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Disability Accommodations

Disabilities affect student’s ability to learn in many ways.   Disabilities and learning styles are unique to each individual.  Many accommodations are simple, creative alternatives for traditional ways of doing things.  Following are examples and suggestions to try in your classroom.   They are by no means comprehensive.

Explanation: People with low vision are those who have limited usable sight, including learners who are considered “legally” blind.  Material may be too small to read, objects are blurry, or are limited in their field of vision with sections missing.  Learning through visual medium may take longer and may be more mentally fatiguing for people who have low vision.

Accommodations: Use large print books, handouts, signs, and equipment labels.  Some learners may benefit from audiotape, seating where the lighting is best; television monitors connected to microscopes to enlarge images, class assignments made available in electronic formats; and computers equipped with screen enlargers. 

Explanation: People who have not had vision since birth may have difficulty understanding verbal descriptions of visual materials and abstract concepts, ex: “This diagram of ancestral lineage looks like a tree.”  However, learners who have lost their vision later in life may find it easy to understand this verbal description.  Demonstrations based on color differences may be more difficult for learners with blindness to understand than demonstrations that emphasize changes in shape, temperature, or texture.

Accommodations: Ready access to printed materials on computer disks or the Internet allows blind learners, who have the appropriate technology, to use computers to read text aloud and/or produce Braille.  Some materials may need to be transferred to audiotape.  Use clear, concise narration of the basic points being represented in visual aids is helpful.  Other accommodations could include tactile models and raised-line drawings of graphic materials; adaptive lab equipment such as talking thermometers, calculators, light probes, and tactile timers; and computers with optical character readers, voice output, Braille screen displays, and Braille printers.

Learners who have hearing impairments may hear at a functional level with the assistance of amplification devices.  Others hear only specific frequencies, sounds within a certain volume range, or nothing at all.  Strategies used often include a combination of lip-reading, sign language, and amplification to understand spoken information.  It is difficult to follow lectures, simultaneously watch demonstrations and follow verbal descriptions.  It may also be difficult for them to follow or participate in class discussions.  Students may have speech impairments.  Encourage them to participate in class discussions, ask them to repeat themselves when you cannot understand them, encourage other students to interact with them.

Accommodations: Hearing impairment accommodations can include interpreters; sound amplification systems; note takers; visual aids; written lecture outlines, class assignments, lab instructions, and demonstration summaries; visual warning systems for lab emergencies; and electronic mail for faculty-learner meetings and class discussions.  Instructors should turn their faces toward learners with hearing impairments when speaking and discussion questions and statements made by other learners.   Equipment may be needed to amplify voices. Speech impairment accommodations may include computer based speech output systems that can provide an alternative voice for learners who cannot speak and electronic mail does not require the ability to speak.

Learners usually have average to above average intelligence, but may have difficulties demonstrating knowledge and understanding concepts.  It may take longer for some learners to process written information, making lengthy reading or writing assignments or tests difficult to complete in a standard amount of time.  Some learners may be able to organize and communicate their thoughts in one-to-one conversations, but find it difficult to articulate those same ideas in a noisy classroom.

Accommodations: Accommodations may include note takers, audio taped class sessions, extra test time, quiet testing location, alternative testing arrangements, visual, aural, and tactile demonstrations incorporated into instruction, course and lecture outlines, and computers with voice output and spelling and grammar checkers.  Be aware of environmental factors that tend to distract learns, such as seating by a window or a door.

These can range from lower body impairments requiring the use of canes, walkers, or wheelchairs, to upper body impairments, which may result in limited or no use of the hands.  It may be difficult for students to get from class to class, field work sites, manipulate objects, turn pages, write with a pen, type at a keyboard, or retrieve research materials.

Accommodations: Accommodations may include note takers, scribes, and lab assistants; group lab assignments; extended exam time, and alternative testing arrangements.  Other accommodations may include accessible locations for classrooms, labs, and field trips; adjustable tables; equipment located within reach; course materials available in electronic formats; computer with special devices such as voice or Morse code input and alternative keyboards; and access to research resources on the internet.

Explanation: Some health conditions and medications affect memory and/or energy levels.  Additionally, some learners who have health impairments may have difficulties attending classes full-time or on a daily basis.  Be aware of medications that the learner is taking and their potential physical and educational effects.   This is particularly important for learners taking medications for conditions such as seizure disorders.  Some health impairments are chronic and stable while others are sporadic and require flexible accommodations. 

Accommodations: Be flexible.  Other accommodations include note takers and/or taped class sessions; flexible attendance requirements; alternative testing arrangements; assignments available in electronic format; and electronic mail for faculty-learner meetings, class discussions, and distribution of class materials and lecture notes.

Illinois Center for Specialized Professional Support (ICSPS)/Special Populations Project
Walter, S. (2001). Suggested members and resources for the IEP/Transition team. As cited in Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities. (2001). Including youth with disabilities in education to careers. Springfield, Illinois: Author.