Within higher education the terms “accessibility” and “accommodation” are often presented within a narrow framework that mandates institutional compliance to legal statutes such as the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA), and Section 504 and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Coupled with an historically ableist culture that equates accessibility with compliance, it is no wonder that many of the people working in higher education have a limited understanding of what constitutes accessibility and accommodation. While this could be said of most academic fields, it is especially pertinent to music history, a discipline that has historically privileged hearing-centric engagement with sound and has centered the white, middle-class, Euro-American, heteronormative, ablebodied and able-minded, and male experience as normative.
So what can music instructors do to challenge these narratives that mandate adherence to established normativity and create accessible environments for all students? In this blog post, we would like to share some recommendations from the forthcoming book, Disability and Accessibility in the Music Classroom: A Teacher’s Guide, by Alexandria Carrico and Katie Grennell,that address practical applications for implementing accessibility measures in the music history classroom. We use the word “crip” in the title of this blog post to acknowledge disability as both a traditionally excluded history and community by bringing it front and center in our efforts and commitment to building an accessible music classroom. Though still viewed as offensive when used in derogatory contexts, many disability activists have reclaimed the term crip as a positive identity, as do we. Perhaps the most notable example of this occurred through the Netflix documentary Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution (2020).
We begin by defining and expanding the terms “accessibility” and “accommodation” relative to disability and intersectional identities. We then offer strategies for implementing Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in music history curricula and course design in terms of course overview, learning outcomes, listening examples, and accessibility support and student accommodations. Ultimately, we argue that instructors play a valuable role in expanding accessibility measures for students by engendering inclusion as an essential facet of classroom culture rather than mere adherence to institutional policy.
Accessibility, Accommodation, and Universal Design for Learning
In the context of higher education, accessibility is generally discussed in terms of access to buildings, dorms, resources, and, of course, learning resources and classrooms. While these are invaluable aspects of creating inclusive spaces, they are limited in scope. Therefore, we define accessibility as the ability for all people to equitably engage with spaces, technologies, services, devices, or environments regardless of race, class, disability, gender, or sexuality. It is important to note that many factors can limit one’s access to learning resources, spaces, and opportunities. In addition to physical barriers, many students face financial obstacles to educational opportunities and additional burdens of working and caring for a family. These barriers and concerns can be further compounded by experiences of marginalization. UDL is intended to provide a more equitable learning environment for all students by offering a holistic approach to cultivating diverse pedagogical practices that take all of these factors into account.
UDL is a framework that divides learning into three different principles, each corresponding to a different portion of the brain that impacts learning: Engagement (the “why” of learning), representation (the “what” of learning), and action and expression (the “how” of learning). Embedded within each of these categories are checkpoints (“access,” “build,” and “internalize”) that provide additional information and recommendations specific to their corresponding category (see https://udlguidelines.cast.org/).
These guidelines provide instructors with the necessary tools to prepare and design an equitable and accessible learning environment from the very beginning. Rather than retrofitting existing content and materials (assignments, activities, lectures, and readings) to accommodate particular students’ needs, UDL ensures that the curriculum is accessible from the onset.
Implementing UDL in the Music Classroom
We approach course design as an opportunity to cultivate an inclusive and accessible learning environment from the very inception of a course. This approach is grounded in UDL, which is designed to be implemented during the beginning phases of course design and planning. In this next section we discuss how instructors can implement UDL in music course design in the following specific areas: syllabus, learning outcomes, listening examples, required readings, and accommodations.
Seeing as the syllabus is one of the first interactions students have with a course, it presents an opportunity to demonstrate that accessibility and inclusion are intrinsic parts of your classroom. The following recommendations are specific to the syllabus. Several of these recommendations are part of the Decolonizing the Syllabus movement (see “Decolonizing the Music Curriculum with Andrew Dell’Antonio at the Big XII Teaching and Learning Conference” https://thinkudl.org/episodes/decolonizing-the-music-curriculum-with-andrew-dellantonio-at-the-big-xii-teaching-and-learning-conference). While this has been mostly framed in relation to ethnicity and race, we acknowledge the intersectional identities of our students by extending it to disability.
- Classroom Community Statement: Include a statement in your syllabus that describes the classroom community you are committed to creating and sustaining. The following is an example statement used by Katie Grennell in her classes, and has been included here for instructors to use as they wish.
In this course, each voice in the classroom has something of value to contribute. I affirm that this class is a safe space for individuals with any and all identities. I strive to make all of my classes inclusive celebrations of diversity. Any suggestions you have on how to improve the inclusiveness of this course are encouraged and appreciated. Any concerns you have about anything related to the classroom community, inclusive practices, or anything else, I am always here to listen, reflect, and adapt.
- Accessibility Statement: To effectively demonstrate your commitment to an accessible classroom environment, we suggest providing the following pieces of information in your accessibility statement:
- Contact information for the Student Accessibility Resource Center at your institution.
- Your promise to uphold an accessible learning environment.
- An open invitation to students to approach you with any questions or concerns, even if they have not gone through the official accommodations process.
While this topic is explored in greater depth below, the following is a sample statement used by Katie Grennell in her classes, which can be used by instructors as they wish:
I am devoted to creating a learning environment that is inclusive by design. If there are any barriers to your success, involvement, and engagement in this class, please contact me so that together we can explore creative solutions. Individuals with disabilities may also wish to contact the Student Accessibility Services Office ([insert contact information here]) to discuss accommodations. If you have already been granted accommodations, please contact me so that we can work together to develop a plan that works for you and your learning style.
- Avoid Punitive Language: When feasible, avoid describing policies about plagiarism or student conduct punitively. Frame these policies as an opportunity for students to learn and grow by offering options for redoing an assignment or inviting students to come to office hours to look over an assignment before they turn it in. Additionally, you could use a sliding scale approach to grades that tracks progress at various levels (i.e., beginning, emerging, or proficient). Some institutions require instructors to include policies and their specific verbiage, so be sure to check on this prior to finalizing your syllabus.
- Communication and Access: Provide multiple ways your students can contact you with flexible times to accommodate their schedules. Consider hosting virtual office hours spread throughout the week, using the communication features of your learning management system (LMS; discussion boards, etc.), Google Hangouts, Slack, and social media. It can also be helpful to be transparent with your students about the frequency you check your email messages, as this can set expectations regarding communication.
- Fostering a Sense of Belonging: Empowering your students by validating their identities and unique perspectives through engagement and inclusivity is critical for generating a sense of belonging for Black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) students. Take the time to learn your students’ names, their preferred pronouns, and anything else about themselves that they care to communicate as one of their core values. Additionally, a crucial aspect of creating a sense of belonging in the classroom involves fostering a sense of student agency and ownership in the learning process. One way to accomplish this is to acknowledge that each student enters the course with something to contribute based on their own life experiences and perspectives. This helps break down traditional teacher-student hierarchies and creates a learning environment in which everyone is a vital contributor to knowledge production.
Including clear and measurable learning outcomes can guide the trajectory of your class and provide students with the Why, What, and How of learning (the three principles of UDL). Many institutions have their own institutional, departmental, and student learning outcomes that instructors are required to include in their syllabi. Oftentimes, these outcomes are either too broad in scope or are not measurable. If you have space in your syllabus, consider writing your own unique outcomes for your course in addition to those you are required to include. It can also be beneficial for students to know the outcomes for each of their assignments and how they will help them meet the larger learning outcomes for the course. These outcomes can be included in guidelines you write for assignments or can be shared with the class through email or your LMS. Regardless of the context of your outcomes (either for your entire course or for an individual assignment), limit the number of outcomes to three to five at most and avoid vague action verbs like “understand” or “know,” as they are not measurable. You can find action verbs associated with the different categories in learning taxonomies by visiting the following links: Fink’s Taxonomy of Significant Learning and Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning.
Selecting a diverse body ofrequired reading can reaffirm your commitment to an inclusive and accessible learning environment. Use the following questions and considerations to guide your choices when cultivating your required reading list:
- How diverse is the body of literature you are including? Be intentional in selecting authors who identify as disabled, BIPOC, or other historically marginalized groups.
- How accessible is the language? Is there too much academic jargon?
- Are there digital and audio versions of the readings? This is not only about compliance and ensuring disabled students have access to required course materials, it is also about embracing UDL and keeping in mind that the learning needs and styles of students are unique, whether or not they identify as disabled.
- Seek out publishers that provide digital copies of their texts in addition to tangible copies.
- Be sure to place your book orders as soon as possible to allow students enough time to seek alternate formats if needed (i.e. Braille, large print, etc). To help make your course materials more affordable for students, see if there are used copies of required texts available for purchase through the bookstore.
- Turn to your institution’s librarian for help on selecting diverse and accessible readings. Librarians are excellent, if under-utilized, resources on campus and can help you diversify your readings in both authorship and medium.
- Is the cost prohibitive?
- Request instructor editions of required books and place them in the library for students to access.
- Open Educational Resources (OER): OERs are publicly free and accessible educational resources, such as lesson plans and textbooks, organized by discipline. Many libraries and teaching centers provide support, training, and guidance on using OERs. To search for OERs for your class, visit https://www.oercommons.org/.
As teachers and lovers of music, we want our students to experience all of the gifts music has to offer. But in order to do that, the listening examples we include must be accessible both in medium and diversity. The following suggestions and best practices are specific to the technology most commonly used in music history classes (and those of other disciplines) and also include considerations for how to play and select music in an accessible and inclusive manner.
- Select high quality recordings/music samples.MP3 or MP4 files are typically the strongest. All audio files should be downloadable, explicitly and clearly labeled, and compatible across platforms.
- Provide sheet music, musical notation, and lyrics(if appropriate) for selected samples. If meeting face-to-face, bring copies and/or have the links projected on the screen for students.
- If you include music directly in your slides, provide students with verbal and visual instructions on how to access it.
- Allow students to record lectures or class sessions.
- Considering the diverse listening habits of people, a UDL framework would incorporate making noise canceling headphones available to those that need or prefer to block out all competing sounds to focus more carefully on the music being played. Find out if your department or any other office on campus has noise canceling headphones that students can borrow, or approach your chair to see if this is something that could be budgeted and then shared with other instructors in your department.
- Share music ahead of time. Prior to each class session, provide all music (including transcripts, lyrics, closed captions, etc.) that will be played. Make sure musical examples are downloadable, clearly labeled, and preferably formatted as either MP3 or MP4 files for optimal effect (Francis, Troop, & Accino 2018).
- Foster active listening. Consider assigning tasks to students as they listen to the music samples you have selected to promote active listening and increase retention of the material. For example, provide a handout or worksheet for students to complete while listening to the assigned music, asking them to identify the structure of the example, such as a sonata or the 12-bar blues (Lowe 2012, p. 46).
- Consider creating an accessible playlist through a commercial vendor: Most institutions subscribe to recorded sound platforms like Naxos Music Library or Classical Music Library, which offers the option of making playlists for students. For any commercially-based playlist you create, including those on YouTube and Spotify, be sure you know and communicate their limitations.
Accessibility-related needs are typically relegated to an institution’s Student Disability Resource Center (SDRC; often referred to as the Accessibility or Accommodations Office) that works with disabled students to provide theaccommodations and resources needed to complete their coursework. If a student needs an accommodation, it is their responsibility to work with their institution’s Student Disability Resource Center, obtain proper documentation, and then share that documentation directly with their instructors (though some schools send accommodation letters to instructors on behalf of students). These offices are a necessary and vital component to providing an accessible learning environment (both physical and virtual) for students. But the process of obtaining accommodations is not always straightforward, and for many students, disclosing their impairments can be a traumatic or anxiety-ridden experience that could deter them from doing it at all. This is especially true for students with invisible disabilities who are more likely to be subjected to scrutiny over the extent (and veracity) of their impairments. Each time a student requests accommodations, they re-engage in the process of “coming out” as disabled, which requires them to continuously justify their identity.
Additionally, there may be costs associated with obtaining medical documentation required by SDRCs in order to gain access to official classroom accommodations. Thus, while SDRCs are very important resources for both students and instructors, their services are often limited to students who choose to disclose (or have the ability to disclose) their disabilities. One way instructors can increase access for their students is to create a classroom culture in which accommodation is built into the course. If we think of accommodations more like setting up a culture of accessibility in the classroom—as opposed to policies—then this changes the understanding of what accommodations means by opening them up to students who do not identify as disabled. In other words, this culture of accessibility can benefit all students, per UDL, not just those who choose to disclose their identity.
Though these practical applications in the classroom may seem like smaller measures, they can contribute to a larger cultural shift in which accessibility and accommodation become an innate aspect of our pedagogy rather than a forced institutional mandate. In all of this we need to remember that disability takes many forms that may or may not be readily evident to us as instructors. Taken as a whole, however, the measures described above can ameliorate the classroom experience for a wide range of students regardless of ability and disability. Most of us entered musicology because of our love for music, and if we can effectively share that passion with as many of our students as possible we will have given them something that transcends the bounds of a course or program of study.
By Alexandria Carrico, Katherine Grennell, and James Deaville
Alexandria Carrico, email@example.com
Katherine Grennell, firstname.lastname@example.org
James Deaville, email@example.com
Additional References and Resources
Arielle, Zipporah. “‘This is What Disabled Looks Like’: The Sometimes Hard-To-See Line Between Visible and Invisible Disabilities.” Medium. Accessed June 9, 2022. https://medium.com/@coffeespoonie/the-sometimes-hard-to-see-line-between-visible-and-invisible-disabilities-this-is-what-disabled-eb6dec41bdf6.
CAST (2018). Universal Design for Learning Guidelines version 2.2. Retrieved from http://udlguidelines.cast.org.
Francis, Kimberly, Meagan Troop, and Michael Accino. “Six Easy Ways to Foster an Accessible and Inclusive Music History Classroom.” 2018. American Musicology NOW. Accessed October 18, 2021. https://musicologynow.org/six-easy-ways-to-foster-an-accessible-and-inclusive-music-history-classroom/.
Lowe, Melanie. “Listening in the Classroom.” In The Music History Classroom, edited by James A. Davis. London: Routledge, 2012.
Purcell, Emma. “Crip Camp: A Documentary that Celebrates the Disability Revolution.”Disability Horizons. March 27, 2020. https://disabilityhorizons.com/2020/03/crip-camp-a-documentary-that-celebrates-a-disability-revolution/.
Think UDL. “Decolonizing the Music Curriculum with Andrew Dell’Antonio at the Big XII Teaching and Learning Conference.” Accessed May 6, 2022. https://thinkudl.org/episodes/decolonizing-the-music-curriculum-with-andrew-dellantonio-at-the-big-xii-teaching-and-learning-conference.