Access to Remote Instruction for Students and Faculty with Disabilities

It is essential that university faculty and support staff ensure how students and faculty with disabilities have equal access to remote instructional resources. 

Moving from face-to-face instruction to an online teaching and learning environment involves many changes that can impact your students. In this time of transition, it is important to consider how students and faculty with disabilities will be affected by changes in technology, pedagogy, and content that a shift to online instruction may necessitate. Changes to a learning context can adversely affect the teaching and learning opportunities that students and faculty have if we do not consider disability and accessibility.

This page is a growing document and guide and was last updated 06/11/2020.

The Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) has a wealth of resources about considering accessibility in online teaching and many other factors relevant to off-site student accommodations.

A University of Michigan resource on Teaching with Canvas and Accessibility will be available soon.

Before diving into these guidelines for providing inclusive and accessible experiences at the university, please consider these general principles:

  1. Take time to discuss this transition. Whenever changes occur that can impact teaching and learning, it is important to take some time and space to discuss how you perceive the impact on the classroom, your teaching style, course materials, discussions and participation, and testing/assessment.
  2. Ask for feedback from your students. It is impossible to foresee every unique learning need of your students, therefore it is imperative to solicit and incorporate feedback to create and optimize an accessible learning environment. Feedback can be gathered through a phone call, an email, Qualtrics, or even Google Forms. Lauren Cagle, from the University of Kentucky, has created a useful survey for learning about students’ accessibility and other issues that may affect online learning.
  3. Set a standard for flexibility and learning. This is a new experience for all of us. Communicate to your students that you are learning. Discuss with students which technologies you want to use, and the challenges that you think might arise. Emphasize that there is support for those challenges, and that grace and patience will be extended as a result.
  4. Create and model a standard for participation. Participation in online courses is different from face-to-face experiences. Here are some practices you should adopt to provide accessible participation. The following are best practices for accessible participation:
    • Test your camera and microphone in advance.
    • Mute your microphone when you are not speaking in a remote class meeting. This limits noise from typing or other background noise. Noise can also be eliminated and clerity greatly improved via the use of a headset microphone as opposed to a desktop model.
    • Limit cross talk during agenda items. It is important to speak one at a time so that individuals in the class can follow along.
    • Remember to self-identify (state your name every time) as you begin to speak/add a contribution.
    • Try to wait a few seconds after each speaker’s contribution before speaking again. This is particularly important in scenarios where live-captioning is used.
    • Speak clearly and slowly, as this will help those for which English is a second language, those with hearing disabilities, and everyone else
    • Hold each other accountable to this standard.
  5. Not all tools (e.g., software, applications, web resources, etc.) are accessible. Ask questions to accessibility@umich.edu about the accessibility of tools that you are using or considering using.
  6. Understand that student and faculty experiences may differ person to person and across devices used to participate in classroom experiences. This means that what works for one person may not work for another. It is important that units and instructors practice grace when using online tools and understand that accessibility barriers may occur. Being responsive to those barriers must be prioritized.
  7. Use multiple modes of communicating with students. Consider creating an email group, a Hangouts group, or using other modes of communication to ensure that students gain access to information.

Class Meeting and Participation

Tools such as Zoom can be used to allow synchronous class meetings to continue. U-M is currently testing a Zoom Live Transcription Beta feature which allows for automated live captioning in Zoom. Meeting Hosts may turn on automated captions by selecting, Closed Caption and then enabling Live Transcript. It is important to set and model guidelines for participation in Zoom, much the same way instructors do on the first day of face-to-face classes. You will want to build time into your classroom to discuss this. 

The following are best practices for accessible participation:

  • Accommodation needs may change with a shift in your teaching model. Be prepared for more questions and work with the Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) office.
  • Verbally describe important characteristics of visuals or diagrams in slides. This ensures that all participants are following along. For example, instead of simply saying "in this graph," say, "in this Cartesian coordinate system with a circle of radius 2 centered at the origin marked in red.". Do not assume that everyone can see the content, either because of a disability or because of how they are joining a conversation.
  • Create a shared notes document for your course. Ensure that you use headings and accessibility practices to encourage accessibility.
  • Class meeting technology options:
    • Zoom is available for some schools or colleges. Zoom is generally considered to be the most accessible video conferencing platform. It has options for breakout rooms and automated captions options.
    • BlueJeans can be used for participation, but the software may have some accessibility issues.
    • Google Hangouts Meet could be effective for smaller classrooms. Google Hangouts Meet has automated captions that can be toggled on, and a high-level of accessibility. Learn more about Google Hangouts Meet accessibility.
  • Speak clearly when leveraging auto-captions or live captions/ASL. Be sure to speak clearly into your microphone and to consider the rate of your speech. Let students know that signaling when captions are not caught up is a good practice.
    • Class meetings where CART services are provided for by SSD should not utilize autocaptions.
  • Be receptive to feedback. This is very important for creating a good experience for all students. Be willing to adapt to changing needs over time throughout the semester. 

Asynchronous Participation and Discussion

  • Asynchronous teaching, by its nature, is likely to be accessible to more individuals. Assistive technology users don’t have to worry about keeping up with the pace of the rest of the class
  • Users who benefit from reviewing information multiple times will be able to easily do so

  • Users who have access to slower WiFi won’t be left out 

  • The same requirements are needed for accessible accompanying materials 

  • Consider captioning.

Resources:

  • Refer to this guide for Creating Inclusive Learning Video (RMIT University)
  • Responsiveness is integral to asynchronous classroom participation. It is crucial that the instructional team institutes a schedule orcadence for checking emails, instant messages, or any way students can communicate with them, so that students know their needs and questions are still being addressed. When assigning asynchronous group work send out a survey to your students to ensure all students have a means of participation that is accessible to and for them.
  • Send out a survey to your students when assigning asynchronous group work.  ensures that all students have a means of participation that is accessible to and for them. 
  • Allow students to use their preferred accessible emailing software for online assignment submissions. Work that requires submission to Learning Management Systems (LMS), including Canvas, can sometimes be error-prone.
  • Hold virtual office hours with synchronous and asynchronous options. This will accommodate the largest number of students possible.

Accommodations in an Online Class Environment

  • Be aware that shifting to an online classroom environment may cause students' accommodation needs to shift as well. Be flexible in this time of transition.
  • Instructors: Contact Students with Disabilities (SSD) for guidance in addressing the diverse accomodations needs of students.
  • Reiterate at the start of every class that student accommodations are available through SSD
  • Regularly create learning materials that are already accessible to minimize the number of students who require accommodations. See this link for tips, Instructional Accessibility Tips.

Accessibility of U-M Applications and Resources

  • Contact Web Accessibility for concerns, complaints, and questions, and to receive guidance. They can advise on d the accessibility of U-M software applications/resources. Contact them at accessibility@umich.edu.
  • There is evolving guidance on which U-M applications and resources optimize accessibility, and which may not.

Accessibility of External Resources

There are many different technologies that can be used in remote teaching and learning. However, many of those tools are not supported by ITS. It will be more difficult for ITS to intervene in a troubleshooting capacity. The following are best practices for finding technology support:

  • Check with your Neighborhood IT (local, unit-level IT support) for options. Some departments may have a list of technologies they support that other units may not. 
  • Use UM-supported technologies during this time. It is more likely that solutions to common technical issues will have already been resolved, and can then be superimposed onto your issue as well.