Tips for Accessible Classrooms

Though the accommodations we provide help to fill in the equality gaps of traditional classrooms, the ideal solution to increasing accessibility is to promote the most integrated learning environment possible. Universal Design (UD) is an approach to developing materials, constructing environments and delivering content that are inherently accessible to the widest possible audience. Based on equitability and flexibility, UD end-products can be accessed by people of varying abilities, learning styles, cultures and languages, WITHOUT “special assistance” or “retro-fitting”.

By making your courses more universally-designed, both in-person and online, your course content will become more accessible to all of your students and the need for additional classroom accommodations will inevitably decrease. Unlike special adaptations, UD is not targeted to a specific person or disability category, so no one person is treated differently than the norm. Sound UD allows each person to choose the option that best fits their current situation and preferences.

When applying UD principles, remember these 3 essential components:

1) Represent info for your audience through multiple modes (i.e. audio, visual, text, graphics)
2) Allow your audience to use multiple means of expression/response (i.e. e-comm, phone, live)
3) Encourage engagement with choices (i.e. hands-on, group work, resources for further study)

Specific Recommendations

  • Upload printed materials that are distributed during class onto your course’s Moodle page.
    • Students with disabilities like visual impairment or dyslexia can use their computer screen readers or text-to-speech software to listen to the printed material outside of class when it is posted online. When course material is only delivered in print format, the document must be converted to audio or Braille in order for these students to access the material.
    • For all students, this eliminates the need for instructors to provide additional print copies of handouts. Also, electronic copies allow students to manipulate the mode in which they receive information. For example, a student who has a stronger auditory learning style can use the built-in PDF reader in Adobe Reader to hear and read the material simultaneously.
  • Provide written directions to accompany verbal directions (and then post them on Moodle).
    • Students with disabilities like audio processing disorders or hearing impairments can have a visual text version of the directions to fill in the blanks they have from listening alone.
    • For all students, this eliminates the need for instructors to continually repeat directions and more time and resources can be spent on the actual assignment or task.
  • Record your lectures and post them AND/OR allow students to record lecture material.
    • Students with disabilities like blindness or ADHD will not have to rely solely on their memory or ability to filter sound distractions to catch important material that is delivered verbally in class. Remember that some students who are approved to record lectures as an accommodation, avoid doing so because of stigma from classmates or discouragement from the instructor. Encouraging student recording or recording yourself reduces both actual and perceived discrimination.
    • For all students, listening to course lectures again after class is an empirically-proven learning strategy. It allows for repetition, clarification, and self-correction. Also, it allows students to fill in material that may have been missed while writing notes or processing content.
  • Only present videos that have captions in class and describe any visual-only information.
    • Students who are Deaf can will be able to watch the video and their sign language interpreters without missing the visual information presented in the video. Students with blindness can receive the full benefit of the information being provided by the visuals. Without captions or verbal descriptions, the video is less accessible and the learning objective of the video cannot be fairly assessed for these students.
    • For all students, all of the pertinent information is being presented visually and auditorily allowing them to take moments to write a quick note or process a concept. It is more likely that students with a variety of learning styles will be able to understand the information in the video faster, allowing for more discussion time.