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 whose learning style differs from the instructor's teaching style 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 accommodations.
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 Accommodation from the Disabled Students' Program, please see me during my office hours or schedule an appointment with me." 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. We recommend the following statement:
"UC Berkeley is committed to creating a learning environment that meets the needs of its diverse student body. If you anticipate or experience any barriers to learning in this course, please feel welcome to discuss your concerns with me.
If you have a disability, or think you may have a disability, you can work with the Disabled Students' Program (DSP) to request an official accommodation. 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. You can find more information about DSP, including contact information and the application process here: dsp.berkeley.edu. If you have already been approved for accommodations through DSP, please meet with me so we can develop an implementation plan together.
Students who need academic accommodations or have questions about their accommodations 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."
Implementing Letters of Accommodation
The intent of LOAs is to provide an even playing field for students with disabilities who have documented functional limitations. Accommodations help mitigate the impact of the disability in the context of the learning environment.
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.
Encourage your students to come speak with you about their accommodations, but don't make their accommodations contingent on this conversation.
Creating an accessible course
An accessible course begins with the construction of the syllabus. The more pre-work done to insure inclusivity, the less surprised and inconvenienced an instructor 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 LOAs, 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, required readings, 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.
- Check for internal and external distractions near the testing area and eliminate to the extent possible.
- 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 need 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 accessible transportation, specific seating arrangements, an accessible environment, and/or frequent rest-breaks.
Inclusive Design Online Resources
DO-IT is a valuable web site that promotes inclusion and success for people with disabilities. On this site are pages directed to faculty that discuss and demonstrate methods for creating a more inclusive classroom experience.
AHEAD is the premiere professional association committed to full participation of persons with disabilities in postsecondary education. On this site are pages directed to professionals who work with students with disabilities in postsecondary. The Universal Design Toolkit (go to Learn, then scroll down to Universal Design) and the JPED (go to Learn, then scroll down to the JPED), a scholarly journal leading the field in postsecondary disability services, are just a few of the available resources available through this organization. Most resources are accessible to the public. For information available to members, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 the needs of 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 email@example.com.