Accessibility in Learning and Teaching
by Michael Dick
Designing a course, and a learning and teaching environment more broadly, with accessibility in mind actually requires more of a shift in mindset than a radically different approach to curriculum development and pedagogy. It requires integrating accessibility considerations into all stages of planning a course, in addition to ensuring that the built or online environment is itself accessible. This starts with recognizing that there are basic classroom practices that can support mental health and wellbeing, which is a precursor to ensuring accommodation can be implemented successfully.
- Maintaining a positive and welcoming classroom culture
- Offering sufficient support and resources to help students meet challenges
- Facilitating community building and fostering social connections
- Providing students with some flexibility over their own learning experiences
- Providing opportunities for professional development and growth
- Ensuring an inclusive learning environment that intentionally considers all students
- Prioritizing “real-life” (experiential) learning to enhance personal skills and build confidence in the students’ professional goals and aspirations
- Connecting students with campus services and supports that can enhance critical academic skills, personal well-being, and readiness to learn
- Modelling a positive and supportive tone; being empathetic and approachable
Classroom practices are part of the larger focus on integrating accessibility considerations and inclusive teaching practices into all levels of planning. They are the items most within the control of the individual faculty or staff member, given that accessibility in the built environment is primarily the responsibility of the university, as is setting out individual accommodation plans and helping all those concerned implement them (e.g., obtaining resources in alternative formats). Universal Design for Learning (UDL), covered in more detail later in this module, serves an important role in setting out a framework for course design and delivery, but simply adopting a more inclusive teaching philosophy can make an immediate impact.