Supporting Students with Specific Disabilities

St. Cloud State University outlines helpful suggestions for faculty/instructors when working with specific disabilities.  

Vision Impairments

Suggestions for working with students who are blind or with visual impairments

  • Your cooperation in allowing tape recording of lectures would be greatly appreciated. It allows the student to listen to the lecture again and is a reasonable accommodation.
  • Preferential seating is important for a student with visual impairments. Since visual cues may not be available, you may want to make sure he/she is getting all the auditory cues possible. If the student is using a guide dog, it would help if the student were given an assigned seat so that the dog can aid him/her in getting there. The guide dog is not to be treated as a pet. When a guide dog is with their owner they are working. Ask the student if it is okay before interacting with the animal. Guide dogs must be allowed in the classroom with the student.
  • Give students plenty of notice in the event that research papers are assigned. Someone may have to aid in the literature search, both in finding materials and reading them. You may want to extend deadlines for the student.
  • To assist students with visual impairments when using the blackboard, lessen the glare as much as possible and write in large letters.
  • Important information written on the blackboard should also be emphasized verbally.

Hearing Impairments

Suggestions for working with students who are deaf or with hearing impairments

  • Make sure you have a deaf student’s attention before speaking. A light touch on the shoulder, a wave or some other signal will help.
  • Look directly at the person with a hearing loss during a conversation, even when an interpreter is present. Speak clearly, without shouting. If you have problems being understood, rephrase your thoughts. Writing is a good way to clarify.
  • Make sure that your face is clearly visible. Keep your hands away from your face and mouth while speaking. 
  • Maintain eye contact. If you turn away from a deaf person, hold your conversation until eye contact is re-established.
  • Use facial expressions and gestures to help clarify your message. Pointing to appropriate objects or using visual aids can also be very helpful.
  • If you are in a group situation, only one person should be talking at a time.
  • Circular seating arrangements offer deaf or hard of hearing students the best advantage for seeing all class participants.
  • Allow the student the same anonymity as other students (i.e. Avoid pointing out the student or the alternative arrangements to the rest of the class).
  • When in doubt about how to assist the student, ask him or her.

Mobility Impairments

Suggestions for working with students with mobility impairments

  • Most students who use wheelchairs will ask for assistance if needed. Don’t automatically assume that assistance is required. Offer assistance if you wish, but do not insist and accept a “no, thank you” graciously.
  • If a classroom or faculty office is inaccessible it will be necessary to make the area accessible to the student or locate an alternate class site that is accessible.
  • If breaks between their classes are short, a student who uses a wheelchair or has difficulty walking may be frequently a few minutes late. Student may have to wait for an elevator, take a circuitous but accessible route or wait for assistance in opening doors. Please do not penalize the student for being late.
  • In a class that involves fieldwork or a field trip, ask the student to participate in the selection of sites and modes of transportation. If possible announce field trips early so that students can plan ahead for their transportation.
  • Classes taught in lab settings usually require some modifications of work stations. Considerations include under counter knee clearance, work and counter top heights, horizontal working reach and aisle widths. Working directly with the student may be the best way to determine needed modifications.
  • Students are not “confined” to wheelchairs. Some who use wheelchairs can walk with the aid of canes, braces, crutches or walkers. Using a wheelchair some of the time does not mean an individual is “faking” a disability. It may be a means to conserve energy or move about more quickly.

Psychiatric Disabilities

Suggestions for working with students with psychiatric disabilities

  • Students with a history of psychiatric disabilities can be intelligent, sensitive, creative, and interesting and may have difficulty with responding to change, screening out environmental stimuli, sustaining concentration, interacting with others, responding to negative feedback, etc.
  • Address a variety of learning styles (e.g. auditory, visual, kinesthetic, experiential, or a combination of styles).
  • Incorporate experiential learning activities.
  • Be prepared to set behavioral expectations for all students in your class.
  • Embrace diversity to include people with psychiatric disabilities.
  • May need prearranged or frequent breaks.

Learning Disabilities/Cognitively Impaired

Suggestions for working with students with learning disabilities/cognitive impairments

  • Provide a detailed course syllabus.
  • Clearly define expectations before courses begin, i.e. grading, materials to be covered, due dates.
  • Start each lecture with an outline of materials to be covered during that class period. At the conclusion of class briefly summarize key points.
  • Write new or technical vocabulary on the board or use handouts.  Terms should be used in context to convey greater meaning.
  • Give assignments both orally and in written form to avoid confusion.
  • Announce reading assignments well in advance for students who are using taped materials. It may take up to two weeks for the Accessibility Services office to tape materials or access E-texts.
  • Your cooperation in allowing tape recording of lectures would be greatly appreciated and in some cases is a reasonable accommodation for certain disabilities. Usually the SDS office will indicate this on the materials sent to you regarding students.
  • Provide study questions for exams that demonstrate the format and content of the test. Explain what constitutes a good answer and why.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Suggestions for working with students who have ADHD or ADD

  • A quiet work area and seating away from windows, doors, or other distractions.
  • Provide opportunities for movement and tactile input.
  • Reformatting documents to minimize clutter and provide documents in alternative formats.
  • Give clear and specific instructions.
  • As the semester progresses, keep reminding students of impending deadlines.
  • Avoid making assignments orally, since students with ADHD may miss them. Always write them on the board or pass them out in written form.

Systemic Disabilities (Cancer, Diabetes, MS, etc.)

Suggestions for working with students with other health issues

  • The condition of a student with a medical disability may fluctuate over time, causing the need for a type of accommodation to vary.
  • Some of these conditions may cause the student to exceed an attendance policy. A reasonable accommodation should reflect the nature of the class requirements and the arrangements initiated by the student for completing the assignments.
  • A student may need to leave the classroom early and unexpectedly; the student should be held accountable for missed instruction. The faculty should be accommodating with this.
  • Ask the student if he or she will need assistance during an emergency evacuation and assist in making a plan if necessary.
  • Ask the student if you are unsure about something.