Disability Type

In a recent U.S. study, 428,280 postsecondary undergraduate students identified themselves as having disabilities, representing 6% of the student body. The types of disabilities reported by these students were:

Source: An Institutional Perspective on Students with Disabilities in Postsecondary Education, National Center for Educational Statistics, Postsecondary Education Quick Information System, August 1999
Learning disabilities 45.7%
Mobility or orthopedic impairments 13.9%
Health impairments 11.6%
Mental illness or emotional disturbance 7.8%
Hearing impairments 5.6%
Blindness and visual impairments 4.4%
Speech or language impairments 0.9%
Other impairments 9.1%

In K-12 schools, an even greater percentage of students have disabilities. These students include those who are college-bound, as well as children who may not attend college. A disability may or may not affect the participation of a student in your class.

In postsecondary settings, students are the best source of information regarding their special needs. They are responsible for disclosing their disabilities and requesting accommodations. To create a welcome college course environment, include a statement on your class syllabus inviting students who require accommodations to meet with you. For example, "If you have a documented disability and wish to discuss academic accommodations, please contact me as soon as possible."

For younger students, involve them in the accommodation process to help prepare them to be self advocates in their postsecondary studies and other adult life activities. Even though, at the K-12 level, special education teachers, counselors, and parents are actively involved in the accommodation process, an open dialog between the student and the teacher is key to a successful learning experience for a child with disabilities, just as it is for non-disabled peers.

Approach the development of accommodations with flexibility and creative problem solving. Math, science, engineering and technology instructors can find opportunities in this process for helping students with disabilities at all academic levels apply problem solving skills that are promoted in these fields.

Although students with similar disabilities may require different accommodations, it is useful for instructors to be aware of typical strategies for working with students who have various types of impairments. With this basic knowledge you will be better prepared to ask students to clarify their needs and discuss accommodations. Examples are listed below, followed by links to more detailed information in the AccessSTEM website.

Learning Disabilities are documented disabilities that may affect reading, processing information, remembering, calculating, and spatial abilities. Examples of accommodations for students who have specific learning disabilities include:

  • Notetakers and/or audiotaped class sessions.
  • Captioned videos and films.
  • Extra exam time, alternative testing arrangements.
  • Visual, aural, and tactile instructional demonstrations.
  • Computer with speech output, spellchecker, and grammar checker.

Mobility Impairments may make walking, sitting, bending, carrying, or using fingers, hands, or arms difficult or impossible. Mobility impairments result from many causes, including amputation, polio, club foot, scoliosis, spinal cord injury, and cerebral palsy. Typical accommodations for students with mobility impairments include:

  • Notetaker, lab assistant, group lab assignments.
  • Classrooms, labs, and field trips in accessible locations.
  • Adjustable tables, lab equipment located within reach.
  • Class assignments made available in electronic format.
  • Computer equipped with special input device (e.g., speech input, Morse code input, alternative keyboard).

Health Impairments affect daily living and involve the lungs, kidneys, heart, muscles, liver, intestines, immune systems, and other body parts (e.g., cancer, kidney failure, AIDS). Typical accommodations for students who have health impairments include:

  • Notetaker or copy of notes from the instructor or another student.
  • Flexible attendance requirements.
  • Extra exam time.
  • Assignments made available in electronic format.
  • Use of email to facilitate communication.

Mental Illness includes mental health and psychiatric disorders that affect daily living. Examples of accommodations for students with these conditions include:

  • Notetaker or copy of another student's notes.
  • Recording of lectures.
  • Extended time on assignments and tests.
  • A non-distracting, quiet setting for assignments and tests.

Hearing Impairments make it difficult or impossible to hear lecturers, access multimedia materials, and participate in discussions. Examples of accommodations for students who are deaf or hard of hearing include:

  • Interpreter or real-time captioning.
  • FM amplification system.
  • Notetaker.
  • Captioned films.
  • Use of visual aids.
  • Written assignments, lab instructions, demonstration summaries.
  • Visual warning system for lab emergencies.
  • Use of electronic mail for class and private discussions.

Blindness refers to the disability of students who cannot read printed text, even when enlarged. Typical accommodations include:

  • Audiotaped, Brailled or electronic-formatted lecture notes, handouts, and texts.
  • Verbal descriptions of visual aids.
  • Raised-line drawings and tactile models of graphic materials.
  • Braille lab signs and equipment labels.
  • Auditory lab warning signals.
  • Adaptive lab equipment (e.g., talking thermometers and calculators, light probes, and tactile timers).
  • Computer with optical character reader, speech output, Braille screen display and/or Braille embosser.

Low Vision refers to students who have some usable vision, but cannot read standard-size text, have field deficits (for example, cannot see peripherally or centrally but can see well in other ranges), or other visual impairments. Typical accommodations include:

  • Seating near front of class.
  • Large print handouts, lab signs, and equipment labels.
  • TV monitor connected to microscope to enlarge images.
  • Class assignments made available in electronic format.
  • Computer equipped to enlarge screen characters and images.

Sub-sections of this area of the AccessSTEM website are organized around disability types. Within each section you'll find examples of accommodations for students with this type of disability, case studies, frequently asked questions, and resources. Choose one of the following sections to learn more: