Addressing hearing, vision, and motor function challenges in online teaching
The group of higher education students is extensive and diverse. Therefore, there is also a great variety of support needs. Awareness of the most common barriers and operational challenges helps to plan teaching, so that it considers a wide range of various learners. When teaching is organised with everyone in mind from the outset, there is no need for extensive special arrangements and changes.
It is good practice to ask the students directly about their support needs and wishes on supporting learning. This should be done privately. Indeed, many people with physical disabilities or mobility and learning difficulties prefer online participation rather than contact lessons, so that attention is not focused on their physical characteristics, or simply because it is easier for them to concentrate. In other words, do not pay too much attention to individual students during teaching, but treat everyone similarly.
Note! Hopefully, you have already familiarised yourself with the Digipeda guide on considering different types of students in online teaching. The guide provides comprehensive general tips for planning teaching that considers all students. This guide is a continuation for it.
Although the below tips are divided according to learning challenges, many of the items in the lists below benefit everyone.
Finland is estimated to have approximately 740,000 people with hearing impairments. There are different degrees of hearing impairment: Some have only hearing loss, while others are completely deaf. Many people with hearing impairments use vision to help them. In this case, it is important to ensure that the materials are clear and visual, and lip reading is possible.
- Make sure that your face is clearly visible in the camera, in distance learning. When speaking, do not cover your mouth with your hand, for example. Make sure there is sufficient lighting and that you stand out from the background.
- Speak clearly, loud enough and calm enough, but do not overemphasise. Use a high-quality microphone. Suitable gestures, expressions, and intonation support speech.
- In online teaching, ask students to turn on their camera, at least when speaking. It is advisable to keep the microphones turned off, except when speaking, to avoid background noise.
- Repeat questions and comments from students.
- In discussion situations, arrange the space so that everyone can see each other’s faces.
- Clearly indicate when the theme changes. Use subheadings, lists, pictures, and videos to cut the contents into a clear and comprehensible whole. Provide enough breaks between your teaching. Keep to the pre-announced schedule.
- Provide subtitles for videos and text equivalents for podcasts, for example.
- Provide key comments also in writing (board, slide, etc.), not just orally. Listing and structuring important issues also helps people with learning difficulties.
- If the student has an interpreter, it is advisable to ask them about the best practices.
- Use multiple communication channels for contacting.
There are about 55,000 visually impaired people in Finland, about 10,000 of whom are blind. The majority of visually impaired persons are partially sighted and older people. It is estimated that about five per cent of the population in Finland are colour-blind. The most common form of colour blindness is red-green colour blindness.
The most important thing to consider with people with visual impairments, is to ensure sufficient contrasts, to separate content from the background, text size, and to remember to describe out loud the visual content in the presentation.
- In teaching situations, address all students by name
- Compare the following questions, from the perspective of a visually impaired person: “Would you like to answer?” And “Minna, you seem to have raised your hand. What do you think?”
- Ask students to mention their names first when they speak. Also read the messages sent to the chat aloud.
- Explain possible lecture slides clearly and descriptively. For example, “In this graph, you see the change in the economy” does not say much. Instead, try to describe the content of the graph and the most important observations.
- Do not highlight individual students but explain to everyone. For example, avoid the following: “Now I’m going to describe this graph to you, Matti, so you can keep up.”
- Make the course material accessible so that it can be read with a screen reader. Use an adequate font size and contrast. Do not present any information only in colour, but use text and symbols as support.
- If you share your screen during a presentation, enlarge the screen. In the browser, you can do this by pressing Ctrl and + at the same time.
- If you are showing a video during your teaching, make sure the sound volume is high enough.
- Ensure the accessibility of the tools you use, if one of the students uses a screen reader. For example, many whiteboards (Miro, Flinga, etc.) are not accessible.
Motor function challenges
Mobility and operating impairment is also a very broad concept. There are different types of injuries: Both congenital and subsequent, permanent and temporary. Impairment can mean, for example, that there may be challenges in the functioning of hands or feet. A person may also have unintended movements or challenges with fine motor skills. Anyone may be affected by temporary impairment, such as a broken arm.
- Give time to react. For example, there may be challenges in using a mouse or writing.
- Provide alternative ways to participate in the discussion (e.g. chat messages, microphone, different reactions). Provide the option to contact you later via email or the Moodle platform.
- Provide the option to use one’s own devices (BYOD). In contact lessons, ensure compatibility with computer class equipment well in advance.
- Flexibility in schedules and alternative methods of completion promote studying and student well-being.
- Make clickable and interactive functions large enough. Provide sufficient time to perform such activities, for example in exam situations.
- In your current teaching and assessment, how do you consider students who receive and produce information in different ways in terms of hearing, seeing, understanding, and learning?
- Do you consider various support needs in the planning of the material and the pedagogy you implement? In the planning and implementation of teaching, how do you take into account:
- A student who has difficulty concentrating?
- A student who rarely participates in contact teaching?
- A student for whom interaction with other students is problematic?
- A student with literacy problems?
- A student who is often nervous or anxious?
- A student whose state of health requires intensive treatment periods?
(Source of the reflection task: Pesonen & Nieminen, 2021)
Sources and useful materials
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- Pesonen, H., & Nieminen, J. H. (2021). Huomioi oppimisen esteet: Inklusiivinen opetus korkeakoulutuksessa.
- Selovuo, K. (2019). Saavutettavuusopas.
- Making presentation accessible for all (Euroblind)
- Hearing Impaired Students’ Guide for Academics (The University of Melbourne)
- Kuuloon liittyvät rajoitteet ja saavutettavuus (Papunet)
- Näköön liittyvät rajoitteet ja saavutettavuus (Papunet)
- Kuinka järjestää saavutettava webinaari (Saavutettavasti.fi)
- Ohjeita saavutettavampien sisältöjen tuottamiseksi (saavutettavasti.fi)
- Kattava ohje etä- ja hybriditapahtumien järjestämiseen (Näkövammaisten keskusliitto)
The guide has been implemented as part of the Developing skills and methods of hybrid education and work project, which is coordinated by the Association of Finnish eLearning Centre. The project is financed by the Häme Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment. Häme University of Applied Sciences and Tavastia Education Consortium are part-implementers.