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Tips for working with all types of disabilities

  • The student is usually the best person to ask about their needs.
  • Some disabilities are visual, many are not; you may not know the person has a disability.
  • Consider each person individually; the guidelines below should be helpful but may not apply in a particular case.
  • Ask before providing assistance.
  • Interact directly with the person, not an interpreter or personal care assistant.
  • Get to know the person; dispels stereotypes, increases comfort.
  • Ask about strengths and weaknesses to have a better idea of how to explain material.
  • Ask questions to check for understanding.
  • Contact SDS if:
    • You have any questions or concerns.
    • What is requested seems to be unreasonable or conflicts with standards.

People who have attention deficit disorder

  • May struggle with focus and attention in the classroom, but may not show signs of it one on one.
  • Conduct meetings in reduced distraction areas whenever possible.
  • Highlight key points or concepts.
  • May need things explained or repeated more than once.
  • May benefit from breaking things down into smaller pieces or putting a single problem on a page.
  • Could benefit from working through problems as you discuss them; have the student teach you.
  • Check in more frequently to make sure the student is understanding.
  • May have trouble with timelines or follow through.
  • Refer student to SDS if you suspect a student may have undiagnosed ADHD; this is pretty common!

People with learning disabilities

  • Tend to learn best through a multi-sensory approach.
  • May need to have things explained in different ways.
  • Pause between ideas/concepts to allow for more time for processing.
  • Could benefit from working through problems as you discuss them; have the student teach you.
  • May find diagrams or pictures helpful in explaining concepts.
  • May benefit from using mnemonic devices or tricks to assist with memorization; highlight key points or concepts.
  • Refer student to SDS if you suspect a student may have undiagnosed LD; this is pretty common!

People who are on the autism spectrum

  • Select a central location to meet that the student is familiar with if possible.
  • Develop a set schedule if possible; prepare student ahead of time if changes are needed.
  • May have trouble with eye contact and making small talk.
  • May be very sensitive to stimuli.
  • May understand material/concept but may need assistance developing confidence, prioritizing or understanding what to do on a homework or lab report.
  • Breaking things into smaller segments can be helpful.
  • May need more time to process information.
  • May be helpful to be very clear and concrete about things such as it being time to end the session.

People who are hard of hearing

  • Students may or may not use hearing aids.
  • Speak in a normal tone and volume. Speaking loudly is often not helpful and may distort your speech; speak loudly only if asked to do so.
  • Face the person when speaking and keep your hands away from your face.
  • May not want people to be aware of the hearing loss.

People who are deaf

  • If a person is using an interpreter, speak and look directly at the student, not the interpreter.
  • Most deaf students have experience communicating with the people who can hear.
  • Let the person guide you as to how best to communicate.
  • Make sure you have the person’s attention before speaking to them.
  • To get a person’s attention, gently tap them on the shoulder, wave or use another visual signal.
  • Face the person when speaking as they may rely heavily on visual cues.
  • Only about 33% of spoken language can be picked up by lip reading; try another word instead of repeating the same one.

People with physical or mobility impairments

  • Choose an accessible location to meet; make sure the space is large enough for the person to move around if they use a wheelchair or scooter.
  • Can be caused by a wide range of physical and medical conditions; may fluctuate in severity.
  • Ask before giving assistance.
  • If you are speaking to someone who is using a wheelchair, sit down or adjust your position so you are speaking on the same level (don’t lean on the wheelchair).
  • Be aware of road and sidewalk conditions when walking with a person who uses a wheelchair.

People who have low vision

  • May not be able to see you or find you easily; make a plan to meet in a particular place.
  • 80% have some vision (legally blind is anything beyond 20/200).
  • May try not to let others know about their vision loss.
  • May need to meet in a central or well-known location that they choose.
  • May need to enlarge things or work in large format.
  • May need to cover visually-intensive material more slowly.
  • May need to clarify things covered in class that they could not follow visually.

People who are blind

  • Identify yourself when you approach so the person knows that you are there.
  • Ask before offering assistance; offer your arm for the person to take.
  • Don’t worry about saying “I’ll see you later.” Such conventions are not offensive..
  • Provide visual descriptions instead of gesturing or pointing.
  • Be descriptive when providing directions; when guiding someone to a chair, place their hand on the back of it.
  • Refer to people by name if you are speaking in a group setting.
  • Guide dogs should not be treated as a pet.

People who have psychological or medical conditions

  • If a person lets you know about such a condition, you may want to ask how you can help.
  • Conditions may be intermittent, episodic and/or temporary.
  • Flexibility with attendance, deadlines and participation may be needed.
  • Encourage students to register with SDS, especially if needs are significant or continuing.