Creating an inclusive and accessible learning environment requires the work of the entire college community. The Centre for Accessible Learning provides direct supports to students and is a resource for faculty in learning about delivery of academic accommodations to students with disabilities in their courses.
Disability issues are complex, and require flexibility and creativity in response. What works for one student may not be appropriate for another and what works in one course may not work in another. Academic accommodations are therefore determined on a individualized, course-by-course, term-by-term basis. Course instructors and departments play an important role in this dynamic and consultative process guided by key concepts, key content and some limitations.
Academic accommodations in post-secondary typically lower barriers:
- In presentation
These affect the way directions and content are delivered to students. Students with visual, hearing and learning disabilities are much more able to engage in the content when it is presented in a form they can access.
- In response
These are different ways (i.e. adaptive software) for students to respond to assessment or assignment questions. They help students with visual, physical disabilities, and those affecting organization and planning to structure, monitor, or directly put words to paper.
- In setting
These affect either where a test is taken or the way in which the environment is set up. Changing the environment is especially helpful to students for whom competing distraction takes away from their ability to demonstrate their knowledge.
- In timing/scheduling
These allow flexibility in the timing of an assessment. Generally, they are chosen for students who may need more time to process information or need breaks throughout the testing process to regroup and refocus.
In addition to these resources the Centre for Accessible Learning faculty are available to help you. As colleagues they are available to consult on your questions, come to department meetings and provide additional resources to help you develop awareness.
Connect with Centre faculty:
- Nancy Hook (Interurban)
- Brent Wassermann, Chair (Interurban)
- Alison Bowe (Lansdowne)
- Jennifer LeVecque (Lansdowne)
Duty to Accommodate
Accommodations reduce barriers for students with disabilities, while maintaining academic standards and the integrity of programs. Instructors have a legal obligation to the ‘duty to accommodate’. Duty to accommodate is a legal requirement arising out of human rights legislation and case law and confirmed by a series of Supreme Court of Canada decisions. Where a barrier exists, or a policy or practice has adverse consequences on an individual in a protected group, the law says that the institution should reasonably accommodate that individual’s difference provided they can do so, without incurring undue hardship.
To learn more, read The Alberta Human Rights Commission’s excellent guide: The Duty to accommodate students with disabilities in post-secondary educational institutions.
Implementing human rights law in higher education video: Accommodation vs. Accessibility: A Pro-active Approach by Barbara Roberts
Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a research and principles-based approach to education that employs practices that enhance the learning for all students while reducing the need for many accommodations. UDL is structured around three foundational principles:
- Multiple means of Engagement – foster purposeful, motivated learners
- Multiple means of Representation – foster resourceful, knowledgeable learners
- Multiple means of Action & Expression – foster strategic, goal-directed learners
The college has embarked on a project to develop a toolkit of resources to enable instructors to implement UDL in their practice. This partnership between the Centre for Accessible Learning and the Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, with grant funding, launched in the spring of 2019. Contact Sue Doner in CETL for more information.
Create accessible materials
In your everyday work, you can incorporate six core practices to create accessible materials. These practices can be applied to email, documents, power-point slides, D2L sites. The result will be accessible content that will enhance the experience for all users.
The six core practices are 1:
- Create document structure (headings and style templates) that organize and format documents for easier visual and assistive technology navigation.
- Write useful, descriptive hyperlinks that don’t make a reader guess where the link will take them, whether or not the user makes use of assistive technologies.
- Create bulleted or numbered lists so that users can scan content, whether with screen readers or in viewing online or print copies of resources.
- Use color and contrast appropriately to ensure information is displayed in ways that more people – including those who see color differently or don’t see it at all – can understand it.
- Add captions to your media so that a Deaf student and an English language learner have access, so that transcript content supporting your media is findable from a search engine, and so learners in general have access to supplemental descriptions of key diagrams, figures, illustrations, and photographs.
- Include alt text with all graphics and images so that students using screen readers will understand the content and context of your graphics
For more information explore University of Minnesota’s Accessible U.
BC Campus Accessibility Toolkit
The BC Campus Accessibility Toolkit is an indispensable resource for instructors developing course material. The toolkit was developed to support the work of the BC Campus Open Textbook initiative. The book makes use of persona—stories of students with disabilities—to illustrate skills that will help you create accessible material.
Supporting Students with disabilities
Disabilities are complex and varied, and are unique in manifestation to the individual. To help you build awareness the following guides will help you adopt best practices to support students with disabilities. Diagnoses are confidential, students are not required to tell you the specifics of their condition. These support guides will provide an overview of strategies you can employ in your classroom and provide a sample of possible accommodations you may be required to follow in your class.
Connect with Centre faculty if you wish to learn more.
- Understanding the potential impacts of disabilities (resources and case studies)
- Supporting students with hearing loss PDF
- Supporting students with learning disabilities PDF
- Supporting students with disabilities related to mental health PDF
- Supporting students with physical disabilities PDF
- Supporting students with vision loss PDF
1Attribution to TILT (University of Minnesota) CC-BY