This post was written by Jatin Dhanji (UTS student and Digital Accessibility Ambassador).
The LX.lab has recently released Students Explain Digital Accessibility – a suite of videos about making your learning and teaching accessible. These videos were created in collaboration with UTS students who have a lived experience of disability – our Digital Accessibility Ambassadors. In the first part of a series of posts accompanying the videos, Digital Accessibility Ambassador Jatin Dhanji writes about creating an accessible and comfortable environment for students.
My name is Jatin, and I’m a 4th year Bachelor of Business Bachelor of Laws student. I have a vision impairment and am classified as legally blind. Being an accessibility student over the years, I have had ranging experiences and responses with my accessibility needs being met in classes. With this, here are some tips for next time you have an accessibility student in your class.
This post is broken up into what to do prior, during and after class. These tips come from my personal experience and what I have heard works and does not work for fellow accessibility students in making their academic life much more enjoyable and comfortable.
It is important to note that not all students disclose their accessibility requirements, which is why it is recommended that academics refer to the general accessibility guidelines and principles. Following these principles will help to ensure that your material is as accessible as possible, even if a student doesn’t feel comfortable disclosing.
Send your student an email before your first class! This tip comes from an experience I had in my very first year of study at UTS. Before class it is extremely helpful to send an email personally to your accessibility student, introducing yourself, a briefing of how the subject is delivered, asking them what accommodations they may need for accessibility, and to ask if they’d like to meet prior to class to talk about anything. This will give them a chance to feel welcomed and a chance for teachers to gauge the accommodations required in order to adjust their teaching plan. It ensures that everyone is on the same page.
However, most important, is having an open attitude towards change. Whether it be small or large, you may need to adjust your teaching style/delivery in order to accommodate your student. Personally, I have experienced a range of attitudes towards change from being very accepting and positive to it feeling very forced and negative. Having a positive attitude towards change and adjusting your class makes it a lot easier for students to ask for assistance because they do not feel like they are a burden or a hassle.
During class, there are two main things to keep in mind to ensure an accessible and comfortable classroom for your student.
Firstly, it is important to remember that an accessibility student is just like any other student. Treat them like you would anyone else whilst keeping in mind their accessibility needs. Furthermore, ensure that all of the accessibility requirements addressed before class have been accommodated. It is crucial to not only listen to your student but also to be proactive in ensuring you do everything you can to accommodate for the student. I have had some teachers who kept some aspects of the adjusted learning as they found it better than their original style.
Secondly, although this may be subjective to the student, do not single them out regularly asking how they are doing in class. It may be with good intent, but some students may be embarrassed or uncomfortable sharing their accessibility needs with other students.
After class is the time to ask the student if everything was alright for them. We don’t expect teachers to always get it right the first time as we understand it can be a very foreign idea for some and at times challenging to understand. Try to work with your student week by week in order to create an accessible and comfortable environment for them.
At times it can be a slow process, but the knowledge gained by everyone involved can help exponentially in the long run. Even for those of us still in an online learning environment, these tips may be adapted and utilised to interact with your students.
Feature image by Anna Zhu