Accessible by Design: Self-Reflection Tool

Thank you for submitting your Accessible by Design: Self-Reflection Tool. We hope that the exercise has helped prompt in-depth reflection, and given you ideas of other inclusive practices that you can include in your teaching practices.

This page is meant to be an accompanying resource guide where you can explore additional information, resources, articles and links related to the topics covered in the self-reflection exercise. Expand the different categories listed below for more information. 

If you have questions, or would like to know more about accessibility in the classroom, contact the Accessibility Advisor: Rachel.desjourdy [at] 

Designing your course

Course Outline

  1. It includes a statement on welcoming students with disabilities
  2. It outlines the process for requesting an accommodation
  3. The core learning outcomes of the course are clearly stated
  4. The document has no errors when Microsoft's Accessibility Checker is run
    • This ensures that some of the most readily-detectable accessibility errors have been resolved. You will still need to do a manual check to verify two accessibility issues that automated checkers cannot detect: 1) whether the alt text is meaningful/appropriate for the image, 2) colour reliance
  5. The schedule of courses, readings and assignment deadlines is clearly organized
  6. You provide more than one modality of contacting you? (e.g. email, office hours, telephone, myCourses)

Additional resources:

Course Readings and Materials

  1. The course was created using myCourse' accessible course shell
  2. The course readings are available through the McGill library
  3. DOI links are provided to library resources
    • This helps your students find the exact article you are referencing, and is really helpful for those who would otherwise experience additional disability-related barriers retrieving the information you want them to read
  4. The reading selection is available in more than one format (e.g. paper copy, EPUB, audiobook)
  5. Mandatory vs. supplementary readings are clearly identified
    • Remember that some disabilities affect a persons’ reading speed or processing. If students rely on alternate format services through the OSD, there may be delays with receiving their texts in accessible formats. Outlining what is a mandatory reading vs. what is supplementary, allows for prioritization of the text conversion, and also allows the student to manage their workloads.
  6. The volume of assigned readings is reasonable
  7. You explain to students your expectations regarding their reading assignments (e.g. how in-depth of an understanding should students have of each text you assign – general overview, detailed analysis)
    • This allows students to clearly understand your expectations, and adjust their reading strategies accordingly.
  8. Alternate formats (e.g. closed captioning, transcripts, described video) are available for any multimedia used in the course (e.g. videos, podcasts, recordings)


  1. You explain to students how you expect them to contribute/participate in class, and why
    • The answer to the question "why" should be a logical link to the learning outcomes for your course. 
  2. Multiple means of participation are equally valued (e.g. in person, discussion board, reflection assignments, class blog posts)
    • Oral participation is not the only way students can demonstrate what they have learned. By valuing multiple means of participation, you are allowing students who may be disadvantage by one modality to still showcase what they know/learn. 
  3. If you have a mandatory attendance policy, processes for accommodation are clearly outlined: (e.g. what to do if students missed class due to illness, medical appointment, etc.)

Use of Technology in Class

  1. The use of personal technologies is permitted in your course (e.g. laptop, tablet, audio recorder)
    • By allowing students to use their personal technologies in class, you may be allowing them to access personal assistive devices such as screen-readers, magnifiers, note taking software, or other technologies that support their accessibility needs. 
    • Consider how the University of Waterloo's resource on Managing Students' Use of Technology in the Classroom
  2. Classes are recorded and made available to students

Metacognition skills

  1. You define new terms when they are introduced for the first time
    • This is especially important when introducing acronyms!
  2. You provide information for students about supports they can access to build skills tied to the academic assignments in your course –( e.g., how to research for a term essay, public speaking) These skills are sometimes referred to as the “hidden curriculum”: the skills students are expected to demonstrate, but are not taught as part of the course. 
  3. Your assignments scaffold student’s learning (e.g. breaking up a larger assignment into milestones and staggered due dates)
    • Organizational and planning skills do not come naturally to everyone, and for some diagnoses, these are actually impaired by the disability. Providing support in breaking up larger assignments into milestones and staggered due dates can help build your students' time management skills.
  4. The activities you do in class prepare students for how they will be assessed
  5. You provide examples on how students can study/learn the materials
    • This can be done in a variety of ways, for example: flash cards, practice examples, sample questions, mock exams
  6. You regularly summarize the key points of your materials
    • This helps students sort through information "noise" and make sure that they understand what is most important from a given lecture, conference, or reading. This could easily be incorporated into your course as a student-led initiative, with the instructor weighing in on the summaries students provide, giving guidance or emphasizing particular elements.


  1. People with disabilities are represented in your curriculum
  2. The contributions of scholars with disabilities to your field of study/course subject matter are highlighted

Teaching your course


  1. You verbally describe any visuals included in your slides/presentation
    • Describing your slides out loud ensures that students have access to all the information that you are presenting. This helps everyone: from a student with dry contacts, to a student with low vision. 
  2. When using memes, cartoons or other humorous pictures, you provide an explanation when they are presented
    • Humor and pop culture references are not universal. Debriefing or explaining a joke can ensure everyone is included
  3. You invite students to ask questions in more than one way (e.g. out loud, discussion forum, office hours)
    • Providing different options will allow you to meet the needs of the widest range of students
  4. When lecturing, you check-in with your students to know if you are speaking too fast/too slowly
    • In person, that can be pausing regularly to take questions or check-in with the students, whereas in the virtual world that can be inviting students to use the non-verbal feedback buttons in Zoom
  5. When showing videos you turn on closed captioning by default
    • Selecting accessible videos are important - make sure that you know how to turn on the closed captioning feature. It is recommended that you turn it on by default, rather than wait for a student to signal their need for captioning. Getting into this habit will help you become a more inclusive facilitator.
    • Manage subtitle settings in YouTube

Lecture Materials

  1. You provide slides, notes or other supporting lecture materials BEFORE the class
    • By providing materials before the class, you are ensuring that students who use assistive technology can access the documents, and will be able to follow along in your course in real-time. For example: a student may need to increase the default font size, another may need to upload the document into screen reading software. Additionally, some students' learning strategies involve reading course materials before the class, in order to familiarize themselves with vocabulary and support their processing. 
  2. Your notes and/or lecture slides provide an outline of what is going to be covered in class
    • A clear agenda supports students' self-regulation strategies (e.g. when would be the best time to step out for a bathroom break), can act as scaffolding for students' notes, and also reduces uncertainty. If your class addresses tough topics (e.g. violence, sexual violence), knowing when these topics will be coming up in the lecture can help students mentally prepare.
  3. When sharing audio clips you provide a transcript ahead of time


  1. You facilitate note sharing amongst the students in your class
    • Note taking supports are one of the most requested services to disability resource offices, such as the OSD. There are many disability-related barriers that can impact a student's ability to take notes in class. Students may struggle to keep up with the pace of the lecture, have difficulties sustaining the attention needed for simultaneous note taking, or simply learn best when they're focused on the class rather than on taking notes. One strategy that can mitigate these barriers is encouraging note sharing amongst students in your class. Two ideas for implementing this idea are: having students post their lecture notes on a myCourses' discussion board, or using a shared OneDrive document for interactive note taking during the class (multiple students collaborate in real-time to edit a set of notes that are shared with the class)
  2. You encourage your students who are note sharing to use the Accessibility Checker function in Microsoft Office
    • This teaches your students how to use it, and creates inclusive habits
  3. You provide images of any annotations you have made in class using a digital whiteboard, physical whiteboard, chalkboard or slide projector
    • Whiteboards can be a great tool in the classroom, but aren't always visible to all. By making sure to capture the board, you support students who may have accessibility issues with seeing the board itself, and/or replicating the content into their own notes. Microsoft Lens is one app that allows you to take a picture of a whiteboard and turn it into other file types (including PDF, Word and Powerpoint) 

Sensory Accommodations

  1. You welcome students to engage in the way that feels best to them (e.g. cameras on/off, sitting down/standing up)
    • If students are physically uncomfortable, or in pain, they will not be able to learn as well. Other students with disabilities spend a considerable amount of invisible energy "masking" their disabilities to appear more normative. By welcoming students to move around, and be comfortable in the classroom, you are helping to remove some of the physical and/or social barriers that could interfere with their learning and participation in the class.
  2. You provide breaks during classes that are more than one hour long
    • Providing breaks allows for opportunities to take care of health-related needs (e.g. going to the bathroom, stretching) without missing out on classroom material. 
  3. You reduce/eliminate your use of scented products (e.g. perfumes) when teaching
    • Some people have allergies or other physical reactions to scented personal care products. This can result in headaches, breathing issues, or other physical reactions. By eliminating these products you are taking steps not to unintentionally exclude some students from participating in your class. Consider inviting other students to contribute to making the classroom a fragrance-free zone.
  4. You ensure that lighting is adequate when teaching remotely? (e.g. you are clearly visible)
    • Shadows and inadequate lighting can obscure your face and mouth, which makes it more difficult for students who rely on lip reading or facial expressions for understanding.
  5. You wear a clear mask when conducting on-campus teaching activities
    • For as long as mask-wearing remains mandatory in public places, prioritizing clear masks, or masks with windows helps to facilitate more accessible communication. If you experience barriers to communication yourself as a result of colleagues wearing masks, you may be eligible for the Clear Mask Accommodation initiative led by the Accessibility Advisor

Assessing learning

General assessment

  1. You welcome student suggestions on accommodations for their assessments 
    • Be willing to listen if a student comes forward with an idea for an accommodation that does not alter the core learning objectives of the assessment. Discussion of the barriers they experience, and your needs as an instructor can lead to a meaningful accommodation.
    • Teaching and Learning Services (TLS) has a repository of creative assessment strategies that you can reference for inspiration
  2. You provide meaningful opportunities to practice before high-stakes assessments (e.g. mock exams, sample quizzes)
    • Providing students with authentic practice opportunities can help them develop their test-taking skills, as well as self-regulation strategies (e.g. managing anxiety during a test)
  3. Flexibility is built-in to your assessment schedule (e.g. make-up exam dates, early submission guidelines)
    • Inevitably, you will have students (with disabilities and without) who miss exams or submission dates for incidental or health-related reasons. By planning for this in advance, you may reduce the number of one-off arrangements you need to make. 


  1. You aware of the exam accommodation procedures with the Office for Students with Disabilities
  2. You pilot your exam questions to determine whether they take the amount of time you expect them to (e.g. peer review with a colleague, TA)
    • Subject matter experts (e.g. course instructors) are not always the best gauges of the amount of time a certain problem or question will take. Having a reviewer for your exam can help highlight any clarifications needed in wording, typos, or issues with the timing, that are best corrected ahead of time. This is especially important for students who write with the Office for Students with Disabilities, as they may not have access to the corrections or announcements made by the instructor in the main exam room at the same time as their peers. 


  1. You scaffold the assignments for your course (e.g. breaking up a larger assignment into milestones and staggered due dates)
    • Workload management is a skill that may be impacted by some disabilities. Scaffolding assignments can help segment a larger project into more manageable chunks.
  2. You build in flexibility to your assignment deadlines (e.g. dealing with extension requests)
    • One idea could be to have a submission "window" - a range of dates that allow students to submit in advance or slightly after a given deadline. While this benefits all students, students with barriers to reading, writing, and/or processing will especially benefit from additional time to submit. 
  3. You provide students with a grading rubric, and/or clear expectations for assignments
    • Helps minimize potential confusions or errors in interpreting the assignments
  4. You provide students with opportunities for feedback prior to submitting an assignment for final grading? (e.g. formative assessment, peer feedback)
    • Teaching and Learning Services (TLS) provides many resources for integrating Peer Assessment into your courses



McGill University is situated on the traditional territory of the Kanien’kehà:ka, a place which has long served as a site of meeting and exchange amongst nations. We recognize and respect the Kanien’kehà:ka as the traditional custodians of the lands and waters on which we meet today.

For more information about traditional territory and tips on how to make a land acknowledgement, visit our Land Acknowledgement webpage.

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