While making materials accessible is now the law, individual accommodations may still be required for certain students with disabilities. As such, faculty members, the student and disability services work together to identify the most suitable method of accommodation while upholding the integrity of the academic program. In post-secondary education, we accommodate students’ needs; we do not modify the required learning objectives of the program. Services are identified on an individual basis with the student and are based on review of the medical or psychoeducational documentation completed by the appropriate specialist. The student is responsible for self-identifying and submitting documentation to the Student Accessibility Services office.
It is important for faculty members to speak to the student directly about the student’s individual requirements, however, it is inappropriate to ask direct questions about the student’s disability. The student may choose to disclose to you the nature of his/her disability or s/he may not. Students have the right to keep this information private. A disability can impact each student differently and each person varies in his/her skills and coping mechanisms, so direct communication is crucial to student success. Keep in mind that each student in your classroom has met the required university standards to enter your program.
What is meant by accommodations?
Instructors are faced with the challenge of fulfilling their teaching responsibilities toward all of their students, including students with disabilities. Students with disabilities expect to have an equitable educational opportunity although they may accomplish these goals in alternative ways.
Accommodations in the classroom are alterations in the standard format of the program or course as originally designed. Accommodation may include an alteration in the way information is presented, in the number of courses taken each semester or in the manner in which student knowledge is evaluated. Accommodations are recommended to enable students with disabilities to have the optimum opportunity to learn and to demonstrate their knowledge. They are meant to create a fair academic experience for students with disabilities, not to provide advantages for the students.
A student requiring accommodation will have the option to provide each faculty member with an accommodation letter from Student Accessibility Services. This letter sets out the approved accommodations based on the documentation that the student has provided to the university. The accessibility counsellor or advisor’s name and extension number is recorded on the letter and we encourage faculty to contact that person with any questions or concerns.
Accommodations are specific to each student and may include:
- Extra time and/or use of technical supports for tests and exams;
- Assistance in obtaining class notes;
- Books and handouts in alternative format;
- Sign language interpreters;
- Classroom assistants;
- Specialized software, such as text to speech, to allow computer access to the student in the classroom; and
- Support from a learning specialist and assistive technologist for students with learning disabilities, support from an adaptive technologist for students with all other disabilities.
- Treat the student as you would any other student, recognizing the need for adjustments in classroom practices (e.g., verbalizing overhead information for students with visual disabilities);
- When possible, talk to students about their needs, what they think might be difficult for them, and accommodations that have worked for them in the past;
- Use a multi-modal approach to teaching. Everyone has a modality of information processing that is best for them. Combine lecturing with visual reinforcement, demonstrations, concrete examples or personal anecdotes. Be sure to explain overheads or diagrams used;
- Make sure that course outlines clearly state all expectations, including assignments, due dates, reading, and the breakdown of grading. It can be crucial for some students to have access to outlines before registration so that they can make a more realistic decisions regarding about the course and their course load. As some students need several months’ advance notice to order text and reading in alternate formats, please be sure that you do not change editions or required reading at the last minute;
- Give students hand-outs or copies of overheads before lectures, whenever possible, so they will have time to process the information;
- Avoid unnecessary movement during lectures if you have students who are easily distracted, are taping your lecture or are speech-reading. If you talk while you are writing on the board, make sure that you restate this information once you turn around; and
- When possible, reinforce main ideas. Give cues to the student that this information is important. Review key concepts frequently to ensure that they are understood.