How is it possible that in more than two decades of teaching, I’ve only really started thinking deeply about accessibility in the last seven months or so? I’ve worked with the UTS Accessibility Service case workers to make tailored adjustments for individual students, but it is only recently that I have been thinking more broadly about other students who may face challenges participating in my subjects.

I hope that being that unaware for so long is rare amongst most university lecturers. But just in case, here are some reflections that might help in building awareness for more of us, across more disciplines and diverse learning and teaching contexts.

Why do we need to think about accessibility?

A university education has always been about much more than employability. It should be about broadening your experiences and following your academic interests. It can be a sanctuary, or a place to take on another persona (Carter et al., 2018). In Australia, where so much of university education is publicly funded, it also becomes a civic obligation for universities to mitigate barriers to accessing university. This must go beyond any educational institution’s legal obligations under the Disability Discrimination Act.

When you pause and think (or take a deep dive into the internet), you realise what accessibility encompasses. Australia uses the World Health Organisation’s International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health framework. According to this framework, disability is a broad term that includes: ‘impairments of body function or structure, activity limitations or participation restrictions’. That could encompass someone with social anxiety who will struggle with group work. It would also mean that we need to consider the hours someone can attend an on-campus class if they are caring for a disabled person (as carers are also covered by the Act).

Finally, university websites aren’t always designed with accessibility in mind, which makes it harder for people with disabilities to find support – and that’s only when they have enough agency to feel they can ask for the help they are legally entitled to.

As teachers, what can we do in support of accessibility?

Start with the students, and listen to their experiences and needs. The LX.lab has published a suite of short videos where UTS students talk about what accessibility means to them. You can also chat with the Inclusive Practices team at the LX.lab, and check out quick reference resources like Inclusive and accessible practices and learn how to support students with accessibility requirements in your subjects.

When you’re creating materials for your subjects, there are also some simple checks you can make. Before publishing a resource you have created or amended on Canvas, for example, click the ‘Accessibility Checker’ button.

Screen shot highlighting Accessibility Checker button

To explore more, Universal Design for Learning ( is a learning design framework whereby accessibility is a core feature of the learning and the learning experience. In this framework, affordances that support wide accessibility are present at the point of creation. For example:

  • When adding an image, add relevant captions, and make use of alternative text (‘alt text’) to describe the image for students with visual impairments.
  • For video presentations, there are various options for captioning and transcripts, which not only help those with hearing impairments, but can also reduce cognitive load for students with comprehension difficulties.

What else could we do?

When you’re ready, there are many avenues to explore and knowledgeable individuals and teams to guide and advise. How might we engage with the Accessibility Service separately from the individual cases, for example – could we invite them to chat with our classes, and raise awareness of services and assistance available?

How might we work with the UTS Office of Quality Assurance on including questions about the accessibility experiences of our students, then allocate class time for as many students as possible to fill out the Student Feedback Survey (SFS)?

How might we create an ongoing Community of Practice for accessibility, perhaps under the umbrella of First and Future Year Experience CoP? Even better, could we get more students involved in the design of resources, like the Students Explain Digital Accessibility series?

I am looking forward to being overwhelmed and humbled by colleagues who want to share with me and others what they are doing in the accessibility space.


I have a preposterously large folder of (largely unread) articles and web information that I am constantly adding to. Below is just a fraction – feel free to contact me for more!

  • The University of Technology Sydney Accessibility Service
  • Carter, J., Hollinsworth, D., Raciti, M., & Gilbey, K. (2018). Academic ‘place-making’: fostering attachment, belonging and identity for Indigenous students in Australian universities. Teaching in Higher Education, 23(2), 243-260.
  • Australian Human Rights Commission (n.d.) Complaints under the Disability Discrimination Act.
  • Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2020) People with a disability in Australia.
  • Moriña, A., & Morgado, B. (2018). University surroundings and infrastructures that are accessible and inclusive for all: listening to students with disabilities. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 42(1), 13-23
  • Kim, S. Y. (2021). College disability support offices as advertisements: A multimodal discourse analysis. Discourse Studies, 23(2), 166-190.

Feature image by Daniel Ali

  • Thank you David for such a wonderful contribution- making us all aware of student needs especially from an accessible perspective – The issues around team work might be the next blog 🙂
    Certainly an area we should be cognisant.

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