Accommodating Students with Learning Disabilities


After this presentation faculty and administrators will be more aware of:

  • types of learning disabilities and how they impact learning, participation, and demonstration of knowledge in class
  • typical accommodation strategies for students with learning disabilities
  • how technology can be used to help students with learning disabilities achieve academic and career success


Approximately 60 minutes.


The disabled student services coordinator or counselor would be responsible for coordinating the presentation. This program can be co-presented with a staff member who has experience with people with disabilities or a student on campus with a learning disability.


  • Select the presenter(s).
  • Develop presentation outline and activities using the "Sample Script" provided in this section and the ideas listed in the Presentation Tips section.
  • Create presentation slides from provided templates.
  • Add the contact information for campus resources to the "Resources" slide and to printed publications as appropriate.
  • Photocopy handout templates Academic Accommodations for Students with Learning Disabilities and Invisible Disabilities and Postsecondary Education. Create alternative formats as necessary.
  • Photocopy the presentation evaluation instrument to distribute at the end of the session or create your own.
  • Add a link on your department's website to The Faculty Room at

Equipment and Tools

  • DVD player and monitor
  • Video projector, computer, and presentation slides; Internet connection (optional)
  • Video (open captioned and audio described version of Invisible Disabilities and Postsecondary Education)
  • Handouts (Academic Accommodations for Students with Learning Disabilities and Invisible Disabilities and Postsecondary Education)
  • Presentation evaluation instrument

Presentation Outline

  1. Distribute handouts.
  2. Introductions.
  3. Begin presentation.
  4. Introduce and play video as noted in the script.
  5. Discuss accommodation strategies for students with specific learning disabilities.
  6. Discuss department or campus issues.
  7. Note campus resources.
  8. Distribute and collect completed evaluation instruments.


For further preparation resources for this presentation, consult

Sample Script

Today we will be discussing how to provide full access to college courses for students with learning disabilities.

The objectives for today's presentation are to:

  • name different types of learning disabilities and how they impact learning, participation, and demonstration of knowledge in class
  • describe typical accommodation strategies for students with learning disabilities
  • discuss how technology can be used to help students with learning disabilities achieve academic and career success

What is a Learning Disability?

Learning disabilities refer to a group of disorders manifested by significant difficulties in listening, speaking, reading, writing, reasoning, or mathematical abilities. A specific learning disability in most situations is a invisible disability. There are no outward signs of a disability, such as a white cane or wheelchair. A learning disability is unique to the individual and impacts learning in a variety of ways.

Generally speaking, someone may be diagnosed with a learning disability if he or she is of average or above-average intelligence and there is

  • a lack of achievement at age and ability level
  • a severe discrepancy between achievement and intellectual ability

An untrained observer may conclude that a person with a learning disability is lazy or just not trying hard enough. He or she may have a difficult time understanding the large discrepancy between reading comprehension and verbal skills. The observer sees only the input and output, not the processing of the information.

Learning disabilities usually fall within four broad categories: spoken language, which affects listening and speaking; written language, which affects reading, writing, and spelling; arithmetic which affects calculation and concepts; and reasoning, which impacts organization and integration of ideas and thoughts.

A person with a learning disability may have discrepancies in one or all of these categories. The effects of a learning disability range from mild to severe. Learning disabilities may also be present along with other disabilities, such as mobility or sensory impairments. Often people with Attention Deficit Disorder/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, although usually not classified as a learning disability itself, also have learning disabilities.

There are specific types of learning disabilities:

  • An individual with dysgraphia has a difficult time with the physical task of forming letters and words using a pen and paper and has difficulty producing legible handwriting.
  • A person with dyscalculia has difficulty understanding and using math concepts and symbols.
  • Language comprehension of a person with dyspraxia does not match language production. She or he may mix up words and sentences while talking.
  • An individual with dyslexia may mix up letters within words and words within sentences while reading. He or she may also have difficulty spelling words correctly while writing; letter reversals are common. Some individuals with dyslexia may also have a difficult time with navigating and route-finding using relative directions (right, left, forward, backward, up, and down) or cardinal directions (north, south, east, and west).
  • A nonverbal learning disorder is demonstrated by below-average motor coordination, visual-spatial organization, and social skills.


Students with specific learning disabilities may have difficulties acquiring or demonstrating knowledge. For a student who has a learning disability, auditory, visual, or tactile information can become jumbled at any point when it is transmitted, received, processed, or retransmitted. It may take longer for some students who have learning disabilities to process written information, making lengthy reading or writing assignments or tests difficult to complete in a standard amount of time. Some students who have learning disabilities may find it difficult to process and digest oral instruction and lectures. Some students who have learning disabilities may be able to organize and communicate their thoughts in a one-on-one conversation, but may find it difficult to articulate those same ideas in a noisy classroom.

Examples of accommodations for students with learning disabilities include notetakers and scribes; visual, aural, and tactile demonstrations incorporated into directions; computers with speech output, spelling checker, and grammar checker; course and lecture outlines; and extra time or alternate testing arrangements.

Audio or video recorded class sessions, audio textbooks, and assignments in advance are also common accommodations for students with learning disabilities.

Technology and Learning Disabilities

Technology can play a role in helping people with learning disabilities find success in academics and careers. Technology tools do not cure a specific learning disability; rather, they compensate for the disability. With appropriate strategies, the person with a learning disability can apply his or her intelligence and demonstrate his or her knowledge using computer and adaptive technology. Trial and error may be required to find a set of appropriate tools and techniques for a specific individual. The person with the disability should help to determine what works and what does not. Once basic tools and strategies are selected, they can be test-driven, discarded, adapted, or refined.

Next, we will view a short video in which college students with learning and other invisible disabilities discuss their challenges and how technology plays a role in their success in school. Your handouts summarize the content of this video presentation.

Discussion Questions

[Facilitate a discussion using the questions below or other relevant questions.]

  • Does anyone have examples of how you have effectively (or not effectively) worked with students with specific learning disabilities?
  • What challenges did you encounter? Which accommodations were successful? Which were unsuccessful?
  • What questions do you have about accommodating students with learning disabilities on our campus?

Case Study

[Consider having participants discuss a case study. Case #1 in the Presentation Tips section.]


Most students with learning disabilities are bright and motivated to learn. However, academic failures can lead to low self-esteem and reduced motivation. Students, technology staff, and instructors can work together to develop appropriate accommodations, including the use of technology, that will lead to positive postsecondary and career outcomes for students with learning disabilities.


Here are some resources that might be useful to you as you work to maximize effective communication with all students in your classes. [Elaborate.]

For comprehensive information on accommodations, a wide range of case studies, frequently asked questions, and general resources, visit The Faculty Room at This resource was developed at the University of Washington as part of a nationwide project to provide resources to faculty and administrators so that they can make their courses and programs accessible to all students. You can link to this resource from ____. [Arrange to provide a link from your campus' disabled student services website before the presentation.] Consider linking to this website from your department's faculty website.

Thank you for your time today and for your interest in finding ways to ensure that all of the students in our programs have equal opportunities to learn, explore interests, and express ideas.