Creating accessible learning environments for all students is crucial for students’ development. An inclusive classroom allows children to build and maintain friendships, supports all students, and makes them more well-rounded individuals.
As well as helping students with disabilities feel more involved in school, creating an accessible classroom is essential for schools to adhere to The Equality Act, SEND Code of Practice and the Disability Discrimination Act.
This includes making reasonable adjustments and implementing an Accessibility Plan, which must be updated every three years by a member of the school’s governing body or headteacher.
Here, we delve deeper into accessibility in the classroom to help you understand what you need to do to ensure all students with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) have the best education possible.
We also explore how assistive technology and interactive whiteboards can help students get to grips with understanding new theories and benefit levels of engagement and motivation.
What is accessibility?
In accordance with The Equality Act 2010, all local-authority-maintained schools and academies must make themselves accessible to ensure disabled students can access and benefit from the facilities and learning opportunities available.
In practice, this means that schools must continually aim to:
- Make adjustments to the physical environment for students with disabilities.
- Increase the time disabled students can participate in the curriculum.
- Make learning materials in accessible formats for disabled students.
How to make your classroom more accessible to students
Making classrooms more accessible for students with learning disabilities will be something your whole school takes a vested interest in. Before you start making adjustments to your classroom, liaising with your school’s special educational needs coordinator (SENCO) is good practice to ensure they align with the work your school is already doing to support students with SEND.
As well as collaborating with the SENCO, some easier-to-implement strategies that can make your classroom accessible might include:
1. Understanding the needs of your students
Following the SEND Code of Practice, all students with disabilities must have a personal learning plan (PLP). This document describes the disability a student has and what the school is doing to meet those needs.
The PLP is created in collaboration with the parents of students with SEND to ensure it is accurate and that learning targets are realistic and provide the student with an opportunity to achieve.
Regularly revisiting this document will help you to understand and remain aware of each student’s needs, making tailoring tasks easier.
Where appropriate, you should speak with students to gain insight into their individual needs.
2. Implementing flexible seating and arrangements
The geography of your classroom can play a significant role in engaging and ensuring your lessons are accessible to all students. Once familiar with your class and any students with SEND, rearrange your space to accommodate their needs.
This could include leaving more space between desks so students with mobility aids can move around more comfortably or seating students with visual impairments away from obstructions so they can see demonstrations and presentations more easily.
3. Using accessible materials
Alongside classic materials like textbooks and handouts, you should provide resources in accessible formats such as Braille, large print, and digital text to ensure it is accessible for all students.
4. Utilising assistive technology
Assistive technologies, like screen readers and speech-to-text software, will help students with visual or hearing impairments when accessing course materials to ensure they get the most out of lessons.
5. Encouraging peer support
Students may respond better to their classmates, so consider setting tasks requiring them to work collaboratively. This enables students to share knowledge and splits lessons into mini-classes, which may be helpful for students with ADHD.
6. Identifying alternative assessments
Not all students thrive in formal assessment settings. Most will dread standardised tests. Where possible, allow students to demonstrate their understanding and knowledge of subjects through other means, like presentations, oral exams, journals or performances.
By implementing the strategies above in your school, you can create more accessible classrooms that benefit the outcomes of all pupils, including those with SEND.
What are the benefits of an inclusive classroom?
As well as helping students learn and access the curriculum, creating an inclusive learning environment will benefit your students in the following ways:
- It develops empathy: A diverse classroom helps students accept differences and nurtures a culture of compassion and understanding. This also reduces stigma and discrimination, creating an accepting and compassionate culture.
- Increased self-esteem and confidence: Giving students equal access to learning opportunities can improve feelings of self-worth.
- Prepares students for the world of work: An inclusive classroom exposes students to the diversity of the real world, preparing them for life outside of school.
- Enhances social skills: Encouraging interactions between students enhances critical skills, including communication, teamwork, and cooperation.
- Improves academic achievement: Utilising various teaching methods to accommodate students and their learning styles can raise the attainment of all students.
How to use technology to make your classroom more accessible
Technology plays a vital role in all classrooms, but it can also be pivotal in making your classes more accessible to all students.
The collective term for the devices and software that can be used to make lessons more inclusive is assistive technology. These tools are designed specifically to support and assist people with disabilities, restricted mobility or other impairments that may make it difficult or impossible to perform certain functions. Examples of assistive technology include:
- Screen readers: These can help visually impaired children navigate websites by reading articles.
- Ergonomic keyboards: This technology is designed to help users be more comfortable and can vary based on the user’s needs.
- Assistive listening devices: Designed to help children with hearing impairments, this could be a wearable microphone for a teacher connected to a transmitter worn by a student.
Integrating assistive technology into classrooms helps to create an inclusive, welcoming learning environment where students are empowered to learn and given the tools to participate actively.
How do interactive whiteboards improve classroom accessibility?
By utilising interactive displays, you can improve accessibility for all students in several ways. Take our ActivPanel, for example, which has a range of multimodal features that can benefit students with different disabilities, including in the following ways:
- Motor control disabilities: The large screen can be helpful for students with motor control disabilities as it allows them to navigate web pages and resources comfortably with their fingers when laptops or tablets are tricky.
- Visual impairments: The ability to zoom in and enlarge text and images means visually impaired children can access course content more freely. At the same time, integrated speakers can be used with screen readers to verbalise course materials.
- Hearing and speech impairments: Touch screen capabilities allow teachers to keep their hands free of pens, which may interfere with signing.
- Dyslexia: Teachers can incorporate phonics activities to help students understand the letter sounds in words.
- ADHD: Utilising multimedia components can help students focus on presentations while recording lessons means topics can be revisited later.
Getting the most out of your Promethean ActivPanel
Discover Learn Promethean for tips on maximising the use of your interactive display and its accessibility features, from simple steps to get started with the ActivPanel LX to advanced video tutorials.
If you’re not yet using a Promethean interactive display, what are you waiting for? Take a free demo of our ActivPanel here.
Or, for more guidance on engaging students and building an inclusive learning environment, check out our blog. Here, you’ll find advice on all areas of education, from the four Cs of education to how to encourage public speaking in children. To help you continue to build an accessible classroom, we also have advice on how to keep students with ADHD engaged in lessons.
What is the definition of disability under the Equality Act 2010?
The Equality Act 2010 defines disability as a physical or mental impairment with a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities.
Substantial is defined as ‘more than trivial’, i.e. it takes longer than it normally would to complete daily tasks, like getting dressed.
Long-term means more than 12 months, i.e. if you have a condition that develops as a result of an injury.
What is a ‘reasonable adjustment?’
A reasonable adjustment is a change that schools must make if someone’s disability puts them at a disadvantage compared to others who aren’t disabled. This can include adapting school uniform policies for pupils with allergies or sensory disabilities.
Schools are legally obliged to work with students, their families and other professionals to ensure the necessary support is offered.
What should go in a school accessibility plan?
In accordance with the Equality Act 2010, all schools must have an accessibility plan. This plan addresses how schools will:
- Support students with disabilities to participate in as much of the curriculum as possible.
- Adjust the physical environment to enable students with disabilities to take advantage of the education, benefits, facilities, and services provided.
- Improve the availability of accessible information to students with disabilities.