Recognizing and lowering barriers to access in the classroom

Learning is enhanced when all students can truly engage in our classrooms, says Jose Tapia-Fuselier, Assistant Professor of Counseling and Human Services. But designing courses, classrooms and academic environments that remove barriers for all students — including students with disabilities — takes time and forethought. Photo credit: Chayce Lanphear

In a recent interview with the UCCS Faculty Resource Center, Jose Tapia-Fuselier, Assistant Professor of Counseling and Human Services within the College of Education, explained that learning is enhanced when all students can truly engage in the classroom. But designing courses, classrooms and academic environments that remove barriers for all students — including students with disabilities — takes time and forethought.

Below, learn more about the most prominent access barriers at UCCS, as well as ways to break each barrier down, in order to create more accessible learning opportunities where all students can truly engage in the course.

Common access barriers at UCCS

Disability Services staff agree the following are some of the more prominent access barriers seen on campus. Fortunately, there are also solutions.


Barrier: It is reasonable to schedule due dates and exams on set dates; however, do so with built-in flexibility. Students with unpredictable medical conditions cannot predict when they may have a flare in their condition, meaning an assignment that is due the next day or attending a class session may be unexpectedly impossible.

Solution: When possible, upload course and lecture materials on Canvas before the weekly class. Allowing flexible due dates and exam make up options supports both students with disabilities and other students in the current climate.


Barrier: Lack of communication between faculty and a student requesting accommodation can be a barrier that prevents accessibility.

Solution: Start with your course syllabus and include a detailed communication policy with office hours and location (virtual or in-person) and response time to emails and assignment feedback. In addition, follow up with students with Accommodation Letters with a quick meeting.

If in doubt, “Ask for support from Disability Services when needed,” says Chris Johnson, Lead Accommodation Coordinator of Disability Services.

Lack of Testing Accommodations

Barrier: Some of the more common accommodations for students in testing environments relate to extended time limits. In online formats, extending time limits may be less intuitive than in face-to-face environments, or may have to be extended manually.

Solution: To ensure students have their approved extended time or other testing accommodations, faculty may need to adjust the time limit in Canvas or provide the digital version of the exam to Disability Services before the exam date. To remove the barrier, we encourage faculty to review any accommodation requests before their scheduled quizzes or exams and follow testing procedures. When possible, design tests and exams that measure learning outcomes without time limits.

Reactive (Not Proactive) Design

Barrier: It can be more difficult to integrate accessibility solutions into a course once it has already begun.

Solution: Being familiar with the tools and resources before the semester begins, and designing your course to proactively address accessibility concerns, will help you and your students.

For example, in using principles and practices from University Design for Learning and disability-responsive practices, Tapia-Fuselier creates an environment as least restrictive as possible. In his recent interview with UCCS Disability Services, Jose explains, “I have done this by ensuring my font sizes and format of PowerPoint slides does not become difficult for individuals to access using software or other devices for accessibility.”

Jose also integrates course materials such as books, videos, case scenarios and assignments that represent the various intersecting identities that are the reality of individuals they may serve. He incorporates reflective assignments to investigate further “self” and areas of their own biases and prejudices serving various communities.

Next Steps

The UCCS campus community is enhanced by the experiences and participation of students with disabilities. As Tapia-Fuselier explains, “With some thought, creativity and consultation, faculty members can challenge themselves to explore ways to ensure accessibility in the classroom.”

An excellent first step is to use the resources available through the Faculty Resource Center and prepare your course for accessibility before the semester begins.

During the summer 2022 semester, the Faculty Resource Center will host the third cohort of the Universal Design for Inclusive Teaching badge program. Register to attend a panel and information session on Tuesday, Feb. 22.

In addition, Disability Services supports the faculty and students and welcomes conversations in navigating the accommodation process. Reach out to the Disability Services staff for support and advice at any point during the semester.  

Want to learn more? A complete interview with Ida Dilwood, Director of UCCS Disability Services, and Jose Tapia-Fuselier can be found on the Faculty Resource Center’s ACCESS @ UCCS page.