Accommodation Strategies

As you prepare to teach training preservice and inservice teachers about accommodation strategies, consider this presentation example.


After this presentation, faculty and administrators will be able to:

  • summarize rights, responsibilities, potential contributions, and needs of students with disabilities
  • describe departmental and individual legal rights and responsibilities for ensuring equal educational opportunities for all students in their programs
  • list strategies for working with students who have disabilities, emphasizing the relationship between instructor, student, and support staff
  • describe institutional resources available to assist in the provision of appropriate academic accommodations to students with disabilities
  • list actions that individuals and departments can take to ensure that students with disabilities have educational opportunities that are equal to those of their non-disabled peers


Approximately two hours; content can be covered over several meetings.


Department chair, teacher, staff, teaching assistant, student, or other department member who has experience working with students with disabilities. This comprehensive presentation may be co-presented with, or presented by, a staff member of a department unit responsible for providing academic accommodations for students with disabilities.


  • 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 of this handbook.
  • Create presentation slides from templates provided in the Presentation Tools section.
  • Add the contact information for campus resources to the "Resources" slide and to printed publications as appropriate.
  • Add contact information for resources available on your campus to the back page of the handout template Working Together: K-12 Teachers and Students with Disabilities.
  • Photocopy the handout templates Working Together: K-12 Teachers and Students with Disabilities, The Winning Equation: Access + Attitude = Success in Math and Science, An Accommodation Model (optional), The Student Abilities Profile (optional), and Equal Access: Science and Students with Sensory Impairments (optional) and create alternative formats as necessary.
  • Photocopy the presentation evaluation instrument to hand out at the end of the session (see pages 239-241 for examples) or create your own.
  • Add links on your department's website to AccessSTEM  and to the Center for Universal Design in Education.

Equipment and Tools

  • DVD player and monitor
  • video projector, computer, and presentation slides; Internet connection (optional)
  • videos (open captioned and audio described version of The Winning Equation: Access + Attitude = Success in Math and Science and Equal Access: Science and Students with Sensory Impairments (optional))
  • handouts (Working Together: K-12 Teachers and Students with Disabilities, The Winning Equation: Access + Attitude = Success in Math and Science, An Accommodation Model (optional), Student Abilities Profile (optional), and Equal Access: Science and Students with Sensory Impairments (optional).
  • presentation evaluation instrument (pages 239-241)

Presentation Outline

  1. Distribute handouts.
  2. Introductions.
  3. Begin presentation.
  4. Introduce and play video as noted in the script.
  5. Hold a discussion on possible accommodations on your school.
  6. Discuss interpersonal interaction, accommodation models, and accommodation strategies (optional).
  7. Discuss case study (optional).
  8. Focus on sensory impairments and play additional video (optional).
  9. Discuss department or school issues.
  10. Note school resources.
  11. Distribute and collect completed evaluation instruments.


For further preparation resources for this presentation, consult

Sample Script

[Distribute handouts Working Together: K-12 Teachers and Students with Disabilities and The Winning Equation: Access + Attitude = Success in Math and Science.]

Today we will be discussing accommodation strategies that can be used to make your courses accessible to all of your students.

Inclusion of Students with Disabilities in General Education Settings

The number of students with disabilities included in general education classes has increased significantly in recent years. Federal disability-related legislation has increased awareness of rights to accommodations and equal opportunities in education.

Teachers and staff who are familiar with accommodation strategies are better prepared to make arrangements that will ensure that students with disabilities have equal opportunities to participate in class activities.

The objectives of this presentation are to learn about rights, responsibilities, contributions, and needs of students with disabilities; campus and departmental rights and responsibilities; strategies for working with students who have disabilities; actions that can be taken to ensure equal access; and campus resources. Your handout Working Together: K-12 Teachers and Students with Disabilities provides an overview of teacher, staff, and student roles and responsibilities; examples of accommodation strategies; and a list of resources available to assist us in our efforts to ensure equal educational opportunities for all students in our programs and courses. Your handout The Winning Equation: Access + Attitude = Success in Math and Science provides specific suggestions for making math and science accessible to students with disabilities.

So what exactly does "person with a disability" mean? Person with a disability means any person who has a physical or mental impairment, which substantially limits one or more major life activities including walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working; has a record of such an impairment; or is regarded as having such an impairment.

Disabilities include but are not limited to spinal cord injuries, loss of limbs, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, hearing impairments, speech impairments, specific learning disabilities, head injuries, psychiatric impairments, diabetes, cancer, and AIDS. Some of these conditions are readily apparent; some are not. Additionally, some students who have conditions with the same label may have very different abilities when it comes to performing specific tasks. For example, one student who has cerebral palsy may have difficulty walking. For another student, cerebral palsy may result in no functional use of her hands. For another, it may limit the use of his voice.

Ultimately, a student who has a disability requires accommodations only when faced with a task that typically uses a skill that her disability precludes. Many accommodations are simple, creative alternatives for traditional ways of doing things.

Now we'll watch a video The Winning Equation: Access + Attitude = Success in Math and Science, which provides suggestions for making math and science accessible to students with disabilities. The content is expanded in your handout with the same title.

Specific Disabilities and Accommodations

Now we will review how specific academic activities might erect barriers for students with disabilities. Then we'll discuss examples of academic accommodations. I emphasize that these are only examples, since disabilities and learning styles are unique to the individual. You and a student may generate many other effective strategies that are appropriate for that student.

[Following are examples of accommodations. The lists are by no means comprehensive. You may wish to substitute or add strategies that are pertinent to your audience.]

Low Vision

For some students who have low vision, standard written materials are too small to read, or objects appear blurry. Others may see objects only within a specific field of vision. Still others may see an image with sections missing or blacked out. Learning via a visual medium may take longer and may be more fatiguing for people who have low vision than for people who have standard vision.

Examples of accommodations for students with low vision include seating near the front of the class, good lighting, and large-print books, handouts, signs, and equipment labels. Since it may take weeks or months to procure class materials in large-print or audio format, it is essential that instructors select and prepare their materials well before the materials are needed. Other examples of accommodations include reserved seating where the lighting is best, TV monitors connected to microscopes to enlarge images, class assignments made available in electronic formats, and computers equipped with screen enlargers.


What are some examples of ways in which blindness may affect the ability to learn? Students who have no sight cannot refer to written materials. Students who have had no vision since birth may have difficulty understanding verbal descriptions of visual materials and abstract concepts. Consider the example "This diagram looks like a tree." If one has never seen a tree, the structure of note may not be readily apparent. Students who lost their vision later in life may find it easier to understand such verbal descriptions. Additionally, demonstrations based on color differences may be more difficult for students who are blind to participate in and understand than demonstrations that emphasize changes in shape, temperature, or texture.

A person who is blind can access printed materials by using a computer with screen reading software and speech or Braille output.

Since it may take weeks or even months to procure course materials in Braille or audio format, it is essential that instructors select and prepare their materials well before the materials are needed. During lecture and demonstration, clear, concise narration of the basic points being represented in visual aids is helpful. Other examples of accommodations for students who are blind include tactile models and raised-line drawings of graphic materials; adaptive lab equipment such as talking thermometers, calculators, light probes, and tactile timers; and computers with optical character readers, voice output, Braille screen displays, and Braille printers.

Specific Learning Disabilities

Students with specific learning disabilities have average to above average intelligence but may have difficulties demonstrating knowledge and understanding. 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. Some students who have learning disabilities may take longer to process written information and thus may find 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 instructions 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 in the classroom for students who have learning disabilities include but are not limited to note takers, recorded class sessions, captioned videos, and audio textbooks. Students with learning disabilities have better access to information when visual, aural, and tactile instructional activities are incorporated into instruction and when course and lecture outlines are made readily available. Exams typically require extended time in a quiet testing location. Computers with speech output and spelling and grammar checkers are helpful in class and for home study. Assignments given in advance ensure adequate review and preparation time.

Hearing Impairments

Students who have hearing impairments may hear only specific frequencies, sounds within a narrow volume range, or nothing at all. Students who are deaf from birth generally have more difficulty speaking and understanding English language structure than those who lose their hearing later in life.

Students who are deaf or hard of hearing may have difficulty following lectures in large halls, particularly if the speaker talks quietly, rapidly, or unclearly. Also, people who are deaf or hard of hearing may find it difficult to simultaneously watch demonstrations and follow verbal descriptions, particularly if they are watching a sign language interpreter, a real-time-captioned screen, or a speaker's lips. Class discussion that is fast-paced and unmoderated may be difficult to follow, since there is often a lag time between a speaker's comments and a listener's interpretation.

Examples of accommodations for verbal students who are deaf or hard of hearing include using interpreters, sound amplification (FM) systems, note takers, and real-time captioners. Real-time captioners transcribe lecture material digitally to a computer screen. It is also helpful for instructors to distribute written lecture outlines, assignments, lab instructions, and demonstration summaries. Providing visual warning systems for lab emergencies is a must. During presentations, it is important to turn your face toward your audience when speaking and repeat discussion questions and statements made by other students. Video and other multimedia should be captioned. Students with hearing impairments benefit when email is used for faculty-student meetings and class discussions.

Mobility Impairments

Mobility impairments range from lower-body impairments, which may require use of canes, walkers, or wheelchairs, to upper-body impairments, which may result in limited or no use of the hands or upper extremities. It may take longer for students with mobility impairments to get from one class to another. For some students, it may be difficult to get to fieldwork sites. It may also be difficult for some students to manipulate objects, turn pages, write with a pen or pencil, type at a keyboard, or retrieve research materials.

Examples of accommodations for students with mobility impairments include note takers, scribes, and lab assistants; group lab assignments; accessible locations for classrooms, labs, and field trips; adjustable tables; equipment located within reach; extended exam time or alternative testing arrangements; course materials available in electronic formats; computers with special devices such as voice or Morse code input and alternative keyboards; and access to research resources available on the Internet.

Health Impairments

Some health conditions and medications affect memory or energy levels. Additionally, some students who have health impairments may have difficulty attending classes full-time or on a daily basis.

Examples of accommodations for students who have health impairments include flexible attendance requirements; extra exam time or alternative testing arrangements; note takers or recorded class sessions; assignments available in electronic format; Internet-accessible services or resources; and email for faculty-student meetings, class discussions, and distribution of course materials and lecture notes.

Speech Impairments

Speech impairments have a variety of origins that may or may not be related to other disabilities. Qualities of speech impairments include word pronunciation and articulation differences that range from mild to severe, as well as variations in rate, tone, and volume. It often takes longer for a student with a speech impairment to speak and express him or herself. Helpful accommodations and communication strategies when working with a student who has a speech impairment include allowing ample time for communication and listening carefully to what the person is saying. If you don't understand a word or statement, ask the student to repeat it. Ask questions that require short answers or a nod of the head when appropriate. Written communication through note writing can be of assistance as well. Discussions and assignments in email can allow full expression of knowledge and ideas.

Psychiatric Impairments

Increasing numbers of students with psychiatric impairments are included in general education. These students are capable of pursuing and succeeding in school once barriers to equal access are removed. Mood disturbance, anxiety, cognitive changes, or altered perceptions may result in functional difficulties related to organization or concentration.

Providing a consistent yet flexible approach to teaching and maintaining a positive attitude with high expectations encourages success. Specific accommodations for students with psychiatric impairments include use of an audio or video recorder or note taker during class; preferential seating near the door to allow for breaks as needed; tests and assignments in alternate formats; and extended time for test taking in a quiet room. Structure and clear practical feedback regarding academic and behavioral expectations is helpful for self-monitoring by students with psychiatric impairments.

[Optional: View video and distribute handout Equal Access: Science and Students with Sensory Impairments (14 minutes).]

General Strategies to Increase Classroom Accessibility

To conclude our discussion of accommodation examples, here are some general suggestions for making your classes accessible.

  • Refer to a student's IEP or 504 plan for specific accommodation strategies. Use the special education services available at our school.
  • Discuss with students their needs and accommodation strategies. Ask students about accommodations that have worked for them in the past. Help them learn to be self-advocates.
  • Select materials early so that they can be procured in appropriate formats in a timely manner.
  • Use materials that are available in electronic format.
  • Provide clear signage in large print.
  • Employ a variety of methods for testing comprehension.

[The following optional section may be appropriate for some audiences. It requires two handouts: An Accommodation Model and Student Abilities Profile. If this section is not relevant, skip to "Discussion Questions."]

Interpersonal Interaction

The way you interact with students can impact their success in math and science classes. Keep in mind that students with disabilities are more like students without disabilities than different from them. Don't judge a person 100% for a characteristic that affects 10% of functioning.

Realize that all students have strengths and weaknesses. Value diversity. Not everyone who is the same height and weight has the same skills and abilities. Students with disabilities have the same range of likes and dislikes as anyone else. Not all people who are blind are musical, not all people who use wheelchairs play wheelchair basketball, and not all people who are deaf read lips.

Expect that the student with a disability in your class is there to succeed. Keep your expectations high. Be positive and proactive in promoting success.

I'll give some general guidelines for interacting with students who have disabilities. Overall, treat students with disabilities with the same respect and consideration with which you treat other students.

  • Ask a student with a disability if they need help before providing assistance.
  • Talk directly to the student with a disability, not through the student's assistant or interpreter.
  • Refer to a student'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 person's disability. For example, "a student who uses a wheelchair" is more appropriate than "a student 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 animal.
  • If you have concerns about a student's performance, mention it. They may not know something is being done incorrectly.
  • If you are feeling uncomfortable about a situation, let the student with a disability know. Ask for advice for solving the problem.
  • Be aware of and adjust to environmental factors that may affect the student's performance. Examples are temperature, noise, lighting, and fumes.

Working with Students with Specific Disabilities

  • 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 your arm rather than grabbing or pushing them.
  • Sit or otherwise position yourself at the appropriate height of students sitting in wheelchairs when you interact.
  • Be aware of where you place items. Make sure they can be reached from a wheelchair. Avoid clutter.
  • Listen carefully to students with speech impairments. Repeat what you think you understand, and then ask the student to clarify or repeat the portion that you did not understand.
  • Face students with hearing impairments so they can see your lips. Speak clearly.
  • For students with psychiatric impairments, provide information in clear, calm, respectful tones, and allow opportunities for addressing specific questions.

An Accommodation Model

[Distribute handouts An Accommodation Model and Student Abilities Profile.]

Accommodations are unique to the individual, but it is helpful to have a process to work through when determining appropriate accommodations for a student who has a disability. DO-IT, a project at the University of Washington, has developed a model process and a Student Abilities Profile form that can be used to identify effective accommodations once a student has disclosed a disability. Information about the process and a copy of the form are available in the handouts.

The Accommodation Model process is organized around the following four questions:

Step 1: What does the task or assignment require?
Break down the components of the experiment, assignment, or exercise. Educators often focus on the overall outcome of an activity. To accommodate a student with a disability, it's helpful to think about the specific settings, tools, skills, and tasks that are required at each step. Analyzing and evaluating the task thoroughly will help you determine how best to fully and effectively include a student with a specific disability.

Step 2: What physical, sensory, and cognitive skills are needed?
Match the tasks required to the physical, sensory, and cognitive skills needed to successfully complete the activity. It is easy to say, "If I had a physical, sensory, or cognitive disability, I would not be able to complete this assignment" without really determining what skills are needed for specific aspects of the project. We need to separate the real requirements of a specific task from the perceived requirements of the project in total. It is impossible to place yourself in the shoes of the student with a disability. They may have learned many ways to solve a specific problem or task and work around the limitations imposed by the disability.

Step 3: What components of the task require accommodation?
Once the task has been analyzed and the needed skills are identified, determine what accommodations may be required to make the learning experience more accessible to a specific student with a disability. Consult with the student to determine what he perceives they will require as an accommodation.

Step 4: What accommodation options exist?
Now that the tasks needing accommodation have been determined, identify what resources exist for providing the accommodation(s). The student may have some good ideas. This is a time when other professionals may have expertise in specific areas and should be called on to provide input. In some cases, having students work in groups in which each person is assigned a task that he has the ability to complete provides a reasonable alternative.

The Student Abilities Profile form is designed to determine a student's skills and abilities and to assist you in breaking down individual components of an assignment. The form asks you to briefly describe the student; the classroom or laboratory environment; equipment or supplies needed; available professional and external resources; possible effective accommodations; and the physical, sensory, and cognitive skills needed for the task.

Let's go through one example together, and then, in small groups, you can create your own.

[Go through the process of filling out the form for a specific student and task.]

Now use your blank form. Choose a classroom or lab activity and complete the Student Abilities Profile form for a student who has a specific set of disability-related challenges.

[You can provide blank forms, or distribute partially filled-out forms if you want the activity to be more directed. Participants can work independently or together and then share the results with the group.]

Discussion Questions

[Discuss some or all of the following questions.]

  • Do you currently have students with disabilities in your class? What types of disabilities are represented?
  • Have any of you worked with students with disabilities before? Describe your experiences. What strategies did you find to be successful or unsuccessful?
  • What can we as a school or department and as individual instructors do to make our academic programs more accessible to students who have
    • visual impairments?
    • hearing impairments?
    • mobility impairments?
    • learning disabilities?
    • health impairments?
      [Examples include publications in accessible formats such as Braille, large print, and electronic media; advisor and staff awareness training; continuous evaluation of essential program course requirements; and classroom instructional improvements. Consider mailing the publication Working Together: K-12 Teachers and Students with Disabilities to all staff each year!]
  • How can we make our facilities (e.g., classrooms, offices, and computer labs) more accessible to individuals who have
    • visual impairments?
    • hearing impairments?
    • mobility impairments?
    • learning disabilities?
    • health impairments?
      [Examples of accessibility adjustments:
    • Visual impairments: Braille labels; signage; specialized lab equipment; adaptive technology in computer labs.
    • Mobility impairments: wheelchair-access entrances clearly marked and notices posted at entrances that are not accessible regarding the location of accessible entrances; adaptive technology in computer labs.
    • Visual, health, and mobility impairments: hallways and classrooms kept clear of potential obstacles to an individual getting to class and safely negotiating the environment within class.]
  • What actions should be taken to make our facilities more accessible, and who should coordinate them?
    • survey facilities regarding accessibility;
    • identify and begin the procedure to procure signage, lab equipment, or adaptive computer technologies]

Case Study

[Consider having participants discuss a case study. Choose from the Student Abilities Profiles included in the Accommodation Strategies section of this notebook on pages 45-70 or from the AccessSTEM Knowledge Base.]

Focus on students with sensory impairments (optional). [Consider showing the video Equal Access: Science and Students with Sensory Impairments (14 minutes) and distributing the handout of the same title. Lead a discussion on specific accommodations for students who have visual or hearing impairments.]


Today we've discussed the rights and responsibilities of instructors, disabled student services staff, and students with disabilities. We've also considered typical accommodations for students with specific disabilities. Instructors, staff, and students should work together to develop the best accommodation strategies. The ultimate result can be improved postsecondary education and career outcomes for people with disabilities.

[Distribute and collect completed evaluation instruments.]


For comprehensive information on accommodations, a wide range of case studies, frequently asked questions, and general resources, visit the AccessSTEM website. This resource was developed at the University of Washington as part of a nationwide project to provide resources to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics educators and employers so that they can make their courses, programs, and worksites accessible to everyone. Other online resources include the Center for Universal Design in Education and the Faculty Room  [Arrange to provide links from your campus' department website before the presentation.]

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.