Academic Accommodations for Students with Learning Disabilities

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Achieving equal access through accommodations and universal design

In recent years, the number of students diagnosed with disabilities who are attending postsecondary institutions has increased dramatically. Members of the largest group of students with disabilities have learning disabilities.

In most situations, a learning disability is not readily observable. Because there are no outward signs of a disability such as a white cane or wheelchair, students with learning disabilities are often overlooked or misunderstood. Some instructors and administrators suspect that students who claim to have learning disabilities are faking it, are playing the system, or lack the intelligence needed to succeed in college. Understanding the implications of learning disabilities, preparing to teach students with diverse characteristics, and learning to accommodate students with learning disabilities are essential for faculty and staff to provide academic and career opportunities for these students that are equivalent to those provided to their nondisabled peers.

Learning Disabilities and Functional Limitations

Generally speaking, students may be diagnosed with learning disabilities if they are of average or above-average intelligence and there is a significant discrepancy between their academic achievement and their intellectual ability. The diagnosis of a learning disability is often made by a psychologist trained in administering and interpreting psycho-educational assessments. Psychologists use the results of their assessments to understand how individuals receive, process, integrate, retain, and communicate information. Since these functions cannot always be directly observed, it is often difficult to diagnose specific learning disabilities, determine their impact, and recommend appropriate accommodations.

There are many types of learning disabilities; they often impact student abilities in one or more of the following categories:

Learning disabilities may also be present along with other disabilities such as mobility and sensory impairments, brain injuries, Attention Deficit Disorder/Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD/ADHD), and psychiatric disabilities.

Described below are some of the functional limitations that may require accommodations. A student with a learning disability may have one or more of these limitations.

Universal Design

As the number of individuals being diagnosed with learning disabilities has increased, so have the understanding and utilization of academic and technological strategies for accommodation. There are a number of things instructors can do while planning a course to make it more accessible to all students, including those with learning disabilities. Proactively consider these strategies is part of a process called universal design (UD). UD offers the following suggestions:

Accommodations

Typically, a higher education institution requires that a student with a disability register with the office that provides support services for students with disabilities, in order to receive accommodations. It is the student's responsibility to request services in a timely manner. These offices confirm the student's disability and eligibility for services and accommodations. A course instructor typically receives a letter from this office detailing recommended accommodations for a student. The student with a disability is responsible for meeting all course requirements using only approved accommodations.

The goal is to give the student with a disability equal access to the learning environment. Individualized accommodations are not designed to give the student an advantage over other students, to alter a fundamental aspect of the course, nor to weaken academic rigor.

A specific learning disability is unique to the individual and can be manifested in a variety of ways. Therefore, accommodations for a specific student must be tailored to the individual. The following are examples of classroom, assignment, and examination accommodations that may be recommended for a student with a learning disability. When in doubt about how to assist a student, work with the student privately or contact the campus office that provides support services for students with disabilities.

Classroom and Assignment Accommodations

You may be asked to

Examination Accommodations

You may be asked to allow the student with a learning disability

Additional Resources

Your campus student disability support office is a valuable resource for better understanding learning disabilities and effective instructional strategies. The following resources may also be helpful:

The Center for Universal Design in Education is a comprehensive resource on the principles, processes, and strategies for applying UD in academic settings.
www.uw.edu/doit/CUDE/

The Faculty Room is a space for faculty and administrators at postsecondary institutions to learn about how to create classroom environments and activities that maximize the learning of all students, including those with disabilities.
www.uw.edu/doit/Faculty/Resources/

Invisible Disabilities and Postsecondary Education is the title of both a video and a publication that include suggestions for working with students with invisible disabilities on postsecondary campuses.
www.uw.edu/doit/Video/invisible.html

Equal Access: Universal Design of Instruction is the title of both a video and a publication that provide postsecondary instructors with strategies for making campuses welcoming and accessible to all students.
www.uw.edu/doit/Video/ea_udi.html

LDOnline is a comprehensive website on learning disabilities for parents, teachers, and other professionals.
www.ldonline.com/

The Learning Disabilities Association of America, (LDA) is a nonprofit grassroots organization whose members are individuals with learning disabilities, their families, and professionals who work with them to advance the education and general welfare of children and adults with learning disabilities.
www.ldanatl.org/

About DO-IT

DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology) serves to increase the successful participation of individuals with disabilities in challenging academic programs such as those in science, engineering, mathematics, and technology. Primary funding for DO-IT is provided by the National Science Foundation, the State of Washington, and the U.S. Department of Education. DO-IT is a collaboration of UW Information Technology and the Colleges of Engineering and Education at the University of Washington.

To order free publications or newsletters use the DO-IT Publications Order Form; to order videos and training materials use the Videos, Books and Comprehensive Training Materials Order Form.

For further information, to be placed on the DO-IT mailing list, request materials in an alternate format, or to make comments or suggestions about DO-IT publications or web pages contact:

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DO-IT Funding and Partners


Acknowledgment

The contents of this publication were developed under a grant from the U.S. Department of Education (#P333A020044, #P333A050064). However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the U.S. Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

Copyright © 2012, 2009, 2007, 2004, University of Washington. Permission is granted to copy these materials for educational, noncommercial purposes provided the source is acknowledged.