Information on Various Disabilities and Instructional Considerations

Learning Disabilities

Learning disabilities are neurologically-based conditions that interfere with the acquisition, storage, organization, and use of skills and knowledge. They are identified by deficits in academic functioning and in processing memory, auditory, visual, and linguistic information. The diagnosis of a learning disability in an adult requires documentation of at least average intellectual functioning along with a deficit in one or more of the following areas:

  • auditory processing
  • visual processing
  • mathematical skills
  • visual spatial skills
  • motor skills
  • executive functioning
  • spoken and written language skills
  • reading skills
  • information processing speed
  • abstract and general reasoning
  • memory (long-term, short-term, visual, auditory)

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD/ADD) is a neurological condition that affects learning and behavior. Students may be easily distracted, impulsive, hyperactive, and inconsistent. Some may daydream; some may have difficulty completing tasks; others may be disorganized and forgetful. Procrastination, difficulty with time management, and mood swings are usually prevalent. These students are often highly creative, intelligent, intuitive, and have the ability to hyper focus.

Some Instructional Considerations for Students with Learning Disabilities/ADD/ADHD 

While a learning disability is a separate condition from ADD/ADHD, these students use some of the same accommodations and instructional strategies.  The following strategies are suggested to enhance the accessibility of course instruction, materials, and activities. They are general strategies designed to support individualized, reasonable accommodations.

  • Include a Disability Access Statement on the syllabus (see Working with Students with Disabilities).
  • Have copies of the syllabus ready three to five weeks prior to the beginning of classes so textbooks can be ordered from a national reading service or scanned by the Coordinator of Specialized Support Services.
  • Assist the student with finding an effective notetaker from class.
  • Allow the student to tape record lectures.
  • Students benefit from the use of visual aids, handouts, and any multimedia approach.
  • Allow the use of spell check and grammar-assistive devices for in-class work.
  • Provide extended time for quizzes, tests, and/or exams.
  • An alternate test format may be necessary.
  • Time for clarification of directions and essential information may be necessary.
  • Oral examinations may be necessary.
  • A quiet, separate place to take tests may be necessary.

Allow the student the same anonymity as other students; avoid pointing out the student or the alternative arrangements to the rest of the class.

Psychological Disabilities

Students with psychological disabilities can have very successful college careers. At times, determining and providing appropriate accommodations can be a challenge. Below are brief descriptions of some common psychological disabilities.

Depression is a major disorder that can begin at any age. Major depression may be characterized by a depressed mood most of each day, a lack of pleasure in most activities, thoughts of suicide, insomnia, and feelings of worthlessness or guilt.

Bipolar disorder (manic depressive disorder) causes a person to experience periods of mania and depression. Concentration, memory, and organization are affected. In the manic phase, a person might experience inflated self-esteem and decreased need to sleep. In the depressed phase they lose energy and motivation.

Anxiety disorders can disrupt a person's ability to concentrate and cause hyperventilation, a racing heart, chest pains, dizziness, panic, and extreme fear.

schizophrenia can cause a person to lose touch with reality, experiencing delusions and hallucinations. Concentration and organization are affected.

Some Instructional Considerations for Students with  Psychological Disabilities:

The following strategies are suggested to enhance the accessibility of course instruction, materials, and activities. They are general strategies designed to support individualized, reasonable accommodations.

  • Include a Disability Access Statement on the syllabus (see Working with Students with Disabilities).
  • Flexible deadlines
  • Allow student to tape record lectures.
  • Assist the student with finding an effective notetaker.
  • Allow the student the same anonymity as other students; avoid pointing out the student or the alternative arrangements to the rest of the class.

Systemic Disabilities

Systemic disabilities are conditions affecting one or more of the body's systems. These include the respiratory, immunological, neurological, and circulatory systems. There are many kinds of systemic impairments, varying significantly in their effects and symptoms. Below are brief descriptions of some of the more common types.

  • Cancer is a malignant growth that can affect any part of the body.
  • Chemical dependency is considered a disabling condition when it is documented that a person has received treatment for a drug or alcohol addiction and is not currently using. Chemical dependency can cause permanent cognitive impairments.
  • Diabetes mellitus causes a person to lose the ability to regulate blood sugar. People with diabetes often need to follow a strict diet and may require insulin injections. During a diabetic reaction, a person may experience confusion, sudden personality changes, or loss of consciousness. In extreme cases, diabetes can also cause vision loss, cardiovascular disease, kidney failure, stroke, or necessitate the amputation of limbs.
  • Epilepsy/seizure disorder causes a person to experience a loss of consciousness. Seizures vary from short absence or "petit mal" seizures to the less common "grand mal." Seizures are frequently controlled by medications and are most often not emergency situations.
  • Epstein Barr virus/chronic fatigue syndrome is an auto immune disorder which causes extreme fatigue, loss of appetite, and depression. Physical or emotional stress may adversely affect a person with this condition.
  • Human immunodefeciency virus (HIV), which causes AIDS, inhibits one's ability to fight off illness and infections. Symptoms vary greatly.
  • Lyme disease is a multisystemic condition which can cause paralysis, fatigue, fever, dermatitis, sleeping problems, memory dysfunction, cognitive difficulties, and depression.
  • Lupus erthematosis can cause inflammatory lesions, neurological problems, extreme fatigue, persistent flu-like symptoms, impaired cognitive ability, connective tissue dysfunction, and mobility impairments.
  • Multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) often results from prolonged exposure to chemicals. A person with MCS becomes increasingly sensitive to chemicals found in everyday environments. Though reactions vary, nausea, rashes, light-headedness, and respiratory distress are common to MCS.
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a progressive neurological condition with a variety of symptoms such as loss of strength, numbness, vision impairments, tremors, and depression. The intensity of MS symptoms can vary greatly from day to day.
  • Renal disease/failure can result in loss of bladder control, extreme fatigue, pain, and toxic reactions that can cause cognitive difficulties.

Some Instructional Considerations for Students with Systemic Disabilities:

Students affected by systemic disabilities differ from those with other disabilities because systemic disabilities are often unstable. This causes a person's condition to vary; therefore, the need for and type of reasonable accommodations may also change.

Systemic disabilities often require instructional strategies similar to those listed for other disability conditions. The use of such strategies will depend on how the disability is manifested. If a faculty or staff member would like more information about instructional strategies for students with systemic disabilities, he or she should contact the Coordinator of Specialized Support Services.

Mobility and Dexterity Impairments

Mobility impairments range in severity from limitations on stamina to paralysis. Some mobility impairments are caused by conditions present at birth while others are the result of illness or physical injury. Quadriplegia, paralysis of the extremities and trunk, is caused by a neck injury. Students with quadriplegia have limited or no use of their arms and hands and often use motorized wheelchairs. Paraplegia, paralysis of the lower extremities and the lower trunk, is caused by an injury to the mid-back. Students often use a manual wheelchair and have full movement of arms and hands.

Other causes of mobility impairments may include amputation, arthritis, back disorders, Cerebral Palsy, and neuromuscular disorders.

Some Considerations

A physical disability is often separate from other matters of cognition and general health; it does not imply that a student has other health problems or difficulty with intellectual functioning. Dependency and helplessness are not characteristics of physical disabilities.

It might take a student with a mobility impairment extra time to speak or act. Allow the student to set the pace while walking or talking.

A wheelchair is a personal assistance device rather than something one is "confined to." It is also a part of a student's personal space; do not lean on or touch the chair, and do not push the chair unless asked.

Physical access to a class is the first barrier a student with a mobility impairment may face; this is not only access to the building or classroom. An unshoveled sidewalk, new construction along a route, or mechanical problems with a wheelchair can easily cause the student to be late.

Common accommodations for students with mobility impairments include priority registration, notetakers, accessible classroom/location/furniture, alternative ways of completing assignments, lab or library assistants, assistive computer technology, exam modifications, and conveniently located parking.

Instructional Strategies

The following strategies are suggested to enhance the accessibility of course instruction, materials, and activities. They are general strategies designed to support individualized, reasonable accommodations.

  • Include a Disability Access Statement on the syllabus (see Working with Students with Disabilities).
  • If necessary, arrange for a room change before the term begins.
  • If possible, try not to seat wheelchair users in the back row. Move a desk or rearrange seating at a table so the student is part of the regular classroom seating.
  • Make sure accommodations are in place for in-class written work (e.g., allow the student to use a scribe, to use assistive computer technology, or to complete the assignments outside of class).

Allow the student the same anonymity as other students; avoid pointing out the student or the alternative arrangements to the rest of the class.