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, revised January 2023

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. For more information about document accessibility, please see How to Create Accessible Documents.

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. For more information, please see Plain Language.

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.

Check the “Resources for Instructors” section of for information about how to make your webpages and documents accessible from the start, how to convert older documents, and how to use Canvas to address accessibility.

You can also add yourself to the Digital Accessibility Community of Practice MCommunity group, which has an active listserv as well as monthly meetings to discuss digital accessibility issues.

Be aware that educational software may have accessibility problems.

Even with U-M's best efforts to ensure accessibility of the products provided for instruction, some students may encounter barriers. To address this, there are informational websites listing known problems and work-arounds. The latest information we have  is available at the U-M Accessibility Workarounds section. Additionally, the service page for U-M ITS operated services may include more helpful accessibility information. Also consider accessibility when selecting software for classroom, homework, and testing use

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 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. SSD is also in the process of taking responsibility for 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.

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