FAQ: Group work

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

Some students with disabilities face challenges participating in small group discussions and other interactive activities. Specific needs vary greatly. However, some general teaching strategies that benefit all students include:

  • Establish clear ground rules for discussion.
  • Provide electronic supplementary course/discussion materials.
  • Give clear descriptions of visual materials.
  • Paraphrase questions and answers and highlight key points throughout discussions.
  • Create options for electronic discussions.


Q. BLINDNESS: How can I help a student who is blind benefit from class discussions?

A. It is helpful if all speakers identify themselves by name prior to speaking in class discussions. Demonstrations and visual aides should be described verbally.

Q. HEARING IMPAIRMENTS: How can a student with a hearing impairment fully participate in my discussion?

A. A student who has a hearing impairment may use an amplification device, lip read, or use a sign language interpreter. The accommodations depend on each individual's needs and preferences. When a student uses a sign language interpreter, it is important to speak directly to the individual, not the interpreter. The speaker should use a normal rate of speech and tone of voice. Some students who use an amplification device such as a hearing aid also use an FM system. This requires the speaker to use a small microphone that transmits sound directly to the student, who wears a receiver attached to a hearing aid. All speakers in the discussion should use the microphone when speaking. For a student who lip reads it is important that he be seated so that each speaker's face is clearly visible and well lit. A round table or circular arrangement may be a good way to organize seating for the discussion. Talk with the student at the beginning of the course to discuss his needs and determine the best way to share communications with other participants in the discussion group.

Q. E-MAIL: Is e-mail a better medium for discussion for students with disabilities than traditional in-person formats?

A. Discussions via e-mail are very accessible to students with many different types of disabilities. Whether this option is better than traditional discussions depends on the individual student and the content and goals of the course.

Q. VISUAL AIDS: Should I use visual aids as an accommodation during small group work and discussions?

A. Visual aids in large print may be helpful to emphasize key points, list a group purpose and objectives, outline a list of tasks, or show data on a graph. Use of easel-sized presentation tablets or large white boards are most helpful.

Q. AUGMENTATIVE COMMUNICATION: What is an augmentative communication system?

A. Natural communication methods such as facial expressions and gestures, graphic symbols and sign language, as well as low-tech and high-tech communication aides are all considered augmentative communication. Augmentative or alternative communication systems are used by people who cannot speak and by those for whom speech is not an effective primary mode of communication. High-tech communication aides have speech output and complex programming capabilities and are used for individuals with severe speech impairments such as those seen in some individuals with Cerebral Palsy, head injuries, or progressive neuromuscular diseases. Many high-tech communication systems are multipurpose in nature, serving conversational, educational, and vocational needs. For example, some augmentative communication systems have speech and print output for communication. In addition, these systems can also be programmed to interface with a computer or an environmental control unit.

Tanchak, T. L. & Sawyer, C. (1995). Augmentative communication. In K. F. Flippo, K. J. Inge, & J. M. Barcus (Eds.) Assistive technology: A resource for school, work and community. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing.

Q. ORAL PRESENTATIONS: Part of my discussion requires each student to deliver a short oral presentation. Should I change the requirement to accommodate a student with a speech and hearing impairment?

A. Talk to the student about ways he can deliver the oral presentation with appropriate accommodations, such as with the use of an interpreter. The disabled student services office can assist in identifying potential strategies. If the student cannot meet the requirements with or without accommodations, discuss alternative options such as a presentation using Power Point, electronic mail or listserv, or the World Wide Web.