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Support for students with disabilities

Inclusive teaching is not about lowering standards. Instead, it is about ensuring our students can work in a way that enables them to fulfil their academic potential by enabling them to work effectively in a way that is transparentefficient, and flexible.


Providing effective support for learners with disabilities can seem particularly daunting and challenging in the blended context. However, it is important to note that many of the interventions that support disabled students also benefit the wider student cohort.

The following approaches can be implemented within your planning and delivery to effectively support learners with a range of disabilities and specific learning difficulties as well as other students who may be at greater risk of being marginalised. The following three areas of focus will enable you to adopt a practical approach to developing an inclusive approach to blended teaching and learning.

Approaches that will support all learners

Many ‘inclusive’ teaching practices will benefit all learners in your class, not just those with specific ‘labels’. Within each of the themes below we identify key approaches to adopt in both the planning and delivery of your activities.

Information processing encapsulates issues relating to the acquisition, synthesis, and communication of content that students may struggle with, regardless of whether they have a ‘labelled’ learning need. This area corresponds to the broader ‘cognitive’ lens within our model of patterns of need.

In your planning:

Provide clear (written) activity instructions

Clear instructions provide a structure for the student to follow to ensure they understand what is expected of them, and to help them plan and manage their time.

The use of headings, bulleted points and bold or highlighted text can help to ensure the student utilises the most important information.

For work that needs to be submitted in a particular format (e.g. lab reports) – consider providing a report template as a guide so that students are clear on expectations.

Provide materials in advance

This will enable students to adapt contents to make them more accessible.

Provide clear guidance for students regarding when information will be released.  

A brief outline of activities or questions in advance can also help students to better prepare for sessions. This can help to reduce anxiety as well as enable them to familiarise themselves with new concepts and/or terminology and will help improve interaction with the content during the session.

Introduce new features such as polling and shared rooms slowly as too many new tools may overwhelm students.  Ensure the students understand how to use the features. 

Producing short videos (or alternative forms of delivery) which introduce key concepts and ideas will help students to better contextualise new knowledge and link their learning together. 

Adding the length of recordings in the name of the file can help students better plan when to watch the materials depending on the video length. 

Providing time stamps for key ideas or chapters in a recording will help students to pinpoint and access information. 

Provide a prioritised reading list

Prioritised reading lists can help a student focus on the most important content and focus on their depth of reading rather than breadth. For students where reading and processing may take more time, streamlining the research materials will also help to progress with their work.

Provide a glossary of key terms

If students are not familiar with certain words, it makes it more difficult to understand lecture content or make clear notes. This will also help deaf students to lipread and it will also help Sign Language Interpreters to prepare in advance, especially if there is more technical or unusual language.

A summary of commonly used acronyms can also help students to access new material more effectively. 

In your delivery…

Deliver content in bitesize chunks

Lectures which are divided into discernible ‘chunks’ can allow the student to compartmentalise and organise the information they are processing. This can also help when reviewing the content, to identify and prioritise areas that may need further learning.

Speed check your presentation and provide natural pauses or rest breaks

Adapting your speed may be particularly important in the blended context as remote learning can be additionally tiring. When using Zoom, encourage students to use the go slower button, if they feel the session is going too fast.

Building in natural ‘breaks’ or pauses can help students to process complex and new ideas and consolidate their learning. Pauses in the online context may need to be more explicit than they would be in a live lecture. Including a blank slide can help to visually indicate a pause to students and enable them to summarise. This will also enable students to keep pace with note taking, manage fatigue and concentration levels and allow “eye breaks” for deaf students who are dependent on lip-reading.

Emphasising the students’ role related to pacing can also be helpful. Explicit messaging highlighting that ‘attending’ pre-recorded sessions is not the same as attending a live lecture will encourage students to pause and shape the way they view and interact with content.

Summarise and recap key points

Emphasising critical pieces of information can be helpful, so these do not get lost or overlooked.

Summary slides at the end of each section during the lecture can help to cement key theories or principles.

Reminders relating to the wider point of reference can be really useful as this provides students with a framework to link and thread together different pieces of information.

Clear expectations encapsulates issues relating to students’ knowledge and understanding of their learning environment, including all elements which may be ‘hidden’ to them for a variety of reasons. This pattern of learning need corresponds to our broader ‘cultural’ lens.

In your planning:

Communicate clear aims and learning outcomes

This helps students to focus their attention on the key points. This can also provide reassurance to students who require structure and clarity.

Outline sessions in advance

This will help individuals to reduce anxiety and helps students to prepare and structure for note taking. By having an idea of activities to be undertaken or the topics to be covered, students can plan and identify any additional study requirements or support needs.

Communicate changes in advance

(e.g. cancelled lectures, room changes, changes to assignment deadlines)

Although all students need to be able to adapt to change, when change is unexpected it can undermine or remove the very ‘survival’ strategies students may have worked hard to put in place. Non-medical helpers such as note takers may need to be informed in advance of any changes.

Provide clear ground rules

Although students are becoming familiar with blended learning practices, teaching sessions can look very different between units or subject areas. Clear, upfront knowledge about behaviour and participation expectations will help students to feel comfortable with knowing how to interact and learn, especially for students who may struggle to understand social ‘cues’.

For example, it may be helpful to establish how questions should be asked during the session (e.g. by raising hand or entering a question in the chat function  so that questions can be addressed at an appropriate time in the lecture).  .Suggest that when students ask questions in chat, that it is prefaced with a ‘q’, to make it easier to spot. 

Changing the Zoom settings to facilitate only the host’s video feed being recorded (and making students explicitly aware that they are not automatically being recorded), may encourage increased student participation/ cameras to be switched on.

In your delivery…

Reinforce ground rules

As above

Reiterate opportunities to ask questions

This will enable students to feel comfortable to clarify their understanding and check nothing has been misunderstood. Suggest alternative ways that questions can be raised to facilitate participation from all students (e.g. verbally, using the hand up icon or using the chat function). Double checking that information has been understood before moving on gives students more confidence to query and raise uncertainty.

Providing opportunities for students to ask questions anonymously (Google forms, Padlet etc) can increase engagement and reassurance amongst cohort if others have asked similar questions.

Consider flexible options for posting and responding to questions, such as a Q&A page on Moodle that students can post to pre, during and post session. Reponses may then be easy to amend in response to subsequent queries. Not only can this act as a reference for students who maybe are viewing content out of teaching hours, but it can also reduce the flow of repetitive email traffic for teaching staff. 

Enabling engagement encapsulates issues relating to the accessibility of learning spaces and resources (whether physical or digital) and thus students’ ability to interact and engage with these fully. This pattern of learning need corresponds to our broader ‘physical’ lens.

In your planning:

Create accessible documents

Accessible documents are beneficial to all students but vital for those who use assistive software or equipment. Without this provision and consideration, it is impossible to access course materials.

There are easy ways to ensure all documents are accessible to learners. These include accessibility checks in many Microsoft products (e.g. Word, Powerpoint) which highlight quick fixes you can make to documents. For further information see this guide on making your work accessible.

Sharing files is better than sharing screens – makes it accessible to screenreaders and is better for connection too.  

For considering the accessibility of your Moodle course(s) see how the Accessibility + Toolkit can help.

Use formatting that suits screen readers

There will be some formats that will not work with screen readers, for example mathematical notation in a PDF file. Always check accessibility of documents for students using screen readers with the Assistive Technology team. This is vital for teaching materials as well as any documents used for assessment and examinations.

Use captioning and transcripts for pre-recorded content

Captioning is beneficial for all student users as it provides opportunities for dual input (auditory and visual) to help access, process and absorb the content. In particular, deaf students will be able to access pre-recorded content at the same time as their peers (without having to wait for notetakers to transcribe the content).

Captioning is preferred to transcripts as the captions will be below the speaker, rather than on a separate document.

Caption Ed is now available to facilitate captioning of teaching sessions.

If using videos from youtube etc, ensure that students can access closed captioning and that the captioning is accurate. 

Recording of sessions

Students who cannot attend lectures due to their fluctuations with their condition or medical appointments will have the same level of access as their peers. This is also helpful for students who need to re-watch and pause recordings to assimilate the information and produce comprehensive notes.

In your delivery…

Provide spaces for written and verbal questions

Building flexibility into sessions to create opportunities for students to articulate questions both in written and verbal formats will give students greater opportunities to interact and learn during the session.

Make use of the chat feature where possible and reassure students that spelling is not an issue when writing questions

The chat feature provides an additional way of students to engage if they struggle to communicate verbally. Fear of spelling words incorrectly can lead to students feeling self-conscious and they may be reticent to contribute.

Use verbal and visual prompts to help locate information

Students with hearing loss or visual impairments may struggle to navigate through the lecture without either visual or verbal prompts. Use simple adjustments such as page numbers to help easily locate information and label diagrams to give easy to follow references.

Ensure visibility of the teacher where possible

This will allow deaf students to lipread. In addition, people who prefer to learn via verbal/auditory means will benefit from being able to see the speaker.

Delivery approaches to support more specific needs

Staff can adopt approaches in their standard teaching delivery that will additionally benefit more specific learning needs.

(e.g. page numbers, diagrams, figures, labels)

To help students navigate through teaching sessions (especially if using assistive software/equipment) use clear methods to label and reference information. This will will ensure that students do not fall behind in the session when trying to locate information.

Describe visual images

Students with a visual impairment may be unable to see all or some of the detail of visual images which will affect their understanding.

Refer to page numbers and headers on slides

To help students to navigate through the teaching session, use clear reference points to direct to specific information.

Send documents in advance instead of reliance on shared screens

Students with VI will normally require additional time to convert documents into an accessible format and then to read and process the resources.

Ensure visibility of speaker even when screen sharing

Deaf students may need to see the speaker to lip-read, so ensure that slides or shared documents do not obscure the speaker’s face.

Does the camera need to be on?

Students with ASC may struggle with social communication and cues and may prefer to communicate without a camera. Clarify if cameras are required to be on so that students are aware of expectations.

Refer to course expectations so it is clear which sessions/parts of sessions will require cameras on and why. 

Recording settings can be set to enable only the lecturer to be recorded.

Focused explicit instructions

Students often feel reassured and less anxious if they are provided with clear, unambiguous instructions (and have opportunities for clarification).

Individual student needs

Whilst embedding inclusive practices reduces the need for individual reasonable adjustments, some students will still require a differentiated approach to teaching and learning as outlined in the student’s individual Disability Access Plan (DAP).  Where individual student needs have been identified (e.g. through DAPs), staff should consider the following actions where relevant:

  • Ensure permissions have been granted to enable the student’s support worker(s) to access relevant online platforms.
  • Consult with the student before and after Zoom/Teams sessions to check for any issues or possible improvements.
  • Autistic spectrum condition: consider the student’s expectations in regards to group work, and discuss how this might be managed (e.g. size of group, or whether an individual project might be beneficial).
  • Hearing impairment: offer one-to-one support following a session(s) to clarify content or review missed information.
  • Hearing impairment: consider the logistics regarding the use of an interpreter or support worker in any particular learning environment (physical or online).
  • Visual impairment: consider the compatibility of any software used for teaching and learning. Contact Assistive Technology for advice and guidance.

For further guidance on supporting specific needs of students with DAPs, staff are encouraged to contact Disability Services.

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