accessibility, covid-19, remote learning

Designing for Accessibility

As schools continue to implement virtual options for students, accessibility should be high on the list of considerations as we are building services – courses, resources, websites, and more. Home Office of government services in the UK has published a set of posters for designing for accessibility. The posters are very clear, easy to understand, and address accommodations for a variety of disabilities.

Please share this amazing resource with your contacts!


Teacher Self-Care

 This is the time of year when—typically—field trips would be taken, end-of-year parties would commence, and movies would be watched in dark classrooms amid yearbook signing and snacks. 

This is not a typical year. Since late March, when the spread of Covid-19 shuttered most classrooms across the country, school has gone remote, creating a new normal for parents, students, and teachers. For this reason, this month’s message centers on three self-care strategies for teachers. 

“Secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others.” 

From Education Week: “Children may be resilient, but they’re going to have a much harder time bouncing back if their caretakers and teachers are too stressed out to function.” 

The procedure to secure your own mask before helping others is the emergency policy on airlines for a reason: If you do not take care of yourself, you will not be able to take care of anyone else. This goes for oxygen, and, for taking care of yourself physically and mentally during a pandemic. suggests educators and administrators take time to reflect and rest, temper their expectations, and honestly acknowledge challenges. (Sometimes everything is not fine. And that’s okay.) 

Concrete tip: Identify what you need each day—whether it is a three-mile walk, stretch breaks after each hour at the computer, or five minutes of silence with your daily coffee. Prioritize this in your schedule as you would a doctor’s appointment or meeting. Enlist others in your support network to help you get what you need. 

“We are not all in the same boat. We are all in the same storm.”

Damian Barr 

The pandemic has affected Americans differently, both on the level of the individual, and along demographic lines. We cannot assume we know or understand what anyone else is going through. “Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations. How you respond to the outbreak can depend on your background, the things that make you different from other people, and the community you live in.” ( Knowing this: Give others grace. Assume that everyone is doing the best that they can. 

Concrete tip: Check in with friends, family, and colleagues in an open-ended way. Ask how they are doing, and stay curious, present, and accepting of their answers. 

“Just Breathe”

Pearl Jam

When you find yourself in a stressful situation, start with your breath. IEP Zoom meeting crashed while you were hosting? Four-year-old is interrupting you during your virtual staff meeting… again? Before you do anything (anything!) take a deep breath. And then, go from there. puts it simply: “Remain calm and do your best.” 

Concrete tip: Try resonant breathing. Inhale for a count of five, and then exhale for a count of five. Practice for one to three minutes daily. 

Our goal is to provide resources during this difficult time. For articles, blog posts, and other updates, please visit the DCD website, check out our blog, or “like” us on Facebook.

Selected Resources: 

Communication, covid-19

Summer 2020?

As the school year begins to wind down, there have been so many questions about summer services: summer school, extended year special ed services (ESY), and compensatory services.

  • Will we be having summer school in the building, on-line, or skipping it all together?
  • How are ESY services to be provided this summer, and should they be done in June or wait until August?
  • What is the difference between ESY and compensatory services?

I have been in so many meetings with the department of ed special ed staff, school district administrators, and organizations for special education administrators. The consistent answer I have heard across the board is “we don’t know.”

In Texas, guidance is provided by the governor’s office about whether faculty and students are allowed in school buildings, so that will answer the question of whether services will be happening on campus as we get closer to June. Decisions such as whether or not to have summer school are left up to individual districts to decide. Specifics about how to deliver ESY and compensatory services will be influenced by the governor’s decision, but there are additional guidelines to consider for those.

Extended School Year Services

IDEA §300.106 addresses extended school year services. Extended school year services must be provided only if a child’s IEP Team determines, on an individual basis, in accordance with §§300.320 through 300.324, that the services are necessary for the provision of FAPE to the child.

IDEA doesn’t provide guidance on how to determine if ESY services are needed, just that they must be made available if the IEP committees decides that ESY is necessary for FAPE. The most common reasons that an IEP committee may determine the need for ESY include regression and recoupment, or whether critical skills will be lost during this break from school and whether the time to re-learn the skills is excessive. IEP committees may also consider other needs, including but not limited to students’ recently acquired skills, behaviors, and communication needs, as reasons to determine the need for ESY.

The decision for ESY should be based on data, which may include information from formal or informal measures. While documentation of previous years’ regression and recoupment is often used as the criteria for consideration, informal observations of how a student does after a long weekend can provide lots of information to be considered.

ESY services are not the same as summer school or enrichment programs. Students with disabilities may participate in summer school and enrichment activities even if the IEP committee has determined that ESY is not necessary. Accommodations must still be implemented during those activities.

Compensatory Services

Compensatory services are different from ESY in that they are provided to compensate for services that were supposed to be provided but weren’t. Because of COVID-19, services for students with disabilities have looked different than what is in the IEPs, and there are some services that could not be provided through distance education. The US Department of Education provided some information that addresses the consideration for compensatory services.

Upon return to normal school operations, each IEP team for students with an IEP must review the provision of FAPE during the period of distance learning, to determine whether compensatory services are warranted in any service area, including instruction and/or any individual therapies. (OSERS March 2020).

So What Does This All Mean?

Each student’s IEP team will have to determine whether there is a need for ESY, compensatory services, or both. The decision about the need for ESY services can be made now. The determination about compensatory services won’t be made until school returns to normal.

Clear as mud?!


Considerations for IEP Meeting Discussions

We have received guidance from the national, state, and district level on how we are to provide services to students on IEPs, what changes – if any – need to be made to their IEPs and supports needed to ensure accessibility. Ultimately we are required to follow all of the legal requirements to provide FAPE to our students, which is the basis of the IEP.

Because our students’ IEPs have been written to meet their needs in the school building, there is a good chance they do not meet their needs in this new situation of remote learning. If you are requested to have amendment IEP meetings, I would like to challenge you to consider a few things as you revisit each student’s IEP. There is not a right or wrong answer, and the answer may be different for every one of your students.

Our Concerns for Our Students

  • Is our concern that they keep up with the level of instruction that they had access to when they were on campus, that they do not fall behind in their learning, and/or that they are able to maintain the skills they have currently have?
  • Is our concern that they have access to the same instruction as their same age peers, with all on- and off-line materials and coursework accessible and/or adapted as needed?
  • Is our concern that they have access to communication with staff and classmates so that they don’t feel abandoned?
  • Is our concern that they have someone to sign with periodically if the family does not use sign language?
  • Is our concern that they have something to do to keep from being bored that might provide them with some incidental learning?
  • Is our concern that they have the structure in their home to help reduce behaviors and meltdowns?
  • Is our concern what is happening in the home and with the stress level of the parents, as they add on the responsibilities of home schooling and child care while still trying to work (whether in or out of the home)?

Whichever concerns apply, the families’ needs should be very high on our priority list (think Maslow’s hierarchy of needs). We are in a crisis situation, and we are having to learn how to navigate through a lot of unknown territory with a map that changes daily. Recently there was an article published that exemplifies so much of what the parents I have been talking to are feeling right now “The Parents are Not All Right.” For those of us trying to work and homeschool at the same time, we may feel this article was written about us!

That doesn’t mean we don’t do anything with our students. That means we need to build what we do around the needs of their families in ways other than what their accessibility to instructional materials may looks like.

Student IEP goals and objectives:

Our students have goals and objectives to support their progress in the general curriculum. While some of those are still appropriate right now, the IEP committees will need to make some decisions on whether those are the priority right now.

  • What are the mental health needs of the students, and are they in a place that instruction can even happen?
  • Can our “instruction” look different, so that the students are still learning concepts and growing, maybe not in the 7th grade math standards, but in their ability to think outside the box, be creative, address 21st century skills in ways that don’t feel like learning but actually are?
  • And how do goals and objectives need to be written to accomplish this?

There isn’t a right or wrong answer, but it is a discussion that NEEDS to happen!

Teachers have made science scavenger hunts, 30 STEM challenges, fun activities that don’t feel like instruction and often can be done without parents having to provide direct instruction. And they are all addressing grade level standards, 21st century skills, language acquisition, and so much more. That is what instruction could look like right now, and those are ideas that could be discussed in our IEP meetings.

Language challenge: think outside the box. Find a big empty box or laundry basket. Is it a car, a spaceship, a bus, a house? Talk about spacial concepts like in, out, under, on, down, over, next to, etc.

We have a preschool deaf ed teacher who has created language challenges and is texting these to her parents daily. This one is my very favorite one. All of her language challenges have to do with items already in the home, and most of them are already in a family’s routine, so it doesn’t feel like “more work.” Many of the challenges are appropriate for children who are older than preschool as well. 

Parent Goals and Objectives:

In IEP meetings, we should be addressing the needs of the parents in regards to their children in the home, though we often only think about in-home training for students with autism. Right now, we need to be considering that a parent “IEP” may be way more important than the student IEP! 

While we may not have official parent goals, there are things we could be discussing in IEP meetings that will guide what our student IEPs might look like.

  • “Let’s put aside the current goals and objectives for now and consider what temporary ones may need to look like right now.”
    • What can we work on with you and your child (and your whole family) that would be helpful to you right now, in our current situation?
    • What conversations can we have, what resources would you like, what can we provide that will help you?
    • What conversations do you need to have with your child that we could help to help facilitate, whether we are providing the sign support, the social story, picture communication symbols?
    • How can we SUPPORT you in what you are doing? Consider things like helping to create materials to support a daily schedule or routines within schedule; helping make sure your child can connect with friends periodically; allowing your child’s favorite paraprofessional to read them a story on video or on the phone if no computer (can be prerecorded if need be).

Even if we are not updating IEPs, and if the students’ IEP calls for us to provide direct instruction rather than indirect or consult services, the above questions may need to be conversations we have with parents. In our new territory, our parents may need instruction from us more than our students do.

Just a few things to consider…


Tips for Teaching Remotely to DHH Students

Teaching Remotely to Students who are Deaf/Hard of Hearing 

As schools are implementing remote strategies to provide educational services, it is imperative that accessibility for students who are deaf or hard of hearing (DHH) is addressed as lessons are being planned. Whether instruction is being provided off-line with packets of assignments or online in a virtual environment, lack of accessibility will mean DHH students will not have equal access to instruction, as is required in IDEA. Here are a few tips to keep in mind, as well as specific resources for helping to implement. 


All videos, real time learning sessions, and pre-recorded learning sessions need to be captioned. To learn more about pre-captioned resources as well as tools and instructions for captioning, visit our collection of captioning information. *While sessions and videos must be captioned, it is important to know that this alone may not provide accessibility for all students who are deaf/hard of hearing, especially those whose reading level is below 5th grade.


Students who have interpreting as an accommodations in their IEP have access to interpreters in their school districts. Those interpreters need to provide interpreting for real-time instruction, pre-recorded instruction, and may also provide sight translation assistance for packets of assignments. For how-to resources on creating accessible videos, visit our collection of instructions in written and video formats.

In a situation where the interpreters are not able to interpret during real-time instruction, the student can use a Video Relay Service (VRS). HOWEVER, the student must use VRS equipment or software to see the interpreter, as the interpreter is not visible through Zoom. Instructions on using VRS to access a video conference have been provided in ASL

Considerations for Video Conferencing

When connecting with students through video conferencing, keep in mind the quality of sound, background noise, lighting, visual distraction, and the placement of the camera, as well as captioning and/or interpreting. To learn more about information about ensuring remote learning is accessible, visit our collection of remote learning accessibility information.

Ideas for connecting with other Educators serving DHH Students

  • Collaborate with deaf ed teachers in your school, district, state through email, social media groups, or communities of practice. If you are a teacher in a general education classroom, it is imperative that you connect with the deaf ed teacher who is serving your student(s)!
  • Share resources you find on social media and tag them (e.g., #deafed).
  • Use your favorite social media app and search for groups.
  • Visit DCD-CEC on our social media accounts and become friends with our followers.
    • Facebook: 
    • Twitter: @dcd_cec 
  • Visit the DCD website

Information compiled by the Division for Communication, Language, and Deaf/Hard of Hearing in collaboration with the Texas Sensory Support Network, Deaf/Hard of Hearing Services. For additional information about providing virtual services to students who are deaf or hard of hearing, visit our Virtual Learning Livebinder.


Paraprofessional Role during Remote Learning

Remote Learning: Using Paraprofessionals Effectively

Life for educators is definitely a different experience right now! As teachers of students who are deaf or hard of hearing (TODHH), we are not only working on our own lessons, we are working with general education teachers to ensure that their instructional materials are accessible. 

Many of us have access to paraprofessionals in our classrooms or interveners assigned to particular students, and districts are struggling to determine how those staff members can best help meet the needs of students in our current reality. Below are some activities that the paraprofessionals could do that often will make a HUGE difference to the teachers and the families. 

All activities should be initiated and guided by the TODHH, especially contact with students and families.


  • Caption pre-recorded instructional videos from general education teachers
  • Coordinate interpreter assignments for live and pre-recorded sessions
  • Use Boardmaker or other picture communication symbol systems to provide additional instructions for students and/or parents who need additional help with reading
  • Help TODHHs breakdown assignments to meet the needs of specific students
  • Provide real-time support during Zoom sessions to help make sure the interpreter is able to be seen by all students, that captioning is working correctly, and to facilitate questions in the chat box


  • Maintain regular communication with teachers and related service providers
  • Check-in with students as determined by classroom teacher
  • Follow up with parents on assignments, ARDs, etc
  • Document progress monitoring


  • Support classroom teachers with preparing assignments, content, and paper-pencil activities
  • Research websites, videos, and links for accessible activities that teachers can incorporate into lessons

Student/Family Support:

  • Support families and students in accessing and participating in distance learning
    • Paras can be added to online classes as co-teacher
  • Provide review and practice for students 
  • Provide additional instructions or expansion when necessary
  • Provide 1:1 supports as students work on assignments
  • Teach sign classes to parents, siblings, and students (if paraprofessional is fluent in sign)

Participating in Training:

Information compiled by the Division for Communication, Language, and Deaf/Hard of Hearing in collaboration with the Texas Sensory Support Network, Deaf/Hard of Hearing Services. For additional information about providing virtual services to students who are deaf or hard of hearing, visit our Virtual Learning Livebinder.