Saint Louis University

Working with Students With Disabilities

This page presents tips on collaborating with Students with Disabilities.*  Remember that if you are unsure of what a student needs, it may be invaluable to ask how he or she best learns or understands. Always talk directly to the student because you are working with the student, not a service provider or other entity. Rather than focusing on the disability itself, focus on how to best support the student.

Do not confuse conduct issues with disability issues; all students should meet the policies and procedures outlined in the Student Handbook.

For more information about working with students with disabilities you might want to visit The Faculty Room at the University of Washington.  Additionally, Universal Design for Learning may provide information about how to make courses more accessible for all students, rather than focusing on specific disabilities.

I want to read about:
Learning Disabilities and ADD/ADHD

Psychological Disabilities
Autism Spectrum Disabilities
Deaf/Hard of Hearing
Mobility Disabilities
Visual Disabilities
Chronic Medical Disabilities

Learning Disabilities and ADD/ADHD
1. Students with learning disabilities or ADD/ADHD typically process information differently than their peers without a disability.
2. Use clear, precise language.
3. Give short instructions or use numbered steps.
4. Speak slowly and allow pauses for processing.
5. Repeat verbal information, as needed.
6. Support audio information with visuals, like models or images.
7. Consider using a different type of pop quiz, like in class participation or a take home quiz.
8. If using a traditional pop quiz, consider giving all students the questions in advance.
9. Take breaks during instruction.
10. Use multimedia approaches to instruction.
11. Leave slides up a little longer for note-taking.
12. Makes notes and Powerpoints available online.
13. Add interactive elements to lecture.

Common Accommodations: extra time testing, test outside the classroom, private room testing, use of tape recorder for lectures, repeat oral instructions, volunteer student note-taker, preferred seating upon request, provide copy of Powerpoints, computer for essay exams, computer to take notes

Psychological Disabilities
1. Psychological disabilities cause changes in thinking/feeling that decrease ability to complete daily tasks.
2. Many people with psychological disabilities do not show any visible signs.
3. Students with some psychological disabilities may have to remove themselves from a situation.
4. Take breaks during instruction.
5. Consider offering alternatives to oral presentations in front of the class.
6. Provide alternative attendance guidelines in case of crisis.

Common Accommodations: extra time testing, test outside the classroom, preferred seating upon request, permission to leave class, priority registration, flexible deadlines, attendance accommodation

Autism Spectrum Disabilities
1. Each person with an autism spectrum disability is affected differently.
2. Students may exhibit signs of stimming or unexpected communication patterns.
3. Avoid using or explain sarcasm, irony, or similar jokes.
4. Use clear, precise language.
5. Repeat verbal information, as needed.
6. Set behavioral guidelines for the class.

Common Accommodations: extra time testing, test outside the classroom, repeat oral instructions, flexible deadlines, provide copy of Powerpoints, permission to leave class

Deaf/Hard of Hearing
1. People with hearing loss often identify as Deaf; the Deaf community receives a capital.
2. People with mild to moderate hearing loss may call themselves hard of hearing.
3. A person who is deaf does not necessarily use sign language.
4. Enunciate carefully but without exaggeration.
5. Speak at a normal pace, unless another request is made.
6. Ensure that your mouth is in clear view, and face the person as directly as possible.
7. Repeat questions or statements made by other students before responding.
8. For people who lipread, it is important to have an unobstructed view of the mouth.
9. Do not shout.
10. Use body language or facial expression to convey feeling.
11. Ensure only one person is speaking at a time.
12. Speak to the person who is deaf, not to a service provider.
13. Consider offering all class materials in digital format.
14. Provide captioning for any audiovisual material.

Common Accommodations: preferred seating upon request, caption videos, provide syllabus in advance, transcriptioning services, sign language interpreting, volunteer student note-taker

Mobility Disabilities
1. Students with mobility disabilities may have fatigue, muscle weakness, or paralysis.
2. Do not give help without asking and receiving consent.
3. Remember that a mobility disability does not impact cognition.
4. Avoid blocking accessibility features, like parking, elevators, or automated doors.
5. Be aware of accessible pathways within and to the classroom.

Common Accommodations: preferred seating upon request, accessibility within classroom, accessible classroom location, extra time to get to class, computer for essay exams, computer to take notes, use of a scribe for exams, use of stool during lab, priority registration

Visual Disabilities
1. Do not give help without asking and receiving consent.
2. Allow the person to take your arm, rather than taking his or her arm.
3. Do not pet a service dog.
4. Mention your name, so that the person knows who you are.
5. Be aware of accessible pathways within and to the classroom.
6. Describe visual aids used in class.
7. Offer written instructions in enlarged font.

Common Accommodations: alternate text format, electronic copies of handouts, describe visual materials, read instructions aloud, use of computer to take notes, enlarged print on tests, use of a scribe for exams, use of a reader for exams, use of screen reading software, preferred seating upon request, provide syllabus in advance

Chronic Medical Disabilities
1. Students may experience frequent pain, fatigue, illness, or hospitalization.
2. Consider flexibility with deadlines or attendance if students report disability related problems.

Common Accommodations: allow food and drink as needed, allow breaks during exams, accessible classroom location, use of computer to take notes, use of personal equipment, priority registration, test outside the classroom, permission to leave class, attendance accommodation, flexible deadlines,

Use language that identifies the person first, rather than the disability. For example, instead of calling someone, "a blind person," instead say, "a person who is blind." Avoid outdated or offensive terms, like retarded, confined to a wheelchair, wheelchair bound, crippled, dumb, mute, or lame.
Remember that just because a person has a disability, it does not mean that he or she is sick, a victim, or abnormal. It is interaction with the environment that leads to limitations.

Also be sure to take into consideration what language the student with the disability uses to identify him or her self.

*adapted and expanded from "Tips for Effective Communication" by Dr. Karen A. Myers with permission

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