Accessible Syllabus

Estimated reading time: ( words)

Summary: Include a personalized accessibility statement on your syllabus. The syllabus itself should be formatted for accessibility in the same manner as any other digital document (and there's a link to an example syllabus in the Learn More section on the right). 

The course syllabus communicates more than just due dates and contact information. Providing a syllabus that not only includes the U of M’s disability accommodation statement, but is also in an accessible-usable format, is an opportunity to set a tone of respect and inclusivity in your classroom.

 

On this page

 

Consider Google Docs for your syllabus

At its core, the syllabus is a simple Microsoft Word document, Google doc or PDF. There are several usability advantages to providing the syllabus as a Google doc:

  • you can link to the Google doc from your course website
  • it's easier for you to maintain, because you can update the document and have it be "live" in your course website without downloading and re-uploading
  • students can interact with it as a digital resource, without having to download it and keep track of it on their personal device (though they still can download it if they want to)

However, you may have personal reasons for wanting to provide a Word document (e.g., you want students to be able to customize a personal copy and add their own notes) or PDF (e.g., you want to preserve design and formatting exactly as it appears on your own computer).

Read more about creating accessible Word documents and accessible PDFs.

An important note about using a table in your Google Doc: Tables in Google are not fully accessible. If you must use a table (i.e. for your course schedule), keep it simple. See our page on tables for more information.

Format your syllabus accessibly

How you format and structure your document can make your syllabus easier to scan (a usability factor) and make the information accessible for adaptive technology users (an accessibility factor). Format your syllabus using these six techniques:

  • Structure the document logical using headings
  • Embed descriptive, discrete hyperlinks, rather than cutting and pasting the full URL into the document
  • Wherever it makes sense, use the bullets (or numbered) lists feature of your word processing software (rather than manually creating lists or enclosing lists in long paragraphs)
  • Ensure a strong color contrast between foreground and background anywhere you use color, and ensure that color is never the sole means of providing emphasis of important material: always use boldface type + color to denote important information
  • Provide a caption or alt text for any images you include on your syllabus
  • Since screen readers can't tell when important text is bolded, place a statement in front of the bolded text. "This is important: ...." to provide two emphasis cues

Watch this video playlist to see a syllabus transformed using formatting techniques for accessibility and usability:

 

U of M disability accommodation statement

Any syllabus shared with University of Minnesota students must include, according to faculty senate policies, “copies of, references to, or statements on the following, and are encouraged to discuss elements of the policies particularly applicable to their course.”  This statement underscores the reality that instructors have options about how to shape policy segments of a course syllabus.  We are required to address nine areas, one of which is disability accommodations (see full list of U of M syllabus requirements, including the Board of Regents policy on Disability Services).

Here is the suggested disability accommodation statement:

The University of Minnesota is committed to providing equitable access to learning opportunities for all students. The Disability Resource Center is the campus office that collaborates with students who have disabilities to provide and/or arrange reasonable accommodations.

If you have, or think you may have, a disability (e.g., mental health, attentional, learning, chronic health, sensory, or physical), please contact the DRC at 612-626-1333 to arrange a confidential discussion regarding equitable access and reasonable accommodations.

If you are registered with the DRC and have a current letter requesting reasonable accommodations, please contact your instructor as early in the semester as possible to discuss how the accommodations will be applied in the course.

For more information, please see the Disability Resource Center website.

 

Adapt and personalize

Adapt and personalize the syllabus to your particular teaching, learning, and course context. Tell students exactly how you’ll approach core learning expectations and course processes, making accessibility and usability a priority. Doing so creates a “warm” syllabus and can contribute to a warm classroom climate.

Consider also adapting and personalizing the U of M-mandated policy statement. Here are two examples.

 

Example: Personalized statement on “Access to Learning for Students with Disabilities”

This example shows how you can personalize the U of M disability accommodation statement, indicating to students that you want to empower them during their education.

If you have a documented disability that may impact your learning and /or participation in this course, please talk with me so that we can develop a plan to effectively support your learning and participation.

If you have an undocumented disability you’d like me to know about, or are opting to not register your disability with the university, or just want to talk about learning to learn, you are invited also to set up a conversation so we can plan for ways you might collaborate with me, peers, others on campus, and family members to maximize your learning.

The Disability Resource Center link provides information regarding student access and support.

 

Example: Personalized U of M teacher disclosure

You may yourself have a disability or limitation. Offering a statement about your limitations helps students understand your experience, as in this example:

I have irreparable nerve damage in my arms/shoulders, apparently due to “overuse”: many years of long hours in ergonomically bad computer workstations, or writing by hand. I welcome assistance in lifting, carrying, and door-opening. I avoid writing on whiteboards, which hurts me. Sometimes my chronic pain means that I am unable to give feedback on assignments quickly (or at all), but know that I am doing my best. I am one of many people with invisible limitations and disabilities; if you are another, please feel free to let me know.

We have prepared a downloadable syllabus checklist resource for you. Please share widely!

Did you find what you were looking for?

Get help

Submit your accessibility question for a personal response, and we'll use your question to improve the content of this website.