How Are Faculty Members Informed about Special Learning Needs?
Students who wish to request academic modifications for a particular course must be willing to complete a faculty notification form listing each instructor for whom they wish a letter to be prepared. Faculty notification forms are available in the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities in the Educational Resource Center, Bannister Hall.
Important: These forms are never sent "automatically." Students who wish letters to be prepared for some or all of their instructors must complete the request form in the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities each semester.
Faculty letters attest to the student’s eligibility for accommodations, list the kinds of modifications that may be requested, and inform the instructor that the student has been encouraged to speak to him or her in person about these special needs.
Documentation about the existence and nature of a student’s disability is private. Because such information is often sensitive, the University is committed to the principle that information about a student’s disability be maintained confidentially. However, disclosure of such information may be necessary to establish a student’s eligibility for reasonable accommodations and to identify those accommodations. Information is not disclosed unless the student has signed a permission form.
What Can Instructors Do?
With appropriate documentation, students may choose to request modifications. Following are some suggestions for adjustments in course presentation and evaluation. Few students will need all of these accommodations; some may require new strategies that must be developed for very specific course requirements.
Please remember that the goal is not to eliminate requirements or to water down courses. Instead it is to develop approaches that provide equal access to the content of the course and that permit students to demonstrate their competence in ways that provide detours around their learning disabilities.
- Alternative testing procedures. Often students with specific disabilities can demonstrate knowledge and competence via alternative methods. For students with reading difficulties, slower processing speed, and/or motor skills problems, extending deadlines or adding time to testing sessions can significantly improve performance. It is highly desirable to work out these arrangements well before the actual day of the exam. Those who are unable to perform well on multiple choice items may be able to show the same knowledge on essay questions, or vice versa. Computers can be a great aid for students who have poor handwriting. Those who have reading deficits may be able to demonstrate their abilities much better if the exam items are taped or read to them. It often helps to do a practice run with these alternative procedures before giving the test itself. This gives the instructor and the student the opportunity to deal with any complications at a less stressful time.
The Educational Resource Center will proctor tests for those instructors who have students with documented learning disabilities enrolled in their classes, as a service to those instructors. Students should pick up the "Request for Proctored Testing" form from the Educational Resource Center well in advance of their test, make arrangements with their instructor, and make proctored testing arrangements with Liz, in the Educational Resource Center. Some instructors may wish to provide alternative testing procedures in their own departments.
- Taped texts/reading machines. Recordings of required readings have proved invaluable for many students with learning disabilities, most notably for those with dyslexia. Taped versions of texts have been around for some time, and are still useful; however, computer equipment that scans text and converts it to speech is supplanting audiotapes. This equipment is currently available in the Educational Resource Center and in the University Library. Most students using recorded books follow along in the text as they listen either to tapes or to the computer.
- CCTV equipment. The closed-circuit TV equipment, for those with low vision, combines a videocamera and a monitor. Students place a book or article on a viewing stage and then magnify the videoscreen version of the text and/or adjust the background to make the words legible. Students have access to a CCTV in the Educational Resource Center or in the Library.
- Taped lectures. For students with auditory processing deficits, graphomotor difficulties, or attention problems, recorded lectures can be of great assistance. A signed agreement that the student will not share the tapes with others can be secured by those faculty members who are concerned about copyrighted material within the lecture.
- Notetakers. Some college students with special learning needs perform better with the assistance of a scribe who takes notes during the lecture. These students are still expected to attend class and take notes themselves; the scribes’ notes are used to fill in gaps, to reinforce learning, and to serve as models of good record keeping. In most instances, instructors will ask if someone in the class would mind allowing their notes to be copied for the student. The student’s disability is not shared with other class members; all such transactions are handled anonymously. If a volunteer does not come forward in a particular class, then it may be necessary to hire a student to serve as notetaker/scribe.
- Calculators. Some students are able to handle quite sophisticated math concepts without being able to perform basic operations automatically. For these students, the use of a calculator can be of considerable assistance.
- Cart Transportation to and From Class. Students with physical disabilities who need rides to and from class should contact the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities to make arrangements. Normally, cart rides are offered during regular office hours. Please speak directly with the Coordinator, or call 946-2458.
A Few More Practical Suggestions for Faculty
Include a "disability outreach" statement on course syllabi and as part of the introduction to the course during the first week of classes. Students with learning disabilities often are very reluctant to talk about their needs with their instructors; an outreach statement can help students feel more confident about discussing these issues.
Here is a model of an outreach statement:
- Provide a detailed syllabus early in the semester. Many students with special learning needs have difficulty with organizational skills. Having a clear roadmap for the course can help.
- Make the course requirements and due dates for assignments very explicit. Convey assignments both orally and in writing.
- Use as many modes as possible when presenting information in the classroom: lectures, discussion, chalkboard, overhead projectors, demonstrations, illustrations, etc.
- If you are providing alternative testing for your student, make sure the alternative testing room is appropriate. While some faculty and department offices are suitable locations, others are noisy and distracting. With advance notice, the Educational Resource Center can proctor exams during regular office hours. It is the student’s responsibility to make these arrangements with the instructor and with the ERC.
- Hold a midsemester conference with students with disabilities. Strategies developed at the beginning of the semester may need fine-tuning as the term progresses.
- Please treat all communications about disabilities as confidential information.