Genetic Counseling Spotlight

In retrospect, inclusion and accessibility are things that we should have been thinking about from the start. However, the key motivating factor was for us was the enrollment of a student with hearing loss in our program. We were concerned that our student was not able to access the same information or have an equivalent experience to their classmates. This was an important starting point because it was a place from which to being thinking critically about what inclusion actually means, and eventually build more inclusive practices for all our students.

What does it mean to be inclusive?

Being inclusive is not only about students with disabilities in our classes, but it is about ensuring that all students have the best learning experience possible. We quickly realized that ensuring this goal not only involved changing practices, but it also involved changing our mindset and approach. We realized that inclusion meant considering the needs of all our learners while still being flexible to student needs as they came up.

What are some key ways that you consider inclusion and accessibility in your courses?

There are a whole lot of ways that we have started to think about inclusion for our students. Though there were some larger changes we made, often it was little changes that made the biggest difference for the experiences of our students. In terms of our overall approach, we have seen that communication and advanced planning have been most helpful.

What are some practical examples of how you implemented more inclusive practices?

We have changed our practices quite a lot, but we also know that inclusion is always a work in progress. One of the key things we focused on at the start was captions, but we have since incorporated a range of other practices too.

What advice do you have for faculty about where to start?

One of the key things that is important to do it to use your resources on campus. In starting this process, we quickly realized that we were not alone in our efforts to become more inclusive. There were lots of important resources right here at Brandeis that we could access.

  1. Connect with colleagues: We found that other faculty members were vital resources because they are often asking the same questions or have already had similar experiences. They were able to share important strategies to meet the needs of a range of learners.
  2. Connect with SAS: schedule a meeting with Student Accessibility Support (SAS) right away to talk more about the needs of particular students in your classes, but also what inclusion is and what it can look like in your courses. Inclusion can seem overwhelming at first, but there are great resources right here on campus to help you get started and guide you through your experiences.
  3. Connect with your students: Talking directly with students was also very important. All students have been in classrooms before and, to some extent, have reflected on their own learning. Students were a great resource in thinking about what can be different. Connecting early is also a great way to ensure communication stays open throughout the class.
  4. Start with learning goals and objectives: Think about what you expect students to do and how you expect them to meet your learning goals and objectives. Having a clear sense of where you are going will help you think about how you can be flexible in helping students get there. This can also be helpful to know when collaborating with colleagues as it will help them give more pointed advice about what can be done to be more inclusive.
  5. Know the goal isn’t perfection, so don’t be overwhelmed or nervous: It can be very overwhelming to start thinking about ensuring your classrooms are accessible and inclusive. It is very important to know that your goal is not perfection. Rather the goal is to have incremental improvements over time. There might be more important changes to make right away and accommodations to implement, but it is a process that happens over time. Don’t be too overwhelmed. You will get there.

Prepared by Terri Queler, Lauren Lichten, and Scott Lapinski