Skip to content Skip to footer

Accessible teaching

Accessibility improves your teaching! This fact is often forgotten because the focus is on the presumed additional expense. Besides, there do not seem to be any students affected in your course anyway – so the topic cannot be that important. In fact, you can create accessible conditions more easily than you might think. This will help you break down barriers – even those that you are not necessarily aware of. In this article, you can find out what you can do and where you can find support.

In a nutshell: What is accessibility and what are barriers in teaching?

Imagine that you would receive this article in printed Braille. This would probably make the text inaccessible to you, as only a few people in Germany can read Braille. Without access you will not be reached, you will be disabled. The example follows Article 4 of the Disability Equality Act (BGG). Accessibility is defined here as findability, accessibility, and usability for all people without assistance. In our example, the text is not accessible and usable for you.

Barriers in teaching can be complex and invisible. Barriers always come from outside – not from the person themselves. They arise when structures are not designed for the use of necessary aids (assistive technologies such as screen readers). Three aspects are particularly important for a successful course of study: communication, teaching and learning materials, and examinations.

Examples of barriers in teaching

  • A course in which the lecturer can hardly be understood without a microphone and wearing a mask. This means that communication is only possible with some of the students.
  • PowerPoint presentations that cannot be captured by a screen reader program. These teaching/learning materials are not accessible to affected students.
  • Fixed examination formats that make it impossible for students with mental illness, for example, to take the examination.

Step by step: Accessible teaching

The most important step towards accessible teaching is a sensitive approach. Out of fear of stigmatization, those affected often do not come forward if they are hindered in their studies by barriers. Make yourself approachable at the start of your course by addressing the issue of accessibility. For example, include this information slide in your presentation.

Check the accessibility of your teaching materials:

  • Are the contents of your materials accessible for people with visual impairments?
  • Are there alternatives to auditory information for people with hearing impairments?
  • Can students make use of structured summaries?
  • Are lecture halls and rooms accessible, equipped with good acoustics and offer alternatives for visual information?

There are simple solutions for most barriers. Before you finalize digital documents such as Word files or PowerPoint presentations, you can check their accessibility yourself. The programs provide you with a list of possible barriers for people who are dependent on a read-aloud function, for example. You can find more information in our videos.

Video: Center for Academic Development, TH Cologne

Additional links

Video: Center for Academic Development, TH Cologne

Additional links

If you have any questions regarding the design of your accessible teaching materials, please contact us at the ZLE’s Accessible Teaching project. We are happy to support you in revising your documents or creating analog materials in Braille. Send your request directly to us using this form.

Background: best2 study

Graphical illustration: Around 11% of the approximately 2.8 million students in Germany have a study-related impairment. 96% of them state that their impairment is not immediately noticeable to others. 89% of all students with an impairment have difficulties with their studies. 32% of those surveyed state that they are dependent on structural accessibility, certain spatial conditions, accessible documents, and/or personal or technical aids.
Image: ZLE

In the nationwide survey “Studying with disabilities – best2“, data on the situation of students with disabilities was collected in the winter semester of 2016/17. Around 21,000 students with disabilities and chronic illnesses from 153 universities took part, including students from TH Cologne. The results illustrate the heterogeneity within the surveyed group. The study was published by Deutsches Studentenwerk.

Legal basis

Buildings and other facilities, means of transport, technical commodities, information processing systems, acoustic and visual information sources and communication facilities as well as other designed areas of life are considered accessible if they can be found, accessed, and used by people with disabilities in the usual way, without particular difficulty and in principle without assistance. The use of disability-related aids is permitted.

Act on Equal Opportunities for People with Disabilities, BGG § 4 Accessibility

Other laws and conventions define the legal basis for accessibility, including the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Art. 24), the German Constitution (Art. 3, Section 3), and the German Social Code (Section 1 SGB IX).

Links & Literature

Header-Image: © Center for Academic Development, TH Cologne

  • Dr. Klara Groß-Elixmann

    Dr. Klara Groß-Elixmann is a research assistant at the Center for Academic Development at TH Köln. She coordinates TAPs at TH Köln in collaboration with the University Department for Quality Management. She also designs the "Barrier-free teaching" project and organizes the university didactic training programme.

  • Marie Westerdick

    Marie Westerdick (B.A.) is a research assistant at the Center for Academic Development at TH Köln. In the "Barrier-free teaching" project, she is involved in the planning, design and further development of barrier-free teaching at the university.

We appreciate your feedback!

When developing this offer, we tried to include you as a teacher in advance. We would therefore be delighted if you would help us to further improve our offer. Please let us know what you would like, what bothers you or what you particularly like. Would you like to contact us directly? Then write to us at!