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A Teacher's Resource: Teaching Students With Disabilities

Teaching students with disabilities takes compassion, patience and a little creativity. Students with disabilities face unique challenges and require assistance and accommodations. Students are not obligated to reveal or discuss their disability with their instructors, but if they do, it is important that information be kept confidential. To avoid stereotypes, it is essential to establish accommodations that need to be made in the beginning of the semester. This way the student can know in advance what is expected of him or her.

Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorders

Students with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorders (ADHD) experience inattentiveness more often than others. However, it may not be apparent or observed, but is diagnosed by a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist. Once diagnosed it may involve professional counseling or medication. Students with ADD or ADHD face common challenges such as, they are unable to focus, meet course deadlines or adhere to schedules. Although they face these challenges they are still accountable to meet course requirements.

Instructors can provide support for their students with ADD or ADHD in the following ways:

  • Adhere to course deadlines.
  • If teaching a long course, offer 15 minute breaks.
  • Make sure to remind students of upcoming deadlines.
  • Present materials in a variety of ways- verbal, visual, hands-on.

Learning Disabilities

Students with a learning disability should not be thought of as a person that cannot learn at the same pace and level as others. The student’s ability to learn and perform can be challenged by the traditional educational methods, but may be dependent upon the accommodations that are made for each course. Instructors can expect that students with a learning disability will require support. The amount of support required may vary for each student. There is no need to change the course structure to accommodate one student; however a combination of various modalities may support a wide range of learning styles.

Instructors can provide support for their students with learning disabilities in the following ways:

  • Share lecture notes with the student in advance.
  • Make sure to remind students of upcoming deadlines.
  • Pause occasionally during a lecture to let the student catch up with notes.
  • Use visual examples when presenting abstract concepts.

Psychological Disabilities

A student with a psychological disability is most commonly registered with the Resource Office and presents medical documentation. Students with psychological disabilities most commonly display fatigue, irritability, anxiety, inattentiveness and difficulty concentrating. These symptoms may affect classroom learning and examinations. The side effects of the medication can result in the onset of these behaviors. If a student decides to reveal his/her diagnosis with the instructor, avoid making assumptions about the student based upon external accumulated information.

Instructors can provide support for their students with psychological disabilities in the following ways:

  • Meet with student privately if they need to discuss accommodations.
  • Communicate deadlines clearly and avoid making sudden changes.
  • Treat student as you would any other student.
  • Keep communication professional and do not attempt to council the student.

Hearing Impairments

There are many different levels of hearing impairments. Depending upon the hearing ability and loss students may rely on a number of interpreting devices. Some common modes of communication used are: lip reading, American Sign Language (ASL), Oral Interpreters, amplification or Computer Assisted Real-time Transcription (CART). The academic accommodation depends upon the degree of hearing loss. Some students use a FM transmission to amplify the instructor’s voice. A small microphone is clipped to the speaker for the student to hear them. Students with hearing loss will provide the instructor with the necessary accommodation that he/she needs at the beginning of the semester.

Instructors can provide support for their students with hearing impairments in the following ways:

  • Keep hands and objects away from your mouth when speaking to a student who has a hearing impairment.
  • When presenting information do not turn your back and use visual aids to supplement information.
  • If using an interpreter provide small breaks throughout the lecture.
  • Use direct eye contact or a light tap on the shoulder to get the student with a hearing impairments attention.

Visual Impairments

There is a broad range of visual impairments that can be experienced by students. Some students may experience progressive loss of vision; while other may have their impairment stabilized but still cannot see near or far. The Resource Office will provide technical and instructional support for each student with a visual impairment. Instructors can use modern technology such as, copy machines, personal computers, text files and closed circuit TV’s to magnify print for the visual impaired student.

Instructors can provide support for their students with visual impairments in the following ways:

  • Offer assistance if a student with a visual impairment is alone.
  • Provide a reading list in advance and if needed enlarge to 150%.
  • Administer tests orally or pre-record on tape.
  • Acknowledge each speaker by name so the student with a visual impairment can know who is participating.

To learn further tips for teaching students with disabilities, consult the following links:

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