Assessment planning for neurodiverse students: Piloting an accessible handout

By Dr Emily Chandler with A/Prof Ian McArthur and Josie Bober 
 

Female with laptop, mobile and coffee

Starting work on her SDES2463 Typography and Publication assessment, fine arts student Josie Bober became frustrated. The brief had steps for tackling the assessment and links to support resources … but Josie's attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) meant she had to work twice as hard as her classmates to read it. The monochrome colours, multi-page formatting and horizontal text did not meet her needs. 

People with ADHD are part of the neurodivergent community, which also includes those with autism, dyslexia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Many neurodivergent people blame themselves for struggling in educational settings.

A designer friend with ADHD told Josie he also felt the brief could be made more accessible for neurodiverse students. Josie was empowered to act: “I decided I would have my own go at it. I saw what could be improved and took steps to do that.” 

Josie approached course convenor Associate Professor Ian McArthur to let him know the design brief was less accessible for neurodiverse students. Ian reflects, “I have a real interest in trying to address any issues that come up from students, but with this more specifically, I thought, ‘Let’s have a go at developing something that will help students like Josie.’” Ian reached out to Educational Delivery Solutions (EDS) team within the Pro-Vice Chancellor, Education and Student Experience (PVCESE) portfolio, where Dr Emily Chandler, an Education Solutions Developer, took up his inquiry. Emily says, “Working on something that would hopefully benefit students with invisible disabilities was so, so important to me.” 

To begin, Josie drafted an accessible assessment brief that could assist the neurodivergent community. Using Josie's draft, Emily broke the assessment down into clear, actionable steps. Josie used graphic design concepts and insider knowledge of ADHD-enabled design to format Emily’s breakdown. Ian supplied pedagogical knowledge and further design insights as they improved the brief iteratively. 

Taking inspiration from Kanban boards, Josie formatted the assessment brief as a one-page handout presenting weeks as vertical columns. This is because many (or some) readers who are neurodivergent focus best when text does not take up too much horizontal space. Each column is colour-coded: the first column is muted, and subsequent columns are more saturated, indicating the approaching due date. 

On Teaching Gateway, you can download the following Accessible Assessment Breakdown Resources:

The handout was created for neurodivergent accessibility, but can help any student with time management. Working collaboratively with a student, an academic can help them break down an assessment into manageable steps. A tutor could also use it for a formative in-class assessment planning activity. 

Reflecting on creating the breakdown, Ian describes it as “not onerous in any way ... a very collaborative process.” Having EDS’ support in crafting an accessibility solution was positive for Josie: "To have someone help that process along made me feel that I’m not going unheard." 

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UNSW teaching and education staff can access one-to-one accessibility consultations, training and development support. Contact Educational Delivery Solutions teaming using the EDS consultation form

 

Associate Professor Ian McArthur

Associate Professor Ian McArthur is an academic within the Faculty of Arts, Design and Architecture. He is a hybrid practitioner working in the domains of experimental interdisciplinary practice, transcultural collaboration, sound art, experimental radio, metadesign and education change.

 

Josie Bober

Josie Bober is a self-proclaimed process-led-image-magician and pixel-pushing-charcoal-smooshing-creative. Josie works using analog and digital techniques to create bespoke visual identities, eye-catching promotional graphics and more. Josie has a keen, developing interest in helping neurodiverse people like herself succeed in their education through UDL principles. Her work is available at Bober Creative.

Dr Emily Chandler

Dr Emily Chandler is an Education Solutions Developer in Educational Delivery Solutions, PVCESE. She holds a PhD in Media, Film and Theatre and is an Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. She is passionate about accessibility and equity.

 

 

This article has been edited by its authors after the original publishing date of 26 April, in response to feedback received from our readers and accessibility experts. 

Josie and the other authors also welcome further contributions to the next iteration of the Accessible Assessment Breakdown resources. To connect with the authors or share contributions, please contact engage.pvcese@unsw.edu.au