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UNIVERSAL DESIGN OF LECTURES AND PRESENTATIONS: PLACES TO START

Space:

  • Choose physically accessible locations for your classes. If you have a choice (or if you can otherwise make changes or “hack” the room selection process), select rooms with desks/chairs that are movable rather than with fixed seats. Think about the choices that students have for seating—does everyone not only have a place to sit/stand, but a choice of places to sit/stand? Once the room is full, will students still have choices, and will they still be easily able to come and go? Will all students still be able to see/hear you? Will you be able to recognize the ways that they want and need to take part?
  • Consider providing your classes with information about accessible features of the immediate environment (e.g. automatic doors, accessible washrooms).
  • Keep aisles clear, make sure the room is well lit, at least at the beginning of class as students find their seats. (Later, you can think about what lighting conditions will be best for students during the presentation itself, to accommodate both vision as well as possible light sensitivity.)
  • Make sure that all students can easily leave the room if they need to. Consider letting students know that they are free to leave if they want or need to.
  • Make sure that all students can easily get up and move around if they need to. Consider letting students know that they are free to get up and move around if they need to.

Delivery:

  • Think carefully about your own access needs and try whenever possible to be clear with students about what you need to do to “deliver” in class.
  • Clearly communicate with students about what your goals are for this lecture or presentationaire. Don't assume that students know what the pedagogical purpose of the class is. This communication can come at the beginning of a class, or you could send an e-mail (or announcement) the night before.
  • Signpost your lecture or presentation. Tell students where you are about to go, and revisit where you've been. Like a pop song, great lectures have a chorus—key points that the speaker returns to throughout, and that will stick in the students' minds. When the lecture is over, involve students in recapping the highlights.
  • Keeping background noise in the classroom to a minimum is very important for all students.
  • Force yourself to speak more slowly than usual, to pause more frequently than usual, and to repeat key ideas aloud. The goal is to sound clear—as though you were performing in a play, trying to have your voice heard over a crowd (or even speaking to the voice recognition software on a smartphone).
  • Think about where you will stand/sit/move during your lecture. It helps many students to be able to see your face and mouth while you speak—how can you make that happen? Can you find an alternative way to write on a whiteboard or chalkboard, so that you don’t turn your back to the class?
  • Try to keep your hands or other objects away from your face when speaking, avoid pacing, and try to pause video or audio instead of speaking over it.
  • Stand away from windows or bright lights and projectors, and leave some lights in the room on when you project an image—make sure you can still be easily seen if you are speaking.
  • Even if you don't think you need a microphone, it is almost always better to use one than not.

Redundancy:

  • Consider giving students guides or examples that show how they could take the most useful notes on the presentation or lecture.
  • Make large-print copies of all materials available as handouts or online. Even if you only lecture or present from a set of notes, sharing these notes can be tremendously helpful.
  • Post everything online before class: your lecture script or notes, your slides or web locations, pictures (perhaps with descriptions) of the notes or figures you write on a whiteboard or chalkboard. If you can't post the notes ahead of time, post them afterwards. You might even post a set or two of student's notes on the lecture or presentation. Students can actually take turns posting their class notes and this can be a small assignment.
  • Make sure there is high color contrast between the background and the text for any handouts. If you are giving a slide presentation that will be viewed via projector, the contrast often needs to be more pronounced than on printed material. Black text on a white background, or white text on a black background, is the easiest to read. Use larger font sizes and more slides rather than jamming a lot of text onto a few slides—that's better for everyone.

Translation:

  • Translate difficult ideas, words, and metaphors into plainer language. You don't have to lose the complex phrasing, but you should try to add a simpler one, too. Remember, also, that many anecdotes, lots of imagery, and some examples might be culturally specific. You don't have to lose these, but you do need to translate them. All of this translation also forces you to say things twice, which is helpful for everyone.
  • If you are showing images, websites, figures, or slides, translate all visual material for students, regardless of whether it 'seems' like students in the class have visual impairments. It is good for all students, and for you, to clarify what you want students to see in a visual. Make sure that there is no relevant text on any slides, images, figures, or websites that isn't read aloud.
  • Make sure videos you show in class are captioned and that captions are turned on—this can help everyone.
  • It is also easier than you think to describe videos for students who can't see all of what is being shown—before you press play, tell students what they are about to see; when you press stop, recap what was seen.
  • Think about the content of videos and images and provide lots of warning to students if any of the content could be upsetting or traumatic.
  • Make audio or video of your lectures available when possible—caption videos using free online tools like YouTube's automatic caption creator, or a service like Amara. Or ask for help with captioning from your disability services office. If you provide audio or video, also provide transcripts. This increases accessibility, but studies also show that many students like to read transcripts and watch or listen at the same time.
  • Be willing to accommodate the needs of students who use adaptive technology such as closed-captioning, personal frequency modulation (FM) systems, teletypewriters (known as TTYs), amplified phones, closed-circuit television (CCTVs), large print computers and materials, Braille, and magnifiers.
  • Be ready and willing to work with sign interpreters or Communication Access Realtime Interpreters (CART)—in both cases, providing scripts in advance of lectures or presentations can be very helpful. Slow down when you are using big words or complicated phrases and spell out key names. Allow the American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter to sit or stand near you so the student can watch you and “read your words” at the same time by watching the interpreter. Watch the student, but listen to the interpreter when they are interpreting what the student is saying; speak to the student and not to the interpreter. Take short breaks in your speaking to allow the interpreter to catch up; also, plan a 10-minute break for every 50 minutes of class presentation, as interpretation requires a great deal of concentration and endurance. Be aware that interpreters are bound by their professional code of ethics to interpret all spoken messages while in the presence of the student, including informal chatting. When video material is not close-captioned, provide enough light to allow the student to see the interpreter; the interpreter also needs to be positioned near the viewing screen so that the student can see the interpreter and the video simultaneously. Be aware that interpreters often work in pairs, with each interpreting 20- to 30-minute segments. This is because of the need for a high degree of concentration and because of the physical demands of the work. Don’t be concerned with the initial distraction that the interpreter’s hand movements may cause for the rest of the class; tests show that people quickly become accustomed to the interpreter’s presence. Advise the office for students with disabilities if you are planning to cancel a class or change locations, such as taking a field trip. Interpreters are hired on an hourly basis, so advance notice of changes helps reduce costs and allows for better use of the interpreter’s skills.

Interaction:

  • Allow breaks during class—for students to move around, talk with one another, or just to relax quietly. Creating breaks also allows students to catch up on and digest what has been discussed.
  • The "think, pair, share" approach allows for productive breaks. Give students a question or problem; give them time to think of their own answers; pair them up to discuss; then ask some groups to share with the entire class. This approach also allows "tolerance for error"—sometimes students need low-stakes opportunities to get things wrong or to air hypotheses and take risks in their thinking.
  • Circulate note cards for students to write questions or comments, or to answer your questions, perhaps anonymously, and collect and address them. If you plan to just lecture in a class, with no discussion, still circulate and collect these cards to find out whether students have really understood all you have said. You'll be surprised—just because we say it doesn't mean students retain it.
  • Have students take turns taking class notes on whiteboards or on large flipchart paper, and then post the notes around the classroom for future reference—keep them up all semester—build running answers to pertinent and revisited questions.
  • Give students chances to comment on the lecture or presentation and thus to help revise it for next time—ask students how the class might accommodate them, but also create venues for all students to negotiate for change. Show them how you are being responsive. Make note of one thing from each lecture or presentation that you want to change or vary for the next one. Share this process with students whenever possible. On a macro-level, change your lecture or presentations every semester to respond to what you learned from the last class you taught.

Finally . . .

  • Alter the ways you organize and deliver lectures or presentations. Too often, we compose these materials in the ways that make best sense to us, or in the ways we remember they were delivered to us. But everyone learns differently. Try something new, invite someone else to deliver your materials (or their own), have a silent lecture day where all of the materials and discussions take place online in a networked classroom, innovate.