Inaccessibility in a Calculus Course: A Case Study on Educating Faculty and Staff about Learning Disabilities

Background

My name is Brandon. I am a first-year undergraduate engineering student enrolled in a required calculus course. Because of my learning disability, I have accommodations including extra-time and using a four-function calculator on exams. I also use text-to-speech software that allows my computer to read aloud text presented on the screen.

Access Issue

My calculus instructor resisted providing me with accommodations despite receiving documentation from the disability services office. The instructor felt that the accommodations would not set me up for success in the rest of my academic program. In addition, I struggled with the course’s online homework assignments that were assigned through a learning management system (LMS) because the LMS’s interface was not compatible with the text-to-speech software that I used.

Solution

I told a counselor at the disability services office about problems I was experiencing in the class. She spoke with my instructor and explained that accommodations for students with disabilities are provided to students with disabilities in order to provide equal access to the material that is otherwise inaccessible. With support from the math department chair and other administrators, disability services staff ensured that I received accommodations on exams. Disability services staff reported the LMS accessibility problems to the campus information technology (IT) department who worked with me to provide an immediate solution to their problem and asked the LMS provider to correct its inaccessible features.

Conclusion

This case study illustrates the following:

  • Instructors may not understand why they are required to provide accommodations to students with disabilities. Having disability student services staff explain the rationale behind accommodations and gaining the support of campus leadership can encourage faculty to cooperate.
  • Some LMSs are inaccessible. As this software proliferates on university campuses, it is important that campus IT departments test accessibility and work with vendors to ensure that students with disabilities can access course content and that LMS features are compatible with the assistive technology students may use.