Accommodation Strategies


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 campus 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, faculty, 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 campus 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: Faculty and Students with Disabilities.
  • Photocopy the handout template Working Together: Faculty and Students with Disabilities and create alternative formats as necessary.
  • If presenting the optional content "An Accommodation Model," photocopy handout the templates An Accommodation Model/ and Student Abilities Profile.
  • Photocopy the presentation evaluation instrument to hand out at the end of the session (see pages 189-191 for examples) 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 Building the Team: Faculty, Staff, and Students Working Together)
  • Handout (Working Together: Faculty and Students with Disabilities, An Accommodation Model (optional), and Student Abilities Profile (optional))
  • Presentation evaluation instrument (pages 189-191)

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 campus.
  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 discuss accommodation strategies that can be used to make your courses accessible to all of your students.

The objectives of this presentation are to:

  • discuss the rights, responsibilities, contributions, and needs of students with disabilities
  • summarize campus and departmental rights and responsibilities for ensuring equal educational opportunities
  • list strategies for working with students who have disabilities
  • describe 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
  • describe campus resources

Postsecondary Enrollment of Students with Disabilities

Recent advancements in technology and increased job specialization have resulted in career opportunities in fields that were once considered unsuitable for individuals with disabilities. Many of these careers require knowledge and skills obtained through postsecondary education.

The number of individuals with disabilities seeking postsecondary education has increased significantly in recent years. Reasons cited for this increase include:

  • advances in medical technology and techniques resulting in greater numbers of people who survive traumatic accidents and problematic births
  • improvements in technology that make it possible for more people with disabilities to live independently and have productive lives
  • the creation of federal and state mandates for pre-college academic support programs helping more students with disabilities complete high school and consider postsecondary education options
  • publicity of federal disability-related legislation increasing awareness of rights to accommodation and equal opportunities in education and employment

The probability that you will have a student with a disability in your class is quite high. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics of the U.S. Department of Education, 11.3% of all postsecondary students report having a disability.

Studies show that faculty members and staff who have experience with people with disabilities generally have more positive attitudes about working with students who have disabilities. Further, those who are familiar with accommodation strategies are better prepared to make arrangements which will ensure that students with disabilities have equal opportunities to participate in their programs.

Today we will go over our legal rights and responsibilities, examples of accommodation strategies, and resources available on our campus to help you work with students with disabilities. We'll also discuss the specific challenges in our department in working with students who have disabilities and explore strategies for improving access. Your handout Working Together: Faculty and Students with Disabilities provides an overview of faculty, staff, and student legal rights and responsibilities; examples of accommodation strategies; and a list of resources available on campus to assist us in our efforts to ensure equal educational opportunities for all students in our programs and courses.

Disability Legislation

Let's begin with our legal obligations.According to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, "no otherwise qualified individual with a disability shall, solely by reason of his or her disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity of a public entity." Federal legislation mandates that academic adjustments are made to ensure that otherwise qualified students with disabilities have access to educational opportunities.

Section 504 applies to all postsecondary institutions that receive federal funds, which includes almost every college campus. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) requires that public programs and services be accessible to individuals with disabilities, regardless of whether or not the entity receives federal funds. The ADA covers all postsecondary institutions.

Note that the law says, "otherwise qualified individual with a disability." What does "otherwise qualified" mean?

"Otherwise qualified," with respect to postsecondary educational services, means "a person who meets the academic and technical standards requisite to admission or participation in the educational program or activity, with or without reasonable modification to rules, policies or practices; the removal of architectural, communication or transportation barriers; or the provision of auxiliary aids and services." In other words, a person who has a disability is "otherwise qualified" if he can perform the essential tasks of a program or assignment when appropriate and reasonable accommodations are made.

We should not assume that a person who has a disability cannot successfully participate in our programs or courses simply because he or she has a disability. Instead, if there is a concern that the student who has disclosed a disability may not be able to complete specific requirements, we should discuss with the student (as well as campus staff who have experience in providing academic accommodations) how he or she may be able to accomplish essential tasks required in the program or course, with or without reasonable accommodations.

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 covered by legislation 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 disorders, 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 his or her hands. For another, it may limit the use of his or her voice.

Ultimately, a student who has a disability requires accommodations only when faced with a task that requires a skill that his or her disability precludes. If a student informs an instructor that he or she has a disability and would like to arrange for academic accommodations, the instructor may ask which course or program requirements are expected to be problematic and which strategies and campus resources can eliminate or minimize the access problems. On most campuses, a disability service office is involved in this process. Sometimes an effective solution can be found by thinking creatively about how the learning environment can be modified. The student is the best source of information about his or her disability. Many accommodations are simple, creative alternatives for traditional ways of doing things.

In summary, federal legislation requires that we accept otherwise qualified students with disabilities into our academic programs. Additionally, we should work with students who have disclosed their disabilities to identify and implement reasonable academic accommodations in order to ensure that they have educational opportunities equal to those of their non-disabled peers while preserving the academic standards in courses. Few of us have the experience to identify the effects of all disabilities on the learning process. Work with the student and campus disabled student services office when determining and implementing appropriate academic accommodations.

Faculty and Students with Disabilities

Next we'll watch the video, Building the Team: Faculty, Staff, and Students Working Together. You'll learn about disabilities that impact students' participation in your class, examples of accommodations, and resources. Teamwork between the faculty member, the student, and the office that supports students with disabilities on our campus is key. The information covered is included in the handout entitled Working Together: Faculty and Students with Disabilities.

[If you feel that examples of accommodations presented in the video provide enough content in this area for the audience or if time is limited, skip to the section of the presentation "An Accommodation Model," "Discussion Questions," or "Case Study."]

Specific Disabilities and Accommodations

Now we will review how disabilities may affect some students' abilities to participate in specific academic activities. 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, the student, and campus support staff 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 may appear blurry. Others may only see objects 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 a student's 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 of ancestral lineage looks like a tree." If one has never seen a tree, it may not be readily apparent that the structure of note has several lines of ancestry which can be traced back to one central family. 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 with blindness to participate in and understand than demonstrations that emphasize changes in shape, temperature, or texture.

Ready access to printed materials on computer disk, in an email, or on a webpage can allow a blind person who has the appropriate technology to use computers to read the text aloud or produce it in Braille. Some materials may need to be transferred to an audio format. Since it may take weeks or even months to procure course materials in Braille or in an 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 blind students 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. 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 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, notetakers, recorded class sessions, captioned videos, and textbooks in an audio format. Students with learning disabilities have better comprehension of information when visual, aural, and tactile instructional activities are incorporated into instruction and course and lecture outlines are made readily available. Exams for these students 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

Some 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 the 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 is unclear. 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. In-class discussion that is fast paced and un-moderated may be difficult to follow, since there is often a lag time between a speaker's comments and interpretation.

Examples of accommodations for students who are deaf or hard of hearing include using interpreters, sound amplification (FM) systems, notetakers, 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 to alert 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 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 the 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 notetakers, 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 on the Internet.

Health Impairments

Some health conditions and medications affect memory and 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; notetakers 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, which may or may not be related to other disabilities. Qualities of speech impairments range from mild to severe word pronunciation and articulation differences 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 relaxing and allowing ample time for communication, listening carefully to what the person is saying, asking the student to repeat a word or statement that you don't understand, asking questions that require short answers or a nod of the head when appropriate, using written notes to facilitate communication, and hosting discussions and assignments over email can allow full expression of knowledge and ideas.

Psychiatric Disabilities

Increasing numbers of students with psychiatric disabilities are pursuing postsecondary education. The National Center for Educational Statistics (2003) report that 22% of students with disabilities in postsecondary education reported a mental illness or depression. These students are intelligent and capable of pursuing and succeeding in higher education once barriers to equal access are removed. Mood disturbance, cognitive changes, or altered perceptions may result in functional difficulties related to anxiety, disorganization, or concentration difficulty.

Providing a consistent, yet flexible, approach and maintaining a positive attitude with high expectations encourages success. Specific accommodations of students with psychiatric disabilities include recording the class or using a notetaker 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, separate room. Structure and clear, practical feedback regarding academic and behavioral expectations is helpful for self monitoring by students with psychiatric disabilities.

General Strategies to Increase Classroom Accessibility

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

  • Add a statement to the syllabus inviting students with disabilities to discuss their needs and accommodation strategies with you.
  • Select materials early so that they can be procured in appropriate formats in a timely manner.
  • Ask students about accommodations that have worked for them in the past.
  • Have policies and procedures in place.
  • Make sure the facility is wheelchair-accessible.
  • Use materials that are available in an electronic format.
  • Provide clear signage in large print.
  • Use alternative methods to administer tests and evaluate student comprehension of a subject.
  • Use the campus disability services office.

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

An Accommodation Model (Optional)

[Distribute the publications 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 disclosed his or her disability. DO-IT, a center at the University of Washington, has developed An Accommodation Model and a Student Abilities Profile form that can be used to identify effective accommodations once a student has disclosed his or her disability. Information about the process and a copy of the form is available in the handouts.

The accommodation model 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. He or she may have learned several 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 or how the learning experience might be altered to make it more accessible to a specific student with a disability. Consult with the student to determine what he or she perceives will be required 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 where each person is assigned a task that he or she has the ability to complete provides a reasonable alternative.

The Student Abilities Profile is designed to guide you in determining a student's skills and abilities as well as 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 using the "Background" and "Access Issues" sections of the case studies on pages 63-74.]

Now gather in small groups. Fill out the blank profile. Choose a classroom or lab activity and complete the Student Abilities Profile 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 in small groups and then share their results with the large group.]

Discussion Questions

[Discuss some or all of the following questions.]

  • Do we currently have students with disabilities in our department? What types of disabilities are represented?
  • Have any of you worked with students who have disabilities before? Describe your experiences. What strategies did you find to be successful or unsuccessful?
  • What can we as a 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 of accommodations include providing publications in accessible formats such as Braille, large print, and electronic formats; hosting advisor and staff awareness training; providing continuous evaluation of essential program course requirements; and offering classroom instructional improvements.]

  • What actions can be taken to make our academic programs more accessible?
    • Invite someone from outside of our department to answer specific questions and give us advice regarding appropriate accommodations.
    • Designate someone to find out if there are disability access activities currently in progress on campus that we can contribute to and learn from.
    • Consider mailing the publication Working Together: Faculty and Students with Disabilities to all faculty members and teaching assistants each year.
  • How can we make our facilities (e.g., classrooms, offices, and computer and instructional 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, arrangement and procurement of accessible lab equipment; adaptive technology in computer labs.
    • Mobility impairments: Wheelchair access entrances clearly marked and notices posted at each non-accessible entrance regarding the location of accessible entrances; wheelchair-accessible entrances, if different from the main entrance; adaptive technology in computer labs.
    • Visual, health, and mobility impairments: Hallways and classrooms kept clear of obstacles that could present a problem for an individual getting to class or 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, and adaptive computer technologies.]

Case Study

[Consider having participants discuss a case study. Case Study #4 in the Presentation Tips section.]


Today we've discussed the rights and responsibilities of faculty, 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.


Here are some resources that might be useful to you as you work to maximize the participation of 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.