Fostering a Disability-Friendly Campus: What You Can Do
Even with good civil rights laws in place, and increased awareness of celebrities and prominent people with disabilities, "disability" still holds a stigma in society. Students who experience psychiatric disabilities, especially, are often afraid to disclose this to others out of fear of stereotypes and exclusion.
The power differential between professors and students can make some students reluctant to come forward to talk about their disabilities or arrange for accommodations.
Faculty play a key role, perhaps the most important role, in making the classroom a safe place for a student to disclose a disability, incorporate accommodations, and participate fully in all aspects of a class.
Sidebar: For more on this, see the NCCSD Resources for Faculty and Instructors at our Clearinghouse.
Some ways that professors and instructors can create or maintain classes that enhance full participation of students:
- Analyze the course curriculum. Are there possible barriers in the content such as videos or films without captions that might impede a student who is Deaf? Are there image-only PDFs that can't be used with text-to-speech software by a student with dyslexia?
- Infuse disability in your curriculum.
- Assess the physical space to ensure that a student using a wheelchair can easily sit with the rest of the class, or that ambient noise is not intrusive to those with hearing loss or attention disabilities.
- Make copies of slides available in electronic format to students with disabilities who might need to enlarge the text size or use text-to-speech software.
- Check in privately with students who are hard of hearing or visually impaired to ensure they are able to follow the lecture or board work.
- Know the resources on campus (Disability Services and Instructional Designers) that can help address unfamiliar or non-apparent accessibility issues. Be familiar with the DS office's Accommodation Letter.
Statements on syllabi that encourage students with disabilities to make their needs known have become common. It's best to discuss accommodations in private during office hours; students are encouraged to do that by Disability Services. If requested accommodations are unfamiliar, DS can assist by explaining how they might work in your class.
Sample syllabus statement: "If you require disability-related accommodations in order to fully participate in this course, please see the instructor during office hours, early in the term."
Reasonable accommodations are meant to address barriers in the academic environment. Assume that students want to fully participate in your class. Given the unfortunate stigma around "disability," very few students actually scam the system and ask for things they don't need.