Rethink Your Accommodations Statement

Over the past decade, faculty developers have advised faculty to adopt warmer, more inclusive language in their syllabi as a way of making more students, but especially first-generation and marginalized students, feel welcomed into the community of a course and university. However, even as faculty integrate the principles of the universal design for learning, the accommodations sections of too many syllabi remain cold, slightly softened versions of boilerplate statements vetted by university lawyers.

Instead of approaching disability as a deficit that needs to be remediated, faculty might rewrite their statements to explain how the course has been designed to not only meet all students’ needs, but allow them to achieve at high levels. What specific steps will you take, for example, to ensure all students, regardless of ability, can access and understand course materials, engage with course materials and other students in the course, and demonstrate new skills and knowledge to you in ways that are accessible and equitable? For example, have you ensured all videos are captioned, and will you turn on captions when you screen a video during class?


  • Have thoughtful colleagues and former students offer feedback on your statement.
  • Instead of titling this section “accommodations,” use language that reflects equity and inclusion, such as “This class was designed with you in mind.”
  • To emphasize its importance, move the statement closer to the front of your syllabus, rather than relegating it to the end, near penalties for late work and plagiarism.

Of course, you need to back up your access statement with pedagogical practices that uphold its promise. Examine the rest of your syllabus, your course materials, and your assessments to see if they’re grounded in what disability historian Cathy Kudlick describes as “ableist notions of competence grounded in late-industrial capitalism,” as “‘Measuring up,’ ‘pulling one’s full weight,’ and countless other expressions we use to evaluate . . .bear the unmistakable imprint of industrial capitalism’s unrelenting insistence” on “fitness and punctuality.” In what ways might you have inadvertently set ableist expectations that prioritize, for example, students’ stamina, focus, memory, or efficiency, even when those qualities aren’t represented in your course or program learning outcomes?


Leslie Madsen, Ph.D. (
Associate Professor of History
Associate Director for Educational Development
Center for Teaching and Learning
Boise State University