunities supports students with anxiety, low bandwidth, and who prefer not to share their personal space.

Strategies

Physical Spaces
  • If class meeting spaces will change for any reason, alert students well in advance so that they may plan/practice their route and prepare for sensory issues in the new space.
  • Consider furniture placement in the classroom, students that utilize mobility assistants need to maneuver in the space, and students with sensory disabilities, ASD, or other needs may find some arrangements distracting or difficult to exit discreetly should the need arise.
  • Allow students to utilize electronics like laptops, iPads, and mobile phones in the classroom. Many students with disabilities require these electronics to access accommodative software and tools (i.e. screen readers, captioning services, note-taking tools) and are unable to maintain confidentiality if other students are unable to utilize similar tools in the classroom (Colker, 2017).
  • When demonstrating problem and equation solving in class, use a screen share program so that students may access the visual on their personal devices. Record the session so that students may review it after class.
  • Allow students to wear hats, sunglasses, and headphones that are helpful for students with sensory sensitivities or disabilities.
  • Assist students to ensure preferential seating remains available for those who require it. Build-in short periods of time when students may leave the classroom and/or take a needed mental, physical, or psychological break.
Online Spaces
  • Choose learning technologies that have been vetted for accessibility at Iowa State University.
  • Ensure auto-captioning is turned on during virtual classroom meetings. CELT's Learning and Teaching Technology webpages contain instructions on how to enable automatic transcription on each of ISU's approved online meeting platforms. If a student requires an accommodation, work with SAS to integrate ADA-compliant captions.
  • Add captions or provide transcripts for all asynchronous recordings (audio and/or visual).
  • Require cameras only when necessary for the learning activity.
  • Record all online meetings so that students who were unable to attend may catch up and all learners may revisit sticky points. Build-in short periods of time when students may leave the classroom and/or take a needed mental, physical, or psychological break.
Group Work (In-Person or Online)
  • Include in-class opportunities for students to engage and get to know one another.
  • Develop group projects with clear goals. Share with students “WHY” you are assigning group tasks/activities/projects. What will students learn/gain from the experience?
  • Create group roles with specific responsibilities for each member of the group. Allow students to choose group roles according to their own strengths and preferences or assist students with identifying these strengths and assign students to groups and roles based on this information.
  • Provide clear expectations for group work including participation requirements, due dates, and rubrics.
  • Check-in with student groups to ensure that teams are on track and identify any issues with group dynamics.
  • Assist students to navigate difficult situations, and provide coaching as necessary to address communication and other concerns. Provide feedback on group progress.
  • Consider allowing students to submit individual contributions rather than a single large collaborative assignment.
Responding to Barriers in the Learning Environment
  • Provide adequate opportunities for students to communicate concerns and challenges with you. Utilize a formative course feedback tool to identify adjustments both you and your students can make to improve the teaching and learning experience. 
  • Ensure that students who provide a Notification Letter receive the required accommodations. Schedule alternative locations for students that require low distraction or private exam rooms. Create an assigned seating chart to ensure students can always access the appropriate accommodated seating.
  • Be flexible. It is never possible to plan for every situation or disability that might arise. Occasionally creating greater accessibility for one individual will create further barriers for another. Be open to making adjustments and apply creativity to identifying solutions.

Academic Accommodations

You may receive a Notification Letter from Student Accessibility Services to inform you of a student’s need for academic accommodation.

References

Colker, R. (2017). Universal design: Stop banning laptops! Cardozo Law Review, 39. http://cardozolawreview.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/COLKER.39.2.pdf

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