My university had an academic summit last Friday. I went. There was a breakout session about inclusive pedagogy, which I prepared this for (not as a presenter, as a way of getting my thoughts in order.) My expected audience was mostly administrative type people, so, you know, not the same as the writing exactly what I think as I think it that often happens here. But in case it could be useful for anyone, have at?
One kind of diversity to consider is disability: look at the statements on accessibility for students with disabilities we have on our syllabi. This one is from the coordinate course I taught this past fall and will be teaching this upcoming spring, found on the course website for all sections.
Any student with a documented disability should contact your instructor early in the semester so that he or she may work out reasonable accommodations with you to support your success in this course. Students should also contact Disability Services for Students: [contact info redacted]. They will determine with you what accommodations are necessary and appropriate. All information and documentation is confidential.
Thinking about this in terms of the the principles of inclusive pedagogy, I am not satisfied with this sort of statement as status quo. Disability Services is an office run by people who know more about most disabilities than the instructors do*- including them is a good idea. But they will determine with you what accommodations are necessary and appropriate. That is, disability services and the student. Where is the teacher here?
They sign and then honor** the “special” modifications known as accommodations, available only for students with sufficient paperwork to prove they need it. And then? “Making accommodations for students with disabilities ensures that the classroom environment and culture remain the same, absorbing difference via temporary changes to the status quo for specific individuals.1” That's not a sharing of responsibility for learning in a way that makes disabled students feel welcome- it's a strong statement that these needs are somehow “special” and that the students don't really belong here.
For other kinds of diversity, inclusive pedagogy asks us to go beyond minimum legal requirements of nondiscrimination. We should do this for disability as well, starting from what is often the only mention of disability in a course- the statement on the syllabus. The question is then- how? How do we change this statement to reflect the principles of inclusive pedagogy, and how do we change our actions to match, when a disabled student comes to us?
Preparing a sample syllabus for a Disability Studies course for engineering students2, I made the statement below as one guess. I'd love to hear more ideas and get feedback on this.
If you anticipate or encounter difficulties participating in this course or demonstrating your learning because of any portion of this course or the course environment, I highly encourage you to contact me as soon as possible so we can discuss your access needs and how we can meet them. Note that while this is directly applicable to students who are registered with the disability office and that accommodations through the disability office will be honored, you do not need to disclose a documented disability or provide an accommodations letter to discuss your access needs.
* This might not always hold- an instructor with a disability likely knows more about how to do things with that disability than an abled person from Disability Services does, for example.
** This assumes that they do honor the accommodations in the first place. Instructors do sometimes refuse to honor the modifications, well aware that most students with disabilities don't have the resources and know-how to challenge their refusal. But a teacher who does that probably isn't claiming to care about inclusive pedagogy.
1 Dolmage, Jay. “Inviting Disability in the Front Door.” Composing Other Spaces. Eds. John Tassoni and Douglas Reichert-Powell. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, 2008. 121-144.
2 No idea when or if the class is going to run. Students can't propose courses at my university, but I'd like to teach it or something like it eventually.