Teaching Students with Disabilities

Mission of the Disabled Students' Program

The mission of the Disabled Students' Program (DSP) is to ensure that all students with disabilities have equal access to educational opportunities at UC Berkeley, so they can participate, freely and actively, in all facets of University life.

DSP serves students with disabilities of all kinds, including mobility, visual, or hearing impairments; speech impairments; chronic illnesses such as AIDS, diabetes, and lupus; seizure disorders; head injuries; painful conditions such as back injuries and carpal tunnel syndrome; psychological disabilities such as bipolar disorder and severe anxiety or depression; attention deficit disorder; and learning disabilities. Students with temporary disabilities (for example, broken limbs) may request services for the period during which they are disabled.

A note about our usage of the words "disabled" and "disability": In law, University policies, and common parlance, terms like "disabled" and "disability" have a variety of meanings, many of which are contextual. The use of "disabled" and "disability" in this document and in the name "Disabled Students' Program" does not imply any determination related to civil rights or other legal definitions, and does not imply that students served by DSP have "disabilities" as defined by any particular law. Rather, DSP serves students who meet the following criteria:

  1. The students have documented physical, medical, and/or psychological conditions; and
  2. Professionals have verified that the students need individualized services (similar to those described below), the absence of which would cause severe disadvantages for the students.

For information on University policies regarding students with disabilities, and federal and state laws affecting people with disabilities, contact Ward Newmeyer, UC Berkeley's ADA/504 Compliance Officer, 643-5116, newmeyer@uclink4. "The Berkeley Campus Policy for Accommodating the Academic Needs of Students with Disabilities" can be read on the website of the Academic Compliance Office: here on the Accommodation Policy web page. "The University of California Policies Applying to Campus Activities, Organizations, and Students" can be read at UCOP PACAOS; Section 140 of these policies, "Guidelines Applying to Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability," is at policy.ucop.edu/doc/2710534/PACAOS-140.

Responsibilities of the Disabled Students' Program

When students request services from the Disabled Students' Program, DSP Specialists have the responsibility for determining whether the students have disabilities impeding educational access. In making this determination, Specialists conduct a comprehensive assessment and evaluation process that is consistent with established University of California system practices. The assessment and evaluation process includes interviews with the student as well as review of documentation provided by physicians and other clinicians (for example, clinical psychologists, audiologists, and optometrists).

When students are determined to have disabilities impeding educational access, DSP Specialists plan a program of services for them. Some students require program modifications: for example, a reduced course load. Some students require auxiliary services: for example, notetakers or laboratory assistants. Many students require academic adjustments, or modifications in instructional methods: for example, Brailled textbooks and class handouts, extended time for examinations, or substitution of an essay for an oral presentation. In combination, program modifications, auxiliary services, and academic adjustments are often referred to as "academic accommodations" in University and common parlance.

When a DSP Specialist determines that a student has a disability-related need for academic accommodations while enrolled in a particular course, the Specialist writes to the instructor of that course, describing the necessary academic accommodations that may involve the instructor or department. Accommodations are not intended to give students with disabilities an unfair advantage, but to remove barriers that prevent students with disabilities from learning and from demonstrating what they have learned. DSP requests only those accommodations for which a student has a disability-related academic need. Accommodations vary from student to student; people with different disabilities may have different academic problems, and sometimes two people with the same disability will be affected in diverse ways.

Responsibilities of the Instructor

When students give you Letters of Accommodation from DSP, you are responsible for providing the accommodations listed; but you are not required to compromise the academic quality of your course by giving passing grades to students who have failed to demonstrate the required level of understanding or performance competency. Once you have provided accommodations, you should grade the work of disabled students as you would grade the work of any others. When students have received accommodations, there is no need to "give them a break" by being unduly lenient. To grade students more harshly because they have had the "advantage" of extra exam time or other instructional modifications would nullify the effect of the accommodations.

Students have a right to privacy in disability matters, and their confidentiality must be maintained. You should file their Letters of Accommodation in a safe place, and you should refrain from discussing their disabilities and necessary accommodations in the hearing of fellow students or others who have no educational "need to know."

If you receive a Letter of Accommodation and have difficulty providing the accommodations listed, or if you disagree with the accommodations, please contact the Specialist who signed the letter. If you and DSP reach an impasse in your discussion about an accommodation, you should contact the campus ADA/504 Compliance Officer within five University working days of being notified about the accommodation. The ADA/504 Compliance Officer may set aside the accommodation or may decline to do so. In the latter case, the ADA/504 Compliance Officer may refer you to the Academic Accommodations Policy Board, which will review the matter and advise the Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost, whose decision will be final.

Responsibilities of the Student

Students have the responsibility for requesting DSP services and providing documentation of conditions that may warrant academic accommodations. Once DSP has definitely determined that students have a disability-related need for academic accommodations, the students are given Letters of Accommodation, addressed to their instructors, which describe the needed accommodations.

Occasionally a student may request accommodations without presenting you with a Letter of Accommodation from DSP. To protect yourself, the student, and the University, you should insist that the student contact DSP to request an appropriate Letter of Accommodation addressed to you.

Students eligible for DSP services normally receive Letters of Accommodation no more than one week after requesting them. DSP Specialists strongly emphasize that students should give you their Letters of Accommodation immediately after receiving them, thus permitting you sufficient time to make necessary arrangements. If you feel that you do not have sufficient time, please contact DSP as soon as possible.

Sometimes it is mid-semester or later before students are diagnosed with disabilities and authorized for DSP services. In this event, of course, students cannot provide you with Letters of Accommodation early in the semester, even though you have invited them to do so in your syllabus

General Suggestions on Teaching Students with Disabilities

Get more disability information. Since students are usually the experts on their own disabilities, ask them if you need more information about how they learn best. You can also contact the student's assigned Disability Specialist at DSP. The DSP website has valuable information on local and national disability resources; see the "Contributed Links" section.

Make your course "disability-friendly." It is helpful to announce at the beginning of the semester, "Students who have Letters of Accommodations from the Disabled Students' Program, please see me during my office hours." You should put a few paragraphs into your course syllabus welcoming students with disabilities and inviting them to visit you for a discussion of their disability-related academic needs. These paragraphs might read as follows:

If you need disability-related accommodations in this class, if you have emergency medical information you wish to share with me, or if you need special arrangements in case the building must be evacuated, please inform me immediately. Please see me privately after class or at my office.

The Disabled Students' Program (DSP) is the campus office responsible for verifying that students have disability-related needs for academic accommodations and for planning appropriate accommodations, in cooperation with the students themselves and their instructors. Students who need academic accommodations should request them from DSP: 230 César Chávez Student Center, 642-0518 (voice) and 642-6376 (TTY).

Teaching Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders

[From "Faculty Guide for Working with Students with Asperger Syndrome", an appendix in Students with Asperger Syndrome: A Guide for College Personnel, by Lorraine E. Wolf, Jane Thierfeld Brown, and G. Ruth Kukiela Bork]

Asperger Syndrome is a developmental disorder that is characterized by deficits in social skills, communication, and unusual repetitive behaviors. It is sometimes referred to as "high-functioning autism." The core feature appears to be the individual's inability to understand the thoughts, feelings and motivations of other people and to use this understanding to regulate his or her own behaviors.

The following characteristics are typical in an individual with Asperger Syndrome. Due to the diversity and complexity of this disability, you may not see all of these characteristics in a given student. It is important to understand these characteristics, because they can result in behaviors that are easy to misinterpret. Often behaviors that seem odd or unusual or even rude are in fact unintentional symptoms of AS.

General Characteristics

  • Frequent errors in interpreting others' body language, intentions or facial expressions
  • Difficulty understanding the motives and perceptions of others
  • Problems asking for help
  • Motor clumsiness, unusual body movements and/or repetitive behavior
  • Difficulty with the big picture, perseverate on the details (can't see the forest for the trees)
  • Difficulties with transitions and changes in schedule
  • Wants things "just so"
  • Problems with organization (including initiating, planning, carrying out, and finishing tasks)
  • Deficits in abstract thinking (concrete, focuses on irrelevant details, difficulty generalizing)
  • Unusual sensitivity to touch, sounds, and visual details, may experience sensory overload

Functional Impact

Communication and Social Skills

  • Difficulty in initiating and sustaining connected relationships
  • Poor or unusual eye contact
  • Problems understanding social rules (such as personal space)
  • Impairment of two-way interaction (May seem to talk "at you" rather than "with you")
  • Conversation and questions may be tangential or repetitive
  • Restricted interests that may be unusual and sometimes become a rigid topic for social conversation
  • Unusual speech intonation, volume, rhythm, and/or rate
  • Literal understanding of language (difficulty interpreting words with double meaning, confused by metaphors and sarcasm)

Some Tips

  • Don't use absolute words such as "always" or "never" unless that is exactly what you mean
  • Supplement oral with written instructions when revising assignments, dates, etc.
  • Contact DSP, (510) 642-0518, if you have questions
  • Use clear directives and establish rules if…
    • a student invades your space or imposes on your time
    • the student's classroom comments or conversational volume become inappropriate

Writing

  • Information in papers may be redundant, returning to the same topic focus repeatedly
  • Student may be able to state facts and details, but be greatly challenged by papers requiring:
    • taking another's point of view
    • synthesizing information to arrive at a larger concept
    • comparing and contrasting to arrive at the "big picture"
    • using analogies, similes, or metaphors

Some Tips

  • Use clear and detailed directives when referring to revisions that need to be made
  • Listing or numbering changes on the paper will provide guidelines for student when working
  • If modeling writing rules, write them on a separate sheet for future reference
  • Keep directions simple and declarative
  • Ask students to repeat directions in their own words to check comprehension

Example: (Student arrives at your office at 1:40). "We have 20 minutes to work together. At 2:00, I'm going to ask you to take my suggestions home and start making changes to your paper. Come to my office tomorrow afternoon at 3:00 and show me what you've done."

Some Considerations

Student may have sophisticated and impressive vocabulary and excellent rote memory but may have difficulty with high-level thinking and comprehension skills. They can give the impression that they understand, when in reality they may be repeating what they have heard or read. Many individuals with Aspergers Syndrome are visual learners. Pictures and graphs may be helpful to them.

Instructional Tips

  • Clearly define course requirements, the dates of exams and when assignments are due. Provide advance notice of any changes.
  • Teach to generalize and to consolidate information.
  • Go for gist, meaning, and patterns. Don't get bogged down in details.
  • Use scripts and teach strategies selectively.
  • Make sure all expectations are direct and explicit. Don't require students to "read between the lines" to glean your intentions. Don't expect the student to automatically generalize instructions. Provide direct feedback to the student when you observe areas of academic difficulty.
  • Encourage use of resources designed to help students with study skills, particularly organizational skills.
  • Avoid idioms, double meaning, and sarcasm, unless you plan to explain your usage.
  • If the student has poor handwriting, allow use of a computer if easier for the student.
  • Use the student's preoccupying interest to help focus/motivate the student. Suggest ways to integrate this interest into the course, such as related paper topics.
  • Make sure the setting for tests takes into consideration any sensitivity to sound, light, touch, etc.

Teaching Students with Chronic Illness or Pain

Some students have medical conditions that are "non-apparent" (not easy to see), but cause serious problems in an educational setting. Students can be disabled by chronic illnesses such as asthma, arthritis, diabetes, cardiopulmonary disease, cancer, chronic fatigue immune deficiency syndrome, and seizure disorders. They can also be disabled by medical conditions that cause intense and continual pain: for example, repetitive stress injury, post-surgery, and back problems.

Symptoms of all these conditions can be unpredictable and fluctuating. Students with chronic illness or pain may have limited energy and difficulty walking, standing, or sitting for a long time. Their pain, or the side-effects of medications, may cause them to become dizzy or confused, making it hard for them to pay attention in classes, complete out-of-class assignments, do library research, and stay focused during exams.

The following suggestions may help you to work effectively with students who have disabling medical conditions:

  • Medical conditions, including medication side-effects, can cause problems with fatigue and stamina which adversely affect attention and concentration. For these reasons, students with medical conditions may need extended time on exams.
  • Students with some medical conditions may become dizzy and disoriented, or may lack physical stamina. Thus they may be unable to quickly get from one location on campus to another. For these reasons, a student may be late getting to class. Please be patient when this happens.
  • Preferential seating may be necessary to meet student needs. In a few situations, students may be unable to use the type of chair provided in a particular classroom. If they are forced to stand during class, students may need podiums on which to rest open books and write.
  • Instructors in courses requiring field trips or internships need to work with their students and the Disabled Students' Program to be sure the students' needs are met. For example, the students may need assistance with transportation, special seating, or frequent rest-breaks.
  • Some students experience recurrence of a chronic condition requiring bed rest and/or hospitalization. In most situations students are able to make up the incomplete work, but they may need extra time.

Teaching Students Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

For obvious reasons, students who are deaf or hard of hearing face enormous obstacles in an academic setting. It is essential that instructors maintain effective communication with these students, though instructors may sometimes feel awkward working with sign language interpreters or resorting to visual communication techniques (body language, gestures, and facial expressions).

Students who are deaf or hard of hearing are not all alike. Some are extremely adept at reading lips and others are not; some communicate orally and others use sign language, gestures, writing, or a combination of these methods. In class, students who are deaf may have sign language interpreters, or they may rely on real-time captioners (people who immediately type whatever is said so that the spoken utterance can be read on a computer screen). Students who have some usable hearing may use a device to amplify sounds: in class they may rely on hearing aids alone, or they may use an "assistive listening device." When students are using assistive listening devices, instructors may be asked to wear cordless lapel microtransmitters.

Following are suggestions for improving the academic situation of students who are deaf or hard of hearing.

  • Always speak directly to the student, not to the student's sign language interpreter.
  • During class discussions, ensure that no more than one person speaks at a time. When a class member asks a question, repeat the question before answering
  • Loss of visual contact may mean loss of information for some students who are deaf or hard of hearing. Unless the students are using sign-language interpreters or real-time captioners, be sure that the students have visual contact with you before you begin lecturing. Avoid giving information while handing out papers or writing on a chalkboard.
  • Provide seats near the front of the class so students with hearing impairments can get as much from visual and auditory clues as possible.
  • Use captioned videos whenever possible. When showing uncaptioned videos, slides, or movies provide an outline or summary in advance. If the classroom must be darkened, be sure that the student's interpreter is clearly visible.
  • When reading directly from text, provide an advance copy and pause slightly when interjecting information not in the text.
  • When working with the chalkboard or an overhead projection system, pause briefly so that the student may look first at the board/screen, and then at the interpreter, to see what is being said.

Teaching Students with Learning Disabilities

Students with learning disabilities have normal or better intelligence, but they also have severe "information-processing deficits" that make them perform significantly worse in one or more academic areas (reading, writing, math) than might be expected, given their intelligence and performance in other academic areas. Though all learning disabilities are different, students with learning disabilities report some common problems, including slow and inefficient reading; slow essay-writing, with problems in organization and the mechanics of writing; and frequent errors in math calculation.

The following suggestions may be helpful in working with students who have learning disabilities, and also those who have head injuries.

  • Students with learning disabilities may take longer to complete exams and may need extended time
  • Students with learning disabilities may also take longer to complete assignments, so it is particularly important to provide a detailed syllabus at the beginning of the class. The syllabus should list all assignments and due-dates.
  • If possible, provide frequent opportunities for feedback: for example, weekly quizzes on assigned reading, instructor review of early drafts of essays, error-analysis of tests. If a student's written exams seem far inferior to the student's classwork, the two of you can meet during your office hours for a discussion of the exam questions. This discussion will give you a better idea of what the student really knows and how you can help the student produce better exams or other written work.
  • Encourage students to contact you in order to clarify assignments. You might suggest that students re-phrase the assignment and send the re-phrased version to you via e-mail. You can then reply via e-mail, confirming that the student has understood the assignment or correcting misunderstandings.
  • Well before the beginning of your class, leave a list of required and recommended texts at your department office, and tell the office staff that students with disabilities should be permitted to make copies of the list. (Or put the book-list on your course website.) Some students with learning disabilities will need to order their textbooks from Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic, and receiving the books takes time.
  • Be sensitive to students who, for disability-related reasons, may be unable to read aloud or answer questions when called on. If students make you aware of these difficulties, you and the students can discuss other ways they can meaningfully participate in class sessions: for example, volunteering comments or making short presentations.
  • Compose exams in a way that makes them accessible for students with learning disabilities:
  • Make sure that exams are clearly written or typed, in large black letters or numbers, with spaces between lines and with double or triple spaces between items. To avoid visual confusion, avoid cramming too many questions or math problems onto one page. Print questions on only one side of the paper.
  • Group similar types of questions together: for example, all true/false, all multiple-choice, all short-answers. Leave several spaces between multiple-choice items.
  • Permit students to circle answers in the test booklet rather than darkening circles on a Scantron sheet.
  • Allow students to use extra paper in preparing answers to essay questions. (Encourage the students to turn in preliminary outlines or scrawled notes with the completed exam bluebooks.)
  • Suggest that math students use graph paper (or lined paper turned sideways) to ensure neatness and avoid confusion when performing math calculations.

Teaching Students with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is characterized by a persistent pattern of frequent and severe inattention, hyperactivity, and/or impulsiveness. People with ADHD have many problems in academic settings. Some of these problems are similar to the problems of people with learning disabilities: slow and inefficient reading, slow essay-writing, and frequent errors in math calculation and the mechanics of writing. Other problems are especially characteristic of ADHD; students ADHD often have serious problems with time-management, task-completion, organization, and memory.

For suggestions on working effectively with students who have ADHD, please review our section on learning disabilities (above), as well as the following.

  • Students with ADHD generally perform better if given a syllabus with clear explanations of tasks and specific due dates. As the semester progresses, keep reminding students of impending deadlines: "Remember, the problem sets are due on Friday."
  • Whenever possible, start each lecture with a summary of material to be covered, or provide a written outline. If you use broad margins and triple-space, students will be able to take notes directly onto the outline: an aid to organization. At the conclusion of each lecture, review major points.
  • Students with ADHD may tend to "drift" mentally during class, especially during long lectures. They are better able to stay tuned-in when the class material is stimulating and the format varied (for example, lecture alternating with presentations and class discussion). If the class goes on for several hours, be sure to permit several breaks.
  • Students with ADHD are often distractible, so you should invite them to sit near the front of the class, away from possible sources of distraction (for example, doors, windows, and noisy heaters).
  • Avoid making assignments orally, since ADHD students may miss them. Always write assignments on the chalkboard, or (even better) pass them out in written form.
  • Provide test-sites that are relatively distraction-free; and when students are taking tests with extended test-time, do not ask them to move from one test-site to another.
  • For large projects or long papers, help the student break down the task into its component parts. Set deadlines for each part; for example, there might be deadlines for the proposal of an essay topic, for a research plan, for the completion of research, for pre-writing to find the essay's thesis, for a writing-plan or outline, for a first-draft, and for a final edited manuscript.

Teaching Students with Limited Manual Dexterity

Students may have limited manual dexterity as a result of illness or injury. In this age of the computer, increasing numbers of students are developing carpal tunnel syndrome, which causes them to suffer severe pain when they take notes or write exams. Following are some suggestions on working with students who have limited manual dexterity.

  • Whether they handwrite, use computers, or dictate to amanuenses, students with limited manual dexterity generally need extended time for examinations.
  • Students with limited manual dexterity need frequent rest breaks during exams, since handwriting and typing are slow and painful, and dictating to an amanuensis is difficult and mentally fatiguing.
  • During lab sessions, students with limited manual dexterity often need assistants to manipulate equipment, make notes, and complete lab reports.

Teaching Students with Mobility Impairments

Mobility impairments can have many causes: for example, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, and spinal cord injury. Students with mobility impairments have varying physical limitations and deal with their limitations in different ways; they may use crutches, braces, or a wheelchair.

Below are some suggestions on working with students who have mobility impairments.

  • Students who have upper body limitations may need notetakers, extended exam time, and audiotape recorders or amanuenses to record exam answers. DSP provides notetakers and amanuenses. You'll need to provide exam rooms in which students can dictate into audiotape recorders or confer with amanuenses without disturbing other exam-takers.
  • Students with upper body weakness may not be able to raise their hands to participate in class discussion. Establish eye contact with the students and call on them when they indicate that they wish to contribute.
  • A wheelchair is part of a student's "personal space." No one should lean on a chair, touch it, or push it unless asked. Whenever you are talking one-to-one with a student in a wheelchair, you yourself should be seated so the student does not have to peer upward at you.
  • Please understand that for reasons beyond their control, students with severe mobility impairments may be late to class. Some are unable to quickly move from one location to another due to architectural barriers, inadequate public transportation, or hilly terrain on campus
  • Special seating arrangements may be necessary to meet student needs. Students may require special chairs, lowered tables on which to write, or spaces for wheelchairs. In laboratory courses, students who use wheelchairs may need lower lab tables to accommodate their chairs and allow for the manipulation of tools or other equipment.
  • Instructors in courses requiring field trips or internships need to work with students and the Disabled Students' Program to be sure the students' needs are met. For example, students may need assistance with transportation, special seating, or frequent rest-breaks.
  • Not all mobility impairments are constant and unchanging; some students experience exacerbations or relapses requiring bed rest or hospitalization. In most cases, students are able to make up the incomplete work, but they may need extra time.

Teaching Students with Psychological Disabilities

Some students have psychological disabilities such as depression, bipolar disorder, or severe anxiety. Psychological disabilities complicate many areas of life, including education.

Every case is different, but there are some commonalties in the academic experiences of students with psychological disabilities. These students report difficulties with focusing, concentrating, and completing work in a timely fashion. Reading, writing, and math may require extra effort and more time. Ability to function effectively may vary from day to day; in response to stress, students may experience an increase in symptoms. Medications help with some symptoms of psychological disability, but medication side-effects (for example, drowsiness or headaches) can contribute to a student's academic problems.

We suggest that you review our suggestions (above) about learning disabilities and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder; a number of these suggestions will also be appropriate for students with psychological disabilities. Following are some suggestions specifically addressed to the needs of students who have psychological disabilities.

  • Psychological disabilities are not well understood and accepted in our society, and many students with psychological disabilities have good reason to fear the reactions of others. Please make every effort to make students feel comfortable if they disclose their psychological disabilities to you. Don't press students to explain their disabilities if they do not wish to do so; with the consent of the student, DSP Specialists can provide you with further information.
  • Understand that for disability-related reasons, these students may sometimes have to miss class, or even leave the room in the middle of a class. The students will be responsible for the content of any lectures missed, but they will appreciate your helping them to fill in the gaps.

Teaching Students with Speech Impairments

Speech impairments can have many causes: dysfluencies such as stuttering, neurological conditions such as Tourette's Syndrome, surgical removal of the larynx, stroke, traumatic head injury, and degenerative illness. Students with speech impairments may communicate in various ways. Some students speak with their own voices, but slowly and with some lack of clarity; other students write notes, point to communication boards, use electronic speech-synthesizers, or communicate through assistants who interpret their speech to other people. Following are some suggestions on working with students who have speech impairments.

  • In communicating with students who have speech impairments, resist the temptation to indicate that you have understood when in fact you have not. Students with speech impairments are accustomed to being asked to repeat, so don't be afraid that you'll offend them if you ask them to "say it again" or to spell words that you can't decipher.
  • When students have speech impairments, meet with them early in the semester to discuss their communication styles and how they can best function in your classroom. Will they be able to answer if you call on them? Will they be able to ask questions and make comments during class discussions, or do oral presentations? If not, are there other ways the students can demonstrate competency: for example, by completing an extra essay or project?
  • If a communication assistant accompanies the student to class, address your comments and questions to the student rather than the assistant.

Teaching Students with Visual Disabilities

Like students who are deaf or hard of hearing, students with visual disabilities are at a great disadvantage academically. Though they can hear lectures and discussions, students with visual disabilities are often frustrated by class syllabi, textbooks, chalkboard diagrams, overhead projections, films, maps, videos, printed exams, Scantron answer sheets, laboratory demonstrations, and Internet websites designed to be navigated by clicking on images.

Students with visual disabilities vary considerably. Some have no vision, others are able to see large shapes, and still others can read standard print if magnified. Depending on their disabilities, they use a variety of accommodations, equipment, and compensatory strategies. For example, many students with visual disabilities need extra time for exams and projects, and many use readers or amanuenses for exams.

Most students with visual disabilities take advantage of assistive technology. Computers can enlarge print; convert printed material to Braille; read the text on a computer screen aloud; or scan books, articles, and other printed materials and then read their text. Some students also use audiotape recorders, portable note-taking devices, or talking calculators.

Following are some suggestions on instructing students with visual disabilities.

  • Students with visual disabilities may need preferential seating. Your student should be seated near the front of the class to hear clearly what is being presented and to see as much as possible.
  • Well before the beginning of your class, leave a list of required and recommended texts at your department office, and tell the office staff that students with disabilities should be permitted to make copies of the list. (Or put the book-list on your course website.) Some students with visual disabilities will need to order their textbooks from Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic, and receiving taped books takes time.
  • When using an overhead projector with transparencies, use a large print-size: at least 18 points. Provide additional time for students with visual disabilities to copy the material on the transparencies, or provide them with printed copies.
  • Whenever possible, modify the presentation of material to make it accessible.
  • Allow the student to audiotape lectures or use a notetaker.
  • Pace the presentation of material; if referring to a textbook or handout, allow time for students with visual disabilities to find the information.
  • When lecturing, avoid making statements that cannot be understood by people without sight: for example, "This diagram sums up what I am saying about statistics." (Don't worry about using words and phrases that refer to sight: for example, "See you later!" Such expressions are commonly used, and most people with visual disabilities don't find them offensive.)
  • Read aloud everything that you write on the chalkboard. Verbally describe objects and processes whenever possible.
  • In making comparisons and analogies, use familiar objects that don't depend on prior visual knowledge. Foods and objects found around the house are good choices. You might say, for example, that a particular dance movement requires a lot of weaving and turning, "like getting from one side of the living room to the other on moving day."

How DSP Can Assist Instructors at UC Berkeley

The staff of the Disabled Students' Program are happy to assist you by providing information on specific disabilities and the needs of students who have them. At your invitation we can attend meetings of instructors and GSI's to discuss academic issues of postsecondary students with disabilities and effective instructional methods for these students.

Please telephone us at (510) 642-0518, visit us at 230 César Chávez Student Center, or consult our website, where you will find a special Frequently Asked Questions section for UC Berkeley instructors, as well as information on DSP services and staff.

Publication of Teaching Students with Disabilities was made possible by a TRIO Student Support Services Grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

We wish to thank the following for their assistance: Ward Newmeyer, the UC Berkeley ADA/504 Compliance Officer; Stephen K. Tollefson of the Office of Educational Development; the Academic Senate of UC Berkeley; and all members of the Disabled Students' Program staff.

We also wish to thank the Office for Disability Services at The Ohio State University. Their informative and readable handbook, also titled Teaching Students with Disabilities, suggested ideas and approaches which we have used in our own handbook.

Call (510) 642-0518 to obtain Teaching Students with Disabilities in alternative formats.

Written by Caroline Summer

Last updated: September, 2011