Group Work/Discussions

Some students with disabilities face challenges participating in small group discussions and other interactive activities. Specific needs vary greatly. However, some general teaching strategies that benefit all students include:

  • Establish clear ground rules for discussion.
  • Provide electronic supplementary course/discussion materials.
  • Give clear descriptions of visual materials.
  • Paraphrase questions and answers and highlight key points throughout discussions.
  • Create options for electronic discussions.

Accommodations for Specific Disabilities

The following strategies can be used to facilitate participation of students with specific disabilities in discussions and other interactive group work.

Learning Disabilities

Students with learning disabilities may have difficulty processing, organizing, and remembering large amounts of spoken information. Taking effective notes may also be challenging due to poor writing and organizational skills. Some students may also have difficulty communicating verbally.

Typical accommodations that can be used in discussions and group work to maximize the participation of students with learning disabilities include:

  • Audiotaped sessions.
  • Note taker.
  • A laptop computer in class for notetaking.
  • Options for electronic discussion via email where there is sufficient time to formulate responses.

For more information about students with learning disabilities, consult the Learning Disabilities section of the AccessSTEM website.

Blindness

Students who are blind cannot see a presenter, visual aids, printed materials, and demonstrations.

Typical accommodations that can be used in discussions and group work to maximize the participation of students with blindness are:

  • Audiotaped sessions.
  • Brailler or computer for notetaking.
  • Having participants state their names prior to speaking during discussions.
  • Verbal descriptions of visual aids and demonstrations.
  • Handouts in Braille, on tape, or in electronic format that can be read before the discussion or work group meeting.

For more information about students with blindness, consult the Blindness section of the AccessSTEM website.

Low Vision

Individuals with low vision may have difficulty seeing visual aids, handouts, and demonstrations.

Typical accommodations that can be used in discussions and group work to maximize the participation of students with low vision are:

  • Note takers.
  • Audiotaped class sessions.
  • Electronic course materials which can be converted to speech output.
  • Preferential seating.
  • Large-print handouts and visual aids.

For more information about students with low vision, consult the Low Vision section of the AccessSTEM website.

Hearing Impairments

Students with hearing impairments or deafness are challenged by verbal discussions. Students with residual hearing or who use hearing aids may require amplification. Other students may need to lip read or use sign language interpreters. Some students with hearing impairments may also have speech impairments. Certain environmental conditions may also impact a student's ability to hear or read lips effectively. For example, hearing aids may pick up extraneous background noise and interfere with the clarity of sound. Poor lighting may make it more difficult to lip read. Likewise, background lighting from a window can cast shadows on a speaker's face.

Typical accommodations that can be used in discussions and group work to maximize the participation of students with hearing impairments are:

  • Sign language interpreters.
  • Real-time captioning which allows immediate transcription of words to a computer screen.
  • videos and films.
  • Assistive listening devices (ALDs) which combined with a student's personal hearing aid can augment and amplify sound in a group setting. Microphones for these devices can then be accessed by the instructor and students.
  • Preferential seating during the discussion for optimal listening or lip reading.
  • Options for electronic discussion.

Communication strategies that can facilitate access to students with hearing impairments include:

  • When speaking, face the student directly.
  • When speaking, avoid obscuring lips or face with hands, books, or other objects.
  • Repeat discussion questions and statements made by other students.
  • Write discussion key points, questions, and answers on the board or overhead projection system.
  • Speak clearly and at a normal rate.
  • If the student uses an interpreter, speak directly to the student, not the interpreter.
  • Indicate who is speaking by gesturing or pointing.

For more information about students with hearing impairments, consult the Hearing Impairments section of the AccessSTEM website.

Mobility Impairment

Physical access to the discussion location may pose a challenge for a student with a mobility impairment. A student who has difficulty using their hands will have difficulty taking written notes.

Typical accommodations that can be used in discussions and group work to maximize the participation of students with mobility impairments are:

  • Preferential and accessible seating.
  • Note takers.
  • Audiotaped sessions.
  • Laptop computer for notetaking.

For more information about students with mobility impairments, consult the Mobility Impairments section of the AccessSTEM website.

Health Impairment

Students with some health conditions may have difficulty attending class regularly. They may fatigue easily and/or have difficulty taking notes due to fatigue or other physical limitations. Medication side effects may impact endurance, memory, and attention.

Typical accommodations that can be used in discussions and group work to maximize participation of students with health impairments are:

  • Note takers.
  • Audiotaped sessions.
  • Laptop computer for notetaking.
  • Options for electronic discussion.
  • Flexible attendance requirements.

For more information about students with health impairments, consult the Health Impairments section of the AccessSTEM website.

Psychiatric Impairments

Students with some psychiatric conditions may have difficulty attending class regularly. They may fatigue easily. Medication side effects may impact endurance, memory, and attention for learning. They may have difficulty taking notes.

Typical accommodations that can be used in discussions and group work to maximize the participation of students with psychiatric impairments are:

  • Note takers.
  • Audiotaped sessions.
  • Laptop computer for notetaking.
  • Options for electronic discussion.
  • Flexible attendance requirements.

For more information about students with psychiatric impairments, consult the Psychiatric Impairments section of the AccessSTEM website.

Other

Students with speech impairments may have difficulty speaking in discussions. Some students with speech impairments use augmentative communication. Many of these devices are computer-based and can be programmed to provide speech output.

Typical accommodations that can be used in discussions and group work to maximize the participation of students with speech impairments are:

  • Adequate wait time to allow the student to speak.
  • Options for electronic discussion.

Check Your Understanding

Consider the following example. A student with a hearing impairment is enrolled in your biology course that includes a weekly discussion session. The student has a hearing aid and speaks without difficulty. What would be the best way to ensure the student can fully participate in the interactive discussions? Choose a response.

  1. Provide preferential seating near the instructor to reduce environmental distractions.
  2. Use an assistive listening system with multiple microphones for the student and instructor.
  3. Use a note taker during the discussion.
  4. Use real-time captioning during the discussion.

Check Your Understanding Responses

  1. Provide preferential seating near the instructor to reduce environmental distractions.
    Preferential seating in a discussion section may be helpful. However, if there is a high level of student participation and interaction it may be difficult for the student with a hearing impairment to follow the conversation. Assessing and adjusting environmental conditions such as lighting and background noise that may interfere with lip reading or hearing is important. Talk to the student about the best way to meet her needs. The disabled student services staff may be able to assist with this prior to the course.
  2. Use an assistive listening system with multiple microphones for the student and instructor.
    Personal and group FM systems which amplify sounds can be used successfully to clarify sounds in a group setting for some students with hearing impairments. With these systems, there is a direct input of sound from the speaker into a microphone that is then transmitted to the student's hearing aid. A central microphone can be used when the group is small. Multiple microphones are more effective with a larger group and can be passed from person to person as they speak. Talk to the student about options that will be most effective. The disabled student services office may have FM systems available for student use.
  3. Use a note taker during the discussion.
    A note taker can provide a summary record of the discussion content. However, this strategy is not ideal because it does not enhance the active participation of the student during the group interaction if the student cannot adequately hear or lip read to follow the conversation.
  4. Use real-time captioning during the discussion.
    The use of real-time captioning may be an effective accommodation in this situation. In this case, a transcriptionist types the discussion comments on computer-based transcription equipment. The speaker's words are typed into the computer and then immediately relayed to the student's laptop or projected onto a larger screen. The captioning also provides a transcript for later use. Real-time captioning tends to be less effective in small groups or interactive discussions than in lectures.

Questions and answers, case studies, and promising practices can be found in the searchable AccessSTEM Knowledge Base.