Teaching students with disabilities

Students with disabilities -- like students from any other non-majority group -- bring experiences and perspectives that enrich our knowledge of the full range of the human condition. A disability may not necessarily be visible, or affect the participation of a student in your class. In order to ensure access to the curriculum, qualified students who have disabilities have the right to receive reasonable accommodations. This right is grounded in Federal Legislation which protects the civil rights of Americans who have disabilities.

College learners who have disabilities must demonstrate knowledge and skills essential to the course or program. Faculty members are expected to clearly articulate essential course components to all students. All students are assessed according to the same essential components.

Accommodations are determined on an individual basis by the Accessibility Resource Services Office. The types of accommodations for which an individual student qualifies depend on the nature of the student's disability and its impact. Some disabilities are visible, but the vast majority are invisible. Unless a student with an invisible disability (e.g., learning disability, depression, cancer) self-identifies by providing you with a copy of her/ his accommodations letter from Disabilities Services, you will not know about the disability or need. (Such letters only include information about the accommodations for which a student qualifies; information about the student's specific disability or condition is confidential.)

Although students with similar disabilities may require different accommodations, it is useful for faculty to be aware of typical strategies for working with students who have various types of characteristics. With this basic knowledge you will be better prepared to ask students to clarify their needs and to discuss their accommodations. This section provides general information and resources for various types of disabilities, including common types of accommodations.

Learning Disabilities and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Students with learning disabilities and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are a diverse group of individuals representing the largest percentage of students with disabilities attending college, and have average to above average intelligence.

Students with learning disabilities may have difficulty with reading and listening skills, organization, oral and written expression, mathematical calculation, or problem solving.

Students with attention deficit disorder may have difficulty with sustained attention, time management, impulsive behaviors and/or motor restlessness.

More information on Learning Disabilities and Attention Deficit Disorder

Case Example 1: College learner who has a learning disability

Case Example 2: College learner who has a learning disability

Mobility and Health Impairments

Some students may have physical conditions that require accommodations for some classes or activities. These conditions can impact mobility, balance, strength, dexterity, and/ or energy.

Mobility Impairments include orthopedic or neuromuscular conditions such as Cerebral Palsy, Stroke, Multiple Sclerosis, amputation,paralysis and spinal cord injury. Individuals with mobility impairments may or may not use a wheelchair or other assisted equipment. Mobility impairment may impact, to varying degrees, a student’s ability to manipulate objects, turn pages write with a pen or pencil and this mobility may vary from day to day.

Health Impairments and subsequent health problems can have a temporary or chronic impact of a student’s academic performance. Common diagnoses include arthritis, cancer Asthma, AIDS, heart disease. Sometimes side effects from medications can have a significant effect on memory, attention, strength, endurance and energy levels. 

More information on Mobility and Health Impairments

Case Example 3: College Student who has a Mobility Impairment

Case Example 4: Film Clip of College Student who has Cerebral Palsy Utilizing Assistive Technology (This takes about 2-3 minutes for the web-based video to load. Be patient--it's worth it!)

Case Example 5: Health Impairments (Cancer)

Case Example 6: Health Impairments (Arthritis)

Psychological Disabilities

Psychological disabilities are most frequently "hidden" or "invisible" disabilities. Students with psychological disabilities include those who have acute or chronic anxiety or depression which limit activities of daily living, eating disorders, schizophrenia, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and in some students, substance abuse. Individuals who experiences psychological disabilities may be hesitant to disclose their need for accommodations due to traditionally stigmatized responses in our culture.

More information on Psychological Disabilities 

Case Example 7: Psychological Disability

Sensory Disabilities

Students with sensory disabilities may experience vision or hearing loss. Sensory disabilities include individuals who are visually impaired (those who have limited functional vision), students who are blind, and students who experience hearing impairments (hard of hearing or deaf).

Hearing Impairments make it difficult or impossible to hear lecturers, access multimedia materials, and participate in discussions. Examples of accommodations for students who are deaf or hard of hearing may include:

* Interpreter, real-time captioning, FM system, notetaker.
* Open or closed-captioned films, use of visual aids.
* Written assignments, lab instructions, demonstration summaries.
* Visual warning system for lab emergencies
* Use of electronic mail for class and private discussions

Case Example 8: Deafness

Blindness refers to the disability of students who cannot read printed text, even when enlarged. Examples of accommodations for students with blindness may include:
* Electronic-formatted lecture notes, handouts, and texts. (or audio or Braille)
* Verbal descriptions of visual aids.
* Raised-line drawings and tactile models of graphic materials.
* Braille lab signs and equipment labels, auditory lab warning signals.
* Adaptive lab equipment (e.g., talking thermometers and calculators, light
probes, and tactile timers).
* Computer with optical character reader (screen reader software), speech
output, Braille screen display and printer output

More information on Sensory Disabilities

Case Example 9: Low Vision

Case Example 10: Blindness