with disabilities at the University constitute a population as diverse
as the total student body. As intelligent and academically prepared as
other students at U.Va., they clearly
have special needs that may require your knowledge and understanding as
well as the support of the Learning Needs and Evaluation Center (LNEC)
(243-5180). Disabilities include those related to chronic health conditions
(for example, diabetes, HIV positive, sickle cell anemia), neurological
conditions (such as seizure disorders and head injuries), and specific
learning disabilities (for instance, dysgraphia, dyslexia, dyslogia).
Some students have psychiatric disorders or emotional problems resulting
from childhood sexual abuse, arrested addictions, and biochemical imbalances.
Other students have vision or hearing deficits or mobility impairments,
including temporary ones due to sports injuries.1
U.Va. students, students with disabilities are generally industrious and
motivated, although some must take longer than average to finish their
degree. With reasonable understanding and accommodation on your part,
these students can meet degree standards, enter professions, and achieve
in graduate and professional programs with the same degree of success
as nondisabled students. The following sections will help you identify
characteristics of students with disabilities, know where and how to refer
them to additional resources, and, most importantly, help you adapt your
teaching methods to ensure equal opportunities for all your students.
This chapter replicates and expands upon material found in Teaching at
the University of Virginia.
mind that the task of managing any disability drains students of time
and energy, and their health routines are critically important. Disabilities
also interfere with daily living skills. Some students with disabilities
cannot take notes while trying to listen; others cannot read at a rate
commensurate with their general intelligence. Still others have great
difficulty simply getting their work on paper because of trouble with
eye-hand coordination, apraxia, or arthritis. Students with disabilities
may have low self-concepts or be socially isolated. Or, they may repeatedly
get lost or be unable to drive because they cannot coordinate information
from several senses quickly enough. And, of course, students with disabilities
also encounter generic student predicaments: perfectionism, pressures
associated with family expectations, family responsibilities, and so on.
what sounds like a litany of problems may provoke in you one of the common
reactions to disabilities, reactions you need to recognize if only to
spot them among your non-disabled students. Some people feel awkward or
flustered when near a person with a physical disability: "Should
I open the door, or would that be condescending?" Others feel an
overwhelming sense of pity and a need to take care of the person. Fear
is another common reaction, including the irrational fear of the same
disability attacking you. Still others suspect that people with disabilities
are receiving "special breaks" and aren't pulling their own
weight. Such negative feelings constitute one of the greatest constraints
on people struggling to overcome disabilities.
of discomfort and prejudice toward people with disabilities disappear,
however, when people get to know them as individuals.
students with disabilities require others to be creative and flexible
to their special needs. Given a documented diagnosed disability (with
information from the student's Academic Dean or the LNEC), you may need
to accommodate certain students by modifying accessibility to the classroom,
your lecture, or course materials. The reasonable accommodations needed
by each student will vary according to his/her disability. In general,
these accommodations are not difficult for the instructor to carry out,
nor should they change basic course requirements. Occasionally, students
with disabilities who are qualified for special support choose not to
seek it; you are not responsible for accommodating a disability that the
student does not declare or that you cannot verify.
your students to let you know of any disability early in the semester
will ensure ample time to make any necessary adjustments. One way to signal
your willingness to accommodate students with disabilities is to include
a statement on your syllabus similar to the following one recommended
by the LNEC:
with special needs requiring accommodations should present the appropriate
paperwork from the Learning Needs and Evaluation Center (LNEC). It is
the student's responsibility to present this paperwork in a timely fashion
and follow up with the instructor about the accommodations being offered.
Accommodations for test-taking (e.g., extended time) should be arranged
at least X days before an exam.
confidential paperwork from the LNEC will typically include a short list
of recommended accommodations. Many are obvious: your classroom must be
accessible to students in wheelchairs, for instance, or you must allow
guide dogs, interpreters, peer note-takers assigned, tape recorders, or
flexibility with the number of excused absences. Others may seem less
obvious but are easily accomplished. If, for example, meeting due dates
is a problem for the student, you can negotiate reasonable schedules for
completing work. In the following sections you'll find other suggestions
for accommodation grouped by type of disability. Please note that these
lists of suggestions are not exhaustive-the options for reasonable accommodations
are unlimited. The LNEC can provide additional ways to address specific
disabilities and/or situations, and if special arrangements are required,
you can contact your school's Associate or Assistant Dean.
For the information in this chapter, I rely on several sources, including
LNEC staff members and works listed in Appendix II and on the Works Cited
page. Because much of the information comes from a combination of sources,
only direct quotes are cited in this chapter to promote readability.