15 Creating an Inclusive Environment

UMW strives toward inclusive excellence. According to UMW’s ASPIRE principles, inclusive excellence means that “we strive for all members of the community to have equitable access to opportunities for participation and the resources necessary for success.”[1] This directly relates to the classroom experience. Students’ access to a classroom can be impacted by the technology used, policies and/or procedures put into place, and physical environments available. When designing a classroom experience, from the development of a syllabus to incorporating the physical space made available to students and faculty, there are areas that can cause a disruption in access and our goal for inclusive excellence. Some areas to think through when creating an inclusive environment may include the following:

Statement in Your Syllabus

Classroom Policies that Require Disclosure

Seating Arrangements and Changes

Changes in Classroom Settings

Provide a Statement in Your Syllabus

Include a statement about the Office of Disability Resources in your syllabus and include the following information:

  • The correct name (Office of Disability Resources) along with the location of the office (Seacobeck 005).
  • Basic information about registering with ODR, such as the need for appropriate documentation.
  • Basic information about the role of ODR.
  • Information on how you would like the student to provide you their accommodation letter and speak with you about their needs.
  • Welcoming language, showing students you are willing to provide them their accommodations and work with them throughout the semester.

Below are two examples faculty are welcome to utilize or pull from when designing their syllabus statement.

Example Statement 1:

“The Office of Disability Resources has been designated by the college as the primary office to guide, counsel, and assist students with disabilities. If you receive services through the Office of Disability Resources and require accommodations for this class, please provide me with a copy of your accommodation letter via email or during a meeting. I encourage you to follow up with me about your accommodations and needs within this class. I will hold any information you share with me in the strictest confidence unless you give me permission to do otherwise.

If you have not made contact with the Office of Disability Resources and have reasonable accommodation needs, their office is located in Seacobeck 005.  The office will require appropriate documentation of disability.”

Example Statement 2:

“I strive to create a fully inclusive classroom; thus, I welcome individual students to approach me about your learning needs and requests for accommodations. To obtain accommodations for this course, students with disabilities should contact the Office of Disability Resources (ODR) by email at odr@umw.edu or by phone at 540-654-1266. ODR is responsible for coordinating disability-related accommodations.

I also recognize that at times the class might not be accessible, despite efforts to ensure universal access. Please contact me if you find the lecture or discussion format to be not accessible for your needs. Additionally, if the facilities are inaccessible, please let me know. I am committed to making your learning experience as accessible as possible. I want to ensure that accessibility is a process that we communicate as a class together throughout the semester.”

Avoid Policies that Require Student Disclosure

All classes have different policies and procedures in place to help amplify the learning outcomes of the course. It is understood that these policies are created with the best intentions; however, certain policies can at times cause students to choose between using their approved accommodations and disclosing their disability to their classmates, or going without something they need and have a right to utilize. Some ways to avoid policies that force students to disclose:

  • Instead of stating audio recording is only allowed in class with an approved accommodation, you could state that students can utilize audio recording with prior authorization from the professor. 
  • Instead of having technology policies that limit or deny the use of computers, tablets, or other notetaking devices used to enhance retention, state that because the use of certain devices can become distracting to yourself and others the use of these devices will require prior authorization from the professor.
  • Instead of having a no food or drink policy, share with the class that there is an understanding of respect towards others and food or drink items should not be loud, messy, or have extreme odors.

Seating Arrangements and Changes

We recognize that faculty do not always have a choice of the classroom they will be utilizing in a given semester, and each classroom’s layout can be different and difficult to maintain depending on the goals of a course. However, prior to thinking about how your classroom will be utilized alongside the learning outcomes and lesson plans, we recommend being aware of the following impacts: 

  • Having students rearrange desks or their seating arrangements during class for group work. This can be troublesome for some students. To help manage this, bring to the class’s attention the days in which rearrangement will happen and ask students to speak with you about any concerns they may have. Be aware that any student utilizing accessible furniture will need assistance when rearranging furniture.
  • Class seating arrangements (may be done related to lab stations or group work) can negatively impact individuals with priority seating accommodations, especially if it is related to a visual impairment need, hearing impairment, use of third-party services, or accessible furniture accommodations within your classroom. To assist with this, verbally welcome any communication from students who have concerns about the arrangements.

Implications of Having Class in a Different Location

  • At times, students with mobility impairments schedule classes based on the location set in the original class registration schedule, and may not have the ability to be on time for classes held at a new location. Should class location change, be understanding if a student is 5 – 10 minutes late.
  • Students with accessible furniture needs have furniture placed in the classes based on their class schedule at the start of the semester, and therefore may not have appropriate furniture in the new location. Advanced communication with ODR can assist with this if needed.
  • Students may need access to assistive technology and adaptive equipment in the new location to complete in-class assignments. Communication with students can help both faculty and students prepare for this change.

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  1. “Our Principles and Values.” About UMW, 5 Mar. 2019, www.umw.edu/about/our-principles-and-values/

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Access for All Copyright © 2020 by Alison Grimes and Danielle Smith. All Rights Reserved.

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