It is important to remember not to assume anything about a particular type of disability. When students with an apparent disability are in a class, the professor may choose to casually approach them after the first class and ask whether there are any specific accommodations they require. Although the professor is not obligated to do this, it is a quick and courteous way to open the door to communication and may help a reluctant student express needs at the beginning. In addition, it is not insulting to the person involved. Many students mention that they often feel invisible and appreciate when a professor approaches them.

Hearing Loss

Characteristics and General Information

Students with hearing loss may vary widely in the degree of loss and the means they use to compensate for that loss. Some individuals may be deaf, with little or no useful residual hearing. Many of these individuals do not wear hearing aids because they have so little hearing. Others will wear hearing aids that improve hearing somewhat, but even the latest technology in hearing aids provides the wearer with distorted hearing at best. Some people with a hearing loss will develop lip-reading skills, but even the most skilled lip reader will understand only about 60 to 70 percent of a conversation and even less of a lecture. Students with a hearing loss may have a speaking voice that is quite easy to understand and may choose to communicate orally. Others may be hard to understand and may choose not to use their voices. If a student is not using his or her voice and comes to see a professor without an interpreter, a pen and paper or a computer word processor may be used to communicate with the professor. If the student tries to use his or her voice and the professor does not understand, the professor should tell the student he or she is having trouble and ask the student to repeat or to write down what he or she is saying. Conversely, a student with a hearing loss may nod and appear to understand what the professor is saying but may miss an important point. It is often a good approach to stop frequently to ask the person to repeat what was understood and to clarify any missed information. When a student with a hearing loss identifies himself/herself, the professor needs to determine how best to meet that student’s needs. The two should discuss how the class is taught (lecture, board work, group discussion, films or videos), and the student should suggest ways to access the information presented in class. For example,

  • Look directly at the student and speak in a normally pitched voice – speaking louder does not help.
  • Try not to stand with one’s back to the light source or window, which makes it difficult to read lips.
  • Address the student even if an interpreter is being used.
  • When writing on the blackboard, do not speak with one’s back turned. Use overheads when possible.
  • Professors should keep in mind that students who have been deaf since birth and use sign language have a concept of syntax that is different from that of a native English speaker. This difference may sometimes result in writing that is somewhat awkward, and students may need to be referred to the Writing Center for assistance. It does not mean that they are not intelligent and that they do not know how to write. American Sign Language truly is a foreign language.

Examples of Accommodations

Accommodations may include:

  1. Use of a sign language interpreter or an oral interpreter-people with a significant hearing loss who do not know sign language may use an oral interpreter; the interpreter mouths the professor’s words for the individual and uses gestures and facial expressions.
  2. Use of a note taker.
  3. Use of a phonic ear-the professor wears a wireless microphone and the individual uses a receiver, which allows the person to hear only the professor’s voice amplified and screens out background noise that hearing aids would amplify.

Methods of Evaluation

Generally, written examinations should not present these students any difficulties, but an oral presentation or a group project may require a different evaluation.

Physical Disabilities

Characteristics and General Information

Students with physical disabilities may have multiple disabilities that require a variety of accommodations, or they may need only an accessible classroom location. Students should be asked to describe their needs. For example, many students who appear quite disabled may have complete use of their arms and hands and be able to take notes or written exams, while others who do not appear disabled may have nerve, or other, damage that prevents them from taking notes or written exams.

Types of Physical Disabilities

Students with physical disabilities may include the following:

  1. Wheelchair users who may have cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, spinal chord injuries, or spina bifida
  2. People with mobility impairments, such as those caused by amputations, arthritis, lupus, diabetes, medical illnesses, cystic fibrosis, or multiple sclerosis

Examples of Accommodations

Accommodations may include:

  1. Relocation of a classroom or activity to ensure physical access (Note: If the class involves any field trips or other off-campus activity, those locations must be physically accessible)
  2. Alternatives to in-class writing assignments for a student who cannot write
  3. A note taker
  4. A scribe or adaptive computer equipment for examinations
  5. Ways to include a student who cannot speak in group discussions or other group formats (Student may have a communication device or an aid)
  6. Extended time for written exams and the use of a word processor in some cases

Blindness And Visual Deficits

Characteristics and General Information

Visual deficits can range from minor loss (which is somewhat correctable) to complete blindness. An important fact to keep in mind with students without the ability to read is that many have not been taught Braille; therefore, they must listen to all the material that other students read. This complete reliance on listening poses challenges and may slow down the pace at which they can take in information-it takes longer to listen to a book than to read that same book. In addition, the student probably tapes class lectures instead of taking notes and has to listen to portions of the tapes to review for exams. Therefore, a request for additional time to complete assignments may be legitimate.

Examples of Accommodations

Accommodations may include:

  1. A list of texts and class syllabi made available in advance for readers and tape recording material
  2. Taped books and other written materials
  3. Enlarged print books and written materials
  4. Extended time for examinations
  5. Alternative forms of examinations- taped, oral with professor, dictated to a scribe
  6. Access to adaptive computer equipment
  7. Consultation with Disability Services to produce diagrams or illustrations using tactile materials
  8. Special assistance in laboratories and other experiential components of class

Psychiatric Disabilities

Characteristics and General Information

Individuals with psychiatric disabilities are becoming more numerous on campuses as medical management of such conditions becomes more sophisticated and societal acceptance of these individuals increases. Most individuals with psychiatric disabilities are involved in therapy outside of Shenandoah University, and many take medications to help manage their conditions. Many students with psychiatric disabilities have previously attended college, and they often have strong intellectual abilities. They may, however, doubt those abilities after their illness. Given some support and classroom accommodations, most students do well.

Types of Disabilities

Some of the more common psychiatric disabilities that students may identify to their professors are bipolar affective disorder, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, personality disorder and clinical depression. For many students, medication often causes thought-processing and expressive abilities to be slower than usual. Sensitivity about in-class assignments, particularly oral presentations, is important.

Examples of Accommodations

Accommodations may include:

  1. Extended time and a quiet undisturbed environment for exams
  2. Extended time to complete assignments
  3. Reduced course load

Learning Disabilities

Characteristics and General Information

A learning disability is a general term that refers to a heterogeneous group of disorders manifested by significant difficulties in the acquisition and use of listening, speaking, reading, writing, reasoning or mathematical abilities. These disorders are intrinsic to the individual, presumed to be due to central nervous system dysfunction and may occur across the life span. Problems in self-regulatory behaviors, social perception and social interaction may exist with learning disabilities but do not by themselves constitute a learning disability. It is important to remember that a person with a learning disability has probably experienced significant frustration in academic environments. The ways in which a learning disability manifests itself can often cause teachers, parents and others to determine that a person is lazy or not motivated, when in fact the person is struggling without success. Once students are identified as having a learning disability, they can begin to learn compensatory strategies that help them to learn more effectively and partially overcome the deficits. They will, however, always take more time and use more effort to succeed at certain academic tasks.

Common Characteristics

Some possible characteristics of students with learning disabilities are listed below.

  1. Slow reading rate
  2. Poor phonics skills, confusion of similar words
  3. Difficulty comprehending what is read
  4. Trouble identifying main ideas and determining what is important
  5. Difficulty remembering what is read
  6. Difficulty remembering spoken instructions
  7. Problems describing events or stories in sequence
  8. Misuse of words-using a similar sounding word for the appropriate one
  9. Greater problems with grammar or ideas when speaking than when writing
  10. Problems expressing ideas that he or she understands
  11. Difficulty recalling basic math operations and facts
  12. Problems with abstract concepts and reasoning
  13. Reversals and confusion of numbers and symbols
  14. Difficulty comprehending word problems
  15. Problems copying from the board or carrying from one column to another
  16. Difficulty with time management
  17. Delay in beginning or following through on assignments
  18. Lack of organization in note taking and written assignments
  19. Inefficient use of library resources

Examples of Accommodations

Learning disability accommodations can vary greatly according to the documentation provided, the student’s strengths and weaknesses, and the recommendations of clinicians and educators. Accommodations may include:

  1. Extended time for examinations
  2. A note taker or tape recorder in class
  3. Alternative forms of testing and expressing knowledge (oral, dictation to a scribe, essay exams instead of short answer or fill-in)