Teaching Assistants’ Role in Accommodation
The structural accommodations that some students require are the responsibility of the institution and will be determined by AS, who will be in contact with the course instructor. As such, TAs will not have any control over such accommodations, although TAs who are working with students for whom structural accommodations have been made will need to familiarize themselves with any protocols that are changed because of the accommodations. But while TAs do not have any control over the physical design of the laboratory or the structure of the course content, there are many ways that they can work to make labs and practicals conducive to the learning of students with disabilities.
Institutions are most often proactive in providing supplementary resources aimed to accommodate various students. In fact, students registered with AS are most likely to be accommodated for before TAs get involved. In such cases, there may only be a need for fine-tuning details of topics such as group work, assignments, etc. TAs are responsible for honouring the accommodations that are arranged for the student through the faculty and AS. However, beyond these formal structural accommodations that are decided by AS, there are many things that TAs can do to include students with disabilities and to facilitate a positive learning experience for all students. To do so, it is important to have a good understanding of the policies governing issues of accessibility as it relates to our roles.
Generally, students who are registered with AS will meet with a counsellor (or accessibility advisor) who will help them determine what accommodations might be necessary, including access to specialized equipment. Such a student may also be working with a learning strategist or adaptive technologists who may communicate with you. For every course, AS is required to provide the Course Instructor (CI) with specific recommendations for accommodating the student with a disability (in a Letter of Accommodation) rather than information about the disability. In turn, the CI is authorized to share these recommendations with the TA(s) who is/are involved with the teaching of that student. Whether this information is shared with you or not, if you have any questions regarding making accommodations for a student, it is within your right and responsibility to ask the CI and/or the advisor. As an alternative, you may also want to consider asking the student questions about ways in which you can help them. In these cases, it is important to keep in mind that details about a student’s disability or diagnosis are private and confidential and should not be included in a discussion of providing accommodations. However, you should ask about ways that you could help improve the learning experience for your students.
WHAT ELSE CAN TAS DO TO HELP STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES?
One of the most fundamental ways that TAs can make sure that their labs and practicals are accessible to students with disabilities is to design their lessons and course materials using the principles of Universal Design. This guide will describe ways that the principles of Universal Design might be used by TAs to anticipate a broad array of students’ needs within their lab or practical teaching environment. In addition to each of the basic principles and how this UD principle could be of benefit to students with disabilities and non-disabled students, we will also suggest how structuring instruction according to these principles can work in concert with the formal, institutional accommodations facilitated by AS. The examples here of the applications of UD principles in a lab or practical teaching environment are not exhaustive; they provide a way to think about the broad needs that your students might have to maximize their learning experience in your lab or practical.