The American Disabilities Act provides for equal access to educational services for students with disabilities. Faculty may be expected to make reasonable accommodations to allow students with qualifying disabilities to use special equipment, have extended time on tests, use guides or interpreters, or leverage other adaptive interventions. The references below provide many details. Specific legal obligations with respect to ADA accommodations can be provided by school administration. Innovative assistive technologies are emerging all the time (see the link to the UW DO-IT program). An EDI value system supports opening instruction to the widest range of potential students, including students with disabilities. That being said, typical IT instructors are not disability specialists, may be time- or resource-limited due to other responsibilities, and may not have had the opportunity for specific training in how to provide adaptive instruction. This guide does not take the place of dedicated training on providing adaptive instruction to students with disabilities. Rather, in keeping with its treatment of many other types of student diversity, we will here address ideas such as how to make instruction adaptive in general, how to smoothly incorporate disability accommodations into the larger class framework, and how some instructional techniques that support students with disabilities can support many other students as well.
Previous sections of this guide demonstrated that diversifying instructional and assessment approaches in the very structure of the course design goes a long way towards making student diversity manageable. This holds for serving students with mandated disability accommodations as well. For example, the need to allow extra time on tests is less problematic, if timed exams are not critical to summative assessment in your course in the first place. Many online curriculum products used for IT certification training do feature timed exams, but these online products generally have settings allowing extra time for selected students. As a general rule, though, it’s best to minimize the use of high stakes timed exams anyway. Mixing in other assessment styles like projects, presentations, labs, and daily work makes the class more flexible and generally richer in content anyway.
Students with visual impairments may need to use text-to-speech screen readers. Less impaired students may be able to read text, but will benefit from larger fonts, more white space, high contrast graphics, and other techniques that make visual content easier to grasp. Adding voice recordings, or videos with recorded voice, to your classes enhances your content anyway. Many students are taking remote classes with cell phones, for example. Incorporating audio-book style content to your class helps with many learning styles and learning situations beyond visual impairment, but it helps with visual impairment too. One good reason to use at least some commercial online curriculum products in your classes is because a rich mix of audio, video, and pre-developed text is available that way. Custom-built curriculum is ideal, or course, but to really finish the job, be sure that text alone (especially small-font, dense text) does not carry the whole communications burden.
Hearing-impaired students benefit from clear text and graphics. But then again, all students benefit from clear text and graphics! As we stated previously, no IT course should be all talk, all the time. Visual appeal and hands-on activities are just good IT course design, pure and simple. That being said, though, lecture and classroom discussion are valuable instructional techniques as well. If a student needs the services of a sign language interpreter, just allow it. The same could be said for other accommodations that require some physical modification of the classroom setting such as special seating arrangements, service animals, or mobile medical equipment. If you design your course to be flexible, adaptable, and diversity-friendly in its general architecture, adding specific modifications for disability accommodation will not disrupt anything. The general engineering design thinking behind this instructional model is “loose coupling”. Monolithic curriculum architectures that rigidly focus on single components like a high-stakes timed final exam are rigid and fragile in the face of accommodations that are legally required and ethically desirable in any case. Curriculum architectures that implement redundancies, overlapping activities, diverse assessment models, alternate communication channels, and support for multiple learning styles will often accommodate students with disabilities without have to modify the general instructional program much at all.