Creating an Accessible Learning Environment

Since UID cannot remove all learning barriers, we also need to be ready to accommodate students with accessibility-related learning needs. To address barriers to accessibility and to accommodate students with disabilities, the Universty of Toronto has a dedicated office on each campus (Accessibility Services (St. George); AccessAbility Services (UTSC); AccessAbility Services (UTM). If students need an accommodation at the University of Toronto, they are encouraged to register with the accessibility office on their campus. Fostering Accessible Learning: A Guide for Teaching Assistants describes accessibility practices at the University of Toronto and recommends best practices around accommodations. Below are the broad strokes of the registration and accommodation procedures at the University of Toronto summarized from that guide.

  1. A student registers with accessibility services. Registering with accessibility services is a multi-step process that can be time consuming.
  2. The student is assigned a disability counsellor who determines the most suitable academic accommodations.
  3. Instructors are notified of required accommodations by an accommodation letter from the Accessibility Office.
  4. The instructor does their best to provide the requested accommodations and contacts Accessibility Services directly, not the student, with any questions.

Requests for accommodations are relayed to instructors by an accommodation letter and can arrive in a variety of ways: in person, through campus mail, via email, or by way of a registrar. The accommodation letter will outline the accommodations that specific student need. Common accommodations include: extensions on course work, writing tests or exams outside the classroom setting, and computerized or peer note-taking services. Not all students with disabilities use Accessibility Services. Therefore, we recommend applying the principles of UID in every course to reach as many students as possible because UID benefits all learners.

While students are not obliged to disclose their disability with their instructors to arrange accommodations, they may chose to. If a student does broach the subject with you, use the opportunity to chat with the student about how you can contribute to their success while making them feel welcome in the class. Sometimes these can be difficult conversations, both for you and the student. In these cases, when a student is disclosing personal issues, prioritize respect and kindness.