Accommodation Strategies

Accessible Teaching Techniques

Following are examples of teaching techniques in the classroom, the laboratory, examinations, and fieldwork that benefit all students but are especially useful for students who have disabilities.


  • Select course materials early so that there is enough time to translate them to an audio, Braille, or large print format.
  • Make short assignment sheets and reading lists available in electronic format (e.g., email, website).
  • Face the class when speaking. Repeat discussion questions.
  • Write key phrases and lecture outlines on the blackboard, whiteboard or overhead projector.


  • Take the student on a tour of the lab they will be working in. Discuss safety concerns.
  • Assign group lab projects in which all students contribute according to their abilities.
  • Arrange lab equipment so that it is easily accessible.
  • Give oral and written lab instructions.

Examination and Fieldwork

  • Ensure that exams test the essential skills or knowledge needed for the course or field of study.
  • Some students will require extra time to transcribe or process test questions; follow campus policies regarding extra time on examinations.
  • Consider allowing students to turn in exams electronically.
  • Ask a student how they might be able to do specific aspects of fieldwork.
  • Attempt to include a student in fieldwork opportunities, rather than automatically suggesting nonfieldwork alternatives.
  • Include special needs in requests for field trip vehicle reservations.

View the video and read the publication The Winning Equation: Access + Attitude = Success in Math and Science, as well as the publication Working Together: K-12 Teachers and Students with Disabilities. For further information and case studies, consult the AccessSTEM Knowledge Base.

Four-Step Accommodation Model

Graphic of the Four-Step Accomodation Model

The DO-IT Center has developed a four-step accommodation model for creating effective accommodations for students with disabilities. The model involves answering the questions in the following four steps:

Step 1: What does the task or assignment require?

Break down all of the components of the experiment, assignment, or exercise. Many times as an educator, you are too close to the project to realize the various settings, tools, skills, and tasks that are required in an individual project. By analyzing and evaluating the task thoroughly, you will be able to determine how to fully and effectively include a student with a disability.

Step 2: What physical, sensory, and cognitive skills are needed?

Compare the tasks required to the physical, sensory, and cognitive skills needed to successfully complete the project. It is easy to say, "If I had a physical, sensory, or cognitive disability, I would not be able to successfully complete this assignment," without really determining what skills are needed. Identify the requirements of the task. It is impossible to place yourself in the shoes of a student with a disability. The student may have learned many ways to solve a unique problem or task and work around the limitations his disability may pose. Communicate with the student about strategies that have worked in the past.

Step 3: What components of the task require accommodation?

Once the task has been analyzed and the skills needed are identified, determine the level of difficulty of the project and how best to make an accommodation to create an inclusive environment for a student with a disability. It is very important to first check with the student to determine what she perceives as aspects of a project in which she may need an accommodation or assistance.

Step 4: What accommodation options exist?

Now that the tasks that need accommodation have been determined, identify what resources exist for providing the needed accommodation. Call on other staff and professionals who have expertise in a specific area to provide input. The cost and time required for the accommodation may also be weighed in determining an effective accommodation. Use the most readily available resources in making accommodations. Often, having a student with a disability work with a partner is a reasonable accommodation, as long as both students actively participate.

View the video and read the publication The Winning Equation: Access + Attitude = Success in Math and Science. More information about the Four-Step Accommodation Model can be found in the publication An Accommodation Model.

In the Classroom: A Science Teacher's Experience with the Four-Step Accommodation Model

I am a high school department chair and a chemistry and material science teacher. My classes include students with a wide variety of skills and abilities. Students with all types of cognitive, sensory, and physical disabilities are being included in my science classroom in increasing numbers and without prior notice.

I feel that it is important for teachers realize that they must teach all students, regardless of their levels of physical, sensory, and cognitive abilities. Too often science teachers say, "This student shouldn't be in here," "The lab is unsafe," "She cannot succeed," or "I don't know what to do for him." Science teachers can play a key role in halting this practice of not effectively including or of leaving out students with disabilities in classes. Teachers must provide equal opportunities for all students, even if it means changing the way they have conducted business in the past. They need to let go of some of their fears and misconceptions about students with disabilities in science classes.

A major concern to all teachers is time. Where do we find time to do all of the things we need to accomplish in a day and still make individual accommodations? I often feel like I am constantly setting up and taking down labs, managing student behavior, delivering lessons, and assessing student progress, all at the same time. On top of this, dealing with the special needs of one student can sometimes seem overwhelming.

I was part of the DO-IT team of math, science, and special education teachers who helped develop the Four-Step Accommodation Model and the Student Abilities Profile to help teachers address the unique needs of students with disabilities in classroom and laboratory settings. The model helps me break down a classroom or laboratory activity and process what needs to be done to fully include the student with a disability. Through this process, I analyze a task so that I will not be setting up myself and the student to fail.

Step 1: What does the task or assignment require?

In this initial step, I take the lab or classroom assignment or task and break it down into simple steps. I must think through the task from sensory, cognitive, and physical perspectives. By being cognizant of the process, I am able to determine how the student with a disability can participate to the highest degree possible.

Step 2: What physical, sensory, and cognitive skills are needed?

I identify the specific skills needed to successfully complete the steps of the task from a physical, sensory, and cognitive perspective. I try not to make assumptions like "There is no way a person who is blind can do this experiment." Students with disabilities often have unique ways of handling a situation that I may never have thought of.

Step 3: What components of the task require accommodation?

Now I take the tasks and compare them to the student's abilities and see if accommodations need to be made. I determine the level of difficulty of the task and how best to include the student with a disability to his or her maximum potential. I share the analysis of the task or assignment with the student. I see if they has suggestions for accommodations. I always try to be an active listener since I can learn a lot from the student. Listening is critical to my teaching success because the student is the expert concerning his or her disability.

Step 4: What accommodation options exist?

Finally, I identify resources that exist for providing the needed accommodations. I ask other staff members or professionals in the district for their opinions. I look for the most readily available resources in making accommodations. Remember, expensive does not necessarily equate with good or effective. For instance, a student who is blind could enter data observations from an experiment into a computer while his or her partner describes the lab. Or a lab experiment could be broken down into components of two steps at a time for a student with ADHD or a specific learning disability. Sometimes this approach is effective in helping all students better understand the experiment. Several options may exist for an accommodation. For example, a student who is blind may need instructions in Braille, or I may need to audio record them.

Student Abilities Profile

The Student Abilities Profile is designed to guide you in determining a specific student's skills and abilities, as well as to assist you in breaking down the individual components of a science or mathematics assignment. A blank form that can be used for duplication can be found on pages 69-70 at the end of this section of the notebook. The form asks you to briefly describe the student; the classroom or laboratory environment; the equipment and supplies; the physical, sensory, and cognitive skills used in the task; possible accommodations; and resources. Preceding the blank form on pages 45-68, are examples of the first page of the form filled in for students with a variety of abilities and disabilities.

In the Classroom: A Science Teacher's Experience with Two Accommodation Strategies

So what do you do first when a student with a disability actually walks or rolls through the doorway? I use the Student Abilities Profile when working with a new student who has a disability. I take a few minutes at the beginning of the year and sit down with the student and the student's special education teacher. This meeting is well worth the time and effort. I consult with the expert, the student, when filling out the profile. Some of the accommodations that the student and I discuss may be as simple as copying lecture notes, creating a lap desk for a student who uses a wheelchair to allow her to use a microscope, providing access to safety equipment, or having handouts enlarged for a student with a visual impairment. Using this method, I am better able to understand where the student is coming from and what specific accommodations will work best for her.

The completed Student Abilities Profile gives me a record that helps me focus on what the student's abilities are and what they may need assistance with. I keep this document in the student's file. I refer to it during the year when setting up labs and other activities in order to make sure that the student participates to the fullest extent possible. Ethically and legally, teachers are required to meet the academic needs of all students. With appropriate accommodations, students with disabilities can be challenged to reach the same high academic standards that we expect of students without disabilities. The Student Abilities Profile and the Four-Step Accommodation Model are tools that can help teachers work with students to create an optimum learning environment.

On the following pages is an example of how I completed the Four Step Accommodation Model and the Student Abilities Profile with a student named Alice, who has ADHD.

Four-Step Accommodation Model Task: Alloying Zinc and Copper

Step 1: The task requires the ability to:

  • use small letters
  • follow directions
  • follow safety procedures
  • use a scale
  • use a hot plate
  • use a Bunsen burner
  • write observations

Step 2: The physical, sensory, and cognitive skills needed for the task

Physical challenges:

  • fine motor grasp/manipulation
  • sitting
  • walking/standing

Sensory challenges:

  • vision
  • touch
  • smell

Cognitive challenges:

  • complex thinking
  • reading
  • writing
  • attention span
  • behavior that ensures safety

Step 3: Components of the task that require accommodation for Alice


  • Alice needs no physical accommodations.


  • There will need to be some accommodations for sensory issues, such as dimming lights, limiting external stimulation, and sitting next to quieter students.


  • Alice will need accommodations to help break down complex tasks and focus on the activities.

Step 4: Accommodation options

  • I will make sure that Alice is near me when I explain the directions.
  • If the lab is set up in advance, I will not put the items in front of Alice because she will play with the equipment rather than pay attention.
  • I will make sure she has a responsible partner for the lab and give her the directions two or three steps at a time. When she finishes the steps, she can have the next set. This way I know she is following the directions and not jumping around just to get done. It also means that she is checking in with me even if I can't check on her every ten minutes.
  • When the students begin to work, I will check with Alice and make sure she has heard all of the safety issues before starting.
  • Every time Alice does a good job in the lab, I will make sure to tell her.

Picture of a student in a wheelchar at a laptop with a large print keyboard.

Tip: Accommodation Strategies

In the Presentations section of this notebook, you will find guidelines and materials for delivering a presentation on information access.