There are a several ways to think about how to make a course more accessible for students with variant abilities above and beyond providing accessible digital materials. Refer to these best practices and activities to determine what you might be able to include!

Best Practices 

  • Go through your syllabus with your students early on in the course, and make sure you have an accessibility statement.
    • This may take some time initially, but it helps to establish the social contract inherent in your students’ choices to remain in the course so that it’s clear for everyone. If you happen to have students with a visual impairment or learning disability in your class (whether or not it’s obvious to you), they will benefit from hearing the syllabus out loud and achieving the same understanding as their peers, without the need to utilize assistive technology in class.
  • Briefly describe visual content rather than having it “speak for itself.”
    • If you reference a slide with visual content, provide a concise description of what the important content is. Rather than providing extra visual details, focus on what is necessary to enhance learning. This will benefit all students, not just those with a vision impairment!
  • Consider multiple modes of representation of the content in the class (the “what” of learning).
    • Everyone learns a little differently, and most people are able to identify learning preferences that they have based on their time as students. If readings exist in both print and digital formats, for example, then students have the ability to read across different types of devices, or even have a device read aloud to them, which provides greater access that accommodates different learning needs.
  • Build in multiple means of expression of understanding the content (the “how” of learning).
    • Just as everyone learns a little differently, most people have different preferences in how they show what they’ve learned. If assignments are designed to be flexible in how they are created (doing a TED-talk speech or writing a paper to show understanding of the same content, for example), then students have a wider variety of options to express their knowledge in ways that work best for them.
  • Consider various ways that students remain engaged with the content and its context, each other, and you as they learn (the “why” of learning).
    • Motivation is an important part of any learning experience. Be sure to connect content to the “big picture” and vary your ways of engaging with the students, including various ways of allowing them to engage with each other. If you are assessing certain kinds of engagement as a participation grade in the course, be sure to discuss this with students ahead of time and even model what desired engagement looks like.
  • Be sure to turn on the captions for any video content you show in class.
    • If your video content is captioned (as it should be!), then proactively remember to turn the captions on so that students can benefit from them. If you do not do this, then students who may need the captions might not feel comfortable speaking up to request them.
  • Tell students when content exists in multiple formats, or when you’ve made modifications to the materials so that they’re more accessible.
    • If content is available in both digital and print formats, for example, be sure to point this out so that students know what their options are. Likewise, if you have created content or modified content to be more accessible, point this out to your class to empower students with the ability to choose which formats work best for them.
  • Consider encouraging a fragrance-free environment.
    • Chemical sensitivities or allergies to fragrances in the environment can be just as detrimental to an individual’s ability to learn as other disabilities might be. Using fragrance-free products, and encouraging students to do the same, helps to ensure that people with chemical sensitivities feel welcome in the classroom.
  • Recognize that disability status is a personal element of identity, just like gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, religion, etc.
    • If you have a notice at the top of your roster that student(s) in your class might be eligible for certain accommodations, it is their responsibility to come to you to discuss this during office hours. It would be insensitive and inappropriate to ask the whole class which students receive accommodations, thereby “outing” them to their peers. Rather, you might say, “It is my goal to create an inclusive learning environment in our classroom. If there’s something you need that will help you learn best, please don’t hesitate to speak with me during office hours.” This approach will help all learners reflect on how they learn best, and it will signal students with an accommodation letter that it is safe to speak with you.
  • Practice using inclusive language that helps to break down stereotypes.
    • Try introducing yourself with inclusive language that is intended to create a safe space for everyone: “My name is Bess, my pronouns are she, her, hers, and I rely on contact lenses as my assistive technology every day.” Educate yourself about disability etiquette and micro aggressions through resources at CU Boulder’s Disability Services or the Office of Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement to help you gain confidence in using inclusive language more fluently.

For additional resources related to accessibility and universal design for teaching and learning, please go to the Accessible Technology Resources page.