Students with physical disabilities may have multiple disabilities that require a variety of accommodations, or they may only need an accessible classroom location. It is important to remember not to assume anything about a particular type of disability, but to ask students to describe their needs. For example, many students who are visibly disabled may have complete use of their arms and hands and are able to take notes and written exams, while others who do not appear disabled may have nerve damage that prevents them from taking notes or written exams. When there is a student with an apparent disability in the classroom, faculty may inquire casually before or after class to find out if there are any specific accommodations the student requires.
Types of physical or mobility impairments may include cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, spinal chord injuries, spina bifida, mobility impairment, amputees, arthritis, lupus, diabetes, medical illness, and cystic fibrosis.
- The relocation of classroom or other activities to ensure physical access requires that field trips and other off-campus activities must be physically accessible.
- A student who uses a wheelchair may frequently be a few minutes late due to the distance or terrain he/she has to traverse. It is appropriate for faculty to discuss the situation with the student and seek solutions.
- For field trips, faculty should ask the student to assist in the selection of sites and modes of transportation.
- Classes taught in laboratory settings may require some simple adjustments to the work stations. It is important to work directly with the student to create an accessible work station so that the student is able to participate as fully as possible in lab assignments.
- For students in wheelchairs, it is important to ask what type of assistance they require rather than merely pushing the wheelchair.
- When talking for a long period of time to a student who uses a wheelchair, one should sit down in order to make the student feel more comfortable.
- A student may need to use a scribe or adaptive equipment for examinations.
- Faculty should try to include students who cannot speak in group discussions.
- Faculty can discuss with the student to more effectively include him/her in class discussions.
- Extra time should be given to students to complete written examinations. (Appropriate accommodations for individuals will be stated in the accommodation letter sent to faculty by the ADA coordinator).
Psychiatric disabilities may not be apparent. Nevertheless, they can have a dramatic impact on interpersonal skills and behavior, hence negatively affect the learning process. In some cases, there are helpful and appropriate accommodations. Some of the more common psychiatric disabilities among college students include major depression, manic depression, bipolar disorder, severe anxiety disorders such as panic attacks, social phobias, or post-traumatic stress disorder, sleeping disorders, eating disorders, substance-related disorders, schizophrenia and dissociative disorders. Most individuals with psychiatric disabilities are involved in therapy outside of Bowie State University, and many are currently taking medications to help relieve their conditions.
If a student requests services or reasonable accommodations, Disability Support Services requires recent and adequate professional documentation. Reasonable academic accommodation for students with psychiatric disabilities may include extra time on exams, a quiet testing space, taping of lectures, and tutorial assistance. Some students may benefit from the use of other campus resources to enhance study skills, time management, interpersonal communication, counseling, and career planning.
Helpful Hints for Faculty Who Teach Students with Psychiatric Disabilities
If a student with a psychiatric disability approaches a faculty member to reveal his/her disability, the student should be referred to the Counseling Center located in Room 001 of the Thurgood Marshall Library.
It is important to neither ignore nor attempt to treat a psychological disorder. Faculty should only discuss a student’s behaviors or accommodation needs as they relate to the course. Any information the student discloses regarding his or her disability is confidential unless he or she gives permission or requests a faculty member to consult with other campus departments.
If the student exhibits inappropriate behaviors in the classroom, faculty should discuss the matter privately with the student in order to delineate the limits of unacceptable conduct. Students are expected to follow the University’s code of conduct. If a student exhibits abusive, threatening, or disruptive behavior, faculty should consult with or refer the matter to any of the following offices: chairperson of the department, Counseling Center, vice president of Student and Academic Affairs, coordinator of Disability Support Services, or campus police.
Students with psychological disabilities should be given the same respect as other students.
Learning Disabilities/Attention Deficit Disorder
One disability group that has increased dramatically over the past three years, and for which there is still little specific information about appropriate and reasonable accommodations, is the learning disabled. In addition to increased growth in the overall population of students with learning disabilities, there are considerable differences in the types and extents of learning disabilities among individuals as well as the services and accommodations to which they are entitled.
Learning disability is a general term that refers to a variety of specific impairment disabilities that create difficulty with information processing. Disability Support Services requires very extensive diagnostic assessments to verify the disability and the accommodations needed. Persons diagnosed with a learning disability exhibit significant discrepancies in one or more areas of achievement, aptitude,or information processing.
Definition of Learning Disability (LD)
A learning disability is a disorder that affects the manner in which individuals, with normal or above average intelligence process, retains and expresses information. An LD is commonly recognized as a significant deficit in one or more of the following areas: oral expression, listening comprehension, written expression, basic reading skills, reading comprehension, mathematical calculation, or problem solving. Individuals with learning disabilities also may have difficulty with sustained attention, time management, or social skills.
Learning disabilities are presumably due to central nervous system dysfunction. An LD exists cross-culturally and occurs among people of all racial and ethnic groups. A learning disability may persist throughout life, but the problems manifested may change depending upon the learning demands and the setting. It may cause problems in grade school, disappear during high school, and then resurface again in college. It may manifest itself in only one academic area, such as math or foreign language. Conversely, it may impact an individual’s performance across a variety of subject areas and disciplines. Because a learning disability is not visible, teachers, parents, and peers often do not understand the challenge faced by individuals with this type of impairment. Consequently, many adults with learning disabilities often have to "prove" to others that their invisible disabilities are a handicap.
What a Learning Disability is Not
A learning disability is not a form of mental retardation or emotional disorder. An LD is primarily due to other handicapping conditions, environmental or cultural influences.
Even though it may occur concomitantly with other handicapping conditions, LD is not the result of these conditions.
Characteristics of Students with Learning Disabilities
LD students exhibit some or all of the following characteristics in the skill areas listed.
- Slow reading rate and/or difficulty in modifying reading rate in accordance with the level of difficulty of the material.
- Uneven comprehension and retention of material.
- Difficulty identifying important points and themes.
- Incomplete mastery of phonics, confusion of similar words, difficulty integrating new vocabulary.
- Skipping of words or lines of printed material.
- Difficulty reading for long periods.
Written Language Skills
- Difficulty planning a topic and organizing thoughts on paper.
- Difficulty with sentence structure (e.g., incomplete sentences, run-ons, poor use of grammar, missing inflectional endings).
- Frequent spelling errors (e.g. omissions, substitutions, transpositions), especially in specialized and foreign vocabulary.
- Difficulty effectively proofreading written work and making revisions.
- Difficulty in writing long compositions.
- Slow written production.
- Poor penmanship (e.g., poorly formed letters, incorrect use of capitalization, and trouble with spacing, overly large handwriting).
- Inability to copy correctly from a book or the blackboard.
- Incomplete mastery of basic facts (e.g. mathematical tables).
- Reversal of numbers (e.g. 123 to 321 or 231).
- Confusing operational symbols, especially + and x.
- Difficulty copying of problems correctly from one line to another.
- Difficulty recalling the sequence of operational concepts.
- Difficulty comprehending word problems.
- Difficulty understanding key concepts and applications to aid problem solving.
Organizational and Study Skills
- Poor organizational skills.
- Time management difficulties.
- Slowness in starting and completing tasks.
- Repeated inability, on a day-to-day basis, to recall what has been taught.
- Lack of overall organization in taking notes.
- Difficulty interpreting charts and graphs.
- Inefficient use of library and reference materials.
- Difficulty preparing for and taking tests.
- Attention and concentration
- Trouble focusing and sustaining attention on academic tasks.
- Fluctuating attention span during lectures.
- Easily distracted by external stimuli.
- Difficulty juggling multiple tasks.
- Hyperactivity and excessive movements may accompany the inability to focus attention.
Oral Language Skills
- Inability to concentrate on and to comprehend rapid spoken language.
- Difficulty in expressing concepts.
- Difficulty speaking grammatically correct English.
- Difficulty following or having a conversation about an unfamiliar idea.
- Difficulty telling a story in the proper sequence.
- Difficulty following oral or written directions.
Some adults with learning disabilities have social skills problems due to their inconsistent perceptual abilities. These individuals may be unable to detect the difference between sincere and sarcastic comments or they are unable to recognize other subtle changes in tone of voice for the same reason that a person with a visual perceptual problem may have trouble discriminating between the letters "b" and "d". Difficulties in interpreting non-verbal messages may result in lowered self-esteem and may cause some adults with learning disabilities to have trouble meeting people or working cooperatively with others.
Helpful Hints for Faculty who Teach Students with Learning Disabilities
- Encourage students to make an appointment during office hours to disclose their learning disabilities. Ask students who identify themselves how you as a faculty member can assist in facilitating the learning process.
- Provide students with a detailed course syllabus. If possible, make it available before registration week.
- Clearly spell out expectations before a course begins (e.g., grading, material to be covered, and due dates).
- Start each lecture with an outline of material to be covered during that period. At the conclusion of the class, briefly summarize key points.
- Speak directly to students and use gestures and natural expressions to further convey meaning.
- Present new or technical vocabulary on the blackboard or use a student handout. 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. (Note: It takes an average of four weeks to get a book recorded).
- If possible, select a textbook with an accompanying study guide for optional student use.
- Provide adequate opportunities for questions and answers, including review sessions.
- Allow students to record lectures to enhance their notes.
- Provide, in advance, study questions for exams that illustrate the format as well as the content of the test. Explain what constitutes a good answer and why.
- If necessary, allow students with learning disabilities to demonstrate mastery of course material using alternative methods (e.g., extended time limits for testing or oral exams in a separate room).
- Encourage students to use various types of campus support services (e.g. pre-registration, assistance in ordering taped textbooks, alternative testing arrangements, specialized study aids, peer support groups, diagnostic consultation, study skills, developmental skills courses, and academic tutorial assistance).
There are many other disabilities that can affect a student’s ability to function successfully at a university. Among these are HIV or AIDS, severe allergies or respiratory disorders, epilepsy, arthritis, chronic back pain, active sickle-cell anemia, diabetes, gastro-intestinal disorders, multiple chemical sensitivities, chronic fatigue syndrome, or repetitive strain injuries.
Temporary disabilities or conditions may include surgery-related limitations, recovery from serious illness or hospitalization, complications from pregnancy, fractures, and temporary but serious visual problems.
Depending on the nature or duration of the condition, these students may be eligible for reasonable accommodations for a specific period. This may include temporary note-taking assistance and testing accommodations.
The policy regarding testing these students is to discuss with them the types of accommodations which they believe are applicable to their condition. If you are concerned about the validity of their concerns, please feel free to call Disability Support Services.
When an auxiliary aid is required, a disabled individual must have the opportunity to request the auxiliary aids of his or her choice. This first choice must be given primary consideration unless it can be demonstrated that another equally effective accommodation is available. For example, some deaf students may use American Sign Language (ASL) as their primary method of communication, and some blind students may be more efficient with braille than with taped materials.
Auxiliary aids or accommodations, including communication accommodations, must be provided for public lectures, conferences, programs, and other departmental and campus activities when requested with advance notice by disabled individuals.
Some of the aids or communication accommodations may include alternative media conversion to braille, large print, cassette tapes, assistive listening systems, TDD access interpreting services for deaf individuals, accessible meeting sites and seating, note-taking assistance, or reading services. All departmental publicity about such events should include a brief statement to the effect: "Individuals with disabilities should contact the department to request reasonable accommodations."
Relocation of Classes or Other Activities to Accessible Locations
It may sometimes be necessary to relocate a class, activity, or meeting to an accessible site if it is the most effective or immediate method of providing accessibility for disabled individuals. A disabled individual must not be denied the opportunity for full participation in any program or activity sponsored by the University because of a physical access problem. It is the responsibility of the department or group sponsoring the activity to ensure access for disabled students. Disability Support Services should be contacted if assistance is needed.
Some students may have specially trained or certified animals such as seeing-eye dogs for blind students or hearing dogs for deaf individuals.
Students with disabilities and their professors who have concerns about lab safety should meet to discuss and resolve any concerns or issues. Faculty may consult with the coordinator of Disability Support Services about any alternatives, including the use of a lab assistant who functions as a disabled student’s eyes or hands. Special equipment or technology or the modification of lab furniture also may be required.