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New Mexico State University
New Mexico State University

Overview

Specific suggestions for teaching students with disabilities will be offered in the sections devoted to each disability. Some general considerations are listed below:

  • Identifying students with disabilities.
    Determining that a student has a disability may not always be a simple process. Visible disabilities are noticeable through casual observation, for example, the use of a cane, a wheelchair or crutches. Other students have what is known as hidden disabilities, such as hearing loss, legal blindness, cardiac conditions, learning disabilities, psychiatric or seizure disorders, and medical conditions such as cancer, diabetes, kidney disease, all of which are usually not apparent. Finally, there are students with multiple disabilities. For example, primary conditions such as muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy or multiple sclerosis, depending on the nature and progression of the illness or injury, may be accompanied by a secondary impairment – in mobility, vision, speech, or coordination. Some students with disabilities identify themselves as such by contacting the Student Accessibility Services Office and/or their instructors before or early in the semester. Others, especially those with “hidden” disabilities, may not. Such students, in the absence of instructional adjustment, may have difficulty in their college work prompting them to self-identify just before an examination, often with an expectation of instant attention to their needs. While it is the student’s responsibility to bring any special needs to the instructor’s attention as early as possible, it is the institution’s and instructor’s responsibility to create an appropriate climate for this to occur. The faculty should make an announcement at the beginning of the term inviting students with disabilities to schedule appointments to discuss their needs and contact the Student Accessibility Services Office.
  • Dividing the responsibilities
    To the extent manageable, students with disabilities bear the primary responsibility, not only for identifying their disabilities, but for requesting the necessary adjustments to the learning environment such as reading and taking notes. For testing arrangements and the use of department resources, the cooperation of the faculty member is vital.
  • Faculty-student relationships.
    Discussion between the student and instructor should occur early in the session/term, and follow-up meetings are recommended. Students should provide the faculty member with the Instructor Notification Memo from the Student Accessibility Services Office. Faculty should not feel apprehensive about discussing students’ needs as they relate to the course. There is no reason to avoid using terms that refer to the disability, such as “blind,” “see,” or “walk.” Care should be taken, however, to avoid generalizing a particular limitation to other aspects of a student’s functioning. For example, people in wheelchairs are often spoken to very loudly, as if they are hard of hearing. Students with disabilities may have had some experience with the kind of concerns you bring to the relationship. The students’ own suggestions, based on experience with the disability and with school work, are invaluable in accommodating disabilities in college.
  • Attendance and promptness.
    Students using wheelchairs or other assistive devices may encounter obstacles or barriers in getting to class on time. Others may have periodic or irregular curtailments of functioning, either from their disability or from medication. Some flexibility in applying attendance and promptness rules to such students would be helpful.
  • Functional problems.
    A wide range of students with disabilities may be assisted in the classroom by making book lists available prior to the beginning of the term, by preferred seating arrangements, by speaking directly toward the class, and by identifying key lecture points and assignments. In addition to the adjustments that will be discussed in detail for each category of disability, some understanding is required with respect to more subtle and sometimes unexpected manifestations of disability. Chronic weakness and fatigue characterize some disabilities and medical conditions. Drowsiness, fatigue, impairments of memory, or slowness may result from prescribed medications. Such curtailments of functioning and interferences with students’ ability to perform should be distinguished from the apathetic behavior it may resemble.
  • Note-taking.
    Students who cannot take notes or have difficulty taking notes adequately would be helped by allowing them to tape record lectures, by permitting them to bring a note-taker to class (arranged for by the coordinator/director), by assisting them in borrowing notes from classmates, or by making an outline of lecture materials available to them.
  • Testing and evaluation.
    Depending on the disability, the student may require the administration of exams orally, the use of computers, readers and/or scribes, extended time for exams, modification of test formats or, in some cases, make-up or take-home exams. For out-of-class assignments, the extension of deadlines may be justified. The objective of such arrangements is always to accommodate the student’s learning differences, not to dilute scholastic requirements. The same standards should be applied to students with disabilities as to all other students in evaluation and assigning grades.
  • Frequent Breaks.
    The nature of the student’s disabiity or medication side effects may require allowance to leave during class. Attention should not be called to the student nor should the student cause a disruption to the flow of the lecture while exiting and re-entering the classroom. It is advisable to provide the student with preferential seating in the classroom to minimize the potential for disruption.

*These guidelines are partially adapted, with permission, from Reasonable Accommodations: A Faculty guide to Teaching College Students with Disabilities, published by the Professional Staff Congress (AFT Local #2334), the union representing the instructional staff of The City University of New York.