Because the new semester begins on Monday, today I received notices from our Disability Support Counselor about accommodations students need in my classes. Although I read the accommodations notices, I don’t worry (much) about student accommodations. The reason I don’t worry (much) is because I have already incorporated the majority of the most requested accommodations as standard practices available to all students.
Before discussing the specifics of accommodating students in my classroom, I want to reflect on non-academic accommodations such as having ramps next to stairs. As I walk from my office to the other side of campus, there is one part of my path where I can choose a ramp or steps. Although I do not need the accommodation of the ramp, I almost always take it. The ramp is easier for me to navigate than the steps. As a temporarily able bodied person, I benefit from this accommodation.
In the same way that the ramp benefits me, all students benefit from many accommodations for which they do not officially quality. For example, some students appreciate being able to preview a video or read a short essay before coming to the class in which I will be incorporating the video or essay. Whenever possible, I try to provide all students with access to such materials in advance. They are neither required to consult the materials in advance nor are they disadvantaged in they do not consult them. But the opportunity is available if they want to take advantage of it.
When I give formal lectures, I make my PowerPoint slides available before class not just because I know that some students need the accommodation. I also know that most of the students who consult the PowerPoint before class or print it out to make it easier for them to take notes do not officially qualify for accommodates. Yet they still benefit from having the presentation available in advance.
Instead of giving timed exams, I have students do projects to demonstrate their learning. As a result, there is no need to worry about who in the class qualifies for extra time or requires a different room to take the exam. And all students benefit from the increased learning which projects provide over formal exams.
By making these accommodations available to all students, I also cut my workload. It is easier to post my PowerPoint in our course management system than it is to remember to sent it out to certain students who requested the accommodation. In the same way, it is easier to send the entire class a e-mail about a forthcoming video or essay than it is to send an e-mail to the one or two students who require such an accommodation.
Although I don’t need to worry (much) about accommodations for specific students because the accommodations are already built into the course, there are two types of accommodation about which I do need to worry.
First, there are accommodations that are not routine. Although I have begun routinely printing certain handouts in 14-point type, it is not feasible—or even helpful to most students—to have everything printed in such a large font. While a deaf student might benefit from a transcriptionist, there is no benefit to trying to make transcriptionists available for everyone. Some accommodations cannot be realistically incorporated into the class for all students. However, for the students who require such accommodations, I want to make sure that those students get the accommodations they need.
Second, there are some students for whom I cannot provide reasonable accommodations. For example, because of how I arrange my classroom and because I move around throughout the class period, it is not possible for a student to “sit in the front of the room” because there is usually no area that consistently serves as the front of the room. In cases such as this, I discuss the issue with the student so that we can develop a strategy that best suits their needs and the realities of the pedagogical approach around which my classes are designed.
Because I have already integrated most of the common accommodations into my classes, I don’t need to worry (much) about providing accommodations to students who qualify for them. However, even if I did not care about student success, by incorporating as many accommodations as possible as standard components of the class, I make my job easier. Because I have structured courses in which I don’t need to worry (much) about accommodations, my students and I both benefit.
–Steven L. Berg, PhD
I have always found this c. 1945 family photograph of Lewis Wilcox (seated in wheel chair) to be disheartening. Although Lewis is present in the classroom, as a student with disabilities, he ended up sitting separated from his colleagues. In my classroom, he would be an active participant in a cooperative learning environment with appropriate accommodations which would insure his success as well as the success of other students.