Helping Students with Disabilities Achieve Their Academic Goals

Helping Students with Disabilities

Students with disabilities, faculty, and the Office of Accessible Education (OAE) staff share a collective responsibility to ensure that adjustments made in a particular class accommodate the student’s disability, without altering academic standards or course content. The following suggestions can enhance the general teaching environment while helping students with disabilities achieve the academic goals of your course.  For more details and support, consult the Faculty page at the OAE.

Disability Guidelines

Early identification of required textbooks and reading assignments

Whenever possible, complete syllabi at least three weeks in advance of the beginning of the quarter.When this is not feasible, instructors are encouraged to identify the required reading assignments for the first three weeks of the quarter. Early identification of textbooks and assignments allows the OAE the lead time necessary to prepare course materials in alternative formats such as braille or audiotape, as is required by law.

Statement for course syllabi

Include the following statement on the class syllabus and review it during the first class meeting: “Students with Documented Disabilities: Students who may need an academic accommodation based on the impact of a disability must initiate the request with the Office of Accessible Education (OAE).  Professional staff will evaluate the request with required documentation, recommend reasonable accommodations, and prepare an Accommodation Letter for faculty dated in the current quarter in which the request is being made. Students should contact the OAE as soon as possible since timely notice is needed to coordinate accommodations.  The OAE is located at 563 Salvatierra Walk (phone: 723-1066, URL:, TDD 723-1067).”

Class handouts and writing on the board with the visually impaired

Handouts and writing on the board are barriers to students who are blind or who have visual impairments. Read what you write on the board as you write it and verbally describe visual aids. For example, you might say, “The five-inch-long steel rod,” rather than “this” or “that” (which are basically meaningless phrases to not only a visually impaired student but to any student who is focusing on taking notes). Acknowledge students by name during discussions so the students know who is participating. Offer to provide your syllabus and other handouts in alternative media. The OAE can assist students in many ways; students with needs should work with the OAE to take advantage of their help.

Lectures and discussions with the hearing-impaired

Students who are hearing impaired and read lips cannot follow the lecture or conversation when the speaker’s back or head is turned. Be aware of the direction that you are facing and try to face the class. Speak slowly and clearly without shouting; don’t exaggerate or overemphasize lip movements. Refrain from chewing gum or otherwise blocking the area around your mouth with your hands or other objects. Try to avoid standing in front of windows or other sources of light. The glare from behind you makes it difficult to read lips and other facial expressions. In group discussion, ask one person to talk at a time so that the student will not miss out on information.

The OAE can assist students who are deaf or hearing impaired with notetakers and sign-language interpreters. If an intermediary is used, look at and speak directly to the student, not the interpreter. This is more courteous and allows the student the option of viewing both you and the interpreter to more fully follow the flow of conversation. When using slides, movies, or overheads, leave enough light so the student can see the interpreter. If a written script is available, provide the interpreter and student with a copy in advance.

Notetakers and laboratory assistants

From time to time, you will be asked by the OAE staff to identify potential notetakers or laboratory assistants to facilitate academic accommodations for a student with a disability. All such assistants receive payment for their services and the OAE appreciates your assistance in the recruiting efforts.

Classroom accessibility

Access is one of the major concerns of the student who uses a wheelchair or has a mobility impairment. In the event that the classroom you are assigned is inaccessible for a particular student, contact the OAE. It is this office’s responsibility to work with the student and the academic department to remedy issues of classroom inaccessibility or modifications that are needed in a laboratory setting.

See Also:

Major Policies & Practices Every TA Should Know

Faculty Resources on Working with Students with Disabilities

Faculty Guide to the Office of Accessible Education (video segments)