Academic Ableism: Disability and Higher EducationSkip other details (including permanent urls, DOI, citation information)
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 License. Please contact email@example.com to use this work in a way not covered by the license. The print version of this book is available for sale from the University of Michigan Press. :
For more information, read Michigan Publishing's access and usage policy.
PLACES TO START: GENERAL SUGGESTIONS
Flexibility and Reflexivity:
- Use different instructional methods to meet the needs of the greatest number of learners.
- Talk about teaching with fellow teachers, and with nonteachers, so that you can develop reflexivity about your pedagogy. Keep a teaching journal.
- Be open to learning about disability as a political identity, and about Universal Design as a political movement, to keep the practice rooted to its origins.
Course Materials and Discourse:
- Language matters—for more information on language use and disability, read the Syracuse University Guide to Disability Language and Empowerment.
- Make sure that if you distribute PDFs, they are screen-readable. See this resource on Creating Accessible PDFs.
- Make sure that if you have created your own course webpage, it passes basic accessibility guidelines. You should be sure to use the WAVE web accessibility assessment tool to find out what you need to do to make sure the site is as accessible as possible.
- Choose course materials early. If you are assigning a number of readings, this will allow you enough time to have the documents converted into alternative formats or for students to request the formats they need. Making these materials available to all students will also really help all students.
- If possible, choose accessible electronic versions of course readings. This will allow students the ability to convert the reading into the format required, whether they use a screen reader, an enlarger, or other technology. Be as precise as you can with regard to the texts and pages that will be used. This will help all students.
- Ensure course packs are complete. Please note that some PDFs (Portable Document Format) files are not accessible to students using a screen reader; when possible, choose tagged PDFs, which may be read by assistive technology.
- Provide an organized, well-written, and complete syllabus including required readings, assignments, due dates and defined expectations, as early as possible; consider providing all students with the course outline, the list of reading requirements and copies of all overhead materials, slides or handouts, and so forth in an accessible, digital format, whenever possible. Some individuals with physical disabilities may have limited dexterity or be easily fatigued, or both, and rely on the use of assistive technologies or a note taker. All students can benefit from having these materials ahead of time.
- When digital formats are not available, provide print material sufficiently far in advance to ensure that transcription requirements (for example, into audio-digital or other e-format, enlarged format, or Braille) can be met in time. Be as precise as you can with regard to the texts and pages that will be used.
- Ensure course packs are clearly legible, defect-free, and complete.
Disability and Disclosure:
- Encourage students to tell you about any accessibility concerns. But also let them know that you do not need to know what their disability is in order to make your classroom and your teaching fully accessible. You can do this both verbally early in the semester and by having an accessibility statement on your syllabus. Indicate that such conversations are confidential and are strictly for the purpose of facilitating any learning needs or accommodations that may be in place. Too much of the time, the disability statement on the syllabus is the *only time disability is addressed in the class, and this only ensures that stigma persists and that accommodations are a secondary concern.
- If a student who is not registered with the disability services office discloses to you that they need an individual accommodation, refer them to the appropriate process in your institution, but also make the effort to accommodate their needs, just as you would for any student.
- Discuss your guidelines for classroom behavior and interaction openly with students right away in the course, and detail your expectations in your syllabus. Show how you will also follow a set of guidelines for your own conduct.
- Discuss inappropriate classroom behavior with students privately if it is a problem in class. Directly outline the limits of acceptable conduct. In your discussion with the student, do not attempt to diagnose or treat them.
- If the student approaches you for therapeutic help, refer the student to the counseling department.
- If you are concerned about a student and unsure whether or not to intervene, seek appropriate supports on your campus.
- Avoid making assumptions or generalizations about a person’s disability or capabilities; many persons with disabilities talk about being frustrated with people assuming what they can or cannot do, or trying to diagnose them. The least dangerous assumption you can make is that all students are capable and competent.
- Remember that in the modern classroom, there are many ways to be "present" and to "participate." Reevaluate your course participation and attendance policies to be certain that they are assessing what you want them to assess, encouraging what you want to encourage, and that there aren't other options that can accomplish the same goals. For instance, if you value the exchange of ideas, does it matter whether this happens in class or online?
- It may take a student with a physical disability longer to reach classrooms. Try to be considerate of this if the student is coming from across campus, if the weather is bad, or if your classroom is poorly located.
- Field trips and transportation need to be planned with accessibility in mind. Contact your disability services office to discuss any potential considerations and to seek advice on changes you may need to make; plan activities at accessible locations so that all students can participate, or, as a last resort, substitute an alternative activity with the same learning outcomes; provide additional time for the activity and for transportation; always allow for the use of adaptive technology (e.g., screen-readers or screen enhancement software such as screen magnification) wherever class is taking place.