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Fostering an Inclusive Classroom

The population of higher education students is becoming increasingly diverse with respect to race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, age, disability and other characteristics. Everyone who qualifies to take courses at Miami should be able to do so, and instructors should expect all students, including those who have disclosed disabilities, to perform and complete all essential components of their course. Creating a learning environment that is accessible to all can be accomplished through universal design (UD), which is defined as “the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design” (Burgstahler, 2015). UD lessens the need for accommodations for students with disabilities. More information about UD in Higher Education can be found on their website. In addition to applying UD principles, it is also important that faculty know how to respond to accommodation requests.

Syllabus Statement

One of the key steps to take is to ensure that your syllabus outlines all expectations and requirements from the beginning of the semester including all assignments, required books and readings, research projects, project due dates, exam/quiz dates, etc.

Instructors are not expected to accommodate disabilities that they are not made aware of in advance but it is also important to keep in mind that students may be timid to self-disclose their need for accommodations. It is strongly recommended that faculty put a statement on their syllabus that invites students to talk with them about needed accommodations. The recommended statement is below:

Students with disabilities are encouraged to request reasonable accommodations.  Student Disability Services (SDS) registration should be completed prior to the provision of accommodations.  Please visit the Student Disability Services Website for more information You can also contact SDS at 513-529-1541 or sds@miamioh.edu.

If you are eligible to receive accommodations please schedule an office hours appointment at the beginning of the semester to discuss accommodation plans.

This is a general statement. Instructors are welcome (and encouraged) to state that they support inclusion, foster an equitable classroom experience, etc. This message is simple but goes a long way in making students with disabilities feel welcome and comfortable in the classroom (and at Miami).

Communication Tips

There are no strict rules for communicating with people with disabilities; however, below are some tips:

  • Ask a person with a disability if he or she needs help before providing assistance.
  • Talk directly to the person with a disability, not through the person’s companion or interpreter.
  • Refer to a person’s disability only if it is relevant to the conversation. If so, use person-first language which mentions the person first and then the disability. “A man who is deaf” is better than “a deaf man” because it prioritizes the person.
  • Avoid negative descriptions of a person’s disability (e.g., “a person who uses a wheelchair” rather than “a person who is confined to a wheelchair”).
  • Do not interact with a person’s guide dog or service dog unless you have received permission to do so.
  • When teaching students with visual impairments use descriptive language such as “the computer is about three feet to your left,” rather than “the computer is over there.”
  • When teaching students with learning disabilities, offer directions or instructions both orally and in writing.
  • For students who are deaf or hard of hearing, face people so they can see your lips. Speak at a normal volume. When using an interpreter, speak directly to the person who is deaf. Display captions for all media shown in class or posted online.
  • Do not assume a person is being untruthful about their disability because you do not see “evidence” of the disability. Many disabilities are invisible such as learning disabilities and psychological disabilities.
  • Never make assumptions about the abilities of a person with disabilities to complete the required components of a course with or without accommodation (e.g., “I just do not see how you can do this.”). There is a variety of assistive technology available that enables students to access course content and in many cases,you may not have the expertise and experience to know how a student’s disability can be accommodated. We strongly encourage you to regularly consult with SDS and AccessMU to understand individual student needs and develop accommodation plans.
  • Provide outlines or other scaffolding tools for students.
  • Use simple layouts and san serif fonts on course documents, PowerPoint presentations or other visual displays.
  • Speak aloud all visual content presented. For example, verbalize all of the content presented on a PowerPoint slide.
  • Make sure course materials are available in accessible electronic formats so students can customize the files to fit their needs using their assistive technology. For more information on creating accessible content please visit AccessMU.
  • Repeat students’ questions before answering them.
  • Minimize environmental distractions (e.g., reduce noise, use natural light sources).
  • Create options for electronic discussions.