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Many instructors rely heavily on written assignments as a primary means for students to communicate knowledge and understanding. Some students with disabilities face challenges with written handouts, exams, and/or assignments. Writing may be difficult to due to physical limitations in the arms, hands, or fingers. Visual impairments may impact a student's access to standard word processing programs and computers. Medication side effects can result in unsteady hand movements or fatigue. The writing process, which includes spelling and grammar, may also be difficult due to hearing, language, or learning disabilities. Finally, accessing journals, publications, or other library resources for written assignments may be difficult for some students with disabilities.
Computers, assistive technology, and software programs have increased the number of written communication options for students with disabilities. Adaptive computer technology has improved access to word processing programs. For example, students who are blind can use screen reading programs and speech output systems as they complete written assignments. Students with learning disabilities can benefit from access to programs that assist with support spelling, grammar, and writing organization. The Internet provides students with options to do on-line searches from home or submit assignments via e-mail, which is helpful for individuals who find travel or access to standard library resources difficult.
Despite improvements in technology, many students with disabilities need accommodations to complete written assignments to meet course requirements. General accommodations for students with various disabilities that impact writing include extending assignment deadlines, allowing alternative assignment formats, extended test-taking time, or the use of adaptive technology. Other accommodations may include considerations for grading grammar and spelling versus content when evaluating writing assignments.
The following strategies can be used to facilitate participation of students with specific disabilities in writing assignments.
Students with learning disabilities may have difficulty organizing thoughts and ideas during the writing process. Writing mechanics such as grammar and spelling may be inconsistent, depending on the demands of the assignments. Proofreading and editing may be difficult for a student with a reading disability such as Dyslexia. Some students with learning disabilities also have poor fine motor skills. Typical accommodations that can be used to facilitate maximum participation of students with learning disabilities in writing activities are:
- Word processors with grammar and spell checkers.
- Word processors with outlining and highlighting capabilities.
- Word prediction software.
- Phonetic spelling software that can render phonetic spelling into correctly spelled words.
- Speech recognition products that allow students to dictate assignments or term papers as well as navigate the Internet using voice commands.
- Concept mapping software, which allows for visual representations of ideas and concepts and can be used as a structure for starting and organizing poetry, term papers, resumes, schedules, and computer programs.
For more information about students with learning disabilities, consult the Learning Disabilities section of the this website.
With the availability of computers, adaptive technology, and word processing programs, students who are blind are able to complete writing assignments. They can also access publications, journals, and resources to prepare written assignments. Typical accommodations that can be used to facilitate maximum participation of students with blindness in writing activities are:
- Screen reading software and speech output systems.
- Braille translation software, Braille refreshable display, and a Braille embosser.
- Locator dots on the keys of computer keyboards.
- Alternative test or assignment formats.
For more information about students with blindness, consult the Blindness section of the this website.
Students with low vision may have difficulty writing in a standard format. Typical accommodations that can be used to facilitate maximum participation of students with low vision in written assignments include:
- Large-print handouts and visual aids.
- Screen enlargers.
For more information about students with low vision, consult the Low Vision section of the this website.
Hearing impairments do not interfere with the physical aspects of writing. However, students who use American Sign Language may have poor grammar because of differences between English and American Sign Language; English is considered a second language for many individuals who are deaf and use sign language. Typical accommodations that can be used to facilitate maximum participation of students with hearing impairments in writing assignments include:
- Provide written examples of writing expectations (e.g., sample of a completed assignment of acceptable quality, including content and grammar/syntax).
- Grade writing and content separately.
For more information about students with hearing impairments, consult the Hearing Impairments section of the this website.
Students with mobility impairments who have difficulty using their hands, may have difficulty writing and accessing a standard mouse and keyboard for word processing programs. Fatigue may also be an issue during lengthy writing assignments or exams. And, gathering resources and publications for assignments may be time consuming. Typical accommodations that can be used to facilitate participation of students with mobility impairments in writing assignments are:
- Computer modifications to access word processing programs.
- Extended exam times.
- Extended assignment deadlines.
For more information about students with mobility impairments, consult the Mobility Impairments section of the this website.
Students with various health conditions may have difficulty attending class regularly. They may fatigue easily and/or have difficulty writing due to physical problems. Medication side effects may impact endurance, memory, and attention during the writing process. Gathering resources and publications for assignments may also be difficult. Typical accommodations that can be used to facilitate maximum participation of students with health impairments in writing assignments are:
- Word processing programs.
- Extended exam time.
- Extended assignment deadlines.
For more information about students with health impairments, consult the Health Impairments section of the this website.
Students with various psychiatric conditions may have difficulty attending class regularly. They may fatigue easily and/or have difficulty taking notes. Medication side effects may impact endurance, memory, and attention for learning. Typical accommodations that can be used to facilitate maximum participation of students with psychiatric impairments in discussions and group work are:
- Options for electronic assignments.
- Audiotaped class session.
- Laptop computer for notetaking.
- Flexible attendance requirements.
For more information about students with psychiatric impairments, consult the Psychiatric Impairments section of the this website.
Check Your Understanding
Consider the following example. A student with Multiple Sclerosis has enrolled in a graduate level psychology course. There are three written exams and two research papers due in the class. She uses a word processor for writing, but needs to take a break every 30 minutes or so. What would be the best way to help this student complete the writing assignments? Choose a response.
- Provide extended exam times and assignment deadlines.
- Provide a scribe to do the writing assignments.
- Provide a word processor with word prediction software.
- Allow the student to use a laptop computer for exams.