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Disabilities and Teaching Strategies

Accommodations vary depending on the individual, their disability, and the course, and are determined on a case-by-case basis.

While there are no universal accommodation plans for any given disability, these teaching strategies may be implemented in the classroom. Faculty should speak with the student and consult their “Accommodation Notice” to determine the most effective accommodations and teaching strategies.

Some students may be reluctant to disclose a disability or seek support from the campus resources for fear of being stigmatized, not realizing they could qualify for accommodations. If a student has not yet registered with OSS but is expressing an interest in accommodations, please encourage them to contact our office. If you think a student is struggling with an undiagnosed disability or one that is not being adequately addressed, please use your judgment in reaching out either directly to the student, or contact OSS about your concern.

Vision Impairments

Not all vision impairments are the same, and they range from low vision to total blindness. Some individuals with vision impairments prefer to read the material in Braille, and some prefer to access material in large print or auditorily. All students with disabilities must be given “substantially equivalent ease of access” to course material as any other student. Since course material could take months to convert to an accessible format, it is crucial you give OSS advance notice of all material being used. Each student’s needs are unique, and OSS aims to give faculty members as much notice as possible if we anticipate that a student with a visual impairment will be enrolling in your class. We will facilitate a meeting between you and the student so that you can identify accommodations that will be most helpful without altering fundamental course requirements.

Examples of ways impairment may affect a student’s ability to participate include:

  • Standard written materials may be too small to read and diagrams or other visuals may be difficult to see
  • Some students may see only those objects within a particular field of vision, or see an image with sections missing
  • Text or objects may appear blurry
  • Visual media may be more fatiguing
  • Some students may be able to read enlarged print for a long period of time, while others may only be able to tolerate reading enlarged print for a short period and require readers or audiotaped materials
  • Locating electronic, large-print, Braille or audio-recorded materials can be challenging and take a great deal of time

Potential Accommodations / Teaching Strategies:

  • Course materials (lecture notes, handouts, and course texts) in alternate formats (electronic texts, audio-recordings, Braille, or tactile diagrams)
  • Try to avoid giving last-minute readings and assignments. Students may need advance notice to arrange for material to be converted to alternate formats.
  • Raised-line drawings and tactile models of graphic materials
  • Access to class notes in the form of a professor’s lecture notes or a peer’s class notes
  • Approved audio-recording of classes
  • Verbal descriptions of visual information
  • Seating near the front of the class
  • Readers
  • Homework and test scribes
  • Extended time on tests
  • Computer and course software accessible via screen reading software, or if necessary through the use of a human reader
  • Magnification device or software
  • Braille lab signs and equipment labels, and auditory lab warning signals
  • Adaptive lab equipment (e.g., talking thermometers, calculators, light probes, etc)

For courses that include field trips or internships, OSS can help identify and coordinate accommodations.

Please consult with the student in advance to arrange a plan for how a student will gain assistance in the event of a fire drill or event that requires the fast evacuation of a class or a lab.

Adapted from:

Haverford College, Access and Disability Services
Student Disability Services, Swarthmore College
Access Services, Bryn Mawr College
DO-IT, University of Washington

Hearing Impairments

Hearing impairments range from mild hearing loss to complete deafness. Individuals with hearing impairments may use a variety of communication methods, including lipreading, amplification, American Sign Language (ASL) and others. Some students may use interpreters in class. While the presence of an interpreter may initially feel distracting, classes typically adapt to the interpreter’s presence fairly quickly. Some students who have residual hearing may use a personal FM transmitter/receiver unit (a simple device worn by the instructor).

Examples of ways impairment may affect a student’s ability to participate include:

  • Difficulty following lectures in large halls, particularly if the acoustics cause echoes or if the speaker talks quietly, quickly, or unclearly.
  • Difficulty simultaneously watching demonstrations and following verbal instructions or descriptions, particularly if the student is watching a sign language interpreter, a captioning screen, or the speaker’s lips.
  • Difficulty following and participating in classroom discussions, particularly if the discussions is fast-paced and unmoderated, as there is often a lag time between a speaker’s comments and interpretation.

Students with hearing impairments may communicate via:

  • Lipreading
  • Amplification
  • American Sign Language (ASL)

Students who are deaf may have little or no speech depending on the severity of the hearing loss and the age of onset. They will often communicate through a certified sign language interpreter. The presence of an interpreter may initially feel distracting; however, both professors and students typically adapt to the interpreter’s presence fairly quickly.

Potential Accommodations / Teaching Strategies:

  • Seating close to the instructor
  • Captioned videos and movies
  • Use of an Interpreter
    Note: When an interpreter is used, speak to the student, not to the interpreter. Speak naturally without exaggerating lip movement or volume. Be sure that the interpreter is clearly visible. (Be careful of darker rooms or window glare.)
  • During class discussions, ensure that no more than one person speaks at a time
  • Repeat questions and comments made by other students
  • Include visual media in presenting course information
  • Avoid giving information while handing out papers or writing on the board
  • When reading directly from a text, provide an advance copy; pause briefly when interjecting information not in the text
  • When working with the chalkboard or an overhead projection, pause briefly so that the student may look first at the board and then at the interpreter, to see what is being said
  • Oral tests with an interpreter
  • Extended testing time

For courses that include field trips or internships, OSS can help identify and coordinate accommodations.

Adapted from:
Haverford College, Access and Disability Services
Student Disability Services, Swarthmore College
Access Services, Bryn Mawr College
Center for Students with Disabilities, University of Connecticut

Mobility Impairments

There are many types of orthopedic or neuromuscular impairments that can impact mobility. These include but are not limited to amputation, paralysis, Cerebral Palsy, Stroke, Multiple Sclerosis, Muscular Dystrophy, Arthritis, and spinal cord injury. Mobility impairments range from lower body impairments, which may require use of canes, walkers, or wheelchairs, to upper body impairments which may include limited or no use of the upper extremities and hands. It is impossible to generalize about the functional abilities of students with mobility impairments due to the wide variety of types disabilities and specific diagnoses.

Note: Temporary injuries (like a broken limb or hand) can also impact a student’s ability to participate in class, and might require temporary modifications. A student’s physical abilities may vary from day to day.

Examples of ways impairment may affect a student’s ability to participate include:

  • Students may take longer to get from one class to another, enter buildings, or maneuver in small spaces. In some cases physical barriers may inhibit entry into a building or classroom.
  • A mobility impairment may impact, to varying degrees, a student’s ability to manipulate objects, turn pages, write with a pen or pencil, type at a keyboard, and/or retrieve research materials.
  • Medical conditions such as arthritis or repetitive stress injuries can impact fine motor abilities and decrease endurance for longer assignments.

Potential Accommodations / Teaching Strategies:

  • Accessible locations for classrooms, labs, and field trips
  • Wide aisles and uncluttered work areas
  • Adjustable height and tilt tables; equipment located within reach
  • Notetakers, scribes, and lab assistants
  • Extended testing time or alternative testing arrangements
  • Computers with speech input and alternative keyboards
  • Course materials available in electronic format

For courses that include field trips or internships, OSS can help identify and coordinate accommodations.

Adapted from:
Haverford College, Access and Disability Services
Student Disability Services, Swarthmore College
Access Services, Bryn Mawr College
DO-IT, University of Washington

Health Impairments

There are a range of medical diagnoses and subsequent health problems that can have a temporary or chronic impact on a student’s academic performance. These include, but are not limited to, arthritis, cancer, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Multiple Sclerosis, asthma, AIDS, Crohn’s, and heart disease. Unless the condition is neurological in nature, health impairments are not likely to directly affect learning. However, the secondary effects of illness and the side effects of medications can have a significant impact on memory, attention, strength, endurance, and energy levels.

It is the expectation of the College that students attend and arrive on time to all class meetings. If a student needs to miss class due to a medical disability when their condition flairs, OSS will collaborate with the professor and the student in advance to identify a clear policy on absences so as not to alter fundamental course requirements.

Each instructor has the right to determine their own individual attendance policy. Students are responsible for accounting to their instructors any absence and should contact the faculty member following any absence to determine if and when work may be made up. OSS is happy to consult with students and faculty to determine what is appropriate in specific circumstances.

Examples of ways impairment may affect a student’s ability to participate include:

  • Missing class for unpredictable and prolonged time periods
  • Health problems may also interfere with the physical skills needed to complete laboratory, computer, or writing assignments
  • Individuals with arthritis, for example, may have difficulty writing due to pain or joint deformities, making it a challenge for them to meet the writing requirements for some classes
  • Students with Multiple Sclerosis may not be able to manipulate small laboratory equipment or complete tasks that require precise measuring, graphing, or drawing
  • Prolonged sitting may pose challenges for an individual with chronic pain or back problems
  • Illness or injury may result in limitations in mobility which require the need to use a wheelchair or scooter for mobility
  • Some students must avoid specific activities that trigger their conditions. For example, a student with asthma may need to avoid specific inhalants in a lab.

Potential Accommodations / Teaching Strategies:

  • Notetakers or scribes
  • Audio-recording of classes
  • Flexible attendance policy
  • Short-term extensions on assignments when possible
  • Extended testing time or alternative testing arrangements
  • Assignments available in electronic format
  • Electronic distribution of course materials
  • Speech recognition computer input devices

When health conditions result in mobility problems, accommodations for students with mobility impairments may be appropriate.

Adapted from:
Haverford College, Access and Disability Services
Student Disability Services, Swarthmore College
Access Services, Bryn Mawr College
DO-IT, University of Washington

Learning Differences

Like all institutions of higher education, there are students at Ramapo College that have learning differences and disabilities. Some students have been diagnosed with learning disabilities that make it challenging for them to process and retain written and/or oral material efficiently. Others have learning differences that make it difficult for them to express themselves verbally or in writing. The Learning Disabilities Association of America defines a learning disability as “a neurological condition that interferes with a person’s ability to store, process, or produce information.” Learning differences do not stem from a lack of intelligence or lack of preparation. Examples include but are not limited to AD/HD, dyslexia, dysgraphia, auditory processing disorder, and visual processing disorder.

Whether or not students have diagnosed learning disabilities, all students process information in different ways. Some students retain visual information more easily (e.g., charts, graphs, images). Others benefit from lecture and discussion formats, where they can hear ideas and information. Still others engage with course content more easily through labs and group projects.

Potential Accommodations / Teaching Strategies:

  • Course materials (lecture notes, handouts, and course texts) in alternate formats (electronic texts or audio-recordings)
  • Before posting documents on Moodle (especially PDFs) or giving them to students in an electronic format, be sure they have been converted through Optical Character Recognition (OCR) so it can read by text-to-speech software. Please see the links below for guidance.
  • Access to class notes in the form of a note taker or professor’s lecture notes
  • Use of a Smart Pen to assist in taking class notes
  • Extended testing time
  • Low-distraction testing location
  • Access to text-to-speech and/or speech-to-text software
  • Use of a laptop on exams
  • Visual, aural, and tactile demonstrations incorporated into instruction
  • Concise course and lecture outlines
  • Reinforcing directions verbally
  • Breaking large amounts of information or instructions into smaller segments

Adapted from:
Haverford College, Access and Disability Services
Student Disability Services, Swarthmore College
Access Services, Bryn Mawr College
DO-IT, University of Washington

Autism Spectrum

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), including Asperger Syndrome, are lifelong neurodevelopmental disorders that are characterized by impairments in verbal and/or nonverbal communication. Increasing numbers of students with High-Functioning Autism (or Asperger Syndrome) are entering college. Many have strong academic skills and may have just a few characteristics of the condition. Some of the symptoms of Asperger Syndrome might make it appear as if a student is being rude or is uninterested in your class. The student may in fact be highly engaged, but due to difficulties in social communication, his or her behavior might come across as unusual.

Not all students are comfortable sharing that they have been diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. However, we find that openness often helps faculty better understand a student’s behavior, and therefore encourage students to share this with their professors. We work with students with Autism Spectrum Disorders on how to share this with their professors (e.g., in person, in a letter, with OSS, etc.), and appreciate your sensitivity and understanding in this very personal matter. OSS is available to work with students and faculty to explore accommodations that will be helpful to both without altering fundamental course requirements. We are happy to consult at any time if you have any questions.

Note: If a student has not requested accommodations, OSS might not be aware that a student has ASD. If you think a student in your class has an Autism Spectrum Disorder and would like help accommodating them in your classroom, please contact OSS.

Common Characteristics of High-Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder:

  • Average to above-average intellect
  • May have a strong, narrow interest in a particular subject area
  • Some students may be unaware if they are monopolizing a discussion. Some may be tangential in answering questions. May appear to be talking “at you” rather than “with you.”
  • Difficulty making and maintaining eye contact
  • May lack voice intonation and modulation
  • Difficulty interpreting others’ body language and facial expressions
  • Difficulties understanding the motives and perceptions of others. May not understand social rules.
  • Literal and concrete thinking. May have difficulties with abstraction and understanding nuance, metaphors and/or sarcasm.
  • Difficulty with seeing the big picture. May perseverate on details.
  • Transitions and unexpected changes can cause students to become anxious, and some students may have difficulty regulating their emotions in these situations
  • Motor clumsiness, unusual body movements and/or repetitive, self-soothing behavior
  • May be highly sensitive to light, noise, smell, taste and touch
  • May have difficulty with organization, e.g., planning, executing and completing tasks.

Potential Accommodations / Teaching Strategies:

  • Breaks during class
  • Extended testing time
  • Low-distraction testing environment
  • Advance notice of course changes when possible
  • Evaluate when partner or group work is fundamentally essential to the course, and when a student may benefit from the opportunity for individual work
  • Use clear, concrete directives if a student inadvertently invades your space or begins to monopolize a group discussion with questions or comments. Don’t be afraid of offending a student. The more clear and concrete you can be about class rules, the better.
  • List all course requirements in writing, including assignment due dates and test dates. Avoid vague instructions. Provide advance written notice of any changes.
  • If you use idioms, double meaning or sarcasm, review what you mean in concrete terms.
  • Should a student become upset by an unexpected change, provide the student with a simple directive (e.g., “Please take a five minute break and go have a seat quietly in the hallway.”) Some students have difficulty regulating and filtering their responses to unforeseen situations, and the emotional reactions of students might appear to be overly reactive to a given situation. Try not to become alarmed and overreact, and maintain a calm, neutral voice. A student may be ashamed if he or she has been unable to control his or her reactions. You can help to neutralize the situation by maintaining an attitude of acceptance and non-judgment while giving the student a calm, clear directive to help him or her regroup (e.g., “Take a minute and go get a drink of water”).

Adapted from:
Haverford College, Access and Disability Services
Student Disability Services, Swarthmore College
Access Services, Bryn Mawr College
Students with Asperger Syndrome: A Guide for College Personnel. By Lorraine E. Wolf, Ph,D., Jane Thierfeld Brown, Ed.D., and G. Ruth Kukiela Bork, M.Ed. Shawnee Mission: Autism Asperger Publishing Company, 2009.

Psychological/Psychiatric Conditions

Psychological or psychiatric conditions can be tremendously challenging for college students. Psychological disabilities may include, but are not limited to, anxiety disorders, depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. These conditions (and sometimes the medication used to treat the conditions) can lead to difficulties with attention and concentration, extreme worry, excessive fatigue, lack of sleep, excessive energy, and difficulties regulating emotions, among other symptoms and side-effects. Students’ symptoms and academic performance may vary from day to day. Since their condition is not necessarily obvious, it can be difficult for peers and faculty to understand why a student may be having difficulty functioning socially or academically. We are unable to share any clinical information with faculty about the nature of the disability unless the student has given us explicit written permission.

Note: If a student discloses a psychological disability to you, please do not ask the student to share details of the disability if he or she does not wish to share information.

It is the expectation of the College that students attend and arrive on time to all class meetings. If a student needs to miss class due to a psychological disability when their condition flairs, OSS will collaborate with the professor, the student, and their dean in advance to identify a clear policy on absences so as not to alter fundamental course requirements. Each instructor has the right to determine their own individual attendance policy. Students are responsible for accounting to their instructors any absence and should contact the faculty member following any absence to determine if and when work may be made up. OSS is happy to consult with students and faculty to determine what is appropriate in specific circumstances.

Potential Accommodations / Teaching Strategies:

  • Extended testing time and/or distraction-reduced testing environment
  • Short-term extensions on assignments
  • Permission to leave classroom for short breaks when possible
  • Flexible attendance policy

Adapted from:
Haverford College, Access and Disability Services
Student Disability Services, Swarthmore College
Access Services, Bryn Mawr College