Image: CUNY mascots pose with members of the CUNY Coalition for Students with Disabilities (CCSD) at the 2018 NYC Disability Pride Parade.
The pandemic forced a rapid shift to online teaching, but what will we return to and what will we adapt in the future? Some students have benefited tremendously from a move to online learning, especially those who have difficulty with public transit due to a disability, difficulty affording transportation, or a long commute to class. Other students have struggled with having only online or asynchronous courses and learn best with in-person instruction. Educators have been forced to innovate during the past 18 months under the cloud of the pandemic and its related crises, and with the larger systemic problems that higher education was facing before COVID.
As TLH Executive Director, Christina Katopodis, writes in her recent op-ed for Hybrid Pedagogy, professors need not sacrifice care for themselves in order to care for their students. Moving forward, she argues, we need to build the concept of care into the “course policies and institutional policies that account for overburdened instructors as human beings.” Centering students and engaging them in active learning techniques is a form of care that can benefit teachers and students alike.
Designing accessible courses also demonstrates care for disabled students, who have long battled the inaccessibility of higher ed. The challenges they face inevitably lead to disparities in educational attainment and employment outcomes. A recent study found that disabled students with better self-advocacy skills had better educational outcomes, but disabled students will attest that constantly having to advocate for access or accommodations can be emotionally draining and take up significant time.
An estimated 11,000 CUNY students have disabilities, most of which are not apparent. Accessible course design for those students might pertain to the legibility of text and images for people who need screen readers due to blindness or vision loss, or captions for deaf or hard-of-hearing students. Applying universal design principles to your course materials ensures that students who learn differently can also succeed. Not surprisingly, accessibility enhancements benefit all students and reduce feelings of stigma for disabled students who may have difficulty advocating for their needs.
Here are a few links that may inspire you to try new methods in hybrid or online teaching that can help engage students in their own education and support your efforts to improve accessibility in your course design:
- TLH has created a resource list for online teaching, and I recommend listening to this discussion of the HyFlex Course Model which aims to accommodate fully online and fully in-person students (and those in-between) while achieving uniform learning outcomes. And, hot off the (digital) press, the GC Teaching and Learning Center just released the 4th edition of the Teach@CUNY Handbook, featuring a new chapter on pedagogical foundations, as well as expanded chapters on Educational Technology and Grading and Evaluating Student Work.
- If you’re not sure of how to make an accessible presentation, or what Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is, the CUNY School of Professional Studies has a UDL and Accessibility Training Series which includes online resources, monthly scheduled training sessions (starting in the fall), and one-on-one training. Each CUNY campus also has a disability services office, whose staff members can assist with making already-published materials accessible and assist with other accommodation requests.
There is no doubt that shifting to new modes of teaching has increased workloads. Designing for universal access requires additional thought and effort as well, but that is true of anything worth doing. I am excited to learn from all of the incredible and caring CUNY educators who are part of TLH and are working to engage their students. I look forward to supporting the program’s goals of fostering equitable, creative, student-centered pedagogy in the upcoming academic year.