Understanding Disabilities and Teaching Strategies
Introduction: Each semester 1 out of 10 students in every college classroom across the country is a student with a disability. A 2008 Study of New Jersey Campus Programs for Students with Disabilities (New Jersey Commission on Higher Education, 2009) reported that the community college sector serves the largest number of students with disabilities. At MCC, we typically have over 600 students register and self-identify with the Disability Services Office. However, this number is most likely low as students are not required to disclose any information regarding their disability. Therefore, you as a faculty member should expect that you will have students with disabilities in your classes at some point. These students are part of the culture and fabric of Middlesex County College.
Accommodating students with disabilities is a shared responsibility. Faculty, students and disability services staff must work together to coordinate reasonable accommodations for student with disabilities who request accommodations. At the College level, students with disabilities must present documentation that the Disability Services staff is charged by the institution to review and make recommendations for reasonable accommodations. The Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 guides our decisions. There is a legal and ethical foundation to our work with students. Failure to provide reasonable accommodation can put an individual faculty member and the institution at legal risk.
As an educator, your efforts can contribute to greater academic and career success for the students you have in your classes. Knowledge about legal issues, accommodation strategies, and campus resources for students with disabilities can greatly increase their chances for success. At Middlesex County College, we have had a long favorable legacy of support services and successes. Studies show that faculty members who are familiar with accommodation strategies are better prepared to make arrangements to ensure that students with disabilities have an equal opportunity (not an unfair advantage) to fully participate in their academic programs. In addition, faculty and staff who have had interactions with students with disabilities have more positive attitudes about working with these students. Today, there is a push in higher education for faculty to consider the concept of Universal Design in Instruction, or how to reach many different learners including students with disabilities by being as inclusive in their instructional style as possible. Disability Services including Project Connections, Adapted Testing and the Assistive Technology Lab, are our key resource when working with students with disabilities.
Accommodations are not considered reasonable if they:
• Make a fundamental change in the standards of a program or course
• Maintain confidential records of the student’s disability.
General Teaching Strategies: Below are strategies that benefit students with disabilities and assist in creating an equitable classroom. Some of these strategies may benefit all learners and may be described as “Universal Design”.
• Provide a copy of your syllabus in advance and post to Campus Cruiser for students to access either the first day of the semester or even before the semester begins. Include all semester due dates on your syllabus so that students can plan their work load ahead. Talk it through the first day of class.
• Include a disability Statement on your syllabus: “ If you have a disability and will need academic accommodations please connect with Disability Services in ED100/732.906.2546.
• If open, encourage students to discuss what strategies and accommodations have worked for them. Work with Disability Services to provide the needed supports. If you have any concerns or questions regarding the recommended accommodations please do not hesitate to contact the person who signed the accommodation form for further discussion.
• Write an outline or key points on the board or power point before or during the lecture. Remember that all students have varying learning styles and your class may include students who have a visual, auditory or kinesthetic preference, as well as students with disabilities who have a disability that might impact any one or more of their senses.
• Provide written explanations of all assignments and discuss them in class. Offer office hour time and contact information for students to follow up with you as needed.
• Be mindful when selecting a text book or other instructional materials of the need for the book to be available in alternate format. Discussing the needs of students with disabilities with the publishers will assure that this is possible.
• Be mindful of the need for closed captioning for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. If you have a deaf student in class do not show a film that is not closed captioned unless alternate arrangements have been made.
• Be aware that a recent Department of Justice and Office of Civil Rights Letter (2010) was issued to all institutions requiring that any technologies required at an institution be accessible to students with disabilities. Your voice at Department meetings that your department is mindful of the needs of students with disabilities will ensure that the institution is in compliance.
• Present topics using a variety of instructional methods including oral, visual and hands on projects. Provide cognitive supports such as summarizing major points, providing contextual information, offer scaffolding tools (outlines, class notes, summaries, study guides, copies of projected notes).
• Allow for voluntary student responses rather than calling directly on students. This is especially sensitive for students with speech and communication issues and students with short term processing disorders.
• Be open to assisting students in locating an effective peer note taker, as indicated on the student’s Classroom Accommodation Form.
• Please do not provide disability related accommodations unless you have received a Classroom Accommodation Form from a student.
• Refusing to provide approved accommodations
Tips for making webpage content and navigation may be found at http://www.washington.edu/accessit/kb.php. Faculty should be mindful of graphics that are utilized that might be inaccessible to a person who is blind. If graphics are used, than a text description needs to be created that can be accessible to text to speech software. If the class includes a video presentation, captioning should be provided for those with hearing impairments and audio description should be provided for those who are blind. Sometimes, online courses include teleconferencing opportunities for discussion in small groups. This mode of communication provides challenges for students who are deaf and may need to use the Relay Service in order to participate. As well, if the class requires real time communication, some students with learning disabilities take a long time to compose written communication. Various options should be discussed with the student. It is strongly suggested that departments include information in any promotional materials on how to request accommodations and publications in alternate format.
• Asperger’s Syndrome