Classroom Accommodations for College
Students with Disabilities
Identifying the student with a disability
Determining that a student is disabled may not always be
a simple process. Visible disabilities are noticeable through
casual observation-for example the use of a cane or a wheelchair.
Other students have what are called hidden disabilities,
such as hearing or visual impairments, learning disabilities
and health impairments. Finally, there are students with
multiple disabilities, which are caused by primary conditions
such as multiple sclerosis or muscular dystrophy. These
conditions may be accompanied by impairments in vision,
mobility, speech or coordination which may, in fact, pose
greater learning difficulties. To facilitate the identification
of students with disabilities, instructors should make an
announcement at the beginning of the semester inviting students
with disabilities to talk with them.
Dividing the responsibility
Students bear the primary responsibility, not only for identifying
themselves as disabled, but for making minor adjustments
to the learning environment-for reading and taking notes
for example. For exam arrangements and major adjustments-moving
to an accessible classroom, modifying lab equipment or physical
use of course materials, the assistance of the instructor
Dialogue between the student and the instructor is essential
early in the semester. It is appropriate to discuss the
student's disability as it relates to the course. The student's
own suggestions and experience are invaluable in accommodating
Disabled and nondisabled students may benefit from the following
general adjustments: making reading lists available prior
to the beginning of the semester, thoughtful seating arrangements,
speaking directly to the class, and writing key lecture
points and assignments on the board.
In addition to the specific adjustments that are later categorized
by disability type, some sensitivity is needed to understand
the more subtle and unexpected manifestations of disability.
Chronic fatigue and weakness characterize some disabilities
and medical conditions. Drowsiness, fatigue or impairments
of memory and cognitive speed can result from the use of
prescribed medications. This type of behavior shouldn't
be mistaken for the apathetic behavior it may resemble.
Taking class notes
Students who cannot take notes or who have difficulty taking
notes adequately can be accommodated by allowing them to
tape record lectures, to use a note taker in class or providing
them with an outline or a copy of the instructor's notes.
Testing and evaluation
Depending on the disability, the student may require an
alternative administration of the test. Oral exams, the
use of readers or scribes, extended time limits or a modified
format are examples of alternative
- Reasonable Accommodations: A Faculty
Guide to Teaching College Students with Disabilities.
Professional Staff Congress, City University of New York.
- Measuring Student Progress in the
Classroom. Higher Education and Adult Training for
people with Handicaps. Washington, D.C.
Click here to read more
about classroom accommodations for specific disabilities
you may encounter. For more information, contact Jamie
Mackling in the Counseling Center by calling 375-7321 (or
7557) or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ron Vick, MA, LPC
Counselor / Academic Advisor
Int'l Student Advisor