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Cambridge Centre for Teaching and Learning


Guidelines for supervisions when working remotely with disabled students

Provided by the Disability Resource Centre


Disabled students will be affected in a range of ways by their disabilities / impairments and with differing degrees of impact. If you are unsure what the student requires, ask them in your first meeting, and check in with them over time that the strategies are working. The start is a good time to establish what support the student requires.


Setting up the meeting

  • Offer students a choice of online learning by audio only, or by audio with video (and the addition of text via the chat function). Working via video can be overwhelming for some disabled students with autism spectrum conditions (ASC) in particular and some students may not have reliable internet access.
  • Discuss the option to end the session at any point if the student feels overwhelmed or unwell. Extended periods of video calling can be exhausting and may have a greater effect on disabled students.
  • Confirm the accessibility features of the platform you are using. If Teams, then captioning, backgrounds and recording according to the Policy on Recordings of Teaching Materials / Lectures.
  • Use a plain background, or apply a fake / blurred background with the platform you are using, to reduce distractions (in Teams select "apply background effects"; in Zoom you will need to upload your own image as there are no plain options provided currently) - check however that the student doesn't find the flickering of blurred backgrounds problematic.
  • Ensure your environment is quiet as far as is possible to reduce distraction.
  • Revisit how the sessions will work, particularly if you have previously worked in person with the student.


Additionally, for deaf students and those who have a hearing impairment:

  • Ensure that lighting is good and highlights the face of the supervisor / participants: make sure there are no shadows falling on faces which will make it difficult to lip read or pick up information from facial expressions.
  • Keep the background lighting even and not too bright, or this will throw the face into silhouette.
  • Ensure that the picture quality is as high as possible.
  • Ensure that the audio quality is high enough for the student to be able to hear all participants clearly (test this at the session start).
  • Keep hands and fingers away from the face and look directly into the camera when speaking so that the face can be seen clearly.
  • Speak clearly and check at intervals that the student can hear. Be prepared to repeat words or sentences and make sure the student knows this is acceptable.
  • Keep background noise to an absolute minimum. It can be picked up by hearing / radio aids at the same volume as speech and it is difficult to cancel out background noise when using such devices.
  • Shut doors and windows to reduce external noise.
  • Try to avoid teaching from a room with no carpet / curtains / soft furnishings, as there will likely be more echo.
  • Where possible, wear plain clothes with no patterns as this will be distracting to the student if they need to focus on the speaker's face or audio.


Materials / pre-reading

  • Presenting new materials to be read at speed is likely to present a barrier for most disabled students. Such material should be sent in advance so that students can access them before the session.
  • Be aware that if students are required to refer to any textual information, they may be required to access screen reading software such as Jaws or NVDA. It will be useful for students to have been sent any materials in advance in an accessible format.
  • For most students with visual impairments the most accessible documents are Word documents which have been set up with proper headings, titles and tables using styles (not just text directly formatted to look different).


One-to-one discussion

  • Allow students plenty of time to answer, as many disabled students may take time to answer for a variety of reasons.
  • Be aware that some disabled students may be using assistive technology / software or ergonomic equipment to access their learning, and that this may lead to delays in responses.
  • Use straightforward and unambiguous phrasing where possible, and avoid multiple parts to questions.
  • If a student is having difficulty, offer to write questions in the chat in addition to speaking.
  • In some cases, the answers to questions given by students with ASC, Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLD) or mental health conditions may not appear to be as well organised as their peers.
  • Consider reassuring the student that they have answered a question if you find they are continuing unnecessarily.
  • Discuss questions with the student to ensure a shared understanding if ambiguity is causing difficulties.


Small group work

  • If there are more than two people in any supervision, ensure that only one person is speaking at any one time and explain / verbally indicate when another person is due to speak. For example, "I will now hand over to X".
  • Let participants know that they can indicate they wish to speak by using the chat or 'raise hand' feature.
  • Be aware that the student may not be able to follow non-verbal cues / facial expressions to know when to start or stop talking.


Disability Resource Centre, October 2020

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