Category Archives: Accessibility & Disability

Padlet showing multiple typed responses from faculty fellows. Full text is available at the end of the post.

Showing Care in the Classroom 

This is the second of a two-part post, synthesizing our final faculty seminar, with our final cohort of faculty fellows. These seminars have been at the heart of the TLH program, as we have aspired to cultivate agents of change in the classroom and beyond. During our 18 seminar sessions over the past two years, we’ve also tried to practice what we preach by fully engaging all participants in the co-learning and teaching process. One of the easiest ways to do this is by using an inventory method to make sure everyone is heard. It’s also an especially generative process for coming up with ideas that others can draw on in their teaching. For part one, check out Ideas for Teaching (and Teaching Outside) the Canon

The second half of our seminar was dedicated to topics of care in the classroom. I spoke about disability and ableism, a pervasive force in our society, and especially in higher education. I also touched on the ways universal design can not only help students with disabilities, but has been proven to benefit all students. Accommodations for disabled students in higher ed are typically given when students show proof of a disability and make formal requests through an accessibility office. While the system is set up to make sure that their federal rights are guaranteed, it also inadvertently creates more work for disabled students. They may feel stigmatized by the process, or by a system that expects people to “game” the system. 

Therefore, I invited our fellows to think about accessibility as care. Drawing on universal design principles, accommodations like having written materials in alternative formats for people who are blind or have low vision (i.e. someone who needs screen-readable text) also benefits the student who might want to read on a smart phone during their commute on the subway. It’s more common for students to request accommodations like extended time on assignments or exams, testing in alternative locations, or simply having breaks during exams. These types of requests can also benefit other students, by reducing anxiety associated with testing and grading, and by acknowledging and making time for universal needs. With that understanding, why not just make accommodations for all students? For anyone who might want to try it, I drew on Shelly Eversly’s idea for a care and community statement (below), which includes all of the resources Baruch students might need but not know about. 

Accessibility Statement

We all learn differently and may need help or support in different forms. I do my best to make sure course materials are available in formats that can be printed or read on computer or smartphone before and after we meet as a class. I also strive to make sure our synchronous sessions are accessible. If anything about this course prevents you from learning or participating, please let me know. Your input makes sure I can develop a plan to make sure everyone succeeds. I also encourage you to visit the Accessibility Services Office to see if there are additional accommodations, tools, or supports you may not know about but could benefit from. 

You might link to your campus accessibility office for additional support. Shelly also puts a version of this at the top of her syllabus each semester:

Statement of Care and Community

We care about you.  We also know that you have a life outside of school, that everyone learns differently, and that you came to college to succeed.  For all of these reasons and more, it is important for you to have ready access to the resources and services that are free and available to you as a student at Baruch.  The college’s Student Services includes counseling services, services for veterans and for families, services for people with disabilities, and services for financial and housing emergencies.  Healthy CUNY has food pantries accessible to all CUNY students in every borough. The college also offers free COVID testing.

As a Baruch student, you also have free access to Starr Career Development Center.  The Writing Center offers one-on-one help with your writing.  The Newman Library provides consultations on your research projects and online tutorials, as well as short term use of computers and other technology.  You also have free access to study spaces and places to take your online classes.

In order to build and sustain our own community, let us collectively contribute to our shared class notes and resources.  Everyone in this class is welcome to join our Whatsapp group for sharing information, course-related news, and positive vibes.

To close out our final session, we created a padlet and invited fellows to give us their final thoughts on taking what they learned from TLH forward with them. They gave us their thoughts anonymously and in the chat:

“vulnerability–both sharing my own and creating space for students to be whole, flawed humans.”

“re-read Bettina Love!  Audre Lorde!  Toni Cade Bambara!”

“create new canonical texts from more marginalized ones.”

“design my syllabus to allow more spaciousness for my students and for me.”

“talk to my colleagues about active learning tools”

“co-create more of my courses”

“aspire toward total participation in every class session”

“Make accommodations available to everyone”

“extend generosity”

“rework syllabus to include words that are less institutional and that show more care.”

“armed love”

“using more invitations in my Syllabus for community, care and recognition”

“make room to disrupt groupthink!”

“Be flexible and when in doubt, ask the students”

“Just inclusivity in general! awareness”

“Inclusivity means so many things. Syllabus diversity, inclusivity in the way we teach and include students who don’t participate in conventional ways, inclusive language on the syllabus, etc.”

“Emphasize the importance of creative thinking not only as a problem solving tool, but as a life strategy.  Let’s not follow, let’s lead!”


“I’m participating in an innovative pedagogy reading and discussion group on my campus and I’m bringing everything you all share into that space!”

“I will carry forward the practice of fostering student-to-student engagement”

“Syllabus creation as a political act: I’m really invested in rethinking how the syllabus can be a place to articulate priorities beyond course content”

“Emphasize student-centered approaches”

“I allow my students to miss two of our ten modules without penalty (nor excusing themselves) so that they can make a choice about when to prioritize other things”

“I hand out index cards at the beginning of class to let students pose a question to me that they don’t feel comfortable asking during class regarding lesson or coursework”

“This semester, I’m doing a lot of individual reflection on how we like to learn, where we like to read and/or write, and how we do our best thinking. We’re analyzing ourselves and sharing what we learn, what we already knew, and what surprises us. Just normalizing that has been super powerful for the class and for me!”

“I feel like there’s been a paradigm shift towards faculty being more in that quasi-counselor role – it would be great to have more training provided. Often doctoral students at the GC are not offered much training, if any, on how to teach, much less support mental health awareness in their classrooms.”

“And when I hear about personal difficulties (which I always emphasize they should only share with me if they want to), I give them as much flexibility as I can in my course, but also try to identify when and how I should refer them to counseling or other relevant CUNY services.”

Thank you to all of our amazing and caring faculty fellows!

From Dilemma to Decolonization: Higher Public Education as a Site of Repair

Greetings from TLH Cohort 5, Group 3! Our Public Knowledge Project, From Dilemma to Decolonization: Higher Public Education as a Site of Repair, engages our CUNY campuses, classrooms, and curricula as sites where we can unmask, unmake, and help to free students of the ingrained assumption that educational gaps belong solely to them and not to the institutions they trust to educate them. Considering the concrete realities of our campuses, our working-class students’ racialized injuries, and their everyday life demands and priorities in work and care, our project seeks ways in which teaching and learning can originate from the grounds of students’ lives and experiences. Our project is about collectively rethinking and reimagining education as a set of common goods that are a part of striving for and earning a decolonized future. Continue reading

Definition of Ableism by Talila Lewis

Resources for Practicing Anti-Ableist Pedagogy

On Saturday, November 5, 2022, I had the privilege of conducting a pedagogy workshop at the American Studies Association conference, with my esteemed TLH colleagues and mentors, Cathy Davidson, Shelly Eversley, Christina Katopodis, Javiela Evengelista, and Jason Hendrickson. 

Anti-ableist pedagogy is a topic we’ve taken up in our TLH seminars over the past two years as another way to promote equity in the classroom. Anti-ableist pedagogy isn’t just about accessibility—making sure that all of your students can access and understand materials you use for teaching and that they can participate equally in the classroom—it’s also about recognizing and critiquing the harms caused by ableism in society and in our educational systems. It’s about accepting disability as part of human diversity and a positive identity marker, as opposed to a deficit, a reason for pity, or a justification for low expectations. Anti-ableist pedagogy is about radical acceptance of intersectional identities, unconditional respect, and a commitment to making everyone feel that their contributions are valuable. 

In the workshop, we borrowed an exercise from Dr. Jamila Lyiscot, who led a TLH workshop last year. The rules of the exercise were to first choose a whistle-blower or gatekeeper to enforce the requirement to only speak with words that have 2 syllables or less. The question was, “please describe your research (or work).” One of our participants reported being so preoccupied with following the rules that they completely missed out on the content. This simple yet powerful exercise can demonstrate how people who learn differently or English language learners might be missing the most important parts of the conversation. 

Turning to theory as another entry point into understanding ableism, we also explored models of disability, or the way that we conceptualize disability. The most commonly cited models are the medical model (defining disability as an impairment in the body in need of a cure) and the social model (defining disability as a social construction due to society’s failure to adapt to disabled bodyminds). While these models are necessarily at odds with each other, a universal model acknowledges that we have to acknowledge and accept different forms of impairment as a part of the human experience, while reforming the way that society responds to disabled people. Part of undoing the long history of oppression of disabled people starts with considering that disability is not unusual and it’s not a fixed state of being (anyone can become disabled at any time). Instead of creating separate spaces and policies for “accommodating” people with disabilities, we should be working to adapt our social environment to include everyone.

From there, we turned to defining ableism. For me, the dictionary definition falls short in describing the range of insidious behaviors towards disabled people that have been normalized by society, or the use of ability itself to undermine people based on other parts of their identities. Here, I turn to the work of activist, Talila Lewis, who concisely defines the term: 

“A system that places value on people’s bodies and minds based on societally constructed ideas of normality, intelligence, excellence, desirability, and productivity. These constructed ideas are deeply rooted in anti-Blackness, eugenics, misogyny, colonialism, imperialism and capitalism.

This form of systemic oppression leads to people and society determining who is valuable and worthy based on a person’s language, appearance, religion and/or their ability to satisfactorily [re]produce, excel and “behave.”

You do not have to be disabled to experience ableism.”

a working definition by Talila “TL” Lewis*; updated January 2021

In taking a critical look at our built and social environments, it’s not hard to find areas where this system of placing value on individuals has been used to create structural inequalities for disabled people in our society, a fact that is especially apparent in our education systems. This can be taken literally when looking at architectural barriers or information barriers, or figuratively, when considering policies and rules that subtly (or not so subtly) discourage disabled students from succeeding.

In addition to talking about how disability is defined and the harms of ableism, we ended with some ways to practice anti-ableist pedagogy:

  • Learn more about disability history and ongoing struggles for access to all parts of society. For example, much of the built world has been improved by disabled activists through what is known as the curb cut effect
  • Voice your support within your institution for spending money on structural access and information access. Accessibility is often an afterthought, given attention only when it becomes a problem, and deprioritized in budgets. 
  • Strive to create accessible learning environments through Universal Design for Learning (UDL)
    • Understand that accessibility is often a negotiation between competing needs and therefore a process. Strive for an adaptable environment that can accommodate the people in your classroom.  
    • Consider giving everyone the most commonly requested accommodations (usually extra time for assignments and tests). This takes away the stigma associated with requesting disability accommodations and helps all students.
    • Work with your campus accessibility office to make sure your course materials are accessible (text that is computer-readable is also flexible to accommodate people with a variety of vision disabilities and can be used with annotation tools that benefit neurodiverse students as well).
    • Add an accessibility statement to your syllabus to signal to students that they can talk directly to you about their access needs. Be open to suggestions for improvement. Talk about disability and access as a normal part of the college experience.  
  • “Crip” the curriculum, or incorporate disability into readings and course content. Question ableism in literature and media, social policies, or other topics. 
  • Most importantly, practice “radical acceptance” of everyone for who they are (and meet them where they are). 

Other resources from the session: 

Our slides

Padlet asking participants WHY and HOW can the classroom be a radical space for antiracist action? 

Small Axe/Acts (brainstormed with session participants) 

Additional Suggested Readings on Anti-Ableist Pedagogy:


Transformative Anti-Ableist Pedagogy for Social Justice, by 2021-2022 TLH Faculty Fellow, Dusana Podlucka

Anti-ableist pedagogies in higher education: A systems approach, by Juuso Nieminen and Henri Pesonen 


For a good primer on disability, I recommend Demystifying Disability: What to Know, What to Say, and How to Be an Ally by Emily Ladau.

For more theoretical approaches to disability and intersectionality, see Disabled Futures: A Framework for Radical Inclusion by Milo W. Obourn and The Minority Body: A Theory of Disability by Elizabeth Barnes

Accessibility in the Classroom – Insights and Questions from TLH Faculty Fellows

On September 28, our Fall Cohort of TLH Faculty Fellows convened for the first meeting of the semester to plan public events and contributions to knowledge. I also led a discussion about accessibility in the classroom by talking about why it’s important, what the institutional process is like (i.e. students request services through their campus disability services office, which acts as a liaison between student and teacher) and how that may or may not be effective. According to the National Center for Education statistics, nearly half of students with disabilities end up dropping out before they finish (link opens in a new window). According to one study, stronger self-advocates were more likely to complete their degrees (link opens in a new window), but that puts the onus on students to advocate for their needs semester after semester, which can become a barrier to success.

We started the discussion by first polling our fellows on their knowledge of accessibility accommodations, current experiences teaching disabled students in their courses, and types of accommodation requests.

The fellows rated themselves as generally having average experience with accessibility issues and no-one considered themselves to have very limited knowledge or to be very knowledgeable.

Question 1 results (image link opens to interactive chart)

Continue reading

TLH Office Hours Recap: Accessible Course Design and Hybrid Teaching

On August 31, 2021, TLH held the first office hour session with 9 of our faculty fellows. We kicked off the session with a short, high-level presentation about accessible course design which was followed by a discussion about challenges that professors have encountered while teaching online during the past year, with making their course materials accessible on short notice, providing other accommodations to students, and with technology platforms that are not always accessible or user friendly. During the discussion, faculty fellows shared some of the tools and techniques that have worked well for them and bringing up questions that also informed the topic. Overall, it was a productive hour and we really enjoyed the knowledge-sharing! We added 3 more slides to our presentation with some of the resources. 

Stay tuned for our next TLH Office Hourse, on September 14 at 4 pm. TLH Executive Director, Christina Katopodis will lead a discussion on ungrading and peer review.

TLH Office Hours Accessibility

Jessica Murray, director of digital communications for Transformative Learning in the Humanities (TLH) gives a short presentation for the TLH Faculty Fellows during the first office hours of Fall 2021. Slides with additional resources added after the discussion are available here:

Accessible Course Design and Hybrid Teaching after COVID

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.  Continue reading

Considering Accessibility & Equity in Assessment Design

As educators with the City University of New York, we know that our learners come to our classrooms as unique individuals. They bring with them diverse experiences and backgrounds. 

Assessment and Learner Variability 

In learning environments, individual variability is the norm, not the exception.” UDL and Assessment | An Introduction to UDL and Assessment

In our role as educators, we use assessments to measure student understanding and progress. The purpose of an assessment is to measure what our students can do, or know.  If an assessment doesn’t accommodate the wide variability of our learners then they fail to do what they must by design: evaluate our students and provide us with vital information about their learning and our practice. 

 It is an essential part of our courses. It is therefore essential that assessments accommodate learner differences if they are to be effective. We must design our assessments with the diversity of our learner needs at the forefront. Continue reading

Flipping the Script on Grading: Alternative, Anti-Racist Grading Practices, Event Recap

This blog post is by Contributing Author Ian Singleton. Ian Singleton is an Adjunct Writing Instructor and a recipient of a Transformative Learning in the Humanities award for organizing an event in our Spring 2021 series on active and participatory learning.

Contract grading is an alternative assessment practice that can aid anti-racist pedagogy. Another practice is “A for All,” which effectively refutes any kind of assessment system whatsoever. What do students, specifically CUNY students want? I sought to organize a space and time for students to feel free to answer the question, “How do you want to be graded?” The question could be, “How do you want to be assessed?” or “How do you want to be judged?”  Continue reading