Improving My Accessibility Policy

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Disability_symbols.svgLast month, I wrote about the importance of Bringing Up Accessibility as we plan and teach our courses. One of the things that I knew I needed to improve in my own course materials was the way that I talked about providing help for those who need it. After reading Tara Wood and Shannon Madden’s “Suggested Practices for Syllabus Accessibility Statements” on the Kairos PraxisWiki I knew I had to do a better job.

The Original Accessibility Policy

Up until this term, I used this basic statement that covered my official obligations, telling students where to find support on campus:

On reflection, I’m quite ashamed of that passage. Not only is it fairly legalistic in tone, it even ends with passive voice. Even worse, it was buried in the policies section of the syllabus (example from Summer 2015). Without question, I can do better than that.

Placement of My New Accessibility Policy

Gardner_Sep29_212_infobox.jpgThe first change I made was to move a short statement to the top of the sidebar on my course websites. No longer would a student have to search the site to find out how to get extra support in the course.

I decided to say, “I will try to provide what you need,” rather than “I will.” Not knowing what a student might ask for, I thought that the addition of “try to” would avoid making a promise I couldn’t keep.

The result of this new placement is that students see the statement at the top of every page on the site. I hope that foregrounding the policy in this way makes it clear that I am serious about helping them if they need assistance. Further, if something comes up later in the term, and they need assistance, they can easily find the link to more information.

An Expanded Accessibility Policy

My original policy stuck to the basics, focusing on sending the student to obtain official documentation. It provided no details on the things that a student in the course would really need. Students want to know the concrete details on how things work in my classes, things that the Services for Students with Disabilities office can’t tell them.

My revised policy is organized as a series of frequently asked questions. Some are questions that have come up in the past, and others are things that I realized I needed to add after conversations with colleagues this summer at the West Virginia University 2015 Summer Seminar: Access/ibility in Digital Publishing. Here’s the list of questions I have included:

Future Improvements to the Policy

I know there is more that I can do to ensure my policy covers the typical questions students have about getting help in the classroom. As questions or situations come up in the class, I am adding them to a list I’ll use when I revise the policies for next term. For example, a couple of weeks ago, I had a student show up on crutches, thanks to a badly sprained ankle. I realized that I needed to add some details about emergencies that come up after that first week of class.

With some additional observation and research on making classes accessible, I’m sure I can make these policies even better next term. Can you help me? What does your accessibility policy say? How do you ensure students get the support they need? Please leave me a comment below and let me know.

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About the Author
Traci Gardner, known as "tengrrl" on most networks, writes lesson plans, classroom resources, and professional development materials for English language arts and college composition teachers. She is the author of Designing Writing Assignments, a contributing editor to the NCTE INBOX Blog, and the editor of Engaging Media-Savvy Students Topical Resource Kit.