Colleges and Universities are required by law to provide programs and services that are accessible to all qualified participants, including those with disabilities. What does that mean for you as an instructor? What do you need to know to facilitate the inclusion of all students in your classes?
Many people have the traditional image of a disabled person as one in a wheelchair, missing a limb or some other physical manifestation. What is more difficult to perceive is that there is also a myriad of invisible disabilities; which include mental health diagnoses, or conditions that are episodic in nature, conditions in remission, and which can impact an individual’s ability to concentrate, perform certain physical activities, breathing, sleeping, and communicating – to name a few. In our role as faculty, we cannot, indeed we should not – judge a student’s abilities or disabilities based on either what we think we see or what we presume to know about a given condition or set of conditions. So, it behooves us to shift our thinking of these students from disabled to differently abled.
Providing accessible classroom materials may at first glance seem overwhelming. Let’s take a glance at some of the things you might want to consider. First of all, what modalities do you use in your class? Are you using printed materials, websites, videos, or other technologies? What areas do you need to specifically address: Learning and Cognition; Culture and Customs; Sensory and Physical; Neurological and Psychological; Language and/or Technology?
The first thing is to understand what accessibility is: Accessibility is the degree to which a product, device, program, service, resource, or environment is available to a given user. Resources may include items such as wheelchair ramps, sign language interpreters, or materials in alternate forms. Our job as faculty is to design our class materials in such a way so that it can be accessed by all users. This includes electronic documents, websites, software, hardware, video, audio and other technologies. Our students have a wide variety of characteristics and they interact with technology in a diverse manner. We must adapt the old model of teaching to one of more inclusivity.
A good way to start is by starting small – determine the specific needs of your students for the current semester, then proceed to address the following issues. Perhaps you might start by procuring accessible IT for your students, then by converting all of your documents to accessible documents. You might then progress to creating accessible videos and websites. It doesn’t really matter what order you proceed in – the critical issue is that you start! If you have questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to talk to the Technology Enhanced Instruction team; they can help you develop a plan and implement the necessary steps. We’re here to help!