Center for Students with Disabilities
Important Information for Distance Learning
As we continue with distance learning, it is important that York College’s students with disabilities have equal access to class materials and are able to complete their work. Digital classes may present a different set of challenges than what some students or faculty are used to. However, it is crucial that students with disabilities are not left behind as the result of a shift to an online learning environment.
There are specific aspects about running an accessible course online that the Center for Students with Disabilities can assist you with, but it’s also important to remember a few general principles for teaching students online under these circumstances:
- Take some time to discuss the changes in learning with your students. Whenever changes occur that can impact teaching and learning, it is important to take some time and space to discuss how you perceive the impact on the classroom, your teaching style, course materials, discussions and participation, and testing/assessment
- Ask students for feedback. Anticipating every student’s unique learning needs is impossible, and we might have to change our approach as students’ challenges become known to us. Therefore, it’s important to create an environment where students can feel comfortable talking about the difficulties they may experience.
- Set a standard for flexibility and learning. This experience is as new for many professors as it is for many students. Communicate to your students that this is a learning experience for you as well as for them. Discuss with your students the technologies that you want to use and some of the challenges that may arise from using said technologies. Understand that patience may be required while students deal with these challenges, and be sure to direct students to the right support offices should they need it.
- Adopt accessible practices for class participation. Class participation in online classes is different from face-to-face classes, and it presents its own accessibility challenges. Below are some best practices for online class participation:
- Test your camera and microphone in advance.
- Mute your microphone when you are not speaking in a remote class meeting. This limits noise from typing or other background noise. Noise can also be eliminated and clarity greatly improved via the use of a headset microphone as opposed to a desktop model.
- Limit cross talk during agenda items. It is important to speak one at a time so that individuals in the class can follow along.
- Remember to self-identify (state your name every time) as you begin to speak/add a contribution.
- Try to wait a few seconds after each speaker’s contribution before speaking again. This is particularly important in scenarios where live-captioning is used.
- Speak clearly and slowly, as this will help those for which English is a second language, those with hearing disabilities, and everyone else
- Hold each other accountable to this standard.
- Remember: Not all tools and programs are accessible. If you are unsure about whether or not the video platform or software that you are asking students to use is accessible, you can contact the Center for Students with Disabilities at email@example.com.
- Be aware that student and faculty experiences may be different from person to person and across the devices used to participate in class. What works for one person may not work for another person. It is important that professors be patient when using online tools and understand that accessibility problems may come up. What’s important is that faculty and staff be responsive when those barriers appear.
- Use multiple methods of communicating with students. Don’t rely on just calling or e-mailing students. Use e-mail, phone calls, Blackboard discussion groups, Microsoft Teams, and any other tool you have at your disposal to keep in touch with students.
Holding Your Class on Blackboard
Moving to a distance learning model means that Blackboard is an even more important part of the lives of students and faculty than it already was. Blackboard has several built-in accessibility features that ensure that your classes are accessible. You can learn more about them on the Blackboard Help page.
Even so, while tools like Collaborate Ultra are accessible, there are still some best practices that you should follow when teaching an online course:
- When lecturing from slides or documents, be descriptive and verbally refer to graphics and pictures in detail. Avoid using phrases like “in this picture” or “in this graph”, which assume that everyone can visually see what you’re referring to, which may not be the case both because of a student’s disability and because of how they’re accessing the class. Using more descriptive language both makes that content accessible and makes it easier for students to follow along.
- Consider using platforms with built-in accessibility features. For example, Zoom Meetings (which is available for free to all CUNY faculty & staff) has automated captioning available that would benefit deaf and hard-of-hearing students.
- If you’re working on a platform with auto-captions, please speak clearly and at a moderate rate so that the captions can pick up every word you’re saying. Make sure every relevant piece of information you’re communicating is said into the microphone, as well.
- Consider posting transcripts or summaries of your lectures after the fact to ensure that students are able to access any material they may have missed in the lecture.
- Be aware that accommodations and how they are implemented may change throughout the semester. Contact the Center for Students with Disabilities at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or concerns.
Online learning may necessitate an asynchronous learning environment. The current situation presents a number of challenges for students that professors may need to consider:
- Students may not have a device from which they can access classes online.
- Students may struggle with learning how to work exclusively online if they have never done so before.
- Students may be deemed “essential workers” by New York State and may not be able to access their classes as readily as students who are at home.
- Students’ accommodations may have to be modified or adjusted to take the new learning environment into account.
As a result, keeping to the same schedule that you had for in-class meetings may present some accessibility challenges:
- Students using assistive software may work at a slower pace as a result of needing the software.
- Students who have slow or unreliable internet access may have trouble accessing class materials and logging on to class lectures.
By moving to an asynchronous learning model, students can go at their own pace if they need to and they have easier access to the materials they need to complete their coursework. Some techniques for asynchronous learning can also help fulfill accommodations that students may have had in a regular classroom environment. For example, if a professor were to post audio or video recordings of their lectures to Blackboard instead of relying exclusively on live lectures, this would be beneficial for a student who has “Use of recorder” as an accommodation.
Accommodations for Students in an Online Environment
- CSD staff will send out e-mails regularly to students and staff about best practices for online accessibility.
- Extended test time can be applied on Blackboard by the professor. Visit the CTLET website for information about how to extend exam times for individual students.
- Use the Accessibility Checker tools in Microsoft Office 365 when making Word docs and PowerPoints to ensure that they are accessible before posting them.
- If you’re recording your lectures, provide a transcript or captions. Otter.ai is a great, free option for transcribing audio recordings.
- If you have any questions or concerns about a student’s accommodations, contact the Center for Students with Disabilities first.