There are several ways an accessibility lens can be incorporated during the selection of course material. Below, we offer examples of Barriers that commonly arise and Accessible Education suggestions for mediating them.
There are multiple reasons why course material may be difficult for students to effectively use. For instance, the weight, technical specifications, and layout/design of course material, as well as its alignment with other course content, may make course material fatiguing to transport, inaccessible for students using screen-readers or adaptive technology, or confusing to visually interpret and read.
We encourage you to anticipate and mediate possible barriers to accessing your course material and to seek feedback from students to address any concerns.
Variety and Flexibility: Consider offering students multiple ways of retrieving the same or similar content (e.g. hardcopy and e-copy), as well as flexibility with regard to which content they review (e.g. read 2 of 3 articles). Think about including podcasts and their transcripts, captioned videos, and other formats that support different learning needs.
As one example, Dr. Philippa Carter has stopped using course material that is only available in hardcopy, as she describes in this clip.
Explicitness: Students with disabilities in McMaster’s social work program recommend informing students which readings are “essential”/priority and which are “nice to know” or good reference material. This helps students more easily negotiate course expectations and essential requirements and more effectively use their study time (de Bie, 2015, p. 12).
It is often difficult for us to notice prejudice in the materials we select, exclude, or never think to consider. The content area of our course and our disciplinary traditions can also play a significant role in how diversity is attended to and incorporated (or not) within the design and delivery of course material.
We’ve gathered some questions below to get you thinking about this in relation to your course content.
Are there ways you might add matters of equity and inclusion into your course description or class schedule as a relevant theme?
Do your case studies inadvertently replicate common stereotypes about specific population groups?
When teaching about a particular group of people, are there readings available to you written by authors who identify as members of this population?
For instance, can you include writing by disabled/Mad people, service users, and patients/clients about their own experiences, rather than material exclusively written by academics or service providers?
Are materials by Indigenous scholars available to you, or only works about Indigenous peoples, written by non-Indigenous anthropologists or historians?
How might you enhance the visibility of scholars from traditionally excluded groups (e.g. LGBTQ+ people and people of colour, scholars writing from the Global South and from non-Western perspectives, women)?
How might you enhance the diversity of images on PowerPoint slides and examples given in lecture?
Ensuring Equity and Inclusion
There are several ways you can stay alert for prejudice during course planning and seek to address equity and inclusion in your teaching. Colleagues and teaching supports on campus can assist you.
Alignment: Review the authorship and content of your chosen course materials, and any visuals, for alignment with FLEX Forward goals: Focusing on Learning and Eliminating eXclusion. Consider seeking feedback from colleagues or an educational consultant to support this “audit” of your course materials.
Review example syllabi that seek to integrate content on equity and inclusion, such as material related to Critical Disability Studies, Critical Race Studies, and Gender and Queer Studies (American Philosophical Association, n.d.).