Creating an Accessible Classroom
When students with disabilities are admitted to the University, they have met the same rigorous standards for admission as all other students. Faculty can support the continued success of students with disabilities by implementing certain practices described below.
The Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost recommends that faculty include a statement on their syllabi informing students of available services. SSD recommends a statement such as the following:
Any student with a documented disability who requires academic accommodations should contact Services for Students with Disabilities at 471-6259 (voice) or 512-410-6644 (Video Phone) as soon as possible to request an official letter outlining authorized accommodations.
It is essential that disability information be kept confidential. At no time should the class be informed that a student has a disability, except at the student’s request. All information that a student gives to the faculty member is to be used specifically for arranging reasonable accommodations for the course of study. We recommend that students bring letters verifying their disabilities to faculty during office hours or by special appointment. At that time, arrangement of accommodations can be discussed in private.
Accessible Textbooks, Course Packets, Syllabi, and Videos
Please make your book selections, compiled course packets, and syllabi available in a timely manner. Students who are blind, have visual impairments, or have learning disabilities that may affect their reading rates and comprehension may require printed materials that are transformed into alternate formats. Conversion of this text can take up to several weeks. Having early access to your syllabus can help to determine the extent to which each text will be used and the order in which reading assignments will be completed.
Some students will rely on having printed material scanned and saved in computer format that can be listened to using voice output software. If you are collating various journal articles and portions of books into course packets, please use original copies or a copy that is as clean as possible. Creating course packets using second, third, and fourth generation copies of material (copies made from copies, etc.) may cause images of text that are fuzzy. Such blurring often makes it impossible for character recognition software to decipher images as readable text. If material included in course packets is not all of top quality, SSD would appreciate being able to briefly borrow your originals for scanning.
You may also wish to ask if the publishers of the books you are considering have created electronic text (e-text) and/or audiotape versions of them. If possible, select a textbook with an accompanying study guide to maximize comprehension for all students. Choosing one that does will ensure that the reading materials are accessible.
If you will be using video or video clips as part of your instruction, you will need to use captioned versions of videos to ensure that students who are deaf or hard of hearing students or students who have auditory processing difficulties will be able to access the content. If a student requires captioning/subtitles to access a video being shown in class, it is the faculty member’s responsibility to determine if a video he or she plans to show is closed-captioned and to arrange for a closed-captioned decoder OR English subtitles are available. If your video is closed-captioned, contact Communications Equipment Rental at 471-7000 to arrange for a decoder. If necessary, contact SSD for assistance.
Arranging Testing Accommodations
When accommodations such as extended time on tests or a reduced-distraction testing environment are needed, it is in everyone’s best interest if the proctor is either one of the teaching assistants for the course, the professor, or another member of the academic department. This practice allows students to address any problems or questions they may have to someone with knowledge of course content and departmental procedures.
Faculty members sometimes contact SSD regarding students they feel might need to avail themselves of services offered by our office. Although teachers in high school are active participants in the process of identifying and referring students to special services, there is no comparable requirement in higher education. If you see a student who is struggling and wish to refer that student to SSD, remember that our students are adults. They may respond best to private conversations in which you use an inquiring and supportive approach and share information about the existence and location of the SSD office. Only the student can decide to disclose his or her disability, or to pursue information about services available in the SSD office. If a student is requesting accommodations but has not presented you with a letter from our office, you may ask the student to contact SSD. See Faculty FAQs as well as our web page on Making a Referral to SSD.
Universal design is an approach to teaching that includes strategies designed to benefit a broad range of learners, including those with disabilities. Consider the following suggestions, provided by students, in making your class/teaching accessible:
- Clearly spell out expectations at the beginning of the course (e.g., grading, material to be covered, assignment due dates, attendance expectations).
- All students, including students with disabilities, will benefit if you start each lecture with an outline of material to be covered during that class period. Briefly summarizing key points at the conclusion of class aids students in clarifying their notes and delineating supporting information from the main ideas you wish them to remember.
- Present new or technical vocabulary on the blackboard, an overhead, or in a hand out. Providing examples may also convey greater meaning.
- Give assignments both orally and in written form to avoid confusion.
- Allow students to tape lectures for later review.
- Provide adequate opportunities for questions and answers, including review sessions.
- For exams, supply students with study questions that demonstrate the format as well as the content of the test. Explain what constitutes a good answer and why.
- Allow students with disabilities, who require alternate testing formats, to demonstrate mastery of course material by using methods appropriate to the student and the subject matter (e.g., extended time limits for testing, taped exams, individually proctored exams in a separate room).
- When a test is not designed to measure a student’s mastery of basic arithmetic or spelling, allow the use of simple calculators, scratch paper, and spellers’ dictionaries during exams.
The Center for Teaching and Learning is an excellent resource for assistance in creating a classroom environment that meets the needs of diverse learners.
The University of Connecticut’s Universal Design in Instruction Project offers suggestions for incorporating Universal Design Concepts into your classes
Colorado State University offers a Universal Design for Learning Module with useful tutorials.
University of Washington’s DO-IT Faculty Resources help you to create a classroom environment that maximizes the learning of all students, regardless of disability
DO-IT Video Equal Access: Universal Design of Instruction
For more information on creating Accessible Programming, please see our handout on Creating Accessible Programming (PDF).