Accessibility Statements on Syllabuses

Accessibility LogoWe’ve discussed accessibility issues before on ProfHacker, including accessibility in the classroom. But as I was designing my syllabuses* for Fall 2013, I realized that we’ve never talked about accessibility statements on syllabuses, which more and more institutions are—happily—mandating.

Many campuses have boilerplate language for accessibility statements (which are, unfortunately, occasionally called “disability statements,” a phrase that itself emphasizes exclusion rather than inclusivity). It’s important that institutions provide model accessibility statements, but I also think it’s worth learning from others as well. To that end, I recommend a fantastic resource sponsored the journal KairosSuggested Practices for Syllabus Accessibility Statements, compiled by Tara Wood and Shannon Madden at the University of Oklahoma.

Borrowing ideas from this wiki, I have totally redesigned my accessibility statement. It is now a statement about universal learning, and it looks like this:

Universal Learning

I am committed to the principle of universal learning. This means that our classroom, our virtual spaces, our practices, and our interactions be as inclusive as possible. Mutual respect, civility, and the ability to listen and observe others carefully are crucial to universal learning.

Any student with particular needs should contact [Name], the Academic Access and Disability Resources Coordinator, at the start of the semester. The Dean of Students’ office will forward any necessary information to me. Then you and I can work out the details of any accommodations needed for this course.

Of course, the details in the second paragraph will change depending upon your institution. But what’s worth noting is that in the first paragraph I frame disability in terms of universal learning, a principle which also encompasses practices such as civility and listening to others.

In addition to rethinking my accessibility statement, I also changed its location on my syllabus. My accessibility statement had always appeared toward the end of my syllabus, almost as an afterthought, or tacked-on necessity. Now, my universal learning statement appears near the top of my syllabus, immediately following my learning outcomes. This placement signals to the students that universal learning is a centerpiece of my pedagogy. Everything else in my teaching follows from that key principle.

What does your accessibility statement look like? Does your institution provide you with some helpful models? Do you have suggestions that go beyond the suggested practices on the Kairos wiki?

[Editor's note: Yes, "syllabuses" is correct. If you want to discuss the issue, please visit this post on Language Log.]

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