Universal design can be applied to all aspects of instruction. Lecturers, tutors and all those involved in the course delivery should understand and utilise inclusive teaching practices, anticipating student needs in all aspects of the learning program. This includes online components, field trips and practical work.
At the beginning, acknowledge student diversity and your institute’s commitment to providing equal opportunities for students with disability. Invite students to talk to you or the disability service about any needs they have. Remember that students have the right not to disclose their disability; many choose not to because of past discrimination.
Some very simple adjustments to teaching practice in lectures, seminars and tutorials can prevent students with disability becoming disadvantaged. In other cases, adjustments will need to be made in response to the needs of individual students. Good practice involves monitoring and adjusting your teaching by regularly assessing students’ background knowledge and current learning through accessible methods and tools, both formally and informally.1 There are simple, practical ways to ensure all students understand and engage in the content.
The class environment
It is crucial to establish a class climate that reflects high values in respect to diversity and inclusiveness. Good teaching practice involves establishing effective class norms. Class norms relate to the behavioural expectations of the class and establish expectations regarding behaviour towards each other and towards the teaching materials. Define standards of conduct and discuss rules of etiquette in your syllabus and during class. This is relevant as people generally perform in relation to the expectations placed upon them. In small classes, guide students to negotiate their own code of conduct; in larger classes, provide a framework and ask for student feedback and ratification of ground rules. Provide examples of desired conduct as well as unacceptable behaviour and explain the rationale for the expectations, inviting student comments and suggestions.2
Establish a classroom in which teachers and students demonstrate mutual respect and safeguard against discrimination. Model inclusive language and ensure students follow suit. For instance, use person first language and avoid using masculine pronouns for both males and females. When you use Australian idioms, explain them for the benefit of others. Engaging in respectful relationships means demonstrating a positive appreciation of people and their cultural values.3
By teaching in an inclusive manner, a safe welcoming environment is created which encourages students to discuss any particular learning requirements or support needs.
The following points assist all students to learn and remove any barriers to full participation for students with disability.
- Ensure lecture theatres and other rooms are timetabled with the needs of students with disability in mind (you may need to consider physical access, lighting and acoustics)
- Ensure course materials are accessible (Course Design contains further information)
- Provide handouts in advance of the lecture
- Upload lecture materials and handouts on-line prior to the class
- Provide students with a list of new terms or abbreviations
- Present content in a logical, straightforward manner and in an order that reflects its importance
During the class:
- Make it clear what you expect students to learn from a lecture or tutorial
- Always face students when you speak. This includes when you are using slides or writing on a board
- Wear a microphone to ensure everyone can hear you
- Ensure that only one person speaks at a time during discussions
- Repeat other students' questions and comments to ensure everyone has heard
- Read aloud material presented visually
- Give both oral and written instructions
- Pace your delivery
- If necessary, allow brief breaks to allow students and sign language interpreters to keep up
- Avoid unnecessary jargon and complexity
- Define new terms when they are presented
- When students have assistants such as notetakers or interpreters, direct questions and comments directly to the student
Group work can provide great learning opportunities for students with disability, but it is important that all students can contribute equally and understand their peers' communication or practical needs.
As part of your inclusive teaching practice, try the following to facilitate effective group work:
- Ensure that all students are supported to contribute, regardless of any communication barriers
- When group work is assessed, make adjustments to ensure that every student’s contribution can be measured equitably
- Talk through with groups any practical difficulties that might arise from having a diverse group, and make sure any appropriate adjustments can be made
- Encourage quieter students to fully participate
- Ensure that materials created and presented by the groups are provided with subtitles, interpretation or transcripts to allow accessibility.
(Laboratory and Workshop contains further information)
In addition to the above, it may be necessary in practical subjects to make adjustments to allow students with disability to fully demonstrate their abilities. The best place to start in responding to the needs of students with disability is to discuss with the student their learning needs and agree on the adjustments to the course that are required.
It may be necessary for planning to ensure that the environment is physically accessible and/or equipment utilised is accessible for the student. Some students may need assistants to act as extra hands. For example, a student with manual dexterity problems might use an assistant to measure chemicals or operate machinery. You may need to provide additional time to allow students to demonstrate the necessary skills. For instance, someone with a mobility difficulty may need extra time to move between patients when taking patient histories for a medical exam. Environmental adaptations may be required and can include work surfaces placed at appropriate or adjustable heights or the provision of adapted equipment.
If you are concerned about OH&S issues, instigate an individual induction or ‘risk assessment’ for the particular students. Following this, ensure that staff, students and technicians are aware of health and safety procedures and review these when appropriate.
Contact your post-secondary education provider’s disability service team to discuss options regarding adjustments or modifications.
Work placements, field trips and study abroad (Fieldwork, Work Placements, Excursions and Practicums contains further information)
Study beyond the confines of the post-secondary education provider is increasingly important for many courses, and required by some. With careful planning and monitoring, most work placements, field trips and study abroad programs can be accessible to most disabled students.
Below are questions which help identify any areas which may require further planning
- Have work placements, field trips and overseas partner providers been audited for accessibility?
- Are tutors aware of the barriers that particular venues or activities may pose for students with a disability?
- Where possible, are field trips or study abroad programs organised to places that are accessible?
- Have work placement providers or overseas partner providers received training in disability equality or how to work with students who have a disability?
- Are students given a further opportunity to disclose a disability as overseas travel and placements are being organised? Are they asked about any particular needs?
- Are students with additional requirements supported in finding placements that meet their requirements?
- Are arrangements made to ensure that people with disabilities can take personal assistants or assistive technology with them where necessary?
- Are placement providers or overseas partners clear on who will take responsibility for making adjustments?
- Do tutors keep in touch with students with disability on placements or overseas so that they can take action if problems arise?
- Where placements and trips cannot be made accessible, what alternative learning opportunities are available (for example, virtual field trips)?
Further reading and resources
1 Burgstahler, S. 2013. Equal Access: Universal Design of Instruction. A checklist for Inclusive Teaching. Seattle: DO-IT, University of Washington. Accessed on 1 October 2014. Retrieved from http://www.washington.edu/doit/Brochures/Academics/equal_access_udi.html
2 University of California, Davis Office of Student Judicial Affairs (2007). Establishing Classroom Etiquette and Dealing with Disruption. Accessed on 22 October 2014. Sourced from http://sja.ucdavis.edu/files/classroometiquette.html (1 May 2017 broken. Alternative http://sja.ucdavis.edu/files/ClassroomEtiquette.pdf
3 University of the Sunshine Coast (2014). Culturally Inclusive Environment. Accessed on 22 October 2014. Sourced from https://www.usc.edu.au/connect/work-at-usc/staff/cultural-diversity/cultural-diversity-and-inclusive-practice-toolkit/culturally-inclusive-environment