Supporting Students with Disabilities in Online Learning

The following are tips and guidelines for faculty who will be teaching remotely to students with different disabilities. It is not intended to be comprehensive or technical, but provides some common issues and suggestions for solutions, which you may find useful.

Email Correspondence

  • Encourage students to phrase questions in ways that require only a brief response. Brief questions will help you respond to students more quickly and efficiently and minimize the number of back-and-forth emails between you and your students.

Some Blackboard Basics

  • Blackboard is fundamentally accessible to Assistive Technology (AT), but students vary in their skill level with AT. Please check in with your students who may be struggling with this technology. There may be students with disabilities who would have never elected an online learning experience. We need to be prepared to help them.
  • Students are very concerned about how they will receive their extra exam time accommodations. If you chose to administer exams in Blackboard you will need to know how to extend the timing options. You may also choose different methods of assessment which are not exam based.
  • Many of you will be scanning materials (textbook pages, articles, PDF, etc.) for students who do not have their books, notebooks and belongings during this period. Students with (and without) disabilities may use screen reading software to access digital text. In order to maximize the effectiveness of these programs, when you are scanning material, please use clear copies and scan in a straight vertical orientation.

Communication Access for Students who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing:

  • Remote American Sign Language (ASL) can be provided through Zoom and Blackboard platforms to cover synchronous and asynchronous courses where communication access is required.

Students who are Blind or Visually Impaired:

  • Please read aloud all text and provide a description of any images used in a live synchronous or recorded asynchronous presentation or lecture (e.g. PowerPoint, videos, webcasts, images, tables, graphs, etc.). This is essential for many of our students who have reading-related disabilities.
  • Chats and discussion boards are accessible to screen readers. Some students will be using phones and apps which have different access features. Please check in with your students to be sure they are able to use these features. If not, consider modifying the mechanism of group communication.
  • Scanned text (articles, textbook pages, etc.) should be clear copies scanned in a straight vertical orientation.
  • As a courtesy, all participants in synchronous classes should identify themselves by name prior to speaking.

Students with Mental Health Needs:

  • Many students using accommodations have hidden conditions, often mental health in nature. Many more students with mental health challenges have never requested or used accommodations. Finally, the current uncertainty and change may even precipitate new mental health challenges in your students. We encourage you to be aware of the following:
  • Remote classrooms under the best of circumstances can be disorienting and lonely for students who are used to face-to-face interactions. This can amplify pre-existing mental health challenges.
  • Be mindful of social isolation and ask students how they are managing and what you can do to help.
  • Anxiety can impact all aspects of attention. Consider building time and redundancy into your remote curriculum, assessments and messaging to students.

Considerations for Flexibility in Your Online Class and Beyond

  • Some students may need some time to work with the Disability Services Center (DSC) to make adjustments to their accommodations. We encourage you to flexible and adjust deadlines and strategies to create an inclusive learning environment. Students with diagnoses such as Autism or anxiety may not adjust well to abrupt changes, making flexibility even more important.
  • Some students may be unable to access their technology during this time (e.g. if they are dependent on attendant care to get out of bed, turn on the computer, etc. Their attendants may also be affected by the emergency). Other students with certain types of disabilities (low vision, migraines, seizure disorders, etc.) may not be able to spend extended time in front of a computer. We encourage you to determine and provide a reasonable extended timeline for completing the work.
  • Consider reducing screen time for students who get migraines or have other issues. Making text available for printing out or making it possible to participate in teleconference calls with voice only and no image can help reduce problems.
  • Reach out individually to students who were attending on-campus classes but are missing virtual classes. This may be a sign they are experiencing inaccessibility or other challenges.
  • You may also wish to think creatively about the assignments themselves, through an approach that may not be intensively digital. For example, an assessment that relies on face-to-face interaction (e.g., discussion, presentations, debates) might be re-tooled or potentially substituted with an assignment in a different format that meets the same course objectives. One example of this type of adjustment includes asking students to write a pro/con issue comparison memo, in lieu of participating in a classroom debate.

Moving the "Flexible Attendance Accommodation" to an Online Delivery Format

  • For students with disabilities who receive a flexible attendance accommodation, an online delivery may change the need for the flexible attendance accommodation and how it is or is not applied.
  • If students approach you about this accommodation, the DSC is here to assist you in coming up with an alternate plan to address attendance in the new online format.
  • Questions to consider:
    • How will you apply the course attendance policy PRIOR to the online transition in the final grade of the course?
    • How does class attendance impact the grade of ALL students in the course? This includes before (face-to-face) and after the transition of the course to an online format.
      • This information is essential in order to know how to apply the flexible attendance accommodation over the duration of the semester.
  • Please visit the Disability Services Center's website for more information about attendance procedures. Contact DSC staff to talk about the specifics of your course, and how the flexible attendance accommodation may be applied in an online format.

Disability Services Center Team