This semester, I’ve learned how to change my classroom and office hours to accommodate students with various registered disabilities. I’m also learning never to assume students have equal access to laptops, phones, printers, or even food. How have my classroom and office hours changed?
I’m learning, for example, about always providing text and captions for videos to help students with hearing, processing, or language issues. I’m learning how to keep the lights less bright for photosensitive students with migraine triggers. I’m learning how to offer options for how students can engage in class so I’m not just rewarding extroverted and talkative students. I’m providing various kinds of assessments to check for understanding in multiple ways (and not just in a high-stakes exam or final paper). A disability advocate in my class even suggested providing a survey before the semester begins to ask students about what helps or hinders their learning. Sometimes playing music in class isn’t good for certain kinds of students, for example. Sometimes my attendance questions need some advance warning. Sometimes I need to prepare myself for having a classroom with service dogs sitting at a student’s feet. Sometimes students want to talk about their disabilities, and sometimes students want you to ignore it. It’s important to ask for preferences. I’ve had students with Tourette Syndrome tell the class, “I’m going to sometimes shout out random words. That’s OK! Don’t freak out!” A student with autism wanted us to ask about her service dog, and she invited the dog’s trainer to visit class to explain what the dog is trained to do and how we might interact best with both the student and dog. I learned the difference between a service animal (they have public access rights) and a therapy animal.
In my office, I’ve learned to keep beverages and protein bars for students who might be hungry. Over the years, I’ve learned about food insecurity in college students. They won’t tell you, and you’ll never know. But you’ll find students popping in to grab some food because it’s there for them.
I’m learning more and more about making a joyful and productive classroom environment for all students.