Best Practices & Accessibility
First, two notes about this document:
- Remember that this set of best practices is only a starting point. Needs and accommodations vary from person to person and can vary greatly even between people with similar disabilities. Moreover, someone’s needs may change over time. Use these ideas/ principles as a springboard for action while also engaging in ongoing conversations about accessibility and inclusion.
- Inclusion and accessibility themselves are ongoing processes. People's needs and out understanding are always evolving, so make sure to communicate that you are willing to discuss how to make your class or the department more accessible to and inclusive of people with disabilities. Explicitly open the door and make space for people with disabilities to speak for themselves in a welcoming, supportive, and (if appropriate) private environment.
Resources at Rutgers:
- If someone looks like they need help, don't shy away from offering your help. But make sure to ask before you start helping. Ask what kind of help would be most useful; don't assume you already know. You will sometimes make mistakes in helping, but don't let this discourage you from offering help in the future.
- Use people-first language.
- "People-first language is used to communicate appropriately and respectfully with and about an individual with a disability. People-first language emphasizes the person first, not the disability. For example, when referring to a person with a disability, refer to the person first, by using phrases such as 'a person who...' 'a person with...' or 'person who has..."' (Communicating With and About People with Disabilities)
- Remember that ability differences can impact people's work schedules and availability, and be mindful of the expectations that you create when discussing your work habits.
- Encourage participation in department events without assuming that a failure to do so reflects a lack of commitment or interest.
- When planning an event, pay attention to physical/ digital accessibility. Some questions to ask:
- Are there accessible pathways of travel to and within the room that are 36inches wide and free of obstructions?
- Is there a wheelchair-accessible bathroom within one floor of the event location, and an accessible path of travel from the event to this location?
- Is there an accessible mechanism (e.g. webpage, email, or phone number) through which participants can request accommodations? Is there a point person who is in charge of accommodations?
- Is the contact information for requesting accommodations mentioned in all the promotional materials (i.e., fliers, posters, website, emails, etc.)?
- If the event information is available digitally, is the information accessible to screen reader users (i.e., is there actual searchable text, not just images of text)?
- Pay attention to accessibility in a classroom setting. Here are some ways to do so:
- Set and maintain the same expectations with respect to quality of work (and, where appropriate, quantity of work) for students with disabilities as you have for other students.
- Explicitly cultivate a welcoming environment for accommodation requests. One way to do this is to put a section on disability and accommodations on your syllabus, and spend a few moments talking about it on the first day of class as well.
- Be willing to work with students on the format, length, and quantity of assignments as is appropriate for their particular needs.
- Help students to advocate for themselves and help connect them to resources on campus (for example, the Rutgers ODS -- contact info above).
- Be conscious of accessibility best practices on Zoom and other online platforms. Recording meetings, using Zoom's automated captioning tools, describing visual info1mation shown on the screen, and speaking in a noise-free environment are good places to start. The standards of digital accessibility also vary from person to person, so creating a welcoming environment to work with individuals on specific accommodations is especially relevant here.
- Whenever possible, use accessible word documents and pdfs, i.e., pdfs with metadata and text that you can copy and paste rather than photocopies (accessible document cheat sheets from National Center on Disability and Access to Education, Rutgers' IT Accessibility Initiative resources for online and regular course accessibility and website accessibility).
- Try to post the book and reading list for your undergraduate courses at least 6 weeks before the term, so that ODS can help students who need access to alternative formats.
- Understand the limitations of reasonable accommodations, e.g., while you must allow a student with an accommodation to record your classes, you can ask them to sign an agreement to keep the recordings private (see UNC's information about students using recording devices in class.)