Pedagogical and Content Design Practices that Support Accessibility and Inclusion in Museology Courses

Sheryl Burgstahler, Scott Bellman, and Meena Selvakumar, AccessISL Leadership Team
Guidelines for Faculty

As increasing numbers of people with disabilities participate in online and on-site academic and career opportunities, the accessibility of classes, services, electronic resources, and events—including those offered through informal learning programs—increases in importance. Disabilities of students include those that impact hearing, seeing, moving, learning, engaging in social interactions, attending, and managing physical and mental health. The goal of accessibility is equitable inclusion; everyone enrolled in learning opportunities should be able to engage comfortably and efficiently.

This guide was developed by the Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology Center (DO-IT) and Museology Graduate Program (MGP) at the University of Washington (UW). It is designed for faculty in Museology and Museum Studies (from hereon called Museology) programs who seek to create accessible and inclusive learning environments and integrate accessibility topics within their curriculum. It was developed with input from museology faculty, directors of informal science learning programs and facilities, accessible technology and learning specialists, and people with disabilities.

The guide provides (1) an introduction to basic terminologies and frameworks that guide the accessible and inclusive design of curriculum and instruction, (2) a rationale for incorporating universal/inclusive design topics into Museology courses, and (3) actions instructors can take to create accessible curriculum and pedagogy and discuss accessibility in their courses. It includes original source material and links to additional examples and resources.

Defining Basic Terminologies and Frameworks

Accommodations and Universal Design

The typical approach to access for students with disabilities in postsecondary education is the provision of accommodations after a student with disabilities provides documentation to a disability services office and secures reasonable accommodations. An accommodation is an adjustment or alternative provided to an individual with a disability when a product or environment is not fully accessible to them. Examples include providing sign language interpreters, captioning videos, reformatting inaccessible documents, and providing extra time on assignments and exams.

You can gain a deeper understanding of UD at the webpage Universal Design.

In contrast, universal design (UD) is a proactive approach that aims to design “products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design” (Ron Mace, Center for Universal Design, 1997). Many innovations that were designed for individuals with disabilities have led to products that have much wider use, such as curb cuts, automatic door openers, and speech-to-text applications. Inclusive design features in smartphones allow the user to change text and background colors, adjust brightness, adjust text sizes, and talk to a digital assistant, all of which benefit a wide variety of users. These examples are all applications of universal design (UD) principles.

Universal Design of Instruction (UDI)

The student population in higher education is becoming increasingly more diverse. College students come from a variety of ethnic and racial backgrounds, and, for some, English is not their first language. Most classes include a diverse set of students, with variety in gender identities, ages, abilities, interests, and learning preferences, including visual and auditory. Disabilities of students include those that are related to sight, hearing, mobility, learning, social interactions, and health. How can educators design curriculum and instruction to maximize the learning and engagement of all students? Universal design of instruction (UDI) is a framework for inclusive teaching and learning materials and pedagogy. You can apply this body of knowledge to ensure lectures, discussions, visual aids, videos, printed materials, labs, and fieldwork are accessible to, usable by, and inclusive of all students.

The Universal Design of Instruction Framework

Developed through DO-IT’s Center for Universal Design in Education (CUDE) at the University of Washington, UDI provides a framework for inclusive teaching, learning materials, and pedagogy. UDI ensures that students have multiple ways to learn, engage, and demonstrate what they have learned, and that each UDI practice is accessible, usable, and inclusive. The UDI framework ensures that lectures, discussions, visual aids, videos, printed materials, labs, and fieldwork are accessible to, usable by, and inclusive of all students.

UDI benefits students with disabilities but also benefits others. For example, captioning videos, which provides access to deaf or hard of hearing students, is also a benefit to students for whom English is a second language, to students with some types of learning disabilities, and to those watching the video in a noisy environment. Delivering content in redundant ways can improve instruction for students with a variety of learning styles and cultural backgrounds.

UDI applies the principles of UD developed by Center for Universal Design (CUD) at North Carolina State University, UD in learning (UDL) developed by Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST), and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) developed by the World Wide Web Consortium to all aspects of instruction, including physical spaces, curriculum, pedagogy, and IT. You can gain a deeper understanding of the UDI principles and guidelines at the webpage Universal Design of Instruction (UDI): Definition, Principles, Guidelines, and Examples.

The UDI principles—which is the combination of UD, UDL, and WCAG principles—were developed in collaborations that included individuals with disabilities and relevant communities and organizations.

The Process of UDI

To apply UDI, instructors should consider the potential variation in individual skills, learning styles and preferences, age, gender, sexual orientation, culture, abilities, and disabilities as they select appropriate content and strategies for the delivery of instruction and then apply universal design to all course activities and resources. 

Instructors should follow these steps to apply UDI to their course or class:

  1. Identify the course and evidence-based teaching practices
    1. Describe the course, learning objectives, and content.
    2. Adopt overall teaching and learning philosophies (e.g., constructivism) and evidence- based practices (e.g., active learning).
  2. Consider the diverse characteristics of potential students
    1. Describe the population of students eligible to enroll in the course and then consider their potential diverse characteristics—with respect to gender; age; ethnicity; race; native language; learning preferences; size; abilities to see, hear, walk, manipulate objects, read, speak—and the challenges they might encounter in your course.
  3. Integrate UDI with evidence-based teaching practices
    1. Apply UDI strategies in concert with evidence-based instructional practices in the choice of teaching methods, curricula, and assessments as well as to all teaching practices and materials to maximize the learning of students with diverse characteristics.
  4. Plan for accommodations
    1. Learn campus procedures for addressing accommodation requests (e.g., arranging for sign language interpreters) from specific students for whom the course design does not already provide full access.
    2. Include information about how students can request accommodations in the syllabus.
  5. Evaluate
    1. Monitor the effectiveness of instruction through observation and assessments of learning and collect formative feedback from students.
    2. Make modifications based on the results.
    3. Return to step 3 if your evaluation suggests further improvements to your course should be made. (Burgstahler, Creating Inclusive Learning Opportunities in Higher Education: A Universal Design Toolkit, 2020)

Accessible Technology and How Students Use It

Before you design your course, it is good to have a basic understanding of how students with disabilities access technology. The following is excerpted from UW’s Accessible Technology page: “Accessible technology is technology that has been designed in a way so that it can be accessed by all users. This includes electronic documents, websites, software, hardware, video, audio, and other technologies. People who interact with technology are extremely diverse. They have a wide variety of characteristics, and we cannot assume that they’re all using a traditional monitor for output, or keyboard and mouse for input.”

Individuals may be using mobile devices including phones, tablets, or other devices, which means they’re using a variety of screen sizes and a variety of gestures or other user interfaces for interacting with their devices. Some individuals with disabilities use assistive technologies to make it possible to use computers and other technologies. Examples are described below:

  • Screen Readers: Individuals who are blind benefit from audible output from screen readers that read content using synthesized speech and tactile output provided by refreshable braille devices.
  • Text-to-Speech: Individuals with learning disabilities such as dyslexia may also use audible output. Their Text-to-Speech (TTS) software reads aloud text presented on the screen.
  • Magnification Software: Individuals with low vision may use screen magnification software that zooms into portions of a visual screen. Individuals may also increase font size presented on a screen using standard functions built into Web browsers and other software.
  • Keyboard Alternatives: Some individuals do not have fine motor skills to use a standard keyboard or mouse. They rely on alternative keyboards and other assistive technologies such as speech recognition and tracking systems. Although these products can emulate all functions of a keyboard, they typically do not emulate the mouse.

Individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing are unable to access audio content and therefore rely on accurate captions provided on video presentations. For individuals with disabilities to fully use websites and other mainstream technology, designers need to be aware of these assistive technologies and make sure their products are designed to be accessible to students with disabilities. For example, alternative text for content within images needs to be provided on a content page in a course so that students using screen readers can access it. Developers should also make sure that websites and other technologies can be operated with the keyboard along since some individuals with mobility impairments use assistive technologies that emulate the keyboard but not the mouse.

For more information, see the National Center for Assistive Media’s page on Tools for Access.

Applying UDI Strategies in Museology Programs

Similar to other formal learning environments, museology faculty and instructors should incorporate accessible curriculum and teaching practices in their classes to ensure that all students have equal access to materials and opportunities for engagement.

Museology faculty have an additional opportunity and obligation with respect to accessibility. Museums are recognized as trusted and vital informal learning spaces in our communities and with a stated purpose of serving everyone. Museum studies programs cover the history, theories, and practices that have shaped these organizations. However, historically only a narrow sub-section of the community has felt included and welcomed in museum spaces. Individuals with disabilities have faced profound barriers including limited sensory, mobility, and cognitive access to the materials, artifacts, spaces, and programs within museums. In recognition of this history and these barriers within their spaces, many museums have taken strides to increase accessibility and have shared their practices and learnings more broadly.

Definition and Purpose

The American Alliance of Museums describes accessibility in museums as “giving equitable access to everyone along the continuum of human ability and experience. Accessibility encompasses the broader meanings of compliance and refers to how organizations make space for the characteristics that each person brings.”

Since museology students will eventually become practitioners in museums, it is important that students understand the importance and application of accessibility principles in museum spaces. Therefore, UDI in Museology programs should include both instructional pedagogical methods as well as course content related to accessibility practices within museum settings.

The upcoming sections, applying UDI strategies to instruction and pedagogy and incorporating UD topics into museology course content, provide practical tips and tools for museology instructors to consider.

Applying UDI Strategies to Instruction and Pedagogy

The following recommendations serve as a starting point for instructors. This section includes accessibility practices to keep in mind when you design your course as well as practices when you teach in the classroom. Most of the following tips are from DO-IT’s checklist, Equal Access: Universal Design of Instruction, which was developed and field-tested in collaboration with more than twenty postsecondary institutions nationwide. Instructors may be familiar with a number of the recommendations, due to their inherent nature as best practices in teaching and curriculum design.

Keep in mind that both standard, as well as accessible-specific practices work in concert to create an inclusive teaching and learning space. For example, all students, with and without disabilities, need clear, concise, and consistent course sites and access to information ahead of time helps students both in planning their schedules allowing them to print material as needed. This practice helps alleviate the anxiety that some students with disabilities feel when they are unsure if materials used in class will be accessible to them.

The next subsection includes information on welcoming your students, accommodations design choices, and course materials. The following recommendations and strategies should be incorporated as you develop the curriculum.

Course Site Design General Recommendations

The following are general recommendations for the overall design of your course site.

  • Use clarity and flexibility in assignment design.
    • Use rubrics to introduce and explain the importance of assignments.
    • If possible, provide examples of good assignments, highlighting what each does well.
    • Offer students a choice of assignments (e.g., give a presentation or write a paper).
    • Let students choose a subject related to the material that interests them and create a rubric for this process
    • Give students the option of submitting assignments via email, a course website, or a drop box.
    • Give mini-assignments (culminating in a larger final assignment) with flexible due dates and check in with students about their progress.
  • Create consistency in navigation of course site.
    • Ensure that each page on your course site is free of dead links and consistent in design, keeping similar layouts on each page in relation to readings, assignments, and due dates.
    • Maintain only the pages that the student will use and hide pages that are irrelevant for the course. In some of your courses, you might not be using Panopto or Discussions and so you should hide them from the student view. Use the student view setting to complete a final review of your course site.
    • Take some time in the first class to walk the students through the course site and course expectations. If you will not have time to do this in class time, consider recording this information and publish it before the first class. Ask students to review the video and bring any questions to the first class.
  • Publish the full course site early.
    • This practice makes it possible for students to plan their reading requirements and assignments throughout the quarter in advance.
    • Choose materials and prepare a syllabus early to allow students the option of beginning to read materials and work on assignments before the course begins. This also gives students time to arrange for alternative formats.
    • Proofread your course and course site and make it available to students at least one week before the term begins.

Welcome Page

Ensure that your course has a landing page or home page where students can find important information or links to more detailed information. This page can also orient students to where they will find other information about the course. A typical welcome page should include all the basics of your course:

  • Name of the course, including a short explanation of the meaning of the course’s name.
  • Your name and contact information, with a brief overview of who you are and why you are teaching this topic.
  • Your office hours and location, ideally in a calendar graphic. Consider holding office hours immediately before or after class in the classroom and adding virtual office hours (email, instant messaging, phone). If your office hours are in another location, provide a map to your office and give directions from the classroom to your office
  • Class meetings dates, times, and locations, with a link to the campus map.
  • Brief description of the course and learning objectives. Consider using an essential question to frame the course and meetings. Come back to this question at major points in the syllabus.
  • Assessments and assignments, with due dates highlighted on a calendar graphic.
  • Campus resources, with websites and other contact information for tutoring and writing centers, disability services, and other campus services that may be helpful.

Accommodations and Accommodation Statement

Ensure that your course description has a “Course Accommodations” page or section that orients students to accommodations and flexibility within the course. This space allows you to create a more welcoming environment while also providing resources for students with disabilities. The content should include all the basics and additional accessibility features:

  • Include a brief statement that acknowledges diverse learning styles and a statement about accommodations. Check your university/college for guidance on the language and location of the statement. For example, at UW Seattle, the Disability Resources for Students Office offers the following statements for faculty to include in their syllabi for courses for credit:
    “Your experience in this class is important to me. It is the policy and practice of the University of Washington to create inclusive and accessible learning environments consistent with federal and state law. If you have already established accommodations with Disability Resources for Students (DRS), please activate your accommodations via myDRS so we can discuss how they will be implemented in this course. If you have not yet established services through DRS, but have a temporary health condition or permanent disability that requires accommodations (conditions include but not limited to; mental health, attention-related, learning, vision, hearing, physical or health impacts), contact DRS directly to set up an Access Plan. DRS facilitates the interactive process that establishes reasonable accommodations. Contact DRS at”
  • Provide phone numbers, website links, and directions to student services on campus.
  • Encourage students to email or meet with you before the course starts to discuss how you can support their learning. Integrate their ideas into your course site and pedagogy. Plan for accommodations for students whose needs are not fully met by the instructional content and practices.
  • Share options for other resources. Know campus protocols for getting materials in alternate formats, rescheduling classroom locations, and arranging for other accommodations for students with disabilities.

Employing UDI principles does not eliminate the need for specific accommodations for students with disabilities. For example, you may need to provide a sign language interpreter for a student who is deaf. However, applying UDI concepts in course planning ensures full access to the content for most students and minimizes the need for special accommodations. 

Design Choices

When designing your course, consider the following choices when aesthetically designing your course site:

  • Use Layouts and Templates. Students can become overwhelmed with excessive repetitive information and with disorganized sites resulting in feeling anxious about your class. Ensure that your course site pages are using clean, consistently designed layouts, and logical in scheme. If you are unsure about course site design, consider using an accessible template provided by the university/college or reaching out to the Learning Technologies Team at your institution.
  • Consider a simple font choice. Many individuals with low vision or dyslexia face barriers in understanding some widely used fonts. For example, use large sans serif fonts on uncluttered pages with plain backgrounds, and incorporate color combinations that are high contrast and can be distinguished by people with color blindness. Additional information can be found online, including the DO-IT Center article Are Some Fonts More Accessible Than Others?
  • Use headers and standard formats:  Screen Readers rely on the formatted headings that are included in your word software. For example, don’t create a heading by merely increasing the font size and using all caps as screen readers won’t decode it. Instead, use formatted headings and lists that come with your software in your course site and in written documents.
  • Caption images with a brief, clear description.
  • Ensure that hyperlink text describes its destination so that the screen reader software can describe the same to the user.

Check out articles in the AccessISL Knowledge Base:

  • How can informal STEM learning programs support individuals with mobility impairments?
  • Are there guidelines for describing complex images?
  • Are there screen readers that can read math equations?
  • How can people who are blind access video and multimedia products?
  • Are there standards or guidelines for providing captions?
  • Who benefits from captions on videos?

Curriculum and Course Content

  • Choose accessible, universally designed content and documents:
    • Select universally designed materials (including textbooks, syllabi, lesson pages, presentation materials). For example, use electronic materials that are text-based, have flexible features, use formatted headings and lists, describe content within images, have consistent layouts and organization schemes, whose link text describes its destination, use large sans serif fonts on uncluttered pages with plain backgrounds, and incorporate color combinations that are high contrast and can be distinguished by people with color blindness.
    • Some digital documents are more accessible than others. The most accessible document format is HTML, so the best choice for distributing content is a web page, created using the rich text editor in a content management system such as WordPress or Drupal or learning management system such as Canvas. For additional information see Developing Accessible Websites.
    • If you choose to distribute documents in another format such as Adobe PDF, Microsoft Word or Microsoft PowerPoint, know that these formats support accessibility, but documents are not accessible by default. Authors must take care to follow the guidelines for creating accessible documents. Many of the issues are the same as for web pages (e.g., use appropriate headings, add alt text to images) but the techniques vary across document authoring tools.
  • Create your own accessible documents.
    UW’s Overview of Accessible Documents outlines a few basic steps that should be followed in order to assure that content you create is accessible. These steps needed are the same regardless of whether your document is in HTML, Microsoft Word, Adobe PDF, or another document format:
    • Use built-in heading features
    • Use lists
    • Use meaningful hyperlinks
    • Add alternate text to images
    • Identify document language
    • Use tables wisely
    • Understand how to export from one format to another
  • For additional information see Creating Accessible Documents, which provides information on how to apply these concepts to different document formats.
  • Create Accessible Multimedia and Slides
    Use multimedia such as videos, overhead slides, visual aids, props, and handouts to create multiple sensory learning entry points. Visuals, such as projected slides, should follow these basic rules:
    • use large (at least 24 point), simple, san serif fonts (e.g., Arial, Verdana, Helvetica) that can be easily read by most individuals from the back of a large room.
    • use background and text colors that are high in contrast and avoid combinations difficult for people who are color blind to read. Do not use color as the only method for distinguishing information.
    • make sure that backgrounds are not cluttered and leave plenty of “white space” in the background.
    • use large images and include a brief description of the image.
    • avoid presenting images of complex charts or tables.
    • present your content in a well-organized manner; allow flexibility to adjust to your audience as appropriate.
    • use clear, simple language and keywords and phrases rather than full sentences.
    • spell out abbreviations and acronyms when first used.
    • If you demonstrate web pages, present them in enlarged print that can be read by participants in the back or the room or who have visual impairments.
  • Use Accessible Videos.
    Video offers an excellent medium for teaching, particularly if used to complement other teaching methods such as text and activities. Students who are deaf or hard of hearing need captions in order to access the audio content; and students who have blindness or low vision need to have all visual content described verbally. If this isn’t possible within the main program audio, the video can be supplemented with a separate narration track that describes the visual content using a technique called audio description. If appropriate, provide materials ahead of time for sign language interpreters and/or Computer Assisted Real-time Translation (CART) writers so that they can prepare for their translation for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. For additional information about these and other video accessibility issues, see Creating Accessible Videos.
  • Double check the accessibility of your documents and course site:
    UW’s Canvas learning management system includes an integrated tool called Ally, which provides feedback to instructors about the accessibility of their course content. Ally provides feedback to instructors by assigning an accessibility score for each file. Instructors can click any score icon to launch a wizard that helps guide them through accessibility problems found with that file, and tips on how to fix them. For additional information, see Using Ally in Canvas Courses.

Accessibility and Inclusion in the Classroom

Class Climate

Adopt practices that reflect values with respect to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

  • Create a welcoming environment for all students.
    Learn students’ names. Build rapport. Encourage the sharing of multiple perspectives. Demonstrate and demand mutual respect. Include a civility statement with behavioral expectations in the syllabus.
  • Avoid stereotyping.
    Offer instruction and support based on student performance and requests, not on assumptions.
  • Be approachable and available.
    Welcome questions, seek out a student’s point of view, and respond patiently. Encourage students to meet with you, maintain regular office hours, and suggest alternatives when student schedules conflict with those hours.
  • Motivate all students.
    Use teaching methods and materials that are motivating and relevant to students with diverse characteristics, such as age, gender, cultures, and interests.
  • Address individual needs in an inclusive manner.
    Both on the syllabus and in class, invite students to meet with you to discuss disability-related accommodations and other learning needs.
  • Do not segregate or stigmatize any student.
    Do not draw undue attention to a difference (e.g., disability) or share private information (e.g., a specific student’s accommodation).


Encourage regular and effective interactions between students and the instructor, employ multiple communication methods, and ensure that communication methods are accessible to all participants.

  • Offer multiple options for communication and collaboration. Employ interactive teaching techniques. Use in-person, phone, and multiple electronic communication methods when possible. Make interactions accessible to all participants, including those with disabilities. When meeting on site, face the class, speak clearly, consider using a microphone, and make eye contact with students.
  • Require inclusive cooperative learning. Assign group work for which learners must engage using a variety of skills and roles. Encourage different ways for group members to interact with each other, insist that all students participate, and facilitate their engagement as needed to ensure that participants communicate in ways that are accessible to and inclusive of all group members.

Physical Environments and Products

For on-site instruction ensure that facilities, activities, materials, and equipment are physically accessible to and usable by all students and that diverse student characteristics are addressed in safety considerations.

  • Ensure physical access to facilities. Use classrooms, labs, workspaces, and fieldwork sites that are accessible to individuals with a wide range of physical abilities.
  • Arrange instructional spaces to maximize inclusion and comfort. Position chairs to encourage participation and give each student a clear line of sight to the instructor and visual aids. Allow room for wheelchairs, personal assistants, sign language interpreters, and caption providers. Minimize distractions (e.g., put small groups in quiet work areas). Encourage administrators to routinely apply UD principles in the design of facilities and renovations.
  • Ensure that everyone can use equipment and materials. Minimize nonessential physical effort. Provide options for operation of equipment, handles, locks, cabinets, and drawers from different heights, with different physical abilities, and by using a right or left hand. Use large print to label controls on lab equipment and other educational aids, using symbols as well as words. Provide straightforward spoken and printed directions for operation.
  • Ensure safety. Consider potential issues for people with specific disabilities in emergency situations. Develop procedures for all potential students, including those who are blind, deaf, or wheelchair users. Label safety equipment in simple terms, in large print, and in a location viewable from a variety of angles. Provide spoken and printed safety instructions.

Delivery Methods

Use multiple instructional methods that are accessible to all learners. 

  • Make content relevant.
    Put learning in context. Incorporate multiple examples and perspectives to make specific concepts relevant to individuals with diverse characteristics such as age, ability, gender, ethnicity, race, socioeconomic status, and interests. Ensure that the content experts reflect a broad diversity of backgrounds and perspectives.
  • Provide cognitive supports.
    Summarize major points; give background and contextual information and deliver effective prompting. Offer outlines, summaries, graphic organizers, and other scaffolding tools to help students learn. Provide options for gaining background information, and vocabulary. At the beginning of a lesson, consider posing one or two questions and ask students to answer them at the end of the session.
  • Provide multiple ways to learn.
    Use multiple modes to deliver content e.g., reading, lectures, collaborative learning, small group discussions, hands-on activities, internet simulations, and fieldwork).
  • Deliver instructions clearly and in multiple ways.
    Make instructions clear and consistent in the class and in the syllabus and follow up with a question-and-answer session. Ask students to summarize instructions to ensure understanding.
  • Use large visual and tactile aids.
    Use large manipulatives and images to demonstrate content; use a computer to enlarge microscope images.
  • Make each teaching method accessible to all students.
    Consider a wide range of abilities, interests, learning styles, and experiences when implementing each instructional method to ensure engagement of all students. Describe content presented visually.

Feedback and Assessment

Regularly assess students’ progress, provide specific feedback on a regular basis using multiple accessible methods and tools, and adjust instruction accordingly.

  • Set clear expectations. Keep academic standards consistent for all students, including those who require accommodations. Provide clear statements of expectations for the course, individual assignments, deadlines, and assessment methods. Include straightforward grading rubrics for assignments.
  • Test in the same manner in which you teach. Ensure that a test measures what students have learned and not their ability to adapt to a new format or style of presentation.
  • Minimize time constraints when appropriate. Plan for variety in the ability of students to complete work by describing assignments well in advance of due dates, ideally in the syllabus. Allow extended time on tests unless speed is an essential course objective.
  • Offer regular feedback and corrective opportunities. Allow students to turn in parts of large projects for feedback before the final project is due. Give students resubmission options to correct errors in assignments and exams. Arrange for peer feedback when appropriate.
  • Provide multiple ways for students to demonstrate what they have learned. Assess group and cooperative performance, as well as individual achievement. Consider using traditional tests with a variety of item types (e.g., multiple choice, essay, short answer), group work, demonstrations, portfolios, term papers, and presentations as options for demonstrating knowledge. Provide students choices in assessment methods when appropriate.
  • Monitor and adjust. Regularly assess students’ background knowledge and current learning informally (e.g., through class discussions) and formally (e.g., through frequent, short exams), and adjust instructional content and methods accordingly.
  • Provide sample test questions, exemplary work, and study guides. Consider sharing sample test questions with answers and exemplary work of previous students, discussing how to study for course exams, and providing study guides.

Communication Tips

Treat people with disabilities with the same respect and consideration with which you treat others. Here are some helpful hints when it comes to delivering a presentation, hosting an exhibit, and otherwise relating to people with disabilities. Importantly, ask the individual how they would like to be addressed. The article I am disabled: On Identity-First versus People-First Language is a thoughtful summary that examines the controversy around how individuals wish to be addressed or referred to.

  • Ask a person with a disability if that person needs help before providing assistance.
  • Talk directly to the person with a disability, not through their companion or interpreter.
  • Refer to a person’s disability only if it is relevant to the conversation.
  • Ensure that derogatory slang or negative descriptions of a person’s disability is not used. For example, “a person who uses a wheelchair” is more appropriate than “a person confined to a wheelchair.” A wheelchair is not confining—it’s liberating!
  • Provide information in alternate means (e.g., written, spoken, diagrams).
  • Do not interact with a person’s guide dog or service dog unless you have received permission to do so.
  • Do not be afraid to use common terms and phrases, like “see you later” or “let’s go for a walk” around people with disabilities.
  • Do not touch mobility devices or assistive technology without the owner’s consent.
  • Do not assume physical contact—like handshakes, high-fives, or hugs—is okay.
  • Understand that not everyone uses eye contact.
Blind or Low Vision
  • Be descriptive. Say, “The computer is about three feet to your left,” rather than “The computer is over there.”
  • Speak all of the projected content when presenting and describe the content of charts, graphs, and pictures.
  • When guiding people with visual impairments, offer them your arm rather than grabbing or pushing them.
Learning Disabilities
  • Offer directions or instructions both orally and in writing. If asked, read instructions to individuals who have specific learning disabilities.
Mobility Disabilities
  • Consider carrying on a long conversation with an individual who has a mobility impairment from a seated position.
Speech Disabilities
  • Listen carefully. Repeat what you think you understand and then ask the person with a speech impairment to clarify or repeat the portion that you did not understand.
Deaf or Hard of Hearing
  • Face people with hearing impairments, and avoid covering your mouth, so they can see your lips. Avoid talking while chewing gum or eating.
  • Speak clearly at a normal volume. Speak louder only if requested.
  • Repeat questions from audience members.
  • Use paper and pencil, or type things out on your cell phone, if the person who is deaf does not read lips or if more accurate communication is needed.
  • When using an interpreter, speak directly to the person who is deaf; when an interpreter voices what a person who is deaf signs, look at the person who is deaf, not the interpreter.
Mental Health Disabilities
  • Provide information in clear, calm, respectful tones.
  • Allow opportunities for addressing specific questions.

Checklist Updates and Resources

This checklist, Equal Access: Universal Design of Instruction, was field tested at more than twenty postsecondary institutions nationwide.

A video titled Equal Access: Universal Design of Instruction is available online.

Non-Traditional Teaching Spaces

For issues regarding teaching in specific situations, consult the resources below.

Integrating Accessibility and UD Topics in Museology Courses

Some instructors in museology and similar programs of study are motivated to teach students about the accessible and inclusive design of informal learning opportunities because of emerging standards in their field. Others are motivated to teach such topics in order to attract individuals to their field who are particularly interested in social impact. Still others may wish to expose students to a comprehensive set of design practices, legal mandates with respect to accessibility, and ethical issues with respect to the inclusion of underrepresented and underserved populations.

Covering content regarding the accessible and inclusive design of informal learning opportunities in museology and similar programs can result in graduates who

  • are prepared to promote ethical practices that reflect high priorities with respect to diversity, equity, and inclusion;
  • understand the basic requirements of civil rights legislation such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and its 2008 Amendments;
  • know the basics regarding the provision of reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities;
  • design exhibits that engage visitors of all ages and abilities;
  • know the importance of and the basics for the accessible design of web pages, digital documents, and videos so they can help set priorities for the procurement, development and use of accessible IT and guide technical staff in applying IT accessibility guidelines;
  • effectively communicate with event and facility visitors who have disabilities;
  • minimize the risk of future employers with respect to civil rights complaints regarding the inaccessibility of their public websites, physical spaces, and sponsored activities and events;
  • have an advantage over other applicants for positions with employers who seek to hire a workforce with expertise in accessibility and universal design; and
  • are better prepared for whatever field of employment they pursue.

There are numerous ways museology programs can ensure that relevant disability, accessibility, and UD topics are covered in their curriculum. A program could offer a specific course covering these topics or include accessibility content throughout an entire degree program. Consider how museums are accessible to all through their education programs, interpretation, exhibit design, general museum floorplan and event spaces, and evaluation. How about through their communication and outreach? Ask students to consider representation of individuals with disabilities and topics that include accessibility.

Individual faculty members can cover these topics by using a variety of teaching options:

  • integrating content throughout a course
  • teaching about accessibility as an isolated topic in a course
  • hosting leaders from local informal learning programs who have adopted UD principles at their organization
  • hosting a guest lecturer with relevant expertise, specific to informal science learning or perhaps someone from a disability services office who can talk about types of disabilities and common accommodations
  • moderating a panel of people with a variety of disabilities who relevant experiences, access challenges and solutions, and recommendations for practitioners (campus disability services office may be willing to help recruit panelists)
  • giving students an assignment to conduct an accessibility review of an informal education facility or program and/or providing reading for students with a discussion of what was learned, such as Equal Access: Universal Design of Informal Learning
  • sharing a video for students to watch and following up with a synchronous or asynchronous discussion of what was learned

Consider using the publication Equal Access: Universal Design of Informal Learning as a handout for a course session covering the universal/inclusive design of informal learning courses, programs, and facilities. It was developed as part of the AccessISL project and includes subsections Also consider showing the video Increasing Access to Informal STEM Learning. Also consider having your students review the accessibility of an informal learning program, using guidelines at Apply Facilitating Accessibility Reviews of Informal Science Education Facilities and Programs

Consult the large and growing body of web resources online that share how informal learning programs, facilities, and courses are applying accessible and universal design principles in their design. The AccessISL website is a good place to start. Check out its Resources section and Knowledge Base of questions and answers, case studies, and promising practices. Following are a rich set of resources specifically created for informal learning spaces such as museums.



  • Art Beyond Sight
    ABS, formerly Art Education for the Blind, brings access, inclusion, and promising opportunities for learning through the arts to people with all types of disabilities on a local, national, and global scale. The organization offers consultations and training services including those specifically for museums, and spearheads and collaborates on other projects.
  • Disability and Inclusion: Resources for Museum Studies Programs.
    These six modules each contain core content, multimedia presentations, guiding questions, activities, a resource band, links to communities and related organizations, as well as Case Studies and Projects. Modules include State of the Field: Museum Accessibility, Understanding our Stakeholders: The Disability Community, Communicating and Interacting with People with Disabilities, Universal Design, Multimodal Engagement, and Inclusive Practices by Museum Teams.

Other useful resources include those listed below.

Books, Articles, and Guides


Promising Practices 

Online Community of Practice

Join the AccessISL Community of Practice (CoP), where AccessISL staff and faculty leaders engage in an online community that includes key stakeholder groups that impact efforts to make ISL environments accessible and usable by everyone (e.g., faculty, students, disability service units, informal science learning programs, teaching and learning centers, diversity programs, professional organizations). Members share ideas and assist in the creation and dissemination of resources to encourage others to help a broader range of students and stakeholders learn about universal design and accessibility in informal science settings.


AccessISL is funded by the National Science Foundation (Grant #DRL-1906147) at the University of Washington. The content of this document does not necessarily represent the policies of the NSF, and you should not assume their endorsement.

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