Accessible Teaching: Start Now

Another semester has rolled right up to your door and started knocking. You’ve thrown on a robe (whipped up a course plan) and opened the door. But every semester is a bit different and our goal here at ODEE is to make sure you’re fully dressed before the knock sounds. But before you consider yourself fully dressed, it’s time to talk about accessibility, the hat to top it all off.

Accessibility is the assurance that all students, no matter their ability, will have access to your educational materials and learning experiences. There are many things to consider when making a course accessible, and many issues are eliminated by using an accessible learning management system (Carmen). But for the remaining considerations, when should you get started?

NOW.

David Gooblar writes that now is the time to think about accessibility. And I agree. We have always desired to empower people to be proactive about accessibility rather than reactive. Any preparation you can do to accommodate your diverse student body will save you time in the end and make students feel more welcome across the board. Gooblar argues that thinking about accessibility isn’t much different than thinking about how you will deliver a lecture powerpoint, notes, or give a review session before an exam. These are all accommodations you make as educators – to help students learn. Therefore, modifying assignments to make them more flexible for diverse learners, is no different than going out of your way to produce a study guide.

“We’re wrong to think of accommodations as exceptions that detract from our normal way of doing things. Accommodating students is our normal way of doing things.”

Build accessibility and UDL into your teaching, allow the possibility of a diverse student body to inform the way you plan activities. Slowly but surely, embracing the language of accessibility and inclusivity will not only make you a better educator, but will also set you up to learn the technical ins and outs to practice what you preach.

Add language to your syllabus that reflects your approach to accessibility and accommodation. Inside Higher Ed recently highlighted an OSU English professor, Jessie Male, who added the following language to her syllabus:

“I assume that all of us learn in different ways, and that the organization of any course will accommodate each student differently. For example, you may prefer to process information by speaking and listening, or you might prefer to articulate ideas via email or discussion board. Please talk to me as soon as you can about your individual learning needs and how this course can best accommodate them.”

Male made an effort to bring personalization and empathy to the boiler plate language we copy and paste into our syllabi. Read through our introduction to universal design for learning to plan how you will incorporate accessibility into your teaching. Begin to familiarize yourself with the language of accessibility, both in the physical world and the online environment. Gooblar’s article links to an excellent resource developed by Anne-Marie Womack called Accessible Syllabus. It gives a general overview of everything an instructor should consider about their teaching practice as it relates to accessibility. Read up, attend our accessibility workshops, and tackle every semester fully dressed.