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PLACES TO START: IN A LABORATORY SETTING

Space and Equipment:

  • Investigate the lab space before your first class. Make sure there is enough room in the lab for all students, there are enough accessible benches and tables, and so forth. Call your office of disability services if you are at all worried about the accessibility of the space.
  • Consider providing your classes with information about accessible features of the immediate environment (e.g., automatic doors, accessible washrooms).
  • Make sure that there is a quiet space near the lab where students can go to escape from the stress, noise, and stimulation of the lab—and make sure all students know where this is, how to get there, and when they can do so.
  • Think carefully about how students will be physically arranged—will it be easy for all students to be comfortable and to feel safe?
  • Keep aisles clear and make sure the room is properly lit—consider light sensitivity.
  • Keeping background noise in the lab to a minimum is very important for all students.
  • Think about how the layout of your lab will impact volume—will students really be able to hear one another clearly? How can you moderate the activity to control volume?
  • Think about where you will stand/sit/move during the lab. 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?
  • Discuss safety concerns both with the student and with staff in the disability services office as well as laboratory support staff. Remember, there is a long history of constructing people with disabilities *as the safety concern—be conscious of this stereotype and avoid it.
  • In a private conversation with the student about their accommodation needs, discuss the ways the lab can be made accessible—how can you accommodate interpreters, service animals, assistive devices, and so on? How can students best work with and assist their lab partners—and be assisted—like all other pairs?
  • Discuss safety concerns both with the student and with staff in the disability services office as well as laboratory support staff. Remember, there is a long history of constructing people with disabilities *as the safety concern—be conscious of this stereotype and avoid it.

Before You Begin:

  • Make large-print copies of all materials available; make sure there is high color contrast between the background and the text for any handouts.
  • Insist on professional, civil conduct between and among students to respect people’s differences and create an inclusive environment.
  • Talk to students about their past experiences with lab work and allow them to establish some ground rules for successful collaboration. This discussion can be successfully done anonymously through the use of note cards.
  • Clearly communicate with students about what your goals are for lab activities. Don't assume that students know what the pedagogical purpose is. Connect these activities to larger class themes whenever possible.

Interaction:

  • Offer detailed and step-by-step instructions in a variety of ways and in multiple formats—online before class, on a whiteboard or chalkboard, on a handout, and so forth. Don't just assume that students will "figure it out."
  • Take part in these activities yourself when possible—not as an expert but as a peer.
  • Think carefully about how students will communicate and solve problems with one another—will the default be that they always have to speak up? Will you just let them define their own roles? How can you make some changes that offer alternative modes of engagement and communication, value a variety of ways to contribute, and disrupt default power dynamics?
  • Consider flexible timelines—be very careful about asking for activities to be completed quickly. Timed activities rarely elicit the best thinking or teamwork and more often elicit the opposite.
  • Allow breaks during the lab—for students to move around, talk with one another, or just to relax. Creating breaks also allows students to catch up on and digest what they have been doing.
  • Circulate note cards for students to write questions or comments, perhaps anonymously, and collect and address them during breaks. Many students feel it is a sign of weakness to ask for help or to admit that they don't understand.