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Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?

Take a SIP of this: Proactive accessibility helps streamline accommodation requests

March 29, 2018

image of MSU Denver Professor Standing in front of classSIP 6.10: Proactive Accessibility

Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?

How do you feel at the beginning of the semester when you know students are going to give you letters asking for accommodations (accessibility letters)? Do you think about what you will have to change on a day-by-day basis or the extra work you will have to do to email someone your notes? What if you did not have to worry about these letters at all (or not much)? This is a possibility when you incorporate proactive accessibility in your classroom.

Try this: Proactive Accessibility

The idea behind proactive accessibility is to organize your syllabus and your day-to-day activities thinking about the general accommodations that students are going to need – before you ever get a letter from a student. Think to yourself, what if no student ever needed their accommodations letter in my class – what might my class look like to make this possible?

Your response to it can help students with an accommodations letter and the other 83 percent of students who have been diagnosed with a learning disability but do not use the Access Center (The State of Learning Disabilities, 2014). It helps countless other students with diagnosed or undiagnosed disabilities. It helps students without disabilities who just need a little flexibility. It helps the instructor to pre-plan accommodations so there is less to accommodate on a day-to-day basis.

Common accommodations and how to proactively address them:

  • Extra time on a test: Instead of having to find a way to add time to a test, plan for a test to take only half of the class time but give all students the whole class period for an in-class exam. Or rework the test as a take-home for everyone. Or do not have a test at all – move to application-based forms of assessment such as project-based learning, place-based learning or problem-based learning. See SIP 1.14 and SIP 3.23.
  • Note-taker: Instead of having to ask a student to take notes for another student, set up a schedule for each student (or two per class to have redundancy and different note-taking modeling) to take notes over the course of the semester and post the notes for everyone in the class. If a student is allowed to audio-record class, ask that person to post the audio files if you are comfortable with that. Post PowerPoint slides so students have an outline for the class when they come into class, or let students know you will post them after class for everyone. Several SIPs have addressed note-taking. See SIP 1.1 and SIP 3.18.
  • Post all materials to the learning-management system: If you post all materials on Blackboard, students can preview materials prior to class if needed. This includes materials that will be reviewed/ discussed during class, such as an article. Let students know ahead of time that the class will be doing an activity based on the material so that students who read slower, take longer to process or need the assistance of a screen reader can review the material prior to class.
  • Alternative assignments: Instead of having to think how one student might engage with a course differently, plan assignments where students can choose from a few (or many) options on how to show what they know. If you make sure assignments prioritize different modalities, students can show what they know in a variety of ways (visual, presentation, tech-based, etc.). See SIP 2.23.
  • Alternative presentation styles: Lecture is the least effective way to engage students in a classroom. If instructors look to make time for students to read, write, speak and listen in every class, you are sure that class will engage all students in their areas of comfort and discomfort. See SIP 1.9.
  • Brain breaks: Some students need an accommodation to be allowed to take a break during class. Rather than a break being the exception, make it the rule. Students should be able to excuse themselves as needed in class, and instructors should say this out loud, but instructors should also plan in small breaks in short classes and longer breaks in longer classes. Most adults can pay attention for about 20 minutes before the brain wanders – so rather than losing students’ attention, change up class, let people move around, make people move around, take a break (Gallo, 2014). It refreshes students and instructors alike.

The ideas above will make it so most of your students’ accommodations are met most of the time. You will still have a few students who will need to take a test elsewhere or need another form of accessibility, such as a screen reader, that does not work for everyone in the class. Work with the student and the Access Center to make sure you are fulfilling these obligations.

Still Thirsty? Take another SIP of Proactive Accessibility

Visit The Well at for more great ideas and resources for Strong Instructional Practices in your higher-education classroom!

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