Inclusive teaching at ETH. What is meant by this and what are the implications for learning and working at ETH?

  • Anton Bolfing LET ETHZ
  • Gerd Kortemeyer
  • Romila Storjohann


Under the title "Hindernisfreiheit an der ETH Zürich", ETH is committed to the inclusion of people with disabilities. In addition to structural measures and adaptations, organisational, and information-technological aspects also play a central role.

To enable all motivated students to participate in their studies and academic life with equal opportunity, regardless of any special needs and circumstances, teaching in particular is becoming the focus of attention.

A prerequisite for inclusive teaching is the availability of accessible digital learning materials. “Accessible” means that these learning materials can be used efficiently and effectively by all students, regardless of sensory or physical disabilities or of special needs due to neurological characteristics. Many of these students are true masters of applied problem-solving strategies, but unfortunately, still today, some content remains inaccessible.

The increasingly ubiquitous digitalisation of all aspects of life, including academic life, is a blessing for the worldwide efforts to increase educational opportunities also for people with disabilities. In many cases, the availability of digital learning content is a prerequisite for its accessibility. Print is not universally accessible! Flying in the face of these opportunities, still very little publicly available digital content is accessible – and the same applies, to an unfortunately even greater extent, to teaching materials.

Digital learning materials include not only textbooks, but any informative content that is relevant to students' everyday lives. This includes electronic user interfaces of learning and information platforms, examination systems, teaching applications, document-filing systems as well as their respective content. People with disabilities often depend on electronic content being well-structured and machine-readable, in particular, that the content can be displayed in different ways, for example, greatly enlarged, or that images or multimedia have appropriate textual alternatives.

Ensuring the accessibility of information and learning content on learning platforms, in scripts, and in other documents cannot be achieved without the active assistance of all ETH stakeholders involved in the creation and deployment process. Procurement managers are encouraged to acquire accessible software and frameworks. Developers must ensure that their products can be operated using both keyboards and computer mice, and that the content can be displayed as flexibly as possible. Content creators need to ensure that their content is well-structured with rich, explicit semantics, so that it can be navigated efficiently and without additional barriers using screen readers (software that allows blind people, for example, to read on-screen content in spoken language or Braille). In fact, it has been shown that content created with "accessibility in mind" is generally easier to understand – for everyone!

Of course, all those involved are not left alone with these challenges. The administrative department Educational Development and Technology (LET) supports all members of ETH in all aspects of the implementation of e-accessibility: in the transfer of knowledge through practice-oriented training, targeted courses or individual consultations, or by providing and preparing the relevant resources.