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Inclusive and Accessible Teaching

Higher education provides learners with the opportunity to meet and collaborate with a diverse population, sometimes for the first time. Individuals in the CMU population may experience multiple, intersecting identities in the realms including, but not limited to:  

  • Race/ethnicity
  • Gender/sexuality
  • Ability
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Age
  • Family background
  • Work/life experience

As such, it is imperative that we strive to provide educational opportunities that are inclusive and accessible to our population holistically. Teaching with inclusivity and accessibility in mind is one of the first steps. Though the university facilitates accommodation for students with a range of needs through Student Disability Services, there are small changes that educators can apply to welcome and recognize learners and peers of various backgrounds and identities.   

Considering these identities while constructing courses can help to eliminate barriers to student understanding and success. Promoting inclusive education for “students with disabilities and all those who are currently denied access on racial, ethnic, health, linguistic, and cultural grounds” (Kochung, 2011, p. 144) makes higher education more accessible to more people. Thus, assume and address a diverse learning audience with multiple, intersecting identities, including differences in ability, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, age, position, etc. Additionally, use principles of Universal Design for Learning and Universal Design to increase accessibility.

How might you begin integrating inclusivity and accessibility into your teaching? Creating an inclusive classroom space should go beyond accommodating for students who may require it; often, it requires a culture change that involves both the instructor and the students (Thurber & Bandy, 2018). Because education is multifaceted, there are several points of access to increase inclusive, accessible teaching in the classroom through communication and language and presentation of course materials. 

Communication and language

When we communicate with our students, we strive to create a classroom culture that allows everyone to flourish. One way that we can improve the accessibility of our classrooms is through our communication with students. Using inclusive language conveys to our students that we care about their learning experience; students learn best when they feel “respected, included, and that instructors are invested in their development” (Thurber & Bandy, 2018). Some examples of ways to improve communication with students could be:  

  • Refer to participants by the terms they prefer when possible.   
  • Use “person-first” language reflecting dignity and autonomy (e.g., “a woman who is blind” rather than “a blind woman” or “uses a wheelchair” rather than “confined to a wheelchair”).   
  • Be specific (e.g., “Dominicans” rather than “Hispanics”).   
  • Consider implications or effects of word choice (e.g., “that was crazy” or “hey guys”).  
  • If language otherwise ill-advised must be used (e.g., gender- or racially-insensitive language), be transparent beforehand and provide context for its use.   
  • Provide a range of examples, images, and graphics that reflect diverse backgrounds, cultures, identities, abilities, and perspectives.  

Presentation of course materials

When we give lectures and present content in our classrooms, we need to consider whether the materials being used are accessible to all students, including cultural relevancy (Montgomery, 2001). These materials can include slide presentations, spoken/audio presentations, and handouts/readings. Some examples of ways to improve these materials could include:  

Slide presentations

  • Consider providing a link to the slides at the beginning and/or having several print copies on hand.   
  • Ensure slides are accessible by following the Accessibility Checklist and PowerPoint Best Practices.
  • Use graphics in conjunction with text only when they enhance the meaning of slide content.   
  • If a graphic is included, add an alternative image description or an explanation of its meaning (e.g., “this chart illustrates…”) in a subsequent text-only slide.   
  • Provide a range of examples, images, and graphics that reflect diverse backgrounds, cultures, identities, abilities, and perspectives.  

Spoken/audio presentations

  • Speak directly to learners who are deaf or have hearing impairments, not the interpreter.  
  • Describe slides and graphics briefly (e.g., “this slide covers these three key points that…”).  
  • Avoid using demonstrative pronouns without nouns (e.g., “this” versus “this map…”).  
  • Use a microphone when available. Avoid covering your mouth and speak clearly at a moderate pace.  
  • When answering questions, repeat them for the entire group.  
  • If showing videos, turn on closed captions and/or consider providing a transcript when possible.  


  • Use a simple, sans-serif font (e.g., Verdana or Arial) with at least 12-point font (18 for large-print). 
  • Avoid small caps, italics, all caps, or the use of more than two fonts.  
  • Left justify, avoid columns, and use 1-inch margins.  
  • Use portrait orientation -- landscape only if necessary.  
  • Make lines heavy or thick in charts and graphs.  
  • Use grayscale or high black/white contrast rather than colors (especially green & red) for emphasis.  
  • Omit decorative graphics that do not add meaning related to the content.  
  • Print on one side, 8.5” by 11” paper, stapled at the top left.  

Related learning resources

View our extended, Self-Paced  Accessibility Workshop in Blackboard. Additionally, you may find value in these related resources: 


Kochung, E. J. (2011). Role of higher education in promoting inclusive education: Kenyan perspective. Journal of Emerging Trends in Educational Research and Policy Studies, 2(3), 144-149.

Montgomery, W. (2001). Creating culturally responsive, inclusive classrooms. Teaching Exceptional Children, 33(4) 4-9. doi: 10.1177/004005990103300401.

Thurber, A., & Bandy, J. (2018) Creating accessible learning environments. Retrieved from