It is helpful to have a process to follow when determining appropriate accommodations for students with disabilities. DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology) at the University of Washington has developed a model process and a Student Activities Profile form for creating effective accommodations. It can be used by any instructor and is composed of the following four steps:
Step #1: What does the task or assignment require?
Break down all of the components of the experiment, assignment, or exercise. As an educator, you are usually focused on the overall outcome of the project. To accommodate a student with a disability, it's important to think about the specific settings, tools, skills, and tasks that are required at each step. By analyzing and evaluating the task thoroughly, you will be able to determine how best to fully and effectively include a student with a specific disability.
Step #2: What physical, sensory, and cognitive skills are needed?
Match the tasks required to the physical, sensory, and cognitive skills needed to successfully complete the project. It is easy to say, "If I had a physical, sensory, or cognitive disability, I would not be able to complete this assignment" without really determining what skills are needed for specific aspects of the project. We need to separate the real requirements of a specific task from the fictional or perceived requirements of the project in total. It is impossible to place yourself in the shoes of the student with a disability. She may have learned many ways to solve a specific problem or task and work around the limitations imposed by the disability.
Step #3: What components of the task require accommodation?
Once the task has been analyzed and the skills needed are identified, determine what accommodations may be required or how the learning experience might be altered to make it more accessible. Determine the level of difficulty of the project and how best to make an accommodation to create an inclusive environment for a student with a disability. It is very important to consult with the student to determine what they perceive are aspects of a project for which they may need an accommodation or assistance.
Step #4: What accommodation options exist?
Now that the tasks that need accommodation have been determined, identify what resources exist for providing the needed accommodation(s). The student may have some good ideas; however, this is a time when other staff and professionals who may have expertise in specific areas can be called upon to provide input. In some cases, having students work in groups where each person is assigned a task that he or she has the ability to complete provides a reasonable alternative.
A Student Abilities Profile form is designed to guide you in determining a student's skills and abilities and assist you in breaking down the individual components of a science or mathematics assignment. The form asks you to briefly describe the student, the classroom or laboratory environment, the equipment or supplies needed, available professional and external resources, possible effective accommodations, and the physical, sensory, and cognitive skills needed for the task.
The content of this article is from the DO-IT publication An Accommodation Model. For more information about making science accessible to students with disabilities, consult the DO-IT publications and videos titled The Winning Equation: Access + Attitude = Success in Math and Science and Working Together: Science Teachers and Students with Disabilities. For tips on designing accessible science labs read the publication Making Science Labs Accessible to Students with Disabilities.