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Inside Iowa State
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February 28, 2003

Ensure access to your class
Tips to teach students with disabilities

by Linda Charles
There are least 600 students with physical or learning disabilities in Iowa State classrooms, says Todd Herriott, program coordinator in the Disability Resources Office. That's how many students have registered with the office, although staff estimate there could be as many as 2,800 students with disabilities.

It's important to make the educational experience of these students as normal as possible, Herriott added.

"We have an obligation to make sure every student has equal access to success or failure," Herriott said. "The rest of the responsibility is with the student."

Herriott offers several suggestions for faculty with disabled students in their classrooms.

Tips for teachers
  • Include a disability statement in the class syllabus. The statement should encourage students with disabilities to contact the Disability Resources Office for help. Here's an example:

      "If you have a documented disability that may affect your ability to participate fully in the course or if you require special accommodations, you should contact the Disability Resources Office, 1076 Student Services Building, 294-6624. The Disability Resources Office will provide a Student Academic Accommodation Request form for this class outlining the appropriate accommodations needed. Working with the Disability Resources Office is the university's approved procedure for receiving accommodations. Use of accommodations in the classroom or in testing situations will remain confidential."

  • Rent or purchase captioned films and videos to help those who have hearing loss or difficulty with auditory processing of information. Captioned films and videos can save $500 to $1,000 per film (the amount it costs to hire someone to caption a film for an individual student). Instructional Technology Center (ITC) staff can make sure your projection equipment is able to display captioning.

  • Work with each student's needs individually. Don't assume someone in a wheelchair needs assistance, or a student with no visible disability doesn't have one. Meeting with students in private during office hours lets you discuss accommodations while ensuring students' confidentiality.

  • Carefully read each Student Academic Accommodation Request. If you don't understand what you need to do to accommodate a student, or don't know how you can accommodate a student, contact the Disability Resources Office.

  • Use as many methods as possible when you teach. For example, just lecturing may make it tough for students who have difficulty with auditory processing. Combining lectures with slides or overheads may help. The more ways you present information, the better students can take it in.

  • Be aware of student needs, even if they are not expressed. For example, students who perform well in class but not on tests or written work may have learning disabilities. Let them know there are resources available to them.

  • Try to let students with disabilities integrate as fully as possible into the classroom setting. For example, students in wheelchairs may be embarrassed if they have to sit in front of the class.

  • Ask students how you can help them, but not "what's wrong." Most students will be willing to discuss what can be done to help them in the classroom, but will be uncomfortable talking about medical details of their condition. (Students with disabilities only need to disclose diagnoses and documentation of their disabilities to the Disability Resources Office; office staff ensures the documentation is complete, accurate and qualifies students for accommodations under federal law.)

  • Acquaint yourself with resources on campus. In addition to the Disability Resources Office, the Center for Teaching Excellence has materials about teaching disabled students, and places like the Writing Center and Tutoring Center can offer assistance.

  • Web site materials need to be accessible too. Online sites like Bobby ( can pinpoint problems with your site's accessibility. On campus, ITC staff can help make your site accessible. Courses on Web accessibility also are available. Herriott will teach one from 9 a.m. to noon on April 10. Register online through AccessPlus, or the ITC or Professional Development Web sites.

  • Keep confidential information confidential.

  • Arrange for scribes or readers ahead of time rather than at the last minute.

  • If a student is using captioning and the only microphone is hooked to you, repeat what other students in the class say.

  • Be sure to notify the Disability Resources Office of any schedule or room changes so that the service providers can be informed.
"We want to move away from the idea that accommodating students with disabilities is the sole responsibility of the Disability Resources Office," Herriott said. "But we also want faculty to know they have support and resources on campus."

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