Inaccessible academic spaces necessitate active inclusivity

Jeff Rose

Nearly one in 5 people in the United States has a disability. There are over 125,000 transgender adults in Texas alone. Over 160 million Americans are overweight or obese. Left-handed people make up about 10 percent of the population. If you identify with one of these groups, you have probably experienced an awkward moment in class. Whether it’s asking for testing accommodations, proper usage of gender pronouns, armless chairs or left-handed desks, students are forced to create their own inclusive and accessible classrooms.

As a deaf person, it can be difficult to ask for others to ask your classmates and instructor to alter the classroom. It is awkward and uncomfortable to reveal so much of your identity to complete strangers. To avoid this, people with different needs try and blend in with the rest of the class and make do.

Promoting these inclusive environments in our academic spaces will alleviate the concerns of those with different needs. Struggling to keep up and falling behind in class results in someone not enjoying what they’re learning. Learning becomes a constant effort to catch up, and instructors should be conscious of their students’ needs and be the first to reach out to offer help.

Instructors can pass out student guides on how to have such classroom environments. There’s a lot of online resources from other universities available as well as our own Services for Students with Disabilities. Instructors can consult these and create a compiled list on how students can help those with different needs. A general announcement at the beginning of the semester to speak privately about necessary accommodations can be a great way to start.

However, the responsibility of creating these kinds of classroom environments doesn’t just fall on the part of the instructors — it falls on students as well. Leaving seats at the front or back for students arriving late and needing specific seating can help immensely. It is important to mind the language used in classroom discussion, as it’s easy to misgender someone or speak softly to where someone with a hearing disability can’t hear you.

Most important is a willingness to learn and ask questions and correct one’s mistakes. Students shouldn’t be afraid to let their classmates know if they did something wrong in regards to their needs, such as taking a left-handed desk or petting a service animal and so on. Action on the side of those needing accommodations and those without is needed for this inclusive environment to be created.

Our differences in learning shouldn’t hinder us, rather they should be used to educate and enrich others. Even if one person is accommodated, then that is one more person whose life is made easier.

Rose is an English and rhetoric and writing sophomore from The Woodlands. Follow him on Twitter @jeffroses