in cooperation with Study Advice and Student Counselling Services (DSSB) and the Diversity and Inclusion Team, UAntwerp

An increasing number of young people with a disability (ADHD, autism, chronic illness, dyscalculia, stuttering, etc) are, fortunately, finding their way into higher education. However, promoting their inclusion and ensuring equal opportunities for them to succeed requires some consideration. In this teaching tip, we discuss in turn the importance of extra support and facilities, accessible learning materials, clear communication, and feedback and practice opportunities. The suggestions we give will benefit all students, not just those with a disability.

Practical information specifically useful for UAntwerp teaching staff is in italics

Extra support and facilities

  • Based on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2009), every higher education institution must provide support measures for students with a disability. Make sure you are aware of the support available within your institution and also tell your students about the offer. You can make it clear to your students at the start of the semester where they can go for help, for example. This is especially important if teaching first-year students. Within UAntwerp you can refer students to the student information point (STIP).
  • Students in need of support can apply for special arrangements (UAntwerp staff see this Pintra page after logging in, in Dutch). These are reasonable adjustments that can (partially) compensate for any negative effects of a disability. They are approved after students go through a rigorous procedure and are able to present appropriate supporting documents. The process takes into account the feasibility for teaching staff and the study programme. Where necessary, one of the institution's care coordinators will contact you to discuss the feasibility of certain arrangements (see also ECHO education tip, 2019, in Dutch). Make sure you know in time what arrangements (e.g. regarding exams) have been approved for your students. UAntwerp teaching staff can consult the arrangements approved for their students on SisA.

Accessible learning materials

  • Provide a variety of learning materials and use various forms of work and assessment. Indeed, every student has their own preferred way of acquiring and demonstrating knowledge and skills. By deliberately diversifying and offering choices, you respond to the diversity of students' strengths and needs.
  • Provide course materials as soon as possible and available online. This allows students to have instructions read to them before the lesson, look up difficult words or review the general structure, should they need to do so. Making course material available online allows students to adapt it to their needs (e.g. enlarge font, change colours, have it read out using software).
  • Provide lesson recordings as much as possible. This makes it simple(r) for students who were not physically present during a class (due to e.g. chronic illness, a doctor's appointment) to catch up. Even students who did attend often benefit from lesson recordings. For example, they can add to their notes if needed or review difficult parts of the lesson (see also ECHO teaching tip, 2023).
  • Establish a clear structure in your learning materials and online course environment. For example, add a table of contents in your lesson presentation at the start of a chapter and use summary slides at regular intervals.
  • If possible, limit the number of different course materials and stick to your teaching presentations combined with one textbook, for example. Provide an overview of the content (what can be found where) and make links by referring to the relevant chapter in the coursebook in your presentations.
  • Check whether you can improve the accessibility of your course content through tools provided in your institution's online learning environment. For example Blackboard Ally provides tips and feedback to optimise accessibility and create other versions of files. That way, students can choose the file type (e.g. pdf, mp3 and Braille) themselves. UAntwerp staff members can find more information on Blackboard in the organisation Help BB ULTRA (in Dutch).
  • Enquire within your institution whether there are technical aids such as compensatory reading software (Sprint at UAntwerp) or a reading magnifier (Vocatex at UAntwerp) available that students can use.

Clear communication

  • Communicate the structure of your teaching series to students from the start of the academic year/semester. Consider an overview of all contact moments, indicating start and end times and any expected preparation, and of all tasks with their (midterm) deadlines. If the exact end time of contact moments (e.g. practicals) is difficult to predict, give an interval (e.g. end time between 1 pm and 1.30 pm).
  • Commit to wayfinding by clearly communicating the location of your classes (campus location and classroom). For example, at the start of your lesson series, you can describe the route to the room and mention whether the room is physically easy to access. This helps students who have needs (temporary or permanent) in terms of physical accessibility, orientation, structure, peace of mind, etc.
  • Be available to students with questions (both substantive and practical) or concerns. Make it clear how and when people can contact you: in the classroom from 30 minutes before the start of class, via email to be answered within 3 working days, via the forum in the online learning environment which is viewed weekly, etc. Also be sure to give students the opportunity to communicate any needs they may have by asking whether there are any requirements (in terms of access, communication, materials, etc.) that you can take into account to enable them to participate (fully) in your programme component. Adopt an open and inviting attitude that encourages students to discuss their needs with you, so that you can offer support where possible and/or make referrals.
  • Provide clear, unambiguous instructions that are no longer than necessary. Have them proofread by a colleague for feedback before communicating them to students. Preferably give them in writing (or visually) as well as orally, and as early as possible. Indeed, students with dyslexia, for example, need more time to complete an assignment with a lot of reading and writing.
  • When working with group assignments make sure that each student gets allocated to a group; for some students (e.g. students who are often absent due to chronic illness, students with autism), it can be harder to connect with others. This doesn’t necessarily mean that as teacher you always have to decide the groups yourself. After all, letting students choose freely also has its advantages. For example, a student with limited mobility will prefer to work with students staying in the same dorm. For another student, it can be helpful to have the chance to work with their mate. See the ECHO tip 'What makes a group assignment successful' (2022) for suggestions on considered group composition.

Feedback and practice opportunities

  • Students with disabilities often ask for plenty of ongoing feedback. Based on this, they can adjust their learning if/when necessary (see ECHO education tip, 2022 & ECHO education tip, 2023). By having students indicate where they definitely (also) want feedback (language, text structure, cohesion, etc.), you ensure that you can respond to any specific needs. You might even involve peers in the feedback as well (see ECHO teaching tip, 2024).
  • To be well prepared for an exam, (also) students with disabilities often benefit from being able to take a practice exam or solve sample exam questions. You can organise this either individually or in class, and during or outside of a contact moment. It’s important to provide not only practice/sample questions, but also (examples of) correct solutions or model answers, so that students get a clear idea of how to answer.

By paying attention to the above suggestions as a teacher, you commit to creating an educational learning environment that facilitates maximum participation of students with disabilities. Be open to feedback from the students on how you could possibly work even more inclusively. (Only) together can we reduce the barriers that are detrimental to their well-being and/or learning performance.

Want to know more?

ECHO teaching tips:

Tips for teaching staff

Accessible learning materials


Support and facilities UAntwerp

Lees deze tip in het Nederlands