How can computing courses be made more accessible to students with specific learning disabilities?

Date Updated
04/29/19

A “specific learning disability” refers to a variety of diagnoses such as difficulties with oral or written expression; decoding, fluency, and comprehension; auditory processing; working memory; arithmetic; and executive functioning. There are a variety of strategies that instructors can use to make computing courses more accessible for students with specific learning disabilities. Consider adopting a growth mindset approach that focuses on students’ abilities to learn and grow rather than talent or intelligence. Instructors can also help students develop self-advocacy skills so that they are prepared to request help when needed. Such strategies benefit not only students with specific learning disabilities, but to other students in the classroom as well. Following are strategies that are particularly helpful to students who face specific challenges related to specific learning disabilities.

Strategies for accommodating someone with a disability that impacts reading ability include:

  • Use of online videos from sources like YouTube and Khan Academy;
  • Use of audiobooks;
  • Use of visual programming languages like Scratch;
  • Use of tools like JetBrains Webstorm, a JavaScript IDE (integrated development environment) that autocompletes phrases, uses drop down menus, and checks spelling errors in code; and
  • Preview new vocabulary.

Strategies for accommodating for oral expressive difficulty include:

  • Use of cues,
  • Allowing for rehearsal, and
  • Use of multiple modalities for evaluation.

Strategies for accommodating for written expressive difficulty include:

  • Use of graphic organizers or templates,
  • Use of text to speech software,
  • Use of pseudo-code to draft code, and
  • Encouraging students to think aloud as they work.

Strategies for accommodating for executive functioning difficulty include:

  • Model planning,
  • Use micro-unit tasks,
  • Use digital materials,
  • Providing an organizational system, and
  • Integrating study skills into lessons.

Strategies for accommodating for working memory and auditory processing include:

  • Written instructions,
  • Allowing extra time,
  • Providing scaffolding activities and tools, and
  • Monitoring your speed and volume.

For more information related to this topic consider reading the following Knowledge Base articles: What are specific types of learning disabilities?; What are typical accommodations for students with learning disabilities?; How can I make my computing department more accessible to students with disabilities?; and  How can universal design be applied to instruction?  You may also wish to view the video Quality Education Is Accessible, in which students with a variety of disabilities share strategies for making instruction more accessible to them.