Teaching Tips

Excerpts from the Reasonable Accommodations 2014

Students bring a unique set of strengths and experiences to college, and students with disabilities are no exception. While many learn in different ways, their differences do not imply inferior capacities. There is no need to dilute curriculum or to reduce course requirements for students with disabilities. What may be needed, however, are what the law calls “accommodations” or “reasonable accommodations,” including modifications in the way information is presented (in hard copy, online and electric formats) and in methods of testing and evaluation. Faculty will be aided in these efforts by drawing upon the students’ own prior learning experiences, using available college and department resources, and collaborating with the campus Coordinator/ Director of Student Disability Services.

Specific suggestions for teaching students with disabilities will be offered in the sections devoted to each disability, but here are some general considerations:

  1. Identifying students with disabilities. Determining that a student has a disability may not always be a simple process. Visible disabilities are noticeable through casual observation unlike an immediately recognizable physical impairment, for example, or the use of a cane, a wheelchair or crutches.

  2. Other students have what is known as hidden disabilities, such as cardiac conditions, learning disabilities, cancer, diabetes, kidney disease, and psychiatric or seizure disorders, all of which are usually not apparent.

    Finally, there are students with multiple disabilities.

    Some students with disabilities identify themselves as such by contacting the Office of Student Disability Services and/or their instructors before or early in the semester. Others, especially those with “hidden” disabilities, may not. Such students, in the absence of instructional adjustment, may run into trouble in their college work. They may self-identify just before an examination and expect instant attention to their needs.

    The faculty member should make an announcement in the syllabus and in class at the beginning of the term inviting students with disabilities to schedule appointments.

    The student’s own suggestions, based on experience with the disability and with school work, are invaluable in accommodating disabilities in college.

    If you suspect that a student has a disability, discuss the issue privately with the student. You may find such an approach awkward, at least initially, but the end result will be extremely beneficial if the student’s condition is made known at the very outset.However a disability is identified, it should be verified and discussed with the Coordinator/ Director.

  3. Dividing the responsibilities. To the extent manageable, students with disabilities bear the primary responsibility, not only for identifying their disabilities, but for requesting the necessary adjustments to the learning environment for reading and taking notes. For testing arrangements and the use of department resources, the cooperation of the faculty member is vital.

  4. Faculty-student relationships. Dialogue between the student and instructor is essential early in the term, and follow-up meetings are recommended. Faculty should not feel apprehensive about discussing students’ needs as they relate to the course. There is no reason to avoid using terms that refer to the disability, such as “blind,” “see,” or “walk.” Care should be taken, however, to avoid generalizing a particular limitation to other aspects of a student’s functioning. Often, for example, people in wheelchairs are spoken to very loudly, as if they were deaf. Students with disabilities may have had some experience with the kind of concerns you bring to the relationship. The students’ own suggestions, based on experience with the disability and with school work, are invaluable in accommodating disabilities in college.

  5. Attendance and promptness. Students using wheelchairs or other assistive devices may encounter obstacles or barriers in getting to class on time. Others may have periodic or irregular curtailments of functioning, either from their disability or from medication. Some flexibility in applying attendance and promptness rules to such students would be helpful.

  6. Classroom adjustments. A wide range of students with disabilities may be assisted in the classroom by making book lists available prior to the beginning of the term, by thoughtful seating arrangements, by speaking directly toward the class, and by writing key lecture points and assignments on the chalkboard.

  7. Functional problems. In addition to the adjustments that will be discussed in detail for each category of disability, some understanding is required with respect to more subtle and sometimes unexpected manifestations of disability.

  8. Chronic weakness and fatigue characterize some disabilities and medical conditions. Drowsiness, fatigue, impairments of memory, or slowness may result from prescribed medications. Such curtailments of functioning and interferences with students’ ability to perform should be distinguished from the apathetic behavior it may resemble.

  9. Note-taking. Students who cannot take notes or have difficulty taking notes adequately would be helped by allowing them to tape record lectures, by permitting them to bring a note-taker to class (arranged for by the coordinator/director), by assisting them in borrowing notes from classmates, or by making an outline of lecture materials available to them.

  10. Testing and evaluation. Depending on the disability, the student may require the administration of exams orally, the use of computers, readers and/or scribes, extended time for exams, modification of test formats or, in some cases, make-up or take-home exams. For out-of-class assignments, the extension of deadlines may be justified. The objective of such arrangements is always to accommodate the student’s learning differences, not to dilute scholastic requirements. The same standards should be applied to students with disabilities as to all other students in evaluation and assigning grades