Barriers to accessibility are obstacles that make it difficult – sometimes impossible – for people, including people with disabilities to do the things that many others may take for granted. For example, entrances to buildings that only utilize steps and make those buildings inaccessible to people using wheelchairs. Or a doorknob may be particularly difficult or impossible for people with arthritis, hand/wrist injuries, or amputations to turn. But barriers are not limited to physical things like steps onto a bus or a doors without a push button openers; information that people cannot easily access or understand can be a barrier. For example, when the print is too small on a brochure for someone with vision loss to read it. And technology, or lack of it, can prevent access and present barriers. Organizational barriers can also occur when policies, practices, or procedures do not take accessibility into account.

Disabled students must be able to engage in the same activities, access the same information, and enjoy the same services, benefits and experiences as a student without a disability, in an equally effective and integrated manner, with substantially equivalent ease of use. Although the Office of Disability Resources (ODR) collaborates with professors and students to facilitate accommodations for a course, oftentimes the accommodations are actually a reactive response to aspects of the course that were not designed with full access in mind from the outset, much like a building with no ground level or ramp entry. Therefore, ensuring that the course is designed with full accessibility in mind from the outset is best practice. Accommodations are a necessary but less-than-ideal last resort.

Nevertheless, there will still be a need for accommodations in certain situations. For example, there will always be the need for sign language interpreters when a deaf student fluent in sign language is present in a class. However, intentional course design can reduce the need for reactive accommodations.

The full guidelines for and principles of accessible course design can be found on the UDL in Higher Education website.

The following are examples of how to provide increased access to course resources, improve opportunities for learning, and reduce the need for reactive accommodations:

Course Notes Access

  • Consider providing PowerPoint slides to all students in advance of the class to assist with note-taking during class
  • Identify a student or a rotation of students in the class to provide a copy of course notes for all students after each lecture. With this resource, a student with a disability does not have to seek a specialized resource through ODR. The notes can be provided to the entire class, so all students can benefit

Exam Access

  • Design tests with multiple means of assessment (multiple choice, true/false, essays, problems, etc. when aligned with content)
  • Consider inclusive alternatives to pop, short in-class, and clicker quizzes. Facilitating extra time on quizzes generally requires students to go to the Testing Center for proctoring or meeting with their professor right before or after class in order to get extra time
  • Take-home exams, where students are allowed multiple days to complete the work, most often eliminate the need for extra time for tests
  • Consider offering multiple assessment options when possible, such as allowing students to do a presentation, a video, or write a paper to fulfill the same course objective

Auditory and Reading Access

  • Only use videos where full, accurate captioning is an option
  • Offer syllabi in advance of the class starting on Moodle so that students can read, review and process, if interested, prior to the day it is discussed
  • Ensure all handouts and other course materials are accessible. It is common for professors to send out PDF scans of articles but these cannot be read by speech to text software or a screen reader
  • When adopting required reading materials, such as textbooks, confirm with the publisher that electronic text (e-text) formats are available for purchase. For supplemental reading materials, ensure that these can be read by text-to-speech software

Course Activity Access

  • Consider the question, to what extent is course attendance truly essential to the learning objectives? Any course policies should be directly connected to the specific course learning objectives.
  • Reconsider exercises or assignments that require a response based on an individual’s sensory abilities. What barriers may be created for different students when these abilities are being assessed?
  • When feasible and practical, identify ways in which the course policies can be adjusted and flexible for case-by-case student needs. Some course policies, such as absolutely no make-up exams, can be significant barriers that limit a student’s ability to truly demonstrate academic understanding