Updated: Jun 22, 2021
In a world that is now almost completely virtual, with schools and workplaces going remote for months on end, it can be difficult to take typical, in-person inclusive practices and apply them to our new online spaces. But, as the TIES Center says, everyone must continue to ask themselves “where does inclusion exist in a social distancing world?”
Supporting inclusion and creating inclusive learning spaces is already challenging in many ways, so new restrictions have continued to put up barriers for our students with disabilities. However, even though it might feel like we are taking steps backward instead of forward right now, there are many simple ways we can continue to make inclusion a priority.
If you’re an educator or professional looking to make your classroom or office more inclusive, follow this list of ways to make online meeting spaces accessible:
Provide materials beforehand
Allowing students and colleagues to prepare beforehand by providing the materials early will help them be more equipped for the lesson or meeting, as well as help them follow along with the material throughout.
Offer closed captioning (CC)
Luckily for us, technology has advanced to the point that CC is relatively accurate. CC allows people in the deaf and hard of hearing community to be part of the conversation, but can also be useful for people who learn best through written and visual content.
Describe visuals and activate text to speech accessibility options
Describing visuals and using accessible documents that allow text to speech options opens the door to those with visual impairments.
Use nonverbal cues
One of the main ways humans communicate with one another is through nonverbal cues, and some people only communicate nonverbally. While it might seem silly to use nonverbal communication methods through an online platform, facial expressions and gestures are more important now than ever. Nonverbal cues add a lot to the conversation and help increase someone’s understanding of what is being said, so don’t shy away from being expressive and allowing others to communicate nonverbally.
Assign roles, such as a note-taker
While the pandemic means we can no longer have a “snack provider” role for meetings, it doesn’t mean roles for meetings can no longer be assigned at all. Assigning other roles, such as having someone be the note-taker, allows for people to be more involved in the process, which can help them pay attention. Plus, the note-taker can share their notes at the end of the lesson, allowing others to reference back to them later on.
Encourage small group work through breakout rooms
Having small group work by using breakout rooms can allow for more hands-on instruction and quality time with peers that is being missed while not physically in the classroom or office. This type of interaction is helpful in learning, but also provides a nice opportunity for the close-knit communication many are missing out on during the pandemic.
Use the chat room for further conversations
Keeping the chat room open for questions and comments is a great way to allow people to share their ideas without having to speak out loud or disrupt the flow of the meeting.
Keep track of who is/isn’t talking to make sure time is shared evenly
One of the most important parts of inclusion is creating a space where everyone has the chance to be involved. By keeping track of who has or hasn’t talked, the teacher or leader of the meeting can steer the conversation in a way that will allow everyone to participate.
Make recordings and transcripts available afterward
With recordings and transcripts, students and colleagues will be able to return to the material later. Having the information available so that it can easily be accessed afterward will give individuals the chance to revisit content that was difficult to understand the first time around. Plus, repetition is proven to help with learning.
Use polls and other features to check-in often
Giving attendees a chance to tell you how they’re feeling after they’ve had time to process the information is a great way to check-in with everyone to evaluate where they’re at. Polls and other private ways of gathering information also give people the confidence to share honestly, since they won’t need to share their opinions in front of the whole group in order for their thoughts to be heard.
And if you don’t know, just ask!
As an educator, you should be aware of any accommodations required in students’ IEPs (Individualized Education Programs). But in situations where you are unsure, just ask! Asking your students, or anyone for that matter, their specific accessibility needs sets a precedence that you want the space to be inclusive for them and allows them to feel comfortable sharing their needs with you.
Kayla Kingston is the Communications Specialist for MCIE. A recent graduate of the University of Dayton, she loves reading, writing, and supporting all things inclusion.