FAQ: College students who have learning disabilities

(Used with permission from DO IT:Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking & Technology doit@u.washington.edu University of Washington)

Q. TEACHING AND CLASSROOM ACCOMMODATION: How can I present information (e.g., written, oral, hands-on activities, demonstrations, and videotaped formats) adequately to teach students with learning disabilities in my class?

A. Presenting content using multiple modes (e.g., written, oral, hands-on activities, demonstrations, and videotaped formats) benefits all students and may reduce the need for specific accommodations for students with many types of disabilities. However, some students with learning disabilities will still require specific accommodations. Accommodations should be individualized and may change over time as a student's needs change or the course requires different types of work. Access is most easily addressed if the course content is clearly outlined and there is an ongoing dialog between faculty, the accessibility resource services office, and the student. Reasonable accommodations may include but are not limited to:

  • Enlarged visual aids and handouts.
  • Tape recording of sessions.
  • Extended time during test taking.
  • Alternative evaluation options and formats (e.g., audio, portfolios).
  • Computers with speech input and/or output.
  • Note-taker/scribe/reader.
  • Textbooks provided on tape or in e-text format.

Q. HANDOUTS AND TESTS: How can I adjust testing or handout materials to make them more "user-friendly" for students with a range of learning disabilities?

A. When constructing test items, use a style consistent with that used during lectures and group related test questions together. This can help students retrieve information contained in their notes. Concise and well-organized handouts that highlight key points can also structure and reinforce content.

Q. DIAGNOSIS: How do I know if a student has a specific learning disability?

A. You may not know. Learning disabilities are "hidden disabilities." It is the student's responsibility to disclose that she is eligible for accommodations. (Students need not disclose the nature of their disability.) A student will provide documentation of her disability to the Accessibility Resource Services Office. The student and/or the disabled student services counselor will contact you and discuss accommodations as needed. During the first class session it may be helpful to tell students who need accommodations to arrange a meeting with you. Also include a similar statement on your course syllabus. Some students choose not to disclose their disabilities and their privacy should be respected by not asking them about the possible presence of a disability.

Q. COMPUTER ACCOMMODATIONS: Do all computer-based accommodations used by students with learning disabilities require special hardware or software applications?

A. No. Many students benefit from standard word processor features. Features such as spelling and grammar checkers can help students correct spelling and grammar errors. Word processing programs that include tools for outlining and color coding text can help people with organization and sequencing difficulties sort thoughts and ideas. For more information on specific computer-based accommodations for students with learning disabilities, consult the Adaptive Technology section of The Faculty Room. For more information about how computers can assist students with learning disabilities, consult the publication and video entitled Working Together: Computers and People with Learning Disabilities.

Q. READING: How can a student with a learning disability that affects reading be expected to keep up with the high level of reading content in my course?

A. There are also several options students can consider for assistance with reading. Students can arrange to obtain their textbooks recorded on audiocassettes or placed in another e-text format through agencies such as Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic or the disabled student services office on campus. Some students may benefit from a computer-based reading system. These systems convert screen text (from disks, the Internet, or e-mail) or scanned text (from textbooks, journals, etc.) to speech output. This requires the availability of an appropriate configuration of computer software and hardware.

Not every textbook is available on tape or in another alternate format. You can help students by choosing your textbooks well in advance. Students should order these books early and prepare the accommodations before the classes begin. Many students with learning disabilities manage their disabilities by careful time management to allow more time for reading; some may begin reading text material before the beginning of the term.

You can also assist students by preparing handouts, tests, and other class materials in electronic format. Materials in electronic format are often easier and faster for the student to convert to alternative formats. For more information on specific technology-related reading accommodations for students with learning disabilities, consult the Adaptive Technology section of The Faculty Room.

Q. LOW-TECH: What are some "low-tech" strategies that students with learning disabilities use to achieve academic success?

A. Some simple accommodations do not require computers. Low-tech solutions such as post-it notes, daily organizers, and highlighter pens may be helpful organizers and learning tools for students with learning disabilities.