Remote Teaching at BU: A Guide to Disability & Access Services
Disability & Access Services (DAS) is working with Educational Technology and with faculty to address accommodations and access for our students during the period of remote teaching and learning. Boston University Remote Training Coordinators have been given more detailed information.
The following are very general tips for faculty who will be teaching remotely to students with various disabilities. It’s not intended to be comprehensive or technical, but to provide guidance around some common issues, of which you may find useful over the next few weeks. DAS is here for general faculty questions firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some Blackboard Basics
- Blackboard is basically accessible to screen readers and other Assistive Technology (AT).
- If you chose to administer exams in Blackboard you will need to know how to extend the timing options.*How do I implement Extended-Time in Blackboard for my student with a disability-related accommodation?
View the section on Test Exceptions
New settings appear on the Test and Survey Options pages called Test/Survey Availability Exceptions. With these settings, instructors can select one or more groups or students and make a number of exceptions to the already established availability settings for a test or survey. Exceptions provide an accommodation to a student with a disability, such as allowing more time or attempts on the test, or providing accommodation for technology and language differences. Video tutorial.
3. Digital text–If you are scanning text material (articles, textbook pages, etc.), please use clear copies and scan in a straight vertical orientation so the programs will work effectively.
Note Takers & Scribes
- The peer notetaker process will remain the same and all notetakers will be paid.
- Scribes need to be put into the Blackboard course. Depending on the task, professors may need to consider alternate assignments/assessments in cases where scribing is not feasible.
Communication Access for Students Who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing
- Remote CART (Live Captioning Transcription) or remote American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters will cover courses at CRC and MED for Deaf or Hard of Hearing students.
- DAS has reached out to professors teaching these classes. Routine questions can be directed to email@example.com but tech questions should be directed to your RTC. Connection problems during the sessions should be directed to LETS (CRC) or Med EdTech (MED).
- Remote Live (Synchronous) Classes:
- Remote CART/ASL providers will join your live classes via Zoom. Please send links for the Zoom session to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Faculty can use MyMedia to caption live (synchronous) classes.
- Asynchronous classes
- Please put Provider into your Blackboard course and notify them if you will be using any other Apps (e.g. Slack).
- Asynchronous classes and video recorded media can be interpreted into ASL or captioned postproduction.
- Videos/Media must be captioned before they are posted to the class as a whole. Videos may be also sent to DAS for outside captioning; please note 2 business days required for turnaround.
Learn how to implement Closed Captions for asynchronous course video content here.
Students who are Blind or Visually Impaired
DAS is working with some faculty teaching students who are blind or low vision. Please direct questions to email@example.com.
- Please read aloud all text and provide a description of any images used in a live synchronous or recorded asynchronous presentation or lecture (e.g. PowerPoint, videos, webcasts, images, tables, graphs, etc.).
- Chats and discussion boards are accessible to screen readers. Some students will be using phones that have different access features.
- Scanned text (articles, textbook pages, etc.) should be clear copies scanned in a straight vertical orientation.
Students with Concussion
- Asynchronous self-paced curricula may be useful for students who must limit screen use.
- Read Write Gold literacy software and screen masking is available as a free download for BU students firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Students who have not already done so may contact DAS regarding exam and other concussion accommodations email@example.com.
Revised and Revisited Faculty Tips for Remote Inclusive Teaching for Student with Disabilities
Lorre Wolf, Ph.D.
Director of Disability & Access Services
June 23, 2020
Many courses and programs will continue in a remote environment into the fall and beyond. Informed by the experiences of our students, faculty and staff over nearly four months of “Emergency Remote Teaching” (ERT) DAS has prepared an updated companion to the original document posted in March (https://digital.bu.edu/remote-teaching-at-bu-a-guide-to-disability-access-services/). At that time, we anticipated many areas of accommodation and access need which might be challenging in a remote teaching environment:
Communication Access (ASL, CART, captions)
Note taking, scribing, lecture recording
Screen readers & assistive technology
Other areas emerged over the course of the spring semester:
Screen time & Zoom Fatigue
Technology (e.g. lack of training, access, usability, Wi-Fi, etc.)
Attendance, deadlines & participation
Motivation & Stress
Welcome Your Student
The abrupt transition to remote learning left many students feeling confused and angry. Some students with disabilities (especially psychological and neurocognitive) may not deal well with change and required more time to master new skills (such as using Blackboard, Exam Soft and Zoom). Recall that ERT was not their choice, and while some individuals with disabilities are thriving in this environment others are still struggling. It’s important to appreciate that the student presenting you with a faculty letter is a whole person not just a list of approved accommodations. Students really do appreciate your flexibility in this new environment and hope you will continue when face to face instruction resumes. One student put it aptly “I am more than just my accommodations”.
Your communications and availability to students with disabilities right from the start is one of the best things you can do. Invite students to disclose by posting a syllabus statement like this one which is prominent and welcoming:
Boston University strives to be accessible, inclusive and diverse in our facilities, programming and academic offerings. Your experience in this class is important to me, whether it is face-to-face, remote or hybrid. If you have a disability (including but not limited to learning or attention, mental health, concussion, vision, mobility, hearing, physical or other health related), require communication access services for the deaf or hard of hearing, or believe that you require a reasonable accommodation for another reason please contact me as well as BU Disability & Access Services (bu.edu/disability) to discuss your needs.
Once a student has contacted you it’s important to talk to them about their expectations and concerns about the course, including the logistics of their accommodations in a remote environment. There may be instances in which the recommended accommodation does not translate well to a remote course however there may be alternatives. You can and should contact DAS in these instances so we can all work together to try to find an equally effective alternative. For example, students are now asking for permission turn off their camera and mics, which might be a great idea for a large lecture but not a small discussion based seminar.
We recommend short frequent check-ins in with students who have provided disability accommodation letters to understand how they are faring in your class and what would make them more comfortable. Students report to us that they would greatly benefit from redundancy and repetition of content as well as instructions. Inclusive design practices suggest that presenting information in multiple modalities (visual, auditory, tactile) with multiple means of assessment of course mastery benefits all learners– especially those with disabilities (see this wonderful resource prepared by the School of Public Health: https://www.bu.edu/sph/faculty-staff/teaching-and-advising/inclusive-teaching). Record all live classrooms and consider adding post-production captions (at no cost if you do your own editing). The mechanism for doing this through MyMedia was provided in the original document (https://www.bu.edu/tech/services/teaching/instructional-video/my-media/). Consider using some of your live classroom for community building activities which welcomes learners of all abilities.
Some students may be unable to use technology for periods of time. They may be dependent on family members or personal care attendants to perform basic self-care or even turn on the computer. Due to extended lockdown and fear of contamination caregivers may not be available at times which conform to your course schedule. Other students (with visual impairments, migraines, concussion, seizure disorders, etc.) may be limited in the amount of time they can use the computer without exacerbating symptoms. These individuals are reporting onset of severe headache, eye strain and fatigue which can limit the amount of time they can come to class or do out-of-class assignments. Others are so visually and cognitively overwhelmed they must also reduce time on screens. Zoom fatigue is real.
Extended and flexible deadlines for completing work and leniency on Zoom attendance may be appropriate in these cases. Perhaps you can consider alternate assignments which are not intensively screen-based (e.g. written assignment versus video or Zoom class participation). Many students tell us they prefer shorter live classrooms (synchronous) for check in and group projects but static (asynchronous) delivery of dense content. This may or may not be feasible given your course. We strongly recommend recording all live sessions and adding postproduction captioning for later consumption. In that manner the student is able to titrate their screen exposer to periods when they are better able to process the information. Another solution might be to appoint a class “note taker” for each session to type notes and post to the class to reduce the divided cognitive load during live lectures. Pay attention to length of lectures and aim for simplicity (in visual array) and clarity in your presentations, including choice of color, images, font and size and amount of content on slides and in presentations.
In addition to eye and cognitive strain from long hours of screen time, many people are experiencing what has been called “Zoom fatigue” (https://ideas.ted.com/zoom-fatigue-is-real-heres-why-video-calls-are-so-draining/). Zoom meetings provide limited social and conversational cueing and feedback and thus require more attention and focus than face-to-face interactions. This can be exhausting for most individuals, especially those who are on the autism spectrum. A busy Zoom classroom with dozens of participants is visually and conceptually distracting and confusing for many students with a variety of disabilities.
Encourage all student to turn off cameras and use chat (especially in large classes and when delivering unfamiliar or new terminology). This also benefits communication access providers who may be in your sessions. Encourage everyone to use Zoom etiquette such as using the hand raise tool, introducing themselves by name and waiting their turn. Consider shorter live classrooms and record/caption all sessions to allow students to titrate their exposure.
Screen Readers and Text to-Voice
Some students use assistive and adaptive technology to access their course materials. Students who are visually impaired may use screen readers to navigate web pages, LMS such as Blackboard, PowerPoint presentations and readings. Students with vision and learning disorders may use screen readers to consume digital textbooks. BU holds a site license for Read Write Gold literacy software which is available to all members of the community with Kerberos credentials: (https://www.bu.edu/tech/services/cccs/desktop/distribution/readwrite/). Please be aware that your course materials may not be fully accessible to assistive technology but that it can be addressed.
It is important to use BU Minimum Web Accessibility Standards (https://www.bu.edu/mwas/) to make sure your course webpage is accessible. There are a number of tools to check your page and content ( https://www.w3.org/WAI/ER/tools/).
Students use a variety of devices to access their courses, including tablets and cell phones. Please note that PDF files are easier to read on mobile devices, are smaller and are often better for accessibility software. We suggest you post your readings and other materials in PDF whenever possible, pay attention to alignment (straight not crooked) and be sure the print is clear. Some students may ask you to convert readings and other materials to Word format. A student with accommodations for visual impairment will typically be working closely with DAS to make sure materials are accessible including adding audio descriptions of PowerPoints and images. We suggest posting your PowerPoints in advance for all students and provide to DAS on request for students who require alternative text of images. Finally, stunts vary in the expertise with technology and may need some leniency in deadliness to permit additional time while they seek more training.
Many faculty have posted digital videos to remote classes as the platform lends itself to using many different mediums to augment readings and lectures. In the absence of in-person labs and live demonstrations videos can be very useful. Some of this content is film/TV while much is also is drawn from video platforms such as YouTube. Some students with disabilities find videos beneficial (some students self-describe as visual learners) but others struggle with videos. Students who are blind or visually impaired may not be able to access your video material at all.
As you create remote courses we encourage you to consider captioning all videos as well as synchronous and asynchronous sessions and storing them in MyMedia (https://www.bu.edu/tech/services/teaching/instructional-video/my-media/). The library can also assist in locating precaptioned versions of many films or videos. Captioning videos provides access to students with a range of disabilities but also benefits other students in your course who may struggling in online platforms. Captioning can also benefit students who have the accommodation of notetakers. Finally, captioning benefits learners who are studying or attending class in noisy environments, those with low bandwidth and those who are not primary speakers of English.
Please note that if you have a deaf or hard of hearing student in your course all videos must be captioned prior to viewing by the rest of the class.
If you have a student with visual impairments please contact DAS to discuss audio description, image description and alt text options.
Exams administered through Blackboard can be set for extended time. Training was provided in the original document and on the DLI website. Since posting that however we have become aware of additional issues such as taking exams in a “Zoom herd” and how to deliver online exams in a distraction reduced environment. Students report that they are taking exams in shared or crowded Zoom session which are distracting or in different time zones that compromise their sleep schedules. Some students have been using unfamiliar technology, while others experience issues with bandwidth and even electricity. Scribes, readers or classroom assistants may not be able to join a remote exam to render assistance. Technical glitches frequently interrupt exams for many students, not just those with accommodations. Notably, if you are using Exam Soft that platform is limited in its accessibility for some assistive tech and also cannot easily accommodate students who require both extended time and breaks.
Flexibility and inclusive assessment practices are great ways to address exam issues in a remote class. Alternative means of demonstrating course mastery, take home exams and portfolio assessment are other suggestions. Allowing students to minimize their Zoom screens or turn their back to the camera may address distraction (we are not ignoring the exam integrity issues that may accompany those requests).
Breaks, Attendance & Deadlines
Some students with chronic or new onset health conditions are often approved for brief breaks and/or an attendance modification accommodation. Any student who has been formally approved for the latter will provide you a faculty accommodation letter as well as an Attendance Agreement to complete together. These accommodations can look different when a student is attending remotely. For example, is a formal accommodation for breaks to attend to bathroom needs or for panic attacks necessary when a student can turn off their camera and take a brief break? However, other students may need to be absent for hours, days or even weeks due to chronic (or in this pandemic new) medical or psychological reasons. This could affect their ability to take scheduled exams, participate in class discussions (including group activities) and manage out of class deadlines. Students with these conditions as well as those entering quarantine or those who become ill with COVID-19 symptoms may require considerable flexibility in term of attendance, participation and making deadlines.
We suggest being as flexible as possible with your attendance policy for all students during this period but in the case of students with severe or ongoing medical or psychological symptoms it is especially important to provide an alternate ways to complete (not lessen) your course objectives. Recording all live classrooms permits these students to attend when they are well. Perhaps they can post static questions and answers to you in a chat or email. If a student is too ill to be an active remote member of your class for an extended period of time it may be that they are not well enough to be enrolled at this time. Please refer to the Student Health Services website http://www.bu.edu/shs/getting-started/too-sick-to-keep-up-with-course-load/ for information about student responsibilities in these instances.
Remote classrooms can be disorienting and lonely for students who are used to face-to-face interaction. Many students are anxious and distracted by word events. This can amplify pre-existing mental health challenges Other students are experiencing new onset anxiety and trauma related symptoms that can impair their ability to pay attention in class, concentrate when reading or studying, or feel motivated to wake up and attend class at all. Be mindful of social isolation and ask all of your students how they are managing and what you can do to help. Offer Zoom advising sessions as necessary and if a student either discloses to you or you suspect they are in trouble consider referral to academic advising, Dean of Students, ERC, Behavioral Medicine and other student support resources.
A well-organized approach is most beneficial when teaching student with various cognitive and psychiatric disabilities (as well as those who are sleep deprived, stressed or preoccupied). Remote learning and change can exacerbate pre-existing difficulties with organization and time management in students with ADHD, concussion, psychiatric and sleep disorders (to name a few). Students come to rely on their daily schedule (e.g. set times to eat, be with friends, passing periods, on campus jobs, etc.). In the absence of this regularity we suggest you provide some structure by setting an agenda for your course that includes daily and weekly goals. Then post and repeat. Sticking to your predetermined syllabus and schedule helps all students stay organized. During a face to face lecture, professors and classmates ordinarily provide nonverbal cues that alert students to what is important. In the remote classroom we suggest repetition and redundancy as well as flagging new and important information to provide additional cueing and structure.
It’s hard to maintain motivation in the face of anxiety, depression, fear and uncertainty. As discussed above, you can foster connections with your students and be available to meet individually with them to discuss their needs, accommodations and experiences in your course. Recent popular press articles emphasize that faculty should not strive to be perfect in your screen and virtual presence (https://anygoodthing.com/2020/03/12/please-do-a-bad-job-of-putting-your-courses-online/). Students really appreciate when we are authentic and real.
Post frequent messages to the class, including updates to keep learning engaging. Written (or short video) instructions or demonstrations to accompany oral in-class instructions also helps distribute the cognitive load. As discussed above, students differ in their capacity to digest different media (text, video, live and static). Lessons with high reading demand can be taxing for students with certain disabilities (e.g. attention deficits, learning disorders, migraine, visual impairments, concussion) while others will struggle in a course heavy on visual material and videos (often the same conditions as above for different reasons). You can strike a balance and be flexible with offering students multiple and varied opportunities to engage in different modalities depending on their learning style and disability needs.
Designate a class note taker to post notes to the course so all students can concentrate on content without worrying about getting every word down. Alternately consider posting transcripts, captioning postproduction or within your slide shows. Scripting the lecture enhances the ability of using the automated captioning features of most video platforms (You tube, MyMedia, etc.) and makes postproduction editing easier. Written discussion board submissions to content prompts in lieu of in-class participation allows all students to participate, not just the facile ones with good internet.
Providing text equivalents to recorded media (transcripts, captions) provides broad access that allows all students (not just those with disabilities) to digest your content at a pace that works for them. It also benefits students who are not primary speakers of English, those who have slow internet connections and/or distracting home environments. Please note that transcripts and homemade (e.g. YouTube) captions do not provide equivalent communication access for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.
We hope this update will provide some background to augment document we posted in March. We believe the more faculty understand the way students with disabilities experience the remote environment the better you can facilitate accommodations, respect different learning needs and foster success in your courses. Our final suggestion is that you follow the accommodation letters as best you can, check in early and often with your student to see how accommodations are translating to remote courses, and do not hesitate to contact DAS for support and questions.
For More Information, Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Disability & Access Services guidance above was provided by Lorre Wolf, PhD, Director, email@example.com, Stacey Harris, JD, Associate Director, firstname.lastname@example.org and Lorraine Norwich, Assistant Director, BSME, MSIS, email@example.com.
Additional Remote Teaching at BU Resources
- Remote Teaching Resources at BU
- Getting Started
- Current Guidelines for Course Completion
- Student Guide to Learning Remotely
- Remote Teaching Training Schedule
- Remote Teaching at BU: Summer 2020 Training Recordings
- Securing Your Zoom Session
- Working & Teaching Remotely
- Options for Assessment Tasks
- Converting Face-to-Face Pedagogical Approaches to the Online Environment
- Teaching Remotely for Accessibility, Equity, and Inclusion
- Remote Teaching in STEM: A Guide for Instructors
- Flipping the Class
- Teaching Remotely in the Arts
- Online Exam Proctoring
- FAQs: Zoom, Blackboard, & MyMedia Basics
- Web-based Data Analysis Environment
- BU Libraries Faculty & Student Support Services
- BU Employee Wellness
- Remote Teaching at BU: What We Are Reading