- Communicating with Students about Their Learning Needs
- Applying Universal Design Principles
- Creating Accessible Course Materials and Websites
Assistive technology helps many students with disabilities achieve their educational goals.
Baruch College and the City of New York require accessibility statements to be included in all syllabuses. However and moreso, we cannot stress how important it is to take space in your syllabus to affirm your intention to support students providing a safe and accessible learning environment for all the students in this class, irrespective of native language, physical ability, age, lifestyle, or gender; to want your course to work for every student (which may mean potentially adapting teaching and evaluation methods). Invite students to reach out to you if they would like to request or discuss specific accommodations to complete coursework, but please respect choices related to confidentiality about their personal or medical records.
Baruch’s current recommend accessibility statement:
Baruch has a continuing commitment to providing reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities. Like so many things this fall, the need for accommodations and the process for arranging them have been altered by COVID-19 and the safety protocols currently in place. Students with disabilities who may need some accommodation in order to fully participate in this class should contact Student Disability Services as soon as possible at email@example.com
Communicating with Students about their Learning Needs
Early on in the semester, try asking students about their learning preferences and providing them with space to discuss personal concerns. You could do this in an email Q&A, for example, that they could return to you privately, or on an online survey platform such as Google Forms. Introductory course surveys are a good way to ask them about:
- Accessibility-related needs or requests
- Backup contact information in the event of disruptions to Baruch webmail
- Access to technology, including hardware, software, or streaming services
- Students’ familiarity with different online platforms
- Students’ hobbies and interests, which you can draw from to personalize the class
- Students familiarity and/or interests in course topics
- How this course fits into students’ learning and working schedules
If you have concerns about your access to technology—including when you are sharing them with relatives at home—please also reach out to me about them.suggested syllabus language
Applying Universal Design Principles
Universal design helps instructors create courses that are accessible for all students through flexible, varied, and thoughtful curriculum development.
Faculty can practice Universal Design principles by:
- Presenting key information and knowledge in multiple ways,
- Providing students with varied ways to access the information,
- Creating multiple options for assessment of knowledge, and
- Maintaining student interest using varied pedagogical methods.
For more on universal design, visit www.udlcenter.org.
Creating Accessible Course Materials and Websites
Platforms and File Types
- Software applications for visually impaired students can read aloud course materials on several different digital formats. However, screen readers can only recognize certain PDF files, in which text is read as text and not as an image.Adobe Reader’s accessibility guidelines offers more advice on creating accessible PDF files.
- Whenever possible, create course materials in a word processing platform, such as Word/Office365, then, if desired, create a PDF from the document.
- When creating documents in Word, use styles in Word to organize materials in a course document hierarchically. For example, apply the style “Heading 1” to first level headings, “Heading 2” to sub-headings, etc. This way, screen readers understand the most important information and convey it to visually impaired users.
- Use the Navigation Pane under the View tab in Word to review the outline of your document and make sure that the headings organize information in the best way.
Fonts and Colors
- Use Arial, Helvetica, or Verdana fonts, which are easily recognized by screen magnifying applications for visually-impaired students. Fonts that do not contain “serifs” are generally easier to read.
- Use high-contrast colors. For example, instead of bright yellow text on a kelly green background (like this), use white text on a dark green background (like this).
- Use descriptive linking; when adding links in your document or website, rather than writing “click here,” offer a description of the link as the phrase that is linked. For example, “Imperial College London has some good thoughts here on the use of descriptive linking.”
Teaching with Media
- Use alt tags to describe images.
- Word makes it easy to create an alt tag for an image. Right or Ctrl+click on the image, select “Format Image,” then type a short descriptive phrase under the “Alt Text” option.
- When using multimedia, offer alternatives or transcripts for students who might not be able to view or hear the media.
- When creating videos for class, create a script that you follow so that a transcript can easily accompany the video. If possible, add captions to the video. For example, Zoom has a transcription feature that automatically transcribes what is said during a meeting. The transcription can also be saved to a recorder lecture for later viewing. For more information on this feature, visit our Zoom Guide. However, any automatic captioning software is not perfect and will still require some review and editing. You can check a few other recommendations, including captioning for YouTube, in Baruch’s Creating Accessible Content page.
- Be aware that some software and applications are not easily accessible for students with disabilities. Many online course materials from textbook companies and Massive Open Online Courses from well-known providers, while compliant with federal guidelines, may not be readily accessible for students with disabilities.
While faculty cannot anticipate every potential learning alternative for students, (1) creating course materials easily recognized by widely-used software programs for students with disabilities and (2) utilizing universal design principles increases the likelihood that the online and hybrid course will be accessible to all students.
Also contact the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities if you would like more information about creating accessible classes at Baruch College. You can schedule an appointment or say hello via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. They are located in Room 2-272, Newman Vertical Campus and can be reached at 646-312-4590.
The federal government has published a brochure detailing educational institutions’ responsibilities to their students with disabilities (PDF).