Supporting Students with Disabilities

In a remote learning environment, students with disabilities may require additional or different accommodations than their original Accommodations Letters indicate. For any questions about how to ensure accessibility for specific students’ accommodations, the course instructor should contact the Disability Resource Center (DRC).

To plan ahead for accessibility, the teaching team can discuss together how to ensure that all course materials are accessible.

For guidance on accommodations for online exams, please consult the DRC's FAQs for faculty.

Take the free Accessibility for Virtual Classrooms course through the UC SiteImprove Academy. The course should take about 1 hour.

Course Syllabus Statement for DRC Accommodations:

UC Santa Cruz is committed to creating an academic environment that supports its diverse student body. If you are a student with a disability who requires accommodations to achieve equal access in this course, please submit your Accommodation Authorization Letter from the Disability Resource Center (DRC) to me by email, preferably within the first two weeks of the quarter. I would also like us to discuss ways we can ensure your full participation in the course. I encourage all students who may benefit from learning more about DRC services to contact DRC by phone at 831-459-2089 or by email at drc@ucsc.edu.

Equity & Inclusion

The following is excerpted and adapted from a blog at the Center for Teaching Excellence at Rice University.

Pedagogy that prioritizes inclusion--whether the courses are online, in-person or a combination of the two--requires considerations about how we can help all students succeed. For in-person classes, inclusive approaches include (but are not limited to) creating inclusive learning spaces where students feel valued, setting clear expectations about course work and deadlines, and making the learning and assessment accessible to all students.

When in-person classes shift to virtual spaces and methods, these ideas can still be applied, but access and equity can look very different in remote teaching contexts, and become increasingly complicated.

Some tips for increasing equity and access when teaching remotely:

  • Anonymously ask students about their level of access to technology. Use the results of this survey to inform the technology choices for your courses.

  • Point students to campus resources that may help them access technology. Key UCSC resources include the following.

  • When possible, offer flexibility or alternatives to students when access is an issue. If you have a student who anticipates or who has demonstrated need regarding technology access, ask them what they would need in order to participate more fully in the course or submit work. Students are most aware of the constraints they face, and are often in a good position to make suggestions for workarounds.

  • Ensure materials are accessible and mobile-friendly. PDFs are generally more accessible for students with disabilities who may rely on screen-readers, and PDFs adapt to different devices and cell phones more readily than other formats.

  • Ask students if they have particular needs concerning access and accommodations during remote or online learning. Because of the change in learning contexts, students may have accommodations they had not previously requested, and some students may need to make adjustments to their accommodations.

  • Offer students resources to support their learning. To help you with this, click here.

  • Consider whether video is necessary in all cases, given how streaming videos require strong internet connections, and how they can deplete data plans and memory on students’ (and your!) devices. Record lectures and virtual meetings so they can be downloaded and viewed by students later.

  • Provide transcripts and captions of audio and video. This benefits not only students who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, but those who are participating in classes in noisy locations like cramped housing, those who don’t have headphones, and those who might have English as their second language.

        • For class discussions, have students participate in the collaborative production of notes or live-type discussion notes in a shared Google document.

        • Google Slides and YouTube offer automatic captioning that, while imperfect, can increase access. Zoom does not offer live-captioning, but captions are available if a Zoom session is recorded and viewed later.

        • Provide narrations of the material you’re presenting on the screen (for example, describing a diagram, chart, or photograph) for students who are blind, have difficulty reading on a computer screen, or who are otherwise unable to view the video or slides.

  • Ask students if they have concerns about accessing other campus resources, as well as any other concerns about remote teaching and learning they want to share. You can use this information to shape your class and teaching. Be prepared to connect students to resources or to offices who can help them if they disclose they are in need of support.

  • Be mindful of the ways in which a crisis can impact communities in different ways, and how students from different identity groups (race, ethnicity, age, religious affiliation, gender, sexual orientation) may have different responses to a situation. Moreover, consider that some communities may become targets of bias incidents, discrimination, and even hate crimes during times of crisis. Be prepared to address tension, heated moments, or bias incidents if they occur in your classes or on campus, and step in to shut down inflammatory or hurtful language or actions. Reflect on how your own response to the situation is impacting you, your approach to teaching, your interactions with students, and what steps you can take to best support your students.

  • Consider whether and how to discuss the cause of the disruption in class, and how you will prepare for those conversations. Misinformation spreads easily in times of crisis, and students may have misconceptions about the causes of an issue or about communities that are impacted. When possible, correct misinformation that students may be sharing.

  • Remember to practice self-care! Moving to remote teaching requires balancing a lot of competing needs and expectations--a balancing act that can be stressful and require more emotional labor than usual. It’s not necessary to aim for perfection during a time of uncertainty and constantly changing landscapes; allow flexibility in course planning, be transparent with students, and expect that mistakes and hiccups will happen! As you support your students, remember to seek support and assistance from your fellow instructors, department and university administrators, the CITL, university support staff, as well as friends and family when you need it.

Lab Activities

Based on the good work of Stanford Teach Anywhere.

One of the biggest challenges of remote teaching is sustaining the lab components of classes. Since many labs require specific equipment, they are hard to reproduce outside of that physical space.

  • Investigate virtual labs: Online resources and virtual tools might help replicate the experience of some labs (for example, virtual dissection, night sky apps, video demonstrations of labs, simulations). Those vary widely by discipline, but check with your textbook publisher, or sites such as Merlot and PhET for materials (many open source) that might help replace parts of your lab during an emergency.

  • Provide raw data for analysis: In cases where the lab includes both collection of data and its analysis, consider showing how the data can be collected, and then provide some raw sets of data for students to analyze. This approach is not as comprehensive as having students collect and analyze their own data, but it might keep them engaged with parts of the lab experience.

  • Increase interaction in other ways: Sometimes labs are about providing time for direct student interaction; consider other ways to replicate that type of interaction or create new online interaction opportunities, including using available collaboration tools, such as Zoom.

  • Read this great guide from the Chronicle of Higher Education for more tips.

Office Hours

Office hours provide a place for students to ask both content and logistical questions in a one-on-one or small group format, get assistance with course content in a less intimidating environment, follow up on exam performance, and build a better academic relationship with the instructor. These activities can occur virtually on Zoom via Canvas. Below are some ideas for best practices to make online office hours more comfortable and productive.

  • Set up the Zoom link ahead of time using your personal Zoom room. Send out a reminder email with the link 15-30 minutes ahead of the scheduled time. Keep the link to the Zoom room you’re using for your office hours in a central place, such as on the course Canvas site.

  • Remind students via email and when they login to mute their audio and then unmute when they would like to talk. You may also manually mute participants as needed.

  • Remind students that they can use the public or private chat function or “raise hand” function to ask questions in addition to speaking up verbally.

  • Ask students to type their name in the chat box when they enter Zoom, which will help the instructor know who is in attendance. Note: sometimes screen names do not reflect the name of the student.

  • The waiting room feature of Zoom can be helpful for holding individual office hours. You can enable this feature (under “Advanced options”) when you schedule the Zoom call. When users join the Zoom call, they can be automatically placed in the waiting room. You can then let them in, one by one, much as you would during regular office hours.

  • Encourage students to share their screen with you so that they can show you their work and ask questions for more targeted discussion and feedback.

  • If explaining course content, periodically check in with students about how they are following along and what questions they may have. The virtual format can leave the instructor without the normal context cues that they often use to gauge understanding during face-to-face interactions. Explicitly asking for feedback on a regular basis can be helpful.

  • Talk about the use of virtual office hours during class and ask for student feedback.

  • Don’t give up! One instructor in EEB found that the first few sessions of virtual office hours felt awkward and difficult, but after the fourth session, 15-18 people were showing up, and students were expressing in class that they appreciated the flexibility it provided and liked the format.

Teaching Teams

As with more “traditional” teaching contexts that involve teaching teams (i.e., an instructor and Teaching Assistants (TAs)), pivoting to remote instruction will be most effective, for both instructors and students, when the teaching team aligns their expectations and explicitly discusses course learning goals, teaching approaches, policies, and respective responsibilities within the members of the teaching team before the course begins.

Meeting with Teaching Teams

CITL encourages instructors to have early conversations with the teaching team about the best approaches for remote teaching and learning in the context of a specific course.

Setting regular meeting times to meet with the teaching team is also highly recommended for better communication among the team members and subsequently with the students.

One way for a team to meet remotely is to schedule a Zoom meeting and ensure that all members of the team receive a link to join the meeting, either through email or Google calendar.

Meeting Recommendations

  • Have a clear agenda and keep an eye on time. It’s easier for people’s attention to wander during virtual meetings.

  • Starting with something personal (a quick check-in) can make these meetings feel more personal.

  • As with the recommendations for synchronous remote classes, instructors and TAs can share screens with each other, use the chat function, and utilize break-out rooms for smaller-group work sessions or discussions.