Grant Proposal: Accessibility Toolkit

Accessibility ToolKit: Mockup

Sara Schley, Jan. 2016

Teaching Challenge: Ensuring that deaf and hard of hearing students have equal opportunity to be fully engaged in class discussions

This can be a challenge for a number of reasons: Since DHH students depend more heavily on visual sources of input than they on auditory sources, they must visually attend to multiple sources of input which co-occur in different classroom locations. For example, a statistics faculty member may be showing how to solve a problem using the white board, while talking, alongside either real-time speech-to-text captioning or ASL/English interpreting: The DHH student must watch at least three sources of input to follow the faculty member’s points. Then, a fellow student asks a question, and the DHH student needs to locate where the question is coming from, turn attention back to the captioning or interpreting, while also scanning the white board for relevant information related to the question. In addition, they may miss visual communication information while writing notes.

Adapted from:

Experience for Faculty Learning Community Participants: The Perils of Lecturing

Activity: Goal is to give college faculty who work with deaf students periodically in their classrooms to have the experience of what it’s like for the deaf or hard of hearing student in the mainstream classroom. By showing a short simulated lecture, without sound but with captions, to hearing faculty, very quickly these faculty experience a stressful information processing task, where they are trying to look at the lecturing teacher, at captions, and at PowerPoint slides, in order to try and glean the lecture information. Note that the faculty speaks quickly, without pauses to process both captioning and text on slides, often in a shadow, often while facing the board. This is an example of how not to lecture. 

Adapted from:

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Overview

In the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA; Public Law 110-315, August 2008), Congress defines UDL as: "A scientifically valid framework for guiding educational practice that:

  1. provides flexibility in the ways information is presented, in the ways students respond or demonstrate knowledge and skills, and in the ways students are engaged; and 
  2. reduces barriers in instruction, provides appropriate accommodations, supports, and challenges, and maintains high achievement expectations for all students, including students with disabilities and students who are limited English proficient" (p. 122 Statute 3088).

UDL principles meet the needs of the community of learners while focusing on access for individual learners (Rose et al., 2008): it was developed to be flexible and to anticipate "the need for alternatives, options, and adaptations to meet the challenge of diversity" (p. 46). While separate educational settings provide specific pedagogy geared towards the access and educational needs of the learners, they do not provide full access to peers, community, and diversity of the general (not “special”) educational environment. In 1954, the Supreme Court of the US ruled that “separate education was inherently unequal” re. racial education segregation (Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483, 1954); it is not a stretch to apply the same principal to the education of people with disabilities. Fully inclusive environments (including classrooms) are at the heart of the ADA.

Universal design for Learning encourages faculty to be mindful, positive, and creative about the diversity in the classroom. Teaching DHH students requires specific knowledge and awareness of what instructional approaches facilitate an accessible classroom. This shift in pedagogy is sometimes subtle, such as providing students time for self-paced review of the visual materials before providing “live” expansion and elaboration in a lecture format. In a classroom with group activities, a faculty member can make choices about how students communicate with each other during class in a way that facilitates best practices with interpreters. Furthermore, activities can leverage the resources of technology, such as iPads or other ways to use text or digital means of communication, thus removing the need for mediated communication between participants (Marchetti, et al., 2012; Stinson, Leannah, MacDonald, & Powers, 2014).

Instructional UDL Strategy: Pacing Instruction

An instructor can modulate their pacing to allow for sufficient time for DHH students to synthesize multiple sources of visual input. From not talking while they are writing on the board (when their back is facing the class), to pausing between making specific lecture points (allowing for DHH students to catch all visual sources of input, and allowing for all students to finish writing notes), to pausing when a new PowerPoint slide is posted on the wall before starting to talk about the slide; to asking students to pause before responding to another classmate’s contribution (allowing for DHH students to watch the interpreter and then reorient to the classroom); all of these efforts can improve access to classroom communication.

Note that this often improves the opportunity to be fully engaged in class discussion for all students, not just DHH students.

Specific strategies:

  • Slow down. We know it’s tough, but you should be aware that the rapid pace of instruction was one of the top areas of concern by deaf, hard-of-hearing, and hearing students in responses to a recent survey.
  • If you are presenting the material at a fast pace, and you know it, slow down; if you have never thought that the pace was too rapid, reconsider this as a possibility.
  • Rethink – and reduce -- the material that needs to be covered in class. Present additional material in alternate formats such as in homework assignments, as part of a required group project, as a reading assignment, or as an online learning activity.
  • When you are presenting material in class, provide pacing clues by clearly indicating when you are changing topics. Verbally indicate that the topic is changing, pause, point to a new line in the overhead, draw a line on the board, etc.
  • Check with the interpreter or captionist if present or with hard-of hearing students who may not have an interpreter or captionist, to make sure that they are able to keep up with the lecture.
  • Write important words and formulas on an overhead or the board. Do not speak until the words or formulas are completely written. Use this method to force you to slow the pace of the lecture. If an overhead is prepared, provide students – and interpreter, captionist, and notetaker if present – with a copy.
  • Handout: Teaching Pace

Adapted from:

Video of Faculty Perspective

Video of Student Perspective