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The photo shows a teacher in front of the classroom smiling as a student asks a question.

Teaching Students with Disabilities

Students with disabilities, like all students, bring a unique set of strengths and experiences to college. While many learn in different ways, their differences do not imply inferior capacities. Although some may manage without accommodations, many students count on Reasonable Accommodations, including modifications in the way information is presented, and in methods of testing and evaluation to successfully meet their course requirements. These accommodations are determined and approved by the campus office of disability services in consultation with the student and in the context of a review of the student’s history and documentation.

Students with disabilities bear the primary responsibility for identifying their disabilities and for requesting the necessary adjustments to the learning environment that necessitate collaborations between the office of disability services and faculty members.

It is the faculty’s responsibility to ensure that the accommodations determined and approved by the office of disability services are provided to the student in a timely and responsive manner.

The  photo shows a female student in a wheelchair working on her laptop computer.

General Considerations

  • Some students with disabilities identify themselves by contacting the office of disability services and/or their instructors before or early in the semester. Others may not.
  • Students with disabilities are not obligated to register with campus offices of disability services.
  • Some disabilities are noticeable through casual observation and immediately recognizable, for example, by the use of a cane, a wheelchair, or crutches. Other students have what are known as hidden disabilities, which are usually not apparent. These may include learning disabilities, emotional or psychological conditions, or non- obvious medical conditions. Some students may present with multiple disabilities.
  • If you suspect that a student has a disability, seek guidance from the campus office of disability services. Do not make assumptions about students’ abilities or comment on students’ “presumed” disabilities if those disabilities are not visible.
  • It is crucial that the faculty member includes a statement in the class syllabus (see example) encouraging students with disabilities to arrange accommodations early in the semester.
  • Dialogue between students with disabilities and their instructors 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.”
  • Students using wheelchairs or other assistive devices may encounter obstacles or barriers in getting to class on time. Many rely on alternate modes of public transportation. 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 students with mobility and chronic medical disabilities would be warranted and helpful.
  • 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 speaking directly toward the class, and by writing key lecture points and assignments on the chalk- or white-board.
  • Chronic weakness and fatigue characterize some disabilities and medical conditions. A student may exhibit drowsiness, fatigue, impairments of memory, or slowness due to medication side effects. Such curtailments of functioning and interferences with students’ ability to perform, based on disability, should be distinguished from the apathetic behavior it may resemble.
  • The objective of academic adjustments is always to accommodate the student’s disability, not to dilute scholastic requirements.
  • The photo shows a female student looking tired as she tries to focus on one of many books.