Q How do we include the needs of students and staff with disabilities right from the beginning?
You can start by implementing accessibility practices into your unit based on community guidelines. You may also want to think about the features of your unit and consider how certain activities like lab work or fieldwork can be redesigned to better meet the needs of your entire cohort. Just because something is traditionally done one way does not mean it has to be. Accessibility is a dynamic process, ask students what they need and be open to adapting your teaching. Talking about accessibility needs is not easy either, so creating a space where students feel comfortable to raise this is important. (Response by David Chapman)
We have inherent requirement attributes for the University and in some cases there are course-specific requirements indicated. These form part of the admission process and direct individuals with disability to access wellbeing services to determine the required reasonable adjustments which can be detailed in an individual education access plan.
Adding an Accessibility Statement (see box below) in the top section of your iLearn page and in your Unit Guide and going through it in the first class of the session is also a powerful way to signal that students are welcome to connect with the Convenor about their accessibility needs. David Chapman and Hannah Vogel recommended me to do this – it has been a real game-changer since I implemented it and has enabled me to support my students better than ever before. It also signals to the class that accessibility, diversity, equity and inclusion are priority values of our learning community, which sets the tone for the learning culture throughout the session. (Response by Professor Ronika Power)
An example of an accessibility statement (Provided by Ronika Power)
Your success in this class is important to me. Throughout our learning journeys, we all require accommodations because we all learn and work differently, and have different life experiences. If there are aspects of this unit that prevent you from learning or exclude you, please let me know as soon as possible. We can develop strategies together in order to meet both your needs and the learning outcomes of the course.
For students with accessibility requirements, I encourage you to contact Accessibility Services to ensure that we are supporting your learning appropriately. If you need official accommodations, you have a right to have these met. There are also a range of resources on campus that serve to support and improve student learning and wellbeing, including the The Writing Centre, Peer Support programs, resources for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, English Language support, and Student Wellbeing support and resources. Please reach out to these programs if you need them, or contact me directly for further information. We are all here to help.
Q We can (for example) provide extra supports for vision-impaired students [while they are at university], but how do we adequately prepare them for the “real-world”?
It is highly likely that our students with vision impairment have had significant support and intervention in their journey to university. These supports will be ongoing, e.g. they may receive NDIS funding for low vision devices and orientation and mobility. These supports will continue to be available in the “real world”.
Q What advice do you have for facilitating learning of highly mathematical material for visually impaired students?
The Unified English Braille code includes mathematics so there is no barrier to students with vision impairment studying maths. Communicate with the student to work out what their access needs are and the support mechanisms that may exist to help with production of access materials. For example, 3D modelling may be helpful and can be produced at low cost. Campus Wellbeing is a great starting point for advice, what can be funded and what external supports are available. (Response provided by Associate Professor Kathleen Tait and Dr Sue Silveira)
Q How would you suggest teachers of anatomy address Universal Design to improve access to content for students with low vision?
Anatomy is such a visual topic so students with low vision need to be able to access these materials in a meaningful way. Each student’s access needs will be different so working closely with the student to begin with is critical – talk to them about their vision, what helps them see and understand, what is a barrier to their learning. Campus Wellbeing is a great starting point for advice, what can be funded and what external supports are available. (Associate Professor Kathleen Tait and Dr Sue Silveira)
Links and further resources:
MQ Accessibility Services – provides assistance, support and services for students with a disability or health condition.
Accessible classroom resources: Inclusivity statements in syllabi.
Schroeder, N. (2020) Fostering an Inclusive Classroom: Universal Design Learning and Accessible Online Teaching Practices, guide available here. This resource is available on the Disabled Academic collective website (https://disabledacademicco.wixsite.com/mysite)
Unified English Braille: Accessible Braille training for literacy and mathematics.
Australian Braille Authority: Braille codes and specifications used in Australia
Banner image: Olga Praktika on Shutterstock