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Accessibility Considerations

Accessible courses are designed in ways that make them intuitive, easy to navigate, and functional for all students. SCU’s Office of Accessible Education website includes information about providing various accommodations including for testing; additionally, they provide specific information for accommodating students with disabilities in online courses.

In addition to consulting with OAE to make your course accessible to all students, Camino and Zoom both offer a number of accessibility features:

  • Camino: There are built-in design features within Camino to make the platform accessible for students. 
  • Zoom:  This platform is  designed with a number of features that support accessibility. If you record a Zoom session, you can use the “audio transcript” option to automatically transcribe the audio. Zoom can be integrated with closed captioning providers, and you can also upload Zoom recordings to YouTube and use YouTube’s automated captioning feature.

Considerations for Students’ Wellness, Mental Health, and Caretaking Responsibilities

As detailed in the Office of the Provost’s required policy information for all syllabi, creating a culture of care in your courses centers on students’ well-being, mental health, safety, and caretaking responsibilities and helps you create an accessible and equitable learning environment for each student. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has taught educators much about how to make their courses accessible to students facing adversities and multiple, intersecting challenges, much of which can be used today to improve the accessibility of our courses. Below are some considerations when developing shared community standards for accessibility in the event that students face challenges in your course:

  • When students get sick or have to care for others who are sick, consider how you offer them flexibility, grace, and support. Check in with them to first ask how they are doing and what support they need. Make a support plan that you can both agree upon that supports their health as well as their success in your course. If needed, refer them to appropriate resources, such as the Office of Student Life, CAPS, Drahmann Center, and Wellness Center.  
  • Some students may face hardships that impact their food security or access to food. Use this form to refer students to the Food Insecurity program on campus. 
  • In the event that a student is managing a chronic or acute physical or mental health challenge (such as disability, lack of safety, sexual assault or intimate partner violence, pregnancy, death, bereavement, parenting or caretaking responsibility) that does not allow them to be in class, consider how you might use shared peer-based resources such as implementing a daily notetaker for active participation, working with a Peer Educator if available, or using peer-based forms of accountability and check-ins to support them. 

Universal Design for Learning

Universal Design for Learning, or UDL, embraces one basic premise—"Teach every student." Its framework consists of three core principles—i.e., instructors should provide all students with multiple means of representation, expression, and engagement (Rose & Meyer, 2002). This means that, whenever possible, instructors should (a) provide instructional content or materials in multiple formats, (b) give learners multiple ways to demonstrate what they have learned, and (c) use multiple strategies to motivate learner participation.

UDL began with a focus on how computer technology could improve the learning experience for students with learning disabilities, including those disabilities that are not visible. For example, UDL practices like removing time limits on quizzes supports may help students with dyslexia, as well as military veterans who suffer from traumatic brain injury or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder when they return to academic life. Keeping all this in mind, the "teach every student" mantra really means what it says. UDL practices support everyone, for example, captioned videos support not only learners who are deaf and hard of hearing, but also those who are English Language Learners or prefer to read text.

Implementing UDL’s Three Core Principles

It is important to note that you do not have to apply UDL to everything, nor all the time! Instead, use a mix of different strategies for sharing content, engaging students, and assessing learning. Even adding one more method every now and then will help.

Representation: Content in multiple formats

It does not take much effort to provide course materials in different formats, especially for your lectures. You can use lecture capture or screencast technologies to record your lectures in advance or while you give them in class. Then you can upload the slides (possibly with your notes), the combined recording, and an audio-only recording. If you don't have time to do it yourself, you can offer students small amounts of extra credit if they transcribe 5-minute chunks of the lecture. Then you can paste the text pieces together and post the document as a transcript. 

Another way to provide lecture content in multiple formats is to create a concept map showing the connections between the ideas or the flow of a process you outline. This can be done in real-time, by drawing the concept map in front of the students, as a screencast video recording, or just a concept map file that you upload for students to review.

Expression (Assessment): Multiple ways to demonstrate learning

When it comes to giving students different ways to show what they know, you have choices, too. When you plan to have essay questions on an exam, you can let students choose from different questions that cover the same topic. To do this, identify each learning outcome or class concept for which students will show what they know through essay questions. Next, create a short rubric or checklist covering what student essays should contain for each topic. Start a new test page for each concept, containing two to four questions and instructions for students to select one question per page

For projects, you can let students pick from two or more submission formats—e.g., essay, presentation (in class or online using VoiceThread), video, or infographic. The students still have to meet the rubric criteria, regardless of what they turn in. Sometimes, providing different levels of challenge can scaffold the learning process as well as give students choices. Start with low-stakes quizzes, move to an in-class or online discussion or debate, and finish with a project that asks students to apply what they have learned.

Engagement: Multiple strategies to motivate participation

To keep students engaged over time, tie class concepts to current, real-world events or create in-class or online collaboration opportunities. To let students regulate their own learning, create reflection assignments and self-assessment tools. Asking students to make their final versions public can increase their motivation to do their best work.

Check out the quick guide on UDL from the Scholarly Teacher below:

View directly, or right-click to save a copy.

References and Additional Resources


CAST (2018). Universal design for learning guidelines version 2.2 [graphic organizer]. Wakefield, MA: Author.

Rose, D., & Meyer, A. (2002). Teaching Every Student in the Digital Age: Universal Design for Learning. Wakefield, MA: Center for Applied Special Technology.

Tobin, T., and Behling, K. (2018). Reach Everyone, Teach Everyone:  Universal Design for Learning in Higher Education.


Page authors:

Dr. Kevin Kelly, Lecturer at San Francisco State University

Brian Larkin, SCU Instructional Technology Manager

Dr. Rachel Stumpf, Student Learning Programs, Stanford Center for Teaching and Learning

Last updated 04/16/2024