Accessible Pedagogy

October 23, 2023

In thinking about making your teaching accessible, it’s important to come with an open and positive mindset. Society tends to view persons with disabilities only in terms of what they cannot do, rather than in terms of what they can. This negative mindset limits opportunities for learners with disabilities, as instructors may assume these students cannot participate fully in a class simply because they have different abilities. Accessible pedagogy is about finding the ways all of your learners do their best work, including those with disabilities.

The following article is highly recommended for learning more about setting up an accessibility-friendly online course. The authors provide a theoretical foundation combined with specific examples that can assist any instructor in any discipline. Pay close attention to the section titled “Strategies for Paying Attention.”

Here are a few other issues you may want to consider as you create your courses:

  • All tools and materials you include in your class should support your learning objectives. Including technology just for the sake of it tends to create accessibility problems and can create a barrier for learners. Carefully consider how your technology supports your course objectives. Remember the phrase “no technology before need.”
  • You should always treat student information confidentially; for students with disabilities, this also means not revealing anything you know about their disability to the rest of the class. Practically, this could mean allowing all students the use of tablets for note-taking in class, rather than limiting this permission to the student with a disability, thus singling them out. Use your judgment, but keep in mind the potential challenges of being singled out for what might appear from the outside to be special privileges.
  • The SAS documentation from the student will communicate the types of accommodations they need to succeed in the class. It is possible the student will request other changes that are not on their documentation, and it is up to you whether you accommodate those requests or not. However, be sure not to insist upon or require any particular accommodation for a student, even if you mean well. For instance, if a learner who uses a wheelchair does not want to sit near the front of the class, even though you think it provides more room, then you should let them sit where they prefer. This allows the student to have autonomy and an equitable experience.

Universal Design for Learning

Universal Design was originally conceived as an architectural concept. The idea was to design a building that could be used to the greatest extent possible by anyone, regardless of age, ability, etc.

Common examples of Universal Design include the curb cut (allowing wheelchair users to navigate a side walk but also benefiting bicyclists or people pushing strollers), elevators (useful for people unable to use stairs, or folks carrying heavy loads), larger/family restrooms (for parents with small children, people that may need assistance, or people who may not identify as male or female), automatic doors, and ramps.

Many safety or transportation signs can also be used as examples of universal design. Not only do they often have text commands/warnings, but the use of color, size, shape, and pictures help convey the message.

Universal Design for Learning takes the same principles of Universal Design (in architecture) and applies it to learning. It has three primary components:

Multiple Means of Representation

Find different ways to explain the material/lessons. You may already do this to an extent: students read the textbook, you explain it verbally, you emphasize and explain key terms, you draw diagrams on the board, or show images. In this example, you’ve used multiple approaches (text, audio/discussion, diagrams/graphics) to explain a concept.

How to embrace this approach in your course: In the example above, you could provide the diagrams to students prior to a class meeting. This ensures they will be prepared with the available background knowledge to participate in class. If you have alternative resources or videos that supplement the text, provide them from the start.

Multiple Means of Engagement

This element of UDL stresses motivation; you can find ways to link material to students’ lives and experiences by giving them choices. Allow them to find ways to self-assess and reflect on how the content impacts their interests and their lives. Be sure to emphasize the areas where they get to exercise choice.

How to embrace this approach in your course: Maximize motivation by making lessons relevant to students’ experiences. Emphasize the importance and relevance of your objectives, allowing them to be flexible enough for students to find ways to connect the learning objectives to their lives. Lastly, ask students to contribute to the course content and resources – you may be surprised at the great resources they find and are eager to share.

Multiple Means of Action and Expression

This aspect of UDL stresses allowing students to demonstrate their learning in different ways. When it comes time for learners to demonstrate their understanding, certain approaches will benefit some and not others. Allowing a variety of assessment strategies can help in allowing students different ways to demonstrate their understanding.

How to embrace this approach in your course:Completing certain types of activities will be easier or more challenging depending on the student. For example, in a large class that is primarily discussion based, it could be cumbersome for a blind student to participate in a lengthy online discussion using a screenreader. Multiple choice tests may disadvantage a student with a learning disorder. Thus, if you can create multiple ways to assess student learning, it will help make sure students have the best opportunity to demonstrate the skills they’ve gained in class.

Your students can do the work in your class; they just need the appropriate accommodations in order to demonstrate success.

Upcoming Events

NDEAM: Expanding Accessibility Awareness for Faculty

Wednesday, October 25, 1:00-2:00 PM

Every year Clemson University celebrates National Disability Employment Awareness Month by providing opportunities for the community to engage with and learn from professionals with disabilities as well as other accessibility advocates.

Facilitated by Sharyn Emery, Ph.D., Digital Learning Manager

Registration: Expanding Accessibility Awareness for Faculty October 25

Quick Hits: iClicker

Thursday, November 2nd, 3:30-4:30 PM

Join this training to have your questions about iClicker answered. Whether you have a specific question or want an iClicker topic demonstrated, this training opportunity is your time to work with one of our iClicker admins. When registering, choose whether to have a specific topic covered, enter your question, or both. 

Facilitated by our Learning Technology Team.

Modality: Virtual and synchronous—an Outlook Calendar invite, with the Zoom link, will be sent.
Registration: Quick Hits: iClicker on November 2nd .

Planning an Online Course

Wednesday, November 15th, 1:30-2:30 PM

Whether taking a face-to-face course online or building a new one from scratch, designing an online course takes time and planning. Join this presentation to learn about which course elements to start with and how to build an effective plan for developing an online course. 

Facilitated by Leslie Fuller, Ph.D., Digital Learning Strategist.

Modality: Virtual and synchronous—an Outlook Calendar invite, with the Zoom link, will be sent.
Registration: Planning an Online Course on November 15th 

Clemson Online Fall 2023 Events Calendar

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Review our Fall 2023 Events Calendar to see what Online Instruction Development opportunities await!

We have a robust Summer lineup of topics and live training formats to support your use of Canvas and other e-learning tools. Topics cover demonstrations of using Kaltura, presentations on inclusive practices for online education, and workshops to get your Canvas site ready to teach!

All of our live training is recorded. Registrants will automatically receive a link to that day’s video after it has been processed.

Contact James Butler with any questions regarding these sessions. 

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