Faculty Awareness and Training in the Post-Secondary Community: An Annotated Bibliography

Carleton University Ottawa, Ontario

Instructors' Handbook for Accommodating Students with Disabilities


This 46-page book was published in 1995 by Carleton's Paul Menton Centre for Persons with Disabilities. It begins with a note to instructors, pointing out that: "There is no perfect formula for alleviating all the barriers confronting people with disabilities. However, if each person's needs are considered afresh, then every individual with a disability will encounter an atmosphere which is conducive to personal and educational growth."

The book emphasizes that many students are self-conscious about disclosing their disabilities, and instructors would help by making a general announcement at the start of term stating their willingness to work with any student with special needs.

A section on letters of accommodation explains the procedure that students and instructors should follow when arranging accommodations through the centre. A sample letter is included, along with some examples of assignment accommodation strategies.

The test and exam accommodations section includes a sample formal exam accommodation form, and includes a list of some exam accommodations - more time, a separate room for writing, the use of adaptive technologies, and the alteration of exam formats where possible.

The next section provides information on disabilities. It begins with a definition of disabilities from the World Health Organization, and a prefacing note explaining that there is no universal categorization approach to disabilities, and that a student might have multiple disabilities from more than one of the categories listed.

The section on communication disabilities outlines the distinction between speech and language comprehension difficulties, and indicates it will explore the former; the latter is explored under learning disabilities. It is explained that those with speech difficulties may have another disability (hearing, mobility, etc) as well, and that adaptive needs vary as a result. Common adaptive technologies are listed. The suggested instructor strategies outline patience, asking the student to repeat a sentence rather than pretending to have understood, avoiding altering one's own speaking tone when in conversation with someone with speech difficulties, and the need to minimize noise distractions.

The hearing impairment section points out that hearing loss is "an invisible impairment," falling under two categories - hard of hearing and deaf. It is explained that hard of hearing students may have speech difficulties, may use assistive listening devices, and that other factors, such as ambient room noise, may further complicate the hearing loss. The paragraph on deafness concisely explains sign language, and points out that while American Sign Language is commonly used, it is not a universal language. The section outlines the fact that because English is often a "second language" for deaf students, they may have problems with written materials. These problems must be understood as limitations, rather than intellectual weaknesses. The suggested strategies discuss preferential seating, the importance of eye contact, the fact that comments should be directed to the student even if an interpreter is present, and that questions from other students should be repeated.

The section on learning disabilities provides a definition, and points out accommodations will vary according to the student. Discussion with the student is the key consideration. Some of the more common learning disability-related difficulties are listed, and it is emphasized that it is not uncommon for students to have more than one area of difficulty. The suggested instructor strategies cover accommodations of an environmental, material and evaluation nature.

The mobility impairments section explains that such disabilities can range from lack of coordination to complete paralysis, and that the impact of mobility impairments is unique to each individual; two people with the same disability may need different accommodations. The two types of physical impairments, orthopedic and neurological, are defined and discussed. The instructional strategies section discusses physical alterations, ensuring supplies are located near students, and sitting at eye level with students in wheelchairs when having extended conversations. Finally, it is pointed out that using words like 'walk' and 'run' in conversation is perfectly acceptable.

The non-visible disabilities section points to impairments like head injuries, epilepsy, depression, and anxiety, with a brief paragraph description. A bulleted list of some other non-visible disabilities, such as cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome, and migraines, is also included. The instructional strategies given cover general physical, material, and exam accommodations, that may be required.

The visual impairment section discusses legal blindness, and technical supports that are often used. It is pointed out that Braille is only proficiently used by about three percent of North Americans. Advice is given on guiding a blind person, and how to treat guide dogs. The instructional strategies discuss preferential seating, the provision of alternate text formats, and that gestures are not useful in conversation with a visually impaired student.

Two final sections on "The language of disability" and guidelines on relating to people with disabilities provide valuable information on how to properly speak and act when interacting with people with disabilities.

The centre is in the process of updating this guide and placing the information online, which should add to what is a valuable faculty awareness tool. The book is brief, but thorough in its information.

Larry McCloskey, Director
Paul Menton Centre for Students with Disabilities
Carleton University
500 Unicentre
1125 Colonel By Drive
Ottawa, Ontario
K1S 5B6
Phone: 613-520-6608
Fax: 613-520-3995
TTY: 613-520-3937
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