Accessibility and UDL in Practice

If you’re looking for examples of UDL in action, click on each of the images below to read a scenario and possible proactive and reactive changes.

Student Attendance In-Person

"multicoloured rose on a blue background"You are teaching an in-person course and note that several students frequently arrive late or don’t attend class at all. Many of these students send you apologetic emails explaining plausible reasons that prevent their regular attendance in class.

  • Make your attendance policy clear to students. If it’s not required that they attend class and you are struggling with the volume of emails, remind students that they don’t need to email you if they are absent.
  • Ensure that course content is available in asynchronous formats that students can access on their own time. You might record live lectures or share lecture notes/slides through the course website.
  • If attendance in class is part of a participation grade, make it clear to students that this is the case. Consider offering a suite of activities that count for participation (e.g. engaging in online activities such as discussion boards, completing readings or other activities on time, setting up study groups, etc.) and asking students to self-report at the end of the semester.

  • Consider a ‘flipped classroom’ or blended course design where course content (modules, videos, readings, etc.) is available asynchronously and in advance to students and synchronous class time is for questions, clarifications, and application activities.
  • Offer asynchronous engagement activities for students unable to attend in-class active learning sessions (e.g., writing a reflection or discussion board post on posted videos; working in groups outside of class to produce shared documents, assignments, notes; checking their work against an answer key and writing a self-reflection on strengths and weaknesses).

Student Presence Online

"blue flower with dew on a green and brown background"You are teaching an online course, and check your students’ login statistics and discussion board posting statistics once a week. It’s week three of the course, and you notice that the majority of students don’t check the discussion board to read other posts after they post their own response, and several haven’t even logged in to the course site at all.

  • Send check-in emails to students who aren’t logging in. You might simply ask “How are you doing?” or mention the behaviour you see (“I notice you haven’t logged in to the course site yet.”).
  • Reconsider whether it’s important that students read other posts in the discussion board. If so, provide guidelines on the number of required responses each week, or ask students to begin each week’s post with a response to posts from the previous week. If not, don’t worry about it!
  • Send a message to the entire class clarifying how often you expect them to check the course site.

  • Build your own course presence with a weekly update video (preferably captioned and with a posted transcript) and/or weekly course announcements, so that students see the course site as a virtual space you (and by extension, they) can regularly engage in.
  • Send regular check-in emails to students who aren’t logging in. You might simply ask “How are you doing?” or mention the behaviour you see (“I notice…”).
  • Regularly post in the discussion board yourself so that students know you’re monitoring it.
  • Reconsider whether it’s important that students read other posts in the discussion board. If so, provide guidelines on the number of required responses each week, or ask students to begin each week’s post with a response to posts from the previous week. If not, don’t worry about it!
  • Make sure students are clear about how often they’re supposed to check the course site and whether they’re supposed to read and respond to others’ posts.

Student Learning Environment

"pink and white lily on a black and white lake"A student contacts you by email, explaining that they’re struggling to find things in your course website in onQ. They tell you that they’re struggling to find time to complete course tasks, as they live at home with a large family including younger siblings who they often have to care for, and they don’t have a dedicated quiet study space when they do have a chance to get to their own work.

  • Be kind in directing them to any previously-provided information about how to navigate the course. You don’t know the full story of why they are finding it difficult, and often what’s intuitive to you in terms of organization is not for someone else.
  • Recommend Student Academic Success Services (SASS) for resources around learning strategies for both in-person and remote/online learning.
  • Suggest the student may wish to request Academic Consideration for Extenuating Circumstances through their faculty office.
  • Recommend Queen’s Student Accessibility Services if the student feels they need formal accommodations (but don’t ask or assume the student needs these supports).

  • Clearly lay out the expected workload for each week, and use a standard communication method and schedule for doing this.
  • introduce the course with a welcome video where you share your screen to show students where to find things in the course website.
  • Use an onQ course template to stay consistent with other courses students are taking.
  • Offer options for assessments:  
  • Avoid or provide alternatives to timed and scheduled quizzes or exams. Students in challenging learning environments or with learning disabilities might struggle to complete timed tasks.
  • Give students options for assignment format to allow them to demonstrate their learning in a way that works best for them. For instance, if you want to ensure that students can summarize or critique selected texts, an essay might be one option, but an infographic or podcast might also demonstrate that skill.
  • Build in flexible deadlines where possible. Many instructors offer automatic 3-day extensions to all students, with no extensions beyond that 3-day period.
  • Establish collaborative note-taking groups for situations where students are expected to take notes on their own (both Queen’s Student Accessibility Services and Student Academic Success Services report that note-taking can be a challenging skill for students).

Timed Tests or Exams

"orange and yellow sunflower in a field"Your course is designed to have two 60-minute tests weighted at 25% each, and a two-hour final exam, worth 50% of the grade and scheduled during the final exam period. You have many students with formal accommodations permitting additional time, and are also concerned about academic integrity if students take these tests online rather than in person. You also note that the CTL strongly discourages the use of remote-proctored timed tests and exams as a form of assessment.

  • Provide students with practice exams so that they know what to expect.
  • Be explicit about the test/exam format, especially if students will not be able to view the full test/exam at once or go back to change their answers.
  • Clearly communicate what is and isn’t allowed in terms of use of notes, consultation with other students, etc. so that academic integrity concerns are minimized. One of the most frequent reasons students cheat is that they don’t know what constitutes cheating.
  • If you need to manage extra-time accommodations yourself, consider:
    • Manually adding extra time in onQ for those students who are permitted to receive it.
    • Scheduling and writing different tests/exams – one for students with no extra time, one for students with time-and-a-half, one for students with double time.
    • Giving all students double time and explaining that the exam is designed to be half that length, that students who don’t need the extra time shouldn’t feel they need to use it, and that this does still comply with university/provincial laws and guidelines around accommodation.
  • If you are offering a timed test/exam remotely:
    • Share information for tech support for students during the test/exam. Remember that tech support includes both technical problems and instructional decisions (e.g. whether a student should get additional time because of technical difficulties).
    • If you have students writing from multiple time zones, make the exam available for a longer time window with a timed setting. This will allow students to start the exam at a reasonable hour while still having the correct amount of time to do it.
    • Talk openly with students about anxieties related to remote proctoring software, if you choose to use it: how to minimize feelings of being watched; how even in-person exams that are proctored involve people watching other people.

  • Offer take-home tests and exams or other assessments available for at least a 48-hour window. This gets rid of the need to accommodate for time and manage student accommodations, and also works well with UDL guidelines around flexibility of assignment type and subject, which typically lead to greater student engagement
  • Add other assessments to the course to reduce the grade weighting on timed tests/exams. This reduces anxiety and pressure, which also helps reduce academic integrity violations.