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Guidelines for Teaching Students With Disabilities

Services for students with disabilities are offered at all universities and colleges throughout Ontario to ensure the delivery of equitable educational opportunities. Student Accessibility Services at our university provides services to students with physical, medical, psychiatric, neurological and learning disabilities. The support and services provided by our office are designed to enable students with disabilities to fully participate in all aspects of the academic environment.

Disabilities range in their effect on an individual, and students vary in their skills and coping mechanisms. It is therefore important for faculty, students and learning strategies counsellors or accessibility advisors to work together to identify the most suitable method of accommodation while upholding the integrity of academic programs.

Teaching Guidelines

  • General Guidelines
    • Use a multi-modal approach to teaching. Everyone processes information differently. Combine lecturing with visual reinforcements, demonstrations, concrete examples or personal anecdotes. Be sure to explain PowerPoint figures or diagrams and how they relate to the material being taught. 
    • Make sure course outlines clearly state all expectations, including assignment due dates, quiz and test dates, readings and the grading breakdown. It can be crucial for some students to have access to outlines before registration so they can make a more realistic judgment about their courses and workload. It could take many weeks for Student Accessibility Services to receive electronic versions of texts and readings, so it is important to have the course syllabus and reading list available early.
    • Give students access to copies of lectures, whenever possible, so they will have time to process the information prior to the lecture.
    • Reinforce main ideas. Give cues to the student that particular information is important. Review key concepts frequently to ensure they are understood.
  • Instructional Accommodations

    Reasonable accommodations can usually be made to course requirements that will benefit the majority of the student body, including individuals with disabilities, without compromising any of the key structural components or essential requirements of a course. Faculty members can ask themselves the following questions regarding the program, course and instruction, to determine what accommodations are best for each student:

    • What academic skills must be demonstrated?
    • What specific knowledge, principles or concepts must be mastered?
    • What skills will be needed in the field after graduation?
    • What methods of instructions are non-negotiable? Why?
    • What alternative methods of instruction could be used to present essential program or course components?
    • How might equipment and other resources be used to enhance the learning opportunity?
  • Laboratory Accommodations

    Laboratory situations can be particularly challenging for a student with a disability. Here are some accommodation suggestions:

    • Accompany demonstrations with detailed descriptions.
    • Assign the person with a disability a lab partner or buddy. Arrange for an orientation to the lab layout in advance of the session if warranted.
    • Ensure your face is visible to students who are deaf or hard of hearing when giving explanations or demonstrations.
    • Label equipment, instruments and chemicals in large print or Braille for students with visual disabilities.
    • Provide lab manuals and other materials in advance in print or accessible format if required.
    • Provide accessible lab and computer equipment, such as a height adjustable table.
  • Evaluating Academic Performance

    Accommodations are not meant to provide an advantage for the student; rather, they are meant to help the student compensate for the effects of their disability. Therefore, the evaluation of a student's performance may require adjustments to the evaluation method. In determining the essential evaluation components of a course, it is important to look at the following questions:

    • What methods of assessing performance are absolutely necessary? Why?
    • What alternative methods of evaluation could be considered for assessing essential outcome variables?
    Frequently used examination accommodations include:
    • Extra time to read, write or process test material.
    • The use of a computer, assistive software, a scribe or a reader to complete test questions.