Instructional Accessibility Tips

We appreciate that faculty members at U-M wish to accommodate students with disabilities so that their classes may be as inclusive of diversity as possible. However, the best practices for providing accommodations may not always be obvious. We have assembled the following list of tips and resources to provide a starting point. While not exhaustive, it provides insight on proven ways to provide significant impact with minimum effort.

University of Michigan Faculty Materials Group
November 2014

Top 10 Tips

Think about it.

You can make a difference just by reading this page and being aware of accessibility best practices.

Do your best to face the classroom when speaking.

This will be particularly helpful to students who use lipreading as a primary or supplemental access solution.

Use 12 pt or larger fonts in documents, websites, etc.

Sans serif typefaces such Arial or Calibri are generally considered more legible when larger font sizes are used.

Consider the contrast of text and background.

Lighthouse International has a useful discussion of color contrast for people with low vision or colorblindness. However, be aware that black text on a bright white background may be problematic for some people with learning disabilities. Black text on a lightly tinted background or white text on a dark background will likely work better.

Lean towards simplicity.

Think about how well the technology you're using matches your goals. Will a (probably inaccessible) Prezi really be more effective than a PowerPoint?

This also applies to language. Shorter sentences and words with fewer syllables, used wherever possible, are more readable. This affects students with learning disabilities, students whose first language is not English, etc.

Consider preparing in-class materials that can be distributed in advance.

Providing your materials such as PowerPoint slides in advance can help students prepare for classroom participation. This may particularly help students with disabilities, those for whom English is a second language or even shy students feel more ready to participate.

Ensure that your class website and digital materials are accessible.

Scott Williams (swims@umich.edu), the university's Web Accessibility Coordinator, and the U-M Web Accessibility Working Group can provide you with the support and advice you need to make your site accessible. Scott has put together an accessibility how-to guide. He also chairs the Web Access Working Group.

Be aware that enterprise applications may have accessibility problems.

Even with U-M's best efforts to ensure accessibility of the products we use for instruction, some students may encounter barriers. To address this, there are informational websites listing known problems and work-arounds. The list below will be updated periodically.

If this information still does not address a student's barriers, you should allow use of an alternative application. In other words, you should not assign work where the only option to complete the work involves use of these tools.

Google Apps:

Canvas:

CTools:

Use language in your syllabus that encourages students who need accommodations to pursue them.

Consider putting this information on the first page of the syllabus rather than near the end--it helps convey that you mean it, that it's not an afterthought or included only to meet a legal requirement.

Here is a sample:

Accommodations for Students with Disabilities

If you think you need an accommodation for a disability, please let me know at your earliest convenience. Some aspects of this course, the assignments, the in-class activities, and the way we teach may be modified to facilitate your participation and progress. As soon as you make me aware of your needs, we can work with the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) to help us determine appropriate accommodations. SSD (734-763-3000 or ssd.umich.edu) typically recommends accommodations through a Verified Individualized Services and Accommodations (VISA) form. I will treat any information you provide as private and confidential.

If an accommodation a student requests concerns you, build a bridge instead of a wall as you try to address your concerns.

Commonly requested accommodations include extra time for tests and other assignments and a quiet space for test taking.

The Office of Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) can answer questions about student accommodations without violating Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)/privacy issues. They may also contact you about student requests.

Students who are enrolled in LS&A classes and registered with SSD may request use of the Testing Accommodation Center (TAC) for taking exams. Other departments will need to develop and publicize their own strategies for assisting students who have SSD authorization for testing accommodations such as additional time or quiet space. For more information, or for questions about duplicating TAC services for other departments, contact lsa.testcenter@umich.edu, or see the Testing Accommodation Center site.

Occasionally, you may encounter students who would like to be accommodated but who are not currently registered with the Services for Students with Disabilities office. Invite the student to have a confidential conversation with you in person, via phone, via Hangouts, or via another mutually agreeable method. Beyond encouraging them to work with SSD, ask them to describe in detail what kind of accommodations they seek and let them know that you can work with both SSD and your Dean's office to try to work out appropriate accommodations. You are the expert on your course and on your subject matter. Typically, others are the experts on providing accommodations and you should avail yourself of their expertise—you are not in this alone.

For more help at the University of Michigan

Other Resources

Faculty Materials Accessibility Group

The Faculty Materials Group includes representatives from multiple organizations within U-M who are concerned with accessibility.

  • Laurel Barnes
  • Jack Bernard
  • Doreen Bradley
  • Sean DeMonner
  • Kristina Eden
  • Robert Fraser
  • Susan Hollar
  • Melissa Levine
  • Dan Measel
  • Rob Pettigrew
  • Jane Vincent
  • Scott Williams

Your questions and comments will help strengthen this document even further. Please contact Sites.Knox@umich.edu with your feedback.