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Towards an Accessible Mindset on Campus

The accessibility of learning environments and extracurricular activities can be a major predictor of college engagement — physically, cognitively, and socially — for disabled students.

Faculty is a key player in improving inclusion in postsecondary education and training. Whether in a lecture hall, a lab, or out in the field, instructors hold a pivotal role in how the learning context is designed, expectations for how students engage, and how their knowledge and skills are measured.

The heart of accessible teaching is knowledge of disability and disabled student experiences. Because disclosure rates are low and accommodation service requests intentionally share only the modifications needed (and not the reasons why), faculty can be unaware of the experiences of disabled students and how it impacts their engagement in learning.

They may not have a clear sense of how disability interacts with the course design or how to improve it to be more inclusive. Because of this disconnect, instructors are also unlikely to be aware of ableism — the negative stigma and attitudes that students experience both as micro and macroaggressions on campus.

Access Is More Than Accommodations

“Accessibility is the opportunity to engage with people, ideas, and self in an authentic and organic manner,” writes Executive Director Dr. Stephanie Cawthon.

When creating an accessible environment, she advises that it is critical to remember three things.


Access is not the burden of disabled people.

While accessibility is sometimes achieved through tools and adjustments to a static resource — such as providing a transcript for a podcast — more often than not this retrofitting perpetuates the added burden on disabled people to do the “work” of access (requesting the transcript, waiting for it to be made, and often reading it outside of the context of the class or original content delivery). Transcripts and other accommodations for access benefit many people, not just deaf and disabled people, and should be standard practice across all delivery platforms.

Access is more than accommodations.

Accessibility should be a system-wide understanding that the organization, leadership, and community are responsible for the design of our activities to be built in ways that either allow for multiple entry points or are easily amenable to adaptations and accommodations.

Access must be intentional.

Too often we demand that disabled people — who already directly experience ableist systems, policies, and attitudes — also take on the burden of ensuring their own access to what abled people receive without effort. The system and its leadership need to have it as a named priority.
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