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Making “Accessibility” Accessible

By Kimo Ah Yun, Director, Center for Teaching and Learning & Mark Stoner, Professor, Communication Studies

For some of us, when the word “accessibility” is applied to teaching, the word can be, strangely enough, inaccessible!   If the facility and equipment that students with disabilities need is in place, the charge of “making the learning experience accessible” can be difficult to figure out.  Actually, definitions of “accessibility” give some help. Accessibility can mean, “easy to approach, reach, enter, speak with, or use”; or “obtainable; attainable.”  There is nothing particularly magical about those adjectives relative to our teaching. While we do not water down our content, we can and do find ways that are sufficiently “easy to approach” that all students can obtain it.  We can do this regularly, using principles of universal design.

Here are three basic principles of universal design that we can use in every lesson:

Involving the students—getting them involved in making sense of the course content through discussion, small group problem-solving, creating questions, even checking each others’ notes.  Just a few minutes, two or three times a session, can engage students’ minds or bodies or both in ways other than just listening.  For some students, these activities make the content accessible.

Presenting content in different ways—just turning on the captions of a video helps visual learners by seeing and hearing the content; providing a diagram showing relationships of abstract concepts can help students who think concretely; even reviewing key ideas from a session is a form of re-presentation.  For some students, such efforts make the content accessible.

Saying things “in other words” or other ways—allowing students options for displaying their knowledge can help them better understand content. Writing a report instead of giving a presentation or vice versa, for some, allows them to better express their understanding.  Providing students your grading rubric along with the assignment helps students “get” the assignment.  When possible, building assignments with a “re-submit” option or requirement allows students to present ideas more effectively. For some students, such options make content accessible.

Attend a Brown Bag Discussion

If you want to know more about universal design and easy, effective ways to make your course accessible, a brown bag discussion on "Universal Design for Learning" is scheduled for Friday, April 17, 2009 at 12:00-1:15 pm in the Center for Teaching and Learning, located in Library 4026.   This brown bag will offer ideas for designing lessons and materials using some simple principles that facilitate better access to content and deeper learning by all students. Faculty will learn how busy instructors can increase access and participation in learning for ALL students (and still "have a life").


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