Guidelines for DO-IT Summer Study Volunteers & Instructors

DO-IT Scholars are capable and motivated high school students who are preparing for college. They are participants in project DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology), which is directed by the University of Washington (UW). A wide range of disabilities are represented in each group of Scholars, including blindness, low vision, hearing impairments, mobility impairments, health impairments, attention deficit disorder, specific learning disabilities, and psychiatric disabilities.

Instructors and other volunteers are important members of the DO-IT team while Scholars participate in Summer Study programs on the University of Washington campus. Most have few, if not any, previous experience working with students who have disabilities.

This publication includes basic communication, lecture, discussion, field trip, and laboratory suggestions. Following these guidelines helps to maximize Scholarparticipation and independence.

Teaching Guidelines


  • Produce handouts in Braille, large print, or electronic format as needed.
  • Speak clearly and naturally.
  • Try to incorporate as many senses as possible in your instruction: visual, auditory, and tactile. For example, consider using visual aids, verbal descriptions, and object manipulation in your presentation.
  • Work in advance with DO-IT staff to determine needs and arrange production.
  • Face Scholars when you speak and keep your face, particularly your mouth, visible.
  • Describe visual aids and demonstrations verbally. For example, say "the 3-inch steel rod" instead of "this".
  • Feel free to use terms like "watch the dial" and "walk over to". Many people with disabilities use such terms even if they cannot see or walk.
  • Use language that is easily understood. If you introduce an unusual or difficult word, spell and define it orally and write it on the blackboard or overhead projector. Use analogies that Scholars will understand to explain a term or process.
  • Ask DO-IT Scholars to help you distribute handouts, set up, or demonstrate a concept. They enjoy being actively involved.
  • Share personal and/or humorous anecdotes or stories about your life or work experiences.
  • Convey passion for your work.
  • Consider creating a project in class that Scholars can take home with them and/or describe a project, such as collecting data, that Scholars can do after the program is over.
  • Invite Scholars to send you electronic mail with their results, questions, or comments.
  • Include time for discussion. DO-IT Scholars are inquisitive and enjoy sharing their ideas.


  • Before calling on a Scholar, allow time for the group to think about a question and formulate responses.
  • Allow Scholars with speech impairments to participate in group discussions. If you do not understand what is being said, repeat what your understood and then ask the person to repeat the rest. Often, other Scholars can help you understand what the student is saying.
  • Call on Scholars both verbally and with gestures so that students with visual or hearing impairments know that they are being addressed.
  • Repeat all questions and comments from the audience to ensure that all of the Scholars have heard them. This is also very important if a Scholar is using an FM amplification system.
  • If there is an interpreter in the room, direct comments to the Scholar, not the interpreter. The interpreter performs only the function(s) of a Scholar's ears and/or voice.


  • Make requests in advance for Braille and large print labels and instructions for lab equipment.
  • Give the Scholars a tour of your lab before beginning an activity. Show where the exits, showers, extinguishers, and other safety equipment are located. Make sure that shower chains and wash hoses can be reached by Scholars who use wheelchairs in case of emergency.
  • Explain safety practices and make sure that Scholars follow them.
  • Make certain that aisles and work surfaces are clear. Aisles should be between 42 and 48 inches wide, to allow a wheelchair to maneuver easily. Scholarswho use wheelchairs usually work best when work surfaces are at least 29 inches high, but no higher than 30-32 inches from the floor, 36 inches wide, and at least 20 inches deep.
  • When appropriate, organize your activities so that students are paired up or working in small groups. Matching Scholars with different abilities can maximize participation. For example, in an activity where knobs need to be turned and gauges monitored, a Scholar who is blind can perform the manipulations while someone who cannot use his hands can provide directions and feedback. DO-IT staff can assign groups in advance as appropriate.
  • If a Scholar feels she can do a task but you cannot understand how, ask the student to explain how she would do it. If anyone's safety is in question, consult with a DO-IT staff member before allowing her to attempt the task to see if other alternatives might be identified.

Thank you for contributing to the successful transition of DO-IT Scholars into postsecondary education and careers. Please contact DO-IT if you have questions or concerns.

Helpful Communication Hints

Treat students with disabilities with the same respect and consideration with which you treat others. There are no strict rules when it comes to relating to students with disabilities. However, here are some helpful hints.

General Guidelines

  • Ask a student with a disability if he/she needs help before providing assistance.
  • Talk directly to a student with a disability, not through their companion or interpreter.
  • Refer to a person's disability only if it is relevant to the conversation. If so, refer to the person first and then the disability. "A student who is blind" is better than "a blind student" because it emphasizes the person first.
  • Avoid negative descriptions of a student's disability. For example, "a person who uses a wheelchair" is more appropriate than "a person confined to a wheelchair." A wheelchair is not confining- it's liberating!
  • Always ask permission before you interact with a student's guide dog or service dog.

Visual Impairments

  • Be descriptive for students with visual impairments. Say, "The computer is about three feet to your left," rather than "The computer is over there."
  • When guiding students with visual impairments, offer them your arm rather than grabbing or pushing them.

Learning Disabilities

  • If asked, read instructions to students who have specific learning disabilities.

Mobility Impairments

  • Try to sit or otherwise position yourself at the approximate height of students in wheelchairs when you interact.

Speech Impairments

  • Listen carefully. Repeat what you think you understand for confirmation, and then ask the student with a speech impairment to repeat the portion of what was said that you didn't understand.

Deaf or Hard of Hearing

  • Face students with hearing impairments so they can see your lips. Speak clearly.
  • Consider the use of transparencies or slides rather than writing on a whiteboard or flipchart so that students with hearing impairments can read your lips.

Psychological Disabilities

  • Provide information in clear, calm, respectful tones.
  • Allow opportunities for addressing specific questions.

About DO-IT

DO‑IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology) serves to increase the successful participation of individuals with disabilities in challeng‑ ing academic programs such as those in science, engineering, mathematics, and technology. Primary funding for the DO‑IT program is provided by the National Science Foundation, the State of Washington, and the U.S. Department of Education. Additional grants have been received from the AOL Foundation, the Jeld-Wen Foundation, Microsoft, Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation, NEC Foundation of America, the Samuel S. Johnson Foundation, the Seattle Foundation, the Telecommunications Funding Partnership, US WEST Communications, Visio Corporation, and the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. The University of Washington also contributes substantial resources to this project.

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:

University of Washington
Box 354842
Seattle, WA 98195-4842

206-685-DOIT (3648) (voice/TTY)
888-972-DOIT (3648) (voice/TTY)
206-221-4171 (fax)
509-328-9331 (voice/TTY) Spokane

Founder and Director: Sheryl Burgstahler, Ph.D.

DO-IT Funding and Partners

Copyright © 2008, 2006, 2004, 2001, 2000, 1994, University of Washington. Permission is granted to copy these materials for educational, non-commercial purposes provided the source is acknowledged.