Information on accessibility of courses and materials

Universities have the statutory mandate to take into account the needs of students with disabilities and to ensure that they "can take advantage of the services offered by the university without further assistance, if possible" (section 2(4) Hochschulrahmengesetz, section 3(4) LHG M-V).  They must therefore be given the opportunity to participate fully in everyday study and campus life.  This includes not only participation in courses but also the use of other offers and infrastructures, such as public events, sports and language courses, stays abroad, online services, etc. 

But what does "barrier-free" mean in terms of the design of courses, materials and examination requirements? How can learning opportunities be designed so that all students benefit from them?

At this point we would like to give the lecturers of the University of Rostock advice on the barrier-free design of courses and materials. These are only a short overview and do not claim to be complete. Further information can be obtained from the guidelines "Making teaching accessible".

General notes

At the start of the semester: signal open-mindedness.

From the very beginning, signal that you are approachable and that your university has advisory services available. It has proven to be a good idea to hand out a leaflet at the beginning of the semester or to show a slide that deals with disability and chronic illness and points out support measures. In just a few minutes, you can show your openness towards students with disabilities and inform them about whom they can turn to. Many affected students find this step much easier after such a request.

Set an example and signal to your students that you are available for them. You can integrate our prepared slides (under Downloads) into your Power Point presentation, use them as pdf or print them out as handouts and distribute them in your course.

Meet with appreciation: Communicate at eye level.

Language conveys and reflects values - on the part of the speakers as well as on the part of the people addressed. And it influences our thinking about people with and without disabilities. An inclusive use of language means addressing people with disabilities without values and is an expression of appreciative communication.

Notes on non-discriminatory language
Formulations Alternatives
Person xy suffers from... Person xy lives with...  
Person xy is wheelchair-bound Person xy is sitting/using/driving a wheelchair
handicap/ handicapped Impairment/impaired
mentally retarded cognitively impaired
deaf-mute deaf and dumb
despite his/her disability... with his/her disability/ impairment...
healthy/normal versus sick not impaired versus disabled/impaired, without versus with impairment/disability
Event organization

Facilities and rooms

Not all lecture and seminar rooms are equally suitable for students with disabilities. Steps, blocked corridors, door frames that are too narrow, tables that are too low and cannot be driven under or those with permanently mounted chairs, lack of space for aids, boards and projection screens that cannot be seen from all seats, darkness, sun glare, lack of microphones, sound, construction and street noise all constitute barriers. They prevent students from reaching the room, understanding the teachers, recognizing the blackboard, following discussions and taking notes. If you include a corresponding note in your course description, you can react early on and change the room allocation: "Please notify me of assistance needs and special requirements by email or telephone".

Barrier-free rooms: Detailed room descriptions can be found in the online portal for teaching, studies and research.

Diverse teaching methods and well-structured content

Students with and without disabilities benefit from the use of a variety of teaching methods. Mixing different forms of work, e.g. plenary and small group discussions, not only addresses different types of learners, but also enables students who cannot benefit from specific forms of learning due to impairment to compensate for this in other forms. The same applies to the preparation of information: If teaching content is conveyed in both written and spoken form according to the two-sense principle, it is easier for students with different impairments to perceive the entire learning material. All students also benefit if the course content is well structured and there is always a clear structure or "red thread". Introduce your structure clearly and locate the material regularly - both during your lectures and in your scripts and slides. Visualise the content structure and the current status of your presentations, also using numbering and slide titles. Include sub-chapters, enumerations, cross-references and paragraphs that are as short as possible. Highlight key statements in your courses and materials in a summarised form. This makes it easier for students who have difficulty concentrating or perceiving the content due to a disability, chronic illness or medication.

Lectures in courses

Manner of speaking: Speak clearly, not too fast and facing the students; do not explain the blackboard while standing with your back to the auditorium.

Volume: Use a microphone for your presentation and repeat contributions from the plenary if necessary - so that everyone can hear you better; if someone is using a hearing aid or cochlear implant, your contributions are transmitted directly to them via the induction loop (if there is one).

Comprehensibility: Speak free of dialect, avoid unnecessary foreign and filler words and explain technical terms; this is particularly useful for deaf people who learn German like a foreign language.

Pace: Take breaks - students with mobility, visual and hearing impairments as well as concentration difficulties cannot follow a lecture, see the blackboard and take notes at the same time.

Two-sense principle: Verbalize visual information such as photographs, drawings, graphs, sketches and tables; write down discussion results - even digitally; if you show videos, offer subtitles and audio descriptions or explain the content played back.

Lighting conditions:  Make sure that you are not standing in front of light sources such as windows and lamps, but that your face is clearly visible; also turn the lights back on when you interrupt or end an overhead or beamer presentation. Especially students with hearing impairments take a lot of information from your gestures and facial expressions.

Presentations in courses

Recognizability: Blackboards and whiteboards should be clean and well lit; reduce light reflections by using appropriate ceiling lighting and blinds and avoid animations, background images and patterns on power point and overhead transparencies; avoid Roman numerals if possible, as these are output as letters by reading software.

Content: Visualise the most important things; slides with significantly more than six dots appear overloaded and are difficult to grasp if you are visually impaired or have difficulty concentrating.

Font: Sans-serif fonts such as Arial, Calibri, Helvetica, Tahoma or Times New Roman are easier to recognise; write left-aligned instead of justified; for slides, a font size of 20 to 24 points and a clear line spacing is suitable; use a maximum of two fonts and colours.

Color scheme: Use only one background color and few colors in total; avoid a combination of red-orange-green; eight percent of people are affected by color vision problems and cannot see color markings in text; use formatting for emphasis, with boldface more appropriate than italics.

Contrast: The greater the contrast between text and background, the better the text is visible; for PowerPoint presentations, dark text against a light background in bright rooms and light text against a dark background in darkened rooms is suitable.

Teaching materials and accessible documents

Design of Word, PowerPoint and PDF documents

Providing accessible teaching materials means designing them in such a way that users can adapt them flexibly to their needs. This is especially essential for students with visual impairments, as they use special software for speech output. These so-called screen readers read texts from top left to bottom right. To ensure that content is reproduced correctly and in a sensible order, the following points must be observed:

Structure using style sheets: Structure your document by marking titles, headings, lists, highlights, quotations, footnotes, etc. with style sheets; headings marked in this way are transformed into bookmarks (tags) when converted into PDF documents; screen readers recognize these text elements in the respective file formats and read them out correctly.

Images and graphics: Screen readers are text-oriented and cannot read scanned-in content, images, photographs or graphics; describe their content and purpose with alternative texts; anchor these objects; avoid graphical watermarks.

Tables: Design table structures as simply and clearly as possible, with linear text flow and without nesting, so that the voice output reflects the correct sequence; avoid empty cells; in the case of tables with several pages, mark the header lines that are repeated on each print page.

Speech output: In order for screen readers to output speech phonetically correct, the respective standard language must be defined for each paragraph, especially for foreign-language text sections, and language changes must be marked; the reproduction of e.g. German texts according to English pronunciation rules would not be understandable.

Enlargement option: Activate the flow around option so that line breaks can be shifted when the text is enlarged considerably, thus avoiding cumbersome scrolling to the right.

Document Checking: Use the software's own document checking function at Microsoft and Adobe under File > Check for Problems > Check Accessibility. The more accessible your source file is, e.g. in Word and PowerPoint, the less time and effort is required to edit PDF files. Web pages can be checked online with the W3C Markup Validation Service.

Use our online course for the creation of barrier-free documents.

Make your materials available: Scripts and handouts published in advance or sent by email enable students to prepare better. This is beneficial for all students, but essential for some. Especially students with mobility and sensory impairments need the teaching materials at an early stage, preferably in digital form, to adapt them to personal needs. Use e-learning offers and online platforms such as ILIAS and Moodle. Protocols and transcripts provide additional support for follow-up work. Pay attention to the following: When printing, matt paper increases contrast, while glossy paper reflects light.

Checklists for the organization of barrier-free events are provided by the information and advice centre of the Studierendenwerk.