General Suggestions on Teaching Students with Disabilities
Faculty control the curriculum in the classroom, and determine how curriculum is taught, and how it is assessed. Students who learn differently than how the course is taught, struggle. Students who are unable to meet time constraints due to processing delays, are penalized during timed exams, even though they may know the content thoroughly. If courses are universally designed, to be effective for the different learning styles of students, then there becomes less need for students to require LOA's.
Students are usually the experts on their own disabilities, so do not hesitate to ask them if you need more information about how they learn best. You can also contact the student's assigned Disability Specialist at DSP.
It is helpful to announce at the beginning of the semester, "Students who have Letters of Accommodations from the Disabled Students' Program, please see me during my office hours." You should put a few paragraphs into your course syllabus welcoming students with disabilities and inviting them to visit you for a discussion of their disability-related academic needs. These paragraphs might read as follows:
If you need disability-related accommodations in this class and have an LOA, have emergency medical information you wish to share with me, or need special arrangements in case the building must be evacuated, please inform me immediately. Please see me privately after class or at my office.
The Disabled Students' Program (DSP) is the campus office responsible for authorizing disability-related academic accommodations, in cooperation with the students themselves, and their instructors. Students who need academic accommodations, or have questions about their eligibility, should contact DSP, located at 260 César Chávez Student Center. Students may call 642-0518 (voice), 642-6376 (TTY), or e-mail email@example.com.
Recommendations for Inclusive Classrooms
Evening the Playing Field
The intent of LOA’s is to provide an even playing field for students with disabilities who have documented functional limitations. Accommodations help mitigate the impact of the disability.
For example, students with slower auditory processing speeds, and/or motor skills may require additional time on exams in order to help compensate for the extended time it takes them to complete the same process as students without the same disability.
How to Build an Even Playing Field
An even playing field begins with the construction of the syllabi. The more pre work done to insure inclusivity, the less surprised and inconvenienced one will be, when a student presents an LOA requiring specific accommodations not already built into the curriculum.
The following questions go beyond the curriculum content, and focus on access and inclusion:
- What do I want my students to know?
- What do I want my students to be able to do?
- What lasting impact do I want to have?
- What challenges to inclusion might my presentation style create?
- How can I plan my presentations to provide meaningful access to all members of my class, and minimize the need for individual accommodations, without compromising the essential components that I’ve identified, and in the most inclusive way possible?
The following categories discuss common accommodations found in LOA's, with an explanation as to how to plan ahead to help mitigate any potential curriculum conflicts.
- Some students experience recurrence of a chronic condition requiring bed rest and/or hospitalization. In most situations students are able to make up the incomplete work, but they may need extra time. Students are responsible for meeting with the faculty immediately after such an absence, to negotiate extensions on assignments.
- Clearly define course requirements, the dates of exams and when assignments are due. Provide advance notice of any changes.
- Teach to generalize and to consolidate information.
- Go for gist, meaning, and patterns. Try not to get bogged down in details.
- Use scripts and teach strategies selectively.
- Make sure all expectations are direct and explicit. Don't require students to "read between the lines" to glean your intentions. Don't expect the student to automatically generalize instructions.
- Provide direct feedback to the student when you observe areas of academic difficulty.
- Encourage use of resources designed to help students with study skills, particularly organizational skills.
- Avoid idioms, double meaning, and sarcasm, unless you plan to explain your usage.
- If the student has poor handwriting, allow use of a computer if easier for the student.
- Use the student's preoccupying interest to help focus/motivate students. Suggest ways to integrate this interest into the course, such as related paper topics.
- Make sure the setting for tests takes into consideration any sensitivity to sound, light, touch, etc.
- Medical conditions, including medication side-effects, can cause problems with fatigue and stamina which adversely affect attention and concentration. For these reasons, students with medical conditions may need extended time on exams.
- Students with some medical conditions may become dizzy and disoriented, or may lack physical stamina. Thus they may be unable to quickly get from one location on campus to another. For these reasons, a student may be late getting to class. Please be patient when this happens.
- Preferential seating may be necessary to meet student needs. In a few situations, students may be unable to use the type of chair provided in a particular classroom. If they are forced to stand during class, students may need podiums on which to rest open books and write.
- Instructors in courses requiring field trips or internships need to work with their students and the Disabled Students' Program to be sure the students' needs are met. For example, the students may require assistance with transportation, specific seating arrangements, accessible environment, and/or frequent rest-breaks.
The staff of the Disabled Students' Program are happy to assist you. At your invitation we can attend meetings of instructors and GSI's to discuss academic issues of postsecondary students with disabilities and effective instructional methods for these students. Please telephone us at (510) 642-0518, visit us at 260 César Chávez Student Center, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.