Teacher’s Guide to Accommodating Students with Disabilities During Remote Work

Over the last several decades, schools have been working on their methods to help students with disabilities. From pre-school to institutes of higher learning, we have embraced the fact that students with disabilities are often aptly capable of learning, they just need a few alternative ways to learn. Children with vision impairments, for example, may need color-adjusted materials or text made available in braille. Children with hearing disabilities will benefit from having a written version of everything said aloud. Children with specific learning disabilities often benefit from the variety of multi-media learning.

However, since the start of the pandemic, teachers have had to rebuild their teaching methods for all-remote classes and at-home students. The methods we have developed for accommodating students with disabilities must also be rebuilt. We know that this subject has been under-addressed in the past months and many teachers are figuring it out for themselves. Today, we’re spotlighting a combination of methods and tools that teachers can use to accommodate their students with disabilities who are now learning remotely.

Teacher Methods to Accommodate Remote Students with Disabilities

First, let’s start with methods that remote teachers can put to use to help their students with disabilities. These methods can work one-on-one or while leading a class with one or more disabled students in the group.

Record Your Lessons in  Multiple Media Forms

When you share a lecture or lead a class, make a recording.  Create a video or audio podcast of your own lessons and then share them with the class. Make it multi-media by including both closed-captions and a printed transcript of the lesson and/or share your lesson outline. This makes your materials available to students with varying learning styles and visual or hearing impairments.

Make Physical Learning Materials Available

If your students with disabilities have traditionally learned with the aid of physical materials, these materials may not be available in their homes. Many schools are making boxed supplies available for delivery or pickup, and you can do the same with assistive materials that may accommodate your disabled students at home.

Pace Lessons for Student Learning Speed

Be attentive to your lesson pacing. When presenting online, it can be tempting to forge ahead through your slides. Instead, make sure your students with disabilities are managing to access, perceive, and learn from the lesson before moving on to the next point.

Interactive Review Methods

It’s also helpful to get your students involved in the review process. Instead of going through a traditional summary of each lesson, ask your students to repeat back the most important parts, to ask questions, and to interact with the lesson review. This will both show how effective your teaching methods have been and help lock-in new knowledge as students put it to use. Interactive reviews also give you a chance to provide feedback and encouragement for students who are not sure about their current learning methods.

Find Ways to Duplicate Assisted Learning Methods

You may be aware that your students with disabilities have been learning in-school with special assistance. They may have had a teacher’s aid or a professional helping them with lessons or providing additional guidance to manage classroom tasks. Find ways to duplicate or replace these assistive methods for students who are working remotely.

Connect Students to Accessibility Tools

Lastly, make sure your students have access to (and know how to use) a variety of useful accessibility tools. Then focus your lessons on the sites and platforms that are inclusive with accessibility features that are useful to your students with disabilities. Now we’ll jump into a number of tools you and your students may find useful.

Online Accessibility Tools for Remote Teachers and Students

Speech-to-Text and Text-to-Speech

Example: Google Docs and Google Slides

Speech-to-text makes it easier for students with difficulty writing or typing to participate in remote lessons. Text-to-Speech can make it easier for students with speech impediments to participate in live class discussions. There are many speech-to-text  and text-to-speech programs, some independent and able to connect to multiple apps. However, the most approachable and easy to get started can be found in Google Docs and Google Slides, also popular tools for today’s teachers.

Braille Display with Document Editors

Example: Google Docs

Braille display is essential for students with severe visual impairments. Many students are unable to write without the use of braille. Fortunately, virtual braille use has come a long way in the last few decades and students likely already have keyboards with a braille reader and braille-marked keys. If they do not, recommend a keyboard to parents.

As for online lessons, choose a document editor like Google Dogs that includes Braille display as part of the accessibility featurs.

Closed Captions – Static and Live

Example: Google Slides

Closed captions are helpful for students with hearing impairments, making it possible to follow along on a verbally delivered lesson. Pre-recorded podcasts and videos are easier to close-caption than live lessons, which is where Google Slides becomes helpful. Slides includes a feature for live close-captioning using speech-to-text technology while you, the teacher, present the slides as a live multi-media lesson. You can also provide transcripts and lesson outlines when live captioning is not available, or even ask your quickest typing student to type the lesson as you present it for the benefit of hearing impaired classmates.

Color-Adjustment for Low Vision and Colorblindness

Example: Khan Academy

Some students can see, but cannot see normal screen colors clearly. However, some learning websites are already configured to help students with low vision, colorblindness, animation sensitivity, and other visual impairments. Khan Academy is one such site with lessons in a variety of subjects to explore. You can also help students find the visual accessibility settings on their own computers and device operating systems.

Lower the Reading Level of Website Text

Example: Rewordify.com

Many academic websites and sites used for reference include text at a much higher reading level than your students are prepared for. Complex vocabulary and industry jargon can get in the way of learning for students of all learning capabilities, not just students with disabilities. This makes tools like Rewordify.com highly useful. Students can copy-paste text or enter a URL to get a simplified version of the text that is much easier to read and comprehend.

Pair Podcasts with Written Lessons

Example: Listenwise.com

Last but not least, find podcasts that pair well with your lessons. While you can record your own podcasts, often an engaging audio recording or video is far more accessible and adaptable for students with disabilities. Pair your lessons with podcasts or base lessons off of interesting educational podcasts. There are several sources you can choose from, starting with Listenwise.com which includes lessons for a wide range of subjects and grade levels.

Assisting Students with Disabilities to Learn Remotely

Remote learning has been a new challenge for teachers and students together. While the educational community has quickly addressed the need for live lessons through platforms like Zoom and Schoolology, there has been less comprehensive focus on helping students with disabilities to learn remotely. We hope this spotlight article has provided you with a few new methods and tools to help your students learn confidently while classes are being conducted from home. Contact us for more learning insights during this challenging and high-tech period in student education.