When students with disabilities are admitted to the University, they have met the same rigorous standards for admission as all other students. Yet sometimes the way UT classes are structured creates barriers for students that prevents them from being able to fully participate without individualized accommodations (see The Basics: Providing Accommodations for more information on providing these individualized accommodations).
There are a number of proactive steps faculty can incorporate into their course design that can enhance the accessibility of their course. Instructors who want more information are encouraged to contact the Faculty Innovation Center or review their website on Inclusive Teaching and Learning that can benefit all students. We hope you find the resources below to be useful as you consider your course design.
Universal Design for Learning (UDL)
Universal design for learning (UDL) is a framework to improve and optimize teaching and learning for all people based on scientific insights into how humans learn. ~CAST. Incorporating UDL principles into your course design is a proactive approach to enhance learning for a diverse range of students and can reduce the need for individualized accommodations.
More UT sources on UDL:
- Universal Design for Learning: What is it and why should you care?
- “Plus-One” Thinking: A Framework for Inclusive Teaching
- Podcast Episodes: Universal Design for Learning: Needed by Some, but Beneficial to All
- · Read the transcripts (Link to Part 1 and Link to Part 2)
- · Listen on SoundCloud (Link to Part 1 and Link to Part 2
Accessibility Best Practices Guides for Instructors:
Start with Your Syllabus Statement
UT is required by federal law to be accessible and provide accommodations for students with disabilities so it is important for course syllabi to contain information regarding the accommodation process at UT. Below are two examples of statements you may use on your syllabus. This language is an opportunity for you to set the tone for how you view accommodations and accessibility in your course; as requirements that must be checked off or statements about your willingness to work with students to ensure they can fully participate in your course. The same concept applies when you discuss this statement during class; this can be an opportunity to encourage students to work with you to ensure your course is accessible to them.
If you are a student with a disability, or think you may have a disability, and need accommodations please contact Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD). You may refer to SSD’s website for contact and more information: http://diversity.utexas.edu/disability/. If you are already registered with SSD, please deliver your Accommodation Letter to me as early as possible in the semester so we can discuss your approved accommodations.
Accessible, Inclusive, and Compliant Statement:
The university is committed to creating an accessible and inclusive learning environment consistent with university policy and federal and state law. Please let me know if you experience any barriers to learning so I can work with you to ensure you have equal opportunity to participate fully in this course. If you are a student with a disability, or think you may have a disability, and need accommodations please contact Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD). Please refer to SSD’s website for contact and more information: http://diversity.utexas.edu/disability/. If you are already registered with SSD, please deliver your Accommodation Letter to me as early as possible in the semester so we can discuss your approved accommodations and needs in this course.
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Choosing or Creating Accessible Course Material
Textbooks/ Course Readings
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 an electronic 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 of top quality, SSD may need to briefly borrow your originals for scanning.
You may also ask if the publishers of the books you are considering have created electronic text (e-text) and/or audiobook versions. 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.
Check out the UT Libraries web page on Open Educational Resources: Open Educational Resources (OERs)
If you will be using video or video clips as part of your class, it is always best to add captions proactively, rather than waiting until it is required for an individual student. Captions increase comprehension and retention for all students, not just students who are deaf or hard of hearing students or students who have auditory processing difficulties. If your video is not captioned, you will need to make a transcription/captioning request through the Captioning and Transcription Services through the UT Libraries. Visit our Captioning Videos page for more information. If necessary, contact SSD for assistance.
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Individualized Classroom and Testing Accommodations
Individualized accommodations may be necessary when students with disabilities encounter barriers in their classes. Students will be approved for classroom and testing accommodations after submitting documentation of their disability and meeting with an SSD Coordinator to discuss the barriers they are experiencing in their academics at UT. Approved accommodations will be listed in the Accommodation Letter, available to instructors through the SSD Instructor Portal, and instructors are required to implement the accommodations to ensure students can fully participate in their course. For more information on providing individualized accommodations see The Basics: Providing Accommodations.
Arranging Testing Accommodations
UT does not have a centralized testing center; however some colleges, schools and departments have designated resources to assist instructors with proctoring accommodated exams. 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 allows students to address any problems or questions they may have to someone with knowledge of course content and departmental procedures. SSD does have limited space for proctoring exams that must be reserved by the student at least 2 weeks in advance so proactive conversations with the student are encouraged. See Testing at SSD for more information.
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Faculty members sometimes contact SSD regarding students they feel are experiencing challenges in their course and might benefit from accommodations. We encourage instructors to have a private conversations in which you use a supportive approach to 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.
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General UDL Teaching Tips
The following examples are simple ways to make your course more accessible to students with disabilities, students who have English as a second language, and first generation college students.
- 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.
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The Faculty Innovation Center is an excellent UT resource for assistance in creating a classroom environment that meets the needs of diverse learners and incorporating innovative strategies for instruction.
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).
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