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Helpful information for working with students with disabilities
Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students
Communication access is the most common barrier for students who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing. The term Deaf typically refers to a severe hearing loss where there is very little to no functional hearing. The term hard of hearing refers to an individual with varying degrees of hearing loss. Some may have enough functional hearing and can use an assistive listening device, like a hearing aid, to help with processing speech.
Tips for Working with Interpreters or Captioning Services
- Interpreters are skilled, licensed professionals that facilitate communication between hearing and Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing individuals. They abide by a professional code of conduct that includes guidelines around confidentiality and neutrality.
- Interpreters are not classroom aides or assistants to the instructors. The Interpreters are there only to facilitate communication. They are essentially an extension of the student.
- At UTA we use two different types of captioning services: CART (captioning in real-time) and Typewell. Captioners provide real-time transcription of everything that is said. Captioning can be provided with a transcriptionist in person or remotely.
- If a student utilizes captioning services, they are not recording the lecture.
General Communication Tips
- Speak directly to the Deaf or Hard of Hearing student, not the interpreter or the captioner.
- No need to yell or talk loudly. Avoid over enunciating. Speak normally and clearly.
- Ask the student how they would prefer to communicate. Do not be nervous about using paper and pencil if necessary.
- Be aware that there may be lag time translating from one language to another. Please be patient.
- Make sure the room is well lit and your face can be clearly seen.
Classroom or Group Settings
- Only one person should speak at a time; utilize effective turn-taking.
- If possible, provide interpreters or captioners with materials (notes, PowerPoints, videos, etc.) prior to class. Textbooks are obtained by the SAR Center for the interpreter to review.
- Make sure all video/audio materials that will be shown or assigned for class are captioned and that the captions are turned on.
- Add interpreters/captioners to your Teams or Canvas courses so they have access to materials as well. Certain interpreters/captioners may or may not have a UTA email address.
- When a student asks a question in class, do your best to repeat the question before responding. This will benefit the interpreter, the captioner, as well as the other students in the room who may have missed the question.
Tips for Virtual Settings
- As with the in-person class setting, add interpreters/captioners to your Teams or Canvas courses so they have access to materials as well. Certain interpreters/captioners may or may not have a UTA email address.
- Turn-taking is a must in virtual settings.
- If a chat feature is being utilized, be sure to read the questions and comments aloud so the interpreter or CART reporter can translate, and everyone will be able to participate.
- Allow lag time for the interpreters/captioners when using PowerPoint slides.
Students with Physical Disabilities
Physical disabilities encompass a wide range of impairments, commonly including examples like reliance on wheelchairs or the use of assistive mobility devices. While some disabilities are severe and easily noticeable, others may be intermittent or not immediately apparent. The accessibility of education poses a significant obstacle for students with physical disabilities. This challenge can manifest in various forms, such as inaccessible buildings or the students' own impairment impeding their ability to take notes during classes. Generally, students with physical disabilities possess a thorough understanding of their own limitations and abilities and are accustomed to communicating their needs, although there may be exceptions.
Examples of physical disabilities:
- Disability requiring wheelchair use
- Limited dexterity/mobility
- Amputated limb(s)
- Speech impairments
- Cerebral palsy
Limitations faced by students with physical disabilities include:
- Difficulty writing, such as taking class notes and exams
- Challenges sitting at standard desks
- Transportation/mobility issues
- Inaccessible classrooms or buildings for wheelchair users
Possible accommodations for students with physical disabilities involve:
- Providing audio recorders or notetaking assistance
- Ensuring accessible seating or tables in classrooms
- Granting additional time for completing exams
- Allowing leeway in attendance/being on time
Students with Mental Health Disabilities
Mental health disabilities may not be apparent but can significantly affect mood and behaviors in ways that impact a student’s ability to learn. These disabilities encompass a variety of conditions, some of which may be chronic or recurring. With proper treatment, usually medication and a form of therapy, many mental health-related disabilities can be effectively managed or improved. However, some individuals may experience medication side effects that significantly impacts them and contributes to additional limitations.
Examples of mental health disabilities include:
- Major depression
- Bipolar disorder
- Severe anxiety disorders
- Sleep disorders
- Eating disorders
- Substance-related disorders
Academic difficulties faced by students with mental health disabilities include:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Cognitive issues (e.g., brain fog)
- Easily distracted
- Challenges with organization and time management
- Fluctuating mood and energy levels leading to class absences
- Fear and anxiety about academic performance (e.g., exams)
Accommodations for students with mental health disabilities can include:
- Seating near an exit or the back of a classroom
- Frequent breaks during classes or exams
- Audio recorders and notetaking assistance
- Alternative formats for text
- Personal and private feedback on assignments
- Extended time for exams
- Separate, quiet room for exams
Students with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Learning Disabilities (LD)
Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Learning Disabilities (LD) are often referred to as "hidden” or “invisible” disabilities and account for most of the students registered with the SAR Center. LD examples include dyslexia, dysgraphia, math disorders, and nonverbal learning disorders. Students are diagnosed based on a battery of tests, which can reveal a range of deficits for their age and ability level as well as significant discrepancies between achievement and intelligence.
Limitations experienced by students with ADHD and LD:
- Difficulty switching between tasks
- Challenges in scheduling time for completing assignments
- Need for additional time during tests
- Trouble following directions
- Difficulty concentrating during lectures
- Poor grammar
- Trouble deferring resolution to problems
- Difficulty with notetaking
- Poor comprehension and retention of written material
- Struggles with basic math operations and reasoning
To enhance lectures and effectively present materials for these students, consider the following strategies:
- Establish connections between previous and current lectures
- Outline main points during lectures
- State clear learning outcomes
- Write out key terms during lectures
- Keep overheads visible for a longer duration to allow copying time
- Identify patterns of organization
- Incorporate interactive elements into lectures
- Make lecture notes available online
- Summarize or draw conclusions at the end of each lecture
Accommodations for students with ADHD may include:
- Reduced distraction environment during testing
- Extended time for exams
- Classroom seating near the front of the class
- Notetaking assistance
Accommodations for students with LD may include:
- Extended time for exams
- Use of a computer with a spell-checking program
- No scantrons or provide assistance filling one out
- Permission to use a calculator
- Copies of overheads, handouts, and lecture notes
- Readers or text-to-speech for exams
- Classroom seating near whiteboard or close to instructor
Students with Visual Disabilities
Visual disabilities can be categorized as blindness or low vision. In the United States, most individuals with visual disabilities possess residual and functional vision, often referred to as low vision. Low vision is diagnosed when visual acuity is 20/70 or less in the better eye after the best possible correction or when the visual field (peripheral vision) is constricted is limited to 30 degrees or less. Legal blindness is diagnosed when visual acuity is 20/200 or less in the better eye after the best possible correction or when the visual field (peripheral vision) is constricted to 20 degrees or less. Academic limitations for individuals with visual disabilities may arise from constricted peripheral vision, progressive loss of vision, or fluctuating visual acuity (ability to recognize shapes and details at a given distance).
Such disabilities can result in difficulties with:
- Mobility around campus and in the classroom
- Taking notes during class lectures
- Seeing classroom visual aids and writing on chalkboards/whiteboards
- Reading print materials in standard font size
- Accessing textbooks in alternative formats (audio, large print, Braille)
Blind and low vision accommodations:
- Large print or Braille handouts, signs, and equipment labels
- Colored paper or high contrast print materials
- Computers with enlarged screen images (e.g., magnification/zoom)
- Optimal seating for the best lighting conditions
- Audio, Braille, and electronic formats for notes, handouts, texts, graphs, etc.
- Description of visual aids using text or audio descriptions
- Computers equipped with optical character readers (OCR), voice-activated systems, Braille keyboards, and printers
- Extended time for exams
- Use of text-to-speech and/or dictation applications during exams
- Tinted glasses for indoor and outdoor use
Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)
Students with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) perceive and respond to others' thoughts and feelings in unique ways compared to neurotypical individuals. It's important to note that every student with Autism is different, and their responses to others and experiences in a learning environment can vary significantly.
When working with students with ASD, you may encounter the following:
- Naive and peculiar social behavior
- Difficulty understanding jokes, sarcasm, and metaphors
- Talking "at" rather than "to" people, disregarding the listener's interest
- Speaking loudly, unaware of others’ personal space, and inability to maintain eye contact
- Struggling to fit in with college peers and desiring to be "typical"
- Social immaturity, where interests may align with physical developmental level but social skills lag
- Challenges with courses outside their interests and ability to understand the relevance of "core curriculum" classes
- Trouble dealing with ambiguity and lacking problem-solving skills
When interacting with students with ASD, consider the following:
- Use clear and direct language, avoiding slang or regional jargon
- Provide explicit directions
- Understand each student's strengths and limitations to offer appropriate guidance
- Build rapport and trust so that students feel comfortable approaching you with problems
- Connect students to academic advisors and other professionals who can provide additional support
- Understand that parents may be more involved in these students' lives compared to others
- Communicate with the student's Accessibility Specialist at the SAR Center if you observe behaviors or interactions that you aren’t sure how to address