Inclusive Teaching

Inclusive teaching means recognising, accommodating and meeting the learning needs of all students. Increasingly, third level institutions in Ireland and abroad are looking at ways of opening up the curriculum and making education more inclusive for people with disabilities. Often the style of teaching and assessment on a particular programme may inadvertently exclude some people with disabilities, who would otherwise participate in that programme. While maintaining academic standards, alterations can be made to both the delivery of course content and methods of assessment.

Inclusive teaching practices benefit the entire student body, not just students with disabilities. Academic staff should be aware that certain teaching methods might result in barriers to learning which do not provide students with the opportunity to succeed, and prevent those students from demonstrating their intellectual abilities. For example, in the process of reviewing how to describe a diagram to a blind student, it might become apparent that there is a more effective alternative method of presenting the information to all students.

The following factors should be considered when making teaching practices more inclusive:

  • Potential barriers to learning that a student might face.
  • Materials used (textbooks, lecture notes etc.).
  • Method of delivery (lectures, tutorials, PowerPoint slides, videos etc.).
  • Method of assessment.

 Teaching Practices

The way that learning materials are presented can directly affect students’ acquisition of information.

There are a number of adjustments that can be made to the structure of a course to make it more inclusive, such as:

  • Course materials should be designed so they can be produced in an accessible format on request. For example, electronic notes can be made accessible more easily than hand written notes. Materials that can be accessed digitally and on-line will be more accessible to a wider range of students.
  • Lecture notes/PowerPoint slides should be available in advance of the lecture and ideally in an electronic format.
  • Where possible avoid using out-of-print books as it is much more difficult and expensive to reproduce these sources in an alternative format such as large print, Braille or digital.
  • Provide reading lists in advance to facilitate early reading and planning. Indicate the most important books on a reading list and direct students to key points in their readings.
  • Provide an overview when introducing a new topic so students know what to expect – highlight the main argument and key points.
  • Provide a summary at the end of a lecture/topic.
  • Provide a list of new terms and vocabulary, giving explanations where necessary.
  • Introduce new topics and concepts overtly and clarify new language.
  • Ensure that students receive advance warning of any changes to their normal routine.
  • Assignment topics should be provided early. Additional follow-up may be required to reinforce the deadline and to clarify what is expected.
  • Discuss the instructions for examination papers and their structure with students well in advance of the exam.
  • Facilitate the task of support workers, such as notetakers and library support workers, wherever possible.

Disability Support Services may advise and request specific accommodations for students with individual needs. Examples of some ofthese accommodations are:

  • Some students may be absent from college for prolonged periods and may need direction from the lecturer on areas for revision. Clear guidelines on important lectures in the module, such as essential texts to read etc., would be extremely beneficial.
  • Flexibility on attendance may be required, as it may not be possible for some students to be present at all lectures/tutorials.
  • Some students may require extra time to complete assignments. This should be pre-agreed with the student and a new deadline should be set for the assignment.
  • Some students with particular disabilities (e.g. fatigue difficulties) may tire easily and may require rest breaks during lectures or class tests.
  • Some students may find it difficult to work in a group. Alternative ways of completing group assignments may need to be considered.

Placements and Field Trips

Forward planning is essential to ensure a successful student placement or work experience. Some examples of good practice include:

  • Providing opportunities for disclosure in order to assess the impact of the disability on placement setting.
  • Provision of support in identifying appropriate work placement providers who are aware of potential reasonable adjustments to work practices.
  • Hosting discussions with student prior to placement to decide on individual practical solutions to overcoming barriers on placement/work experience or field trips.
  • Provide opportunities for the student to discuss their needs with the placement supervisor.

When undertaking fieldwork, students with disabilities may experience problems with tasks such as:

  • Taking accurate notes in non-classroom environments.
  • Multi-sensory tasking; listening, observing, recording and reading.
  • Speed of handwriting and legibility.
  • Organisation of time.
  • Orientation, reading maps.
  • Slow reading speed for accurate comprehension.
  • Visual perceptual difficulties with poorly photocopied material, particularly black print on white background.
  • Remembering field trip arrangements.
  • Group work.
  • Recording data and making mathematical calculations.

If students with disabilities are to receive the support they need, it is important for staff to focus not only on the actual fieldwork itself but also on relevant activities before and after fieldwork. The pre-fieldwork phase is especially important in that this is the period of planning and preparation. This is the time when students should be invited to alert staff to their difficulties and to the kinds of assistance they may require.

It is at this stage that students and academic staff are most likely to liaise with colleagues specialising in disability support and seek advice from them. The post-fieldwork stage is important both in the completion of assignments for assessment, and because this is a period of reflection in which to evaluate successes and problems.


Very often an assessment can be made accessible by making a generic change to the assessment design or delivery. However, sometimes lecturers have to respond to the specific requirements of a particular student with a disability, making a change only applicable to that student. The challenge then is how to do this equitably, balancing accessibility against the maintenance of academic standards.

There are a number of ways to make reasonable assessment changes:

  • Making an adjustment that does not change the proposed assessment: This may involve producing exam papers in an enlarged print or allowing extra time to complete the assessment. The rationale for this is that reasonable accommodations compensate for any disadvantage during the assessment process and allow the student to complete the assessment in the same manner as other students.
  • Modifying the assessment: This means changing the assessment to make it more accessible. An example would be allowing a student with Autistic Spectrum Disorder to complete group work online rather than in person.
  • Alternative assessment: This means substituting the proposed assessment with an alternative assessment. An example would be substituting an oral presentation with a written assignment for a student with speech difficulties.
  • No change to the assessment process: Current legislation states that the decision not to change the assessment process may be justified if academic standards are compromised, if there is a significant financial implication, and if there are concerns regarding health and safety and the practicality of the adjustment. To comply with the legislation, electing ‘no change’ must be considered on a case-by-case basis.