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08/06/2015

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Melinda Hall

Thanks for posting, Shelley. The thing I especially like about your sample statement is the emphasis on the the importance of accessibility to the *instructor,* rather than implying that it is only important to the student. I think that stimulates the right kind of recognition from relevant authority that is so important for inclusion.

Alan

Great food for thought for junior scholars who are starting their teaching careers.

Shelley Tremain

thanks for your comment, Melinda. Yes, the very language used in accessibility statements can determine where the onus for accessibility lies. In her fabulous book _Mad at School: Rhetorics of Mental Disability and Academic Life, Margaret Price (2011) discusses why it is so important to think about how these statements are written and what their implications for pedagogical practice are. See especially Price 2011, pp. 90-91

Shelley Tremain

Alan,
my apologies, I didn't see your comment until now! Thanks for contributing it. I hope that all faculty, at whatever point in their careers, will consider what they convey with their accessibility statements. Doing so, can make a significant difference for the learning experiences of disabled students.

Joe Stramondo

This is really interesting. Have you thought of expanding the ideas in this post for a venue like the journal Teaching Philosophy? I would think there would be an interest and this would be a worthwhile project.

Tracy Isaacs

Great and informative post, Shelley. I see that my statement asks students to contact the Office for Students with Disabilities (after a general statement about universal learning). I always think that the point of asking students to check in at a central point is to ensure (as much as it is possible to ensure) their privacy. Rather than have students have to explain and disclose to every single professor who teaches them, they should really only have to go into detail with that office and then the office contact the professors with suggested accommodations. I understand further that the best course designs will have flexibility built in and in effect not require "accommodations." I would like to learn more about how to do that because in general I favor accessibility over accommodation. Thanks again for this thoughtful and helpful post.

Shelley Tremain

Tracy, thanks very much for your comment. The point of asking students to check in at a central office is in part to ensure their privacy. Another reason why students are instructed to go the Office for Disabled Students (these go by different names from one university to the next) is that these offices are operated by personnel who are supposedly trained to work with disabled students on these matters. Not surprisingly, many disabled students encounter a great many problems with these offices. First, the offices are usually underfunded. Second, the staff may not be appropriately trained and informed about what disabled students in higher education require, what they do, etc. If you have ever looked at a job posting for these positions, you will see that the university administrations that hire the personnel for these offices operate within the terms of a medical model of disability. The job postings often state as the necessary qualifications of the job a certificate in some field like occupational therapy or speech pathology.

Unfortunately, many faculty assume that because their campus has an office that makes arrangements for disabled students, they themselves don`t have any obligation to learn, to educate themselves, about universal design in pedagogy, about accessible environments, about disability, about ableism, etc.; that is, they assume that they need only address the individual requests that they receive from the relevant office on their campus. This way of conceiving accessibility for disabled students perpetuates the practices of an unequal educational environment and places remarkable burdens on disabled students.

Shelley Tremain

Oops! Sorry, Joe, I didn't respond to your comment. Thanks for the suggestion. I had briefly thought about writing an article on accessibility for that publication. With your encouragement, I might now do it. Thanks!

Lynne Tirrell

Thanks for this, Shelley. We have a good office, but I think professors should still invite students to consult with them, if they choose, about special accommodations. For example, our campus center will proctor exams that allow time and a half, but the student takes the exam in the center, in a non-ideal space. Sometimes students ask if they could just take it with the class. If I know they get time and a half, I will break their exam up, and give them part in advance, just prior to the exam, and give them a break in between. It works, and allows them to take the rest of the exam with the class. This isn't right in every case, but I use it as an illustration of a custom plan that has worked several times to the advantage of the student, and with the (begrudging) acceptance of the experts at the center.

Shelley Tremain

Thanks for very much your comment, Lynne. I think that faculty must become flexible in a variety of ways. The aim of my post is to persuade faculty to reconsider how they conceive of accessibility and how they can modify their own practices with respect to teaching, evaluation, and so on in order to create more inclusive learning environments. Faculty ought to become apprised of the principles of universal design and pursue them in practice. Perhaps if professors construed inaccessible contexts and practices in terms of bias, they would make greater efforts to change their own conduct, rather than assume that, through a variety of individualized and discretionary measures, students must assimilate themselves ("be accommodated") into an apparently unchangeable environment. Thanks again for your remarks.

Shelley Tremain

Some comments on facebook about this post indicate that I should have been explicit about to whom my use of the term 'expert' referred. I have added a parenthetical remark to this post in order to make clear that I regard disability scholars such as Jay Dolmage, Margaret Price, and Stephanie Kerschbaum (among others) as the experts on accessibility in higher education.

Komarine

Interestingly, a brief survey of friends and colleagues in the UK leads me to think these aren't required here.

Shelley Tremain

Komarine,
thanks for your comment. The question of whether U.K. institutions require accessibility statements was also raised on the post at the Feminist Philosophers blog that linked to this post. I think that even where accessibility statements aren't required, faculty should seriously consider using them if they want to promote equal access for disabled students. As I pointed out in the post, moreover, I think that accessibility statements can be tools of institutional transformation, as well as devices that convey to disabled students (and others) that they are valued and entitled to the full learning experience and range of resources that nondisabled students enjoy. Accessibility for disabled students (and disabled faculty and other staff) in academia (and for disabled people in society at large) is a thoroughly political issue, a feminist issue, a political matter about which faculty who work for institutional and structural change with respect to gender, race, sexuality, and other forms of subjection must become informed.

Lynne Tirrell

On a related note, I've only just learned that my U has a "document converter tool" that converts documents of all sorts into a variety of formats, including mp3s, braille, ebooks, etc. I'm playing with it now to see how well it works. Part of our concept of access is that what we post for students needs to be searchable (some pdfs are not) and convertible. I would post our tool, but you need a campus email to use it. Folks should ask their IT departments and disability services people whether such a tool is available to them and to students. (This conversion to mp3 has potential to help all students!)

Shelley Tremain

Lynne, thanks for your comment. I think it's great that you have taken initiative already to become more informed about accessibility on your own campus, as well as about accessibility more generally. I hope others will follow your example. Very good news.

Mindi Torrey

Thanks for this. I always struggle with the wording on my syllabi, particularly with how much emphasis I put on the students' responsibility to make arrangements. I have adopted your wording above.

Shelley Tremain

hi Mindi, thanks for your comment. Yes, perhaps I should have stated explicitly that faculty should feel free to use any part of my accessibility statement, its language, and so on, if they wish.

My hope is that faculty will also (begin to) think more about and investigate ways in which they can transport the principles of universal design into their instruction, evaluation, and so on. The more faculty do to create accessible learning environments, the less students have to do. The less students have to do in terms of asking for "accommodation," the more equitable will educational systems be.

Josh Robinson

My experience in the UK is that accessibility is frequency reduced to a line about large print and non-white paper combined with extra time for exams and extension of coursework deadlines. Below is a draft of the statement I expect to be using for the coming semester (teaching doesn't start here until next week), which draws heavily on Shelley's, for which many thanks. Any comments welcome!

Your wellbeing and success in this course are important to me. I recognize that there are multiple ways to learn, multiple kinds of learning, and multiple ways to provide evidence of this learning. I therefore strongly believe that this multiplicity should be acknowledged in the design and structure of university courses and in the assessment of their participants. I thus encourage all students enrolled in this module to discuss their access needs, learning preferences and comprehension requirements with me during my office hours, or at another arranged time as required. Similarly, the module is assessed by means of a portfolio in which all students can choose what to submit in order to showcase what they have learned; if you have any questions about how most effectively to do this, do please raise them either in class or during my office hours, or at another arranged time as required. Disabled students are also strongly encouraged to avail themselves of the services provided by the the Disability and Dyslexia Service, including the provision of note-takers, transcribers, and sign-language interpreters.

Shelley Tremain

Josh,

thanks very much for contributing the example of your Accessibility Statement to the discussion. I like the statement alot. I especially like the way that you have filled in what might be gaps in the example statement that I offered in the post. In particular, I like the mention of "multiple ways to provide evidence of this learning." I incorporate this aspect of accessible learning into my syllabi by offering students options with respect to evaluation and I think it is implied in the phrase "should be acknowledged in the design and structure of university courses" that I used in my example; but, explicitly addressing it in the Accessibility Statement underscores the spirit of such a statement. Thanks again for sharing the statement with us!

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