The Best Ways to Develop Inclusive College Classrooms

Students with special needs overcome various challenges daily—but struggling to get equal access to higher education shouldn’t be one of them. Unfortunately, they face steep dropout rates, largely spurred by a lack of inclusion on campus. How can universities serve these students better?

The Best Ways to Develop Inclusive College Classrooms

Professors can design coursework designed to teach secondary lessons regarding inclusion. Schools can provide learning aids for students who need them. In addition, campus officials can create positive social activities all students can enjoy regardless of any physical or mental diagnoses.

Here’s what colleges should do for students with autism, learning challenges, and physical disabilities alike.

1.Instructors Must Actively Embrace Inclusion

Instructors must take the lead in changing language when it comes to talking about those with physical and mental challenges. They can do so by interacting with them the same way they do any other student—not with pity or sympathy, but with genuine interest in advancing their education.

Additionally, instructors can modify techniques to empower all learners. Instead of talking while they write on the whiteboard, they can pause, allow students to copy their notes, and then engage in discussion to further explore topics. This enables learners to focus on what they’re writing or hearing without the need to multitask—something students without disabilities also struggle with.

2.Eradicating Myths About Disabilities

Instructors and college officials should dispel myths about all kinds of disabilities when it comes to accommodating students. For example, many people treat migraines as a mere headache. Students who have them only occasionally may require few accommodations, if they need any at all. However, for students with chronic migraines, debilitating nausea, vomiting. and blinding pain can lead to skipped classes and faltering grades.


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In addition to non-visible physical challenges, some students have learning challenges that may not be immediately apparent.

Officials can spread the message that not all disabilities are visible. Students with learning disabilities, physical challenges, or psychological disorders may appear outwardly healthy but still require accommodations. Schools also should celebrate the accomplishments of special needs students and invite alumni with disabilities to speak at orientations and graduations.

3.Creating Different Aids Builds Inclusion

Students should ask for the help they need, but many don’t understand their rights. Universities can introduce the Office of Disability Services to incoming freshmen and provide an overview of how to request aid for learning disabilities. At orientation, schools can stress the importance of meeting with professors to request accommodations like additional time for taking tests or writing essays.

Universities do not have a legal obligation to provide specialty learning aids for disabled students, but many opt to do so. Students with learning or emotional disorders, for example, may benefit from keeping a therapy animal, even if the campus usually prohibits pets. Audiobooks and talk-to-speech readers help students with visual or processing challenges, and in-classroom technology offers improved ability to meet special needs of any kind.

Schools also should ensure students with physical disabilities can reach their classes. Per the law, colleges built before 1992 do not need to make such facilities accessible until they schedule major renovations. This can result in students arriving to class only to find they can’t enter the building. Ramps cost relatively little to construct, and the gesture ensures all students can reach their destination without embarrassment or struggle.

4.Expanding Social Activities for All Students

Campus life comes complete with adult freedom for the first time. While many young people thrive in this environment, students struggling with social anxiety disorder or a learning disability may try to fit in with their peers through partying or alcohol use. Colleges need to take steps to ensure students have healthier ways to connect socially.

Campuses can do more than promote sober living. Student services can organize events and mixers everyone can enjoy. They can expand counseling resources to help struggling students find the help they need. Schools can pair all students with peer mentors, regardless of status, to provide everyone with at least one friendly face around the school grounds.

5.Helping Students Achieve Their Dreams

Students with special needs can and do reach their higher educational goals. Universities can do a better job of supporting them on the path to success by implementing strategies designed to include all.

This article was featured in Issue 102 – Supporting ASD Needs Everyday

Alyssa Abel

Alyssa Abel is a student life and education writer with a passion for educating teachers, students, and schools on how to build a better academic future. Read more of her work on Syllabusy. or follow her on Twitter @alyssaabelblog.

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