5 things to read in… Disability History Month

by | Dec 17, 2021 | Inclusive teaching

Freddie Gent, Institute of Teaching and LearningDisability History Month ran from 18th November to 18th December. To mark International Day of Persons with Disabilities on 3rd December, the University participated in #PurpleLightUp. 


At The University of Manchester, over 19% of students and approximately 11% of employees have disclosed a disability. The latter figure makes the University one of the largest employers by both number and proportion of disabled staff in the higher education sector (according to figures from the Higher Education Funding Council). It is important to recognise the considerable contribution that our disabled colleagues and students make to the University and to strive to ensure that our environment – including the teaching and learning environment – is both inclusive and accessible. 

For colleagues involved in teaching at The University of Manchester, the Disability Advisory and Support Service (DASS) has created a set of guides on making accessible teaching content, and the University’s pages on inclusive language offer guidance on the correct language to use when talking about disability

1. Making online classes work for students with ADHD 

As someone with both dyslexia and ADHD, Kate Lister is aware of how difficult online learning can be for individuals with such learning difficulties. In this article for Times Higher Education Campus, Lister outlines some of the challenges of learning online with ADHD and follows up with her ten top tips for helping students with ADHD stay engaged. 

For related short reads on Times Higher Education Campus, you might also be interested in: 

Please note: access to these articles requires a Times Higher Education account. Sign up is free. 

2. Learning from disabled students to ensure access for all 

Across the course of 2019-20, an inquiry led by the Higher Education Commission examined disabled students’ experiences of higher education. Working closely with disabled students and listening to personal testimonies, the inquiry sought to understand the issues and barriers disabled students face. The findings of this inquiry were published in October 2020 as Arriving at Thriving: Learning from disabled students to ensure access for all.  

Chapter 1 of the report focuses on experiences of teaching and learning. This includes consideration of physical access to spaces of learning, disabled students’ ability to access physical and digital teaching resources, and the provision of reasonable adjustments. The chapter is permeated with first-hand evidence of the struggles faced by disabled students in teaching and learning, clearly demonstrating the need for staff and peers to adopt accessible practices.   

3. The sudden move to remote teaching – reflections of a Deaf/Hard of Hearing professor  

CONTENT WARNING: This article contains animated GIFs. Images flicker continuously and at a high frequency.  

Literature can tend to focus on the student experience of teaching and learning, but it is just as important to consider the perspective of the educator. As a professor of art and design who is also deaf, Ryan Seslow’s blog post is an honest and personal reflection on the challenges posed by the sudden switch to online learning in Spring 2020. There is a tone of grit and determination as Seslow explains the measures they took to tackle the limitations of video conferencing software on lip-reading, speech patterns and body language. The key message coming out of Seslow’s reflections is the importance of communication – with colleagues, students, administrative staff – in order that they may practice understanding, patience and inclusivity. 

4. How universities can support researchers with assistance animals 

The number of support-dog users internationally grew by 42% in the 10 years between 2009 and 2019 according to figures by Assistance Dogs International, but despite this increase a lot of university policies present barriers to – or fail to address – bringing assistance animals into research spaces. Assistance dogs enable their handlers to be more independent and, in the testimonies shared here, provide the support required for researchers to flourish. Although a policy on assistance animals is a useful step towards inclusivity, each person’s circumstances are unique; it is important that the relevant supervisors engage in conversation with the assistance-animal user and include the needs of the animal in any discussions.  

5. Quick thoughts on making teaching accessible 

This Twitter thread by Dr Andrew Robinson (@AndrewR_Physics) was highlighted to me by a colleague and lists examples of best practice for fostering accessibility in teaching and learning. Whilst some of the items listed may be subject to institutional jurisdiction (e.g. proctoring software), there are plenty of examples that we can adopt in our own practice.  


Looking for something a bit longer?  

Ableism in Academia is an edited collection of essays exploring and theorising experiences of disabilities and chronic illnesses in higher education. Through reporting research data and exploring personal experiences, the contributors theorise and conceptualise what it means to be/work outside the stereotypical norm. UCL Press is currently offering this publication as a free download.