Guidance in Working with Specific Disabilities

Physical Impairments

A wide range of conditions may limit mobility and/or hand-function.  Among the most common permanent disorders are musculoskeletal disabilities as partial or total paralysis, amputation or severe injury, arthritis, active sickle cell disease, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy.  Additionally, health impairments such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, cystic fibrosis, or respiratory and cardiac diseases, may be debilitating and consequently, affect mobility.

These conditions may also impair the strength, speed, endurance, coordination and dexterity necessary for proper hand function.  Conditions such as cerebral palsy often involve sensory and/or speech dysfunction.  While the degree of disability varies, students may have difficulty getting to or from class, and managing out-of-class tests and assignments.

Things to Remember

Physical access to classrooms is a major concern of students who are physically disabled.  Those who use wheelchairs, braces, crutches, canes or prostheses, or who fatigue easily, find it difficult to move about; especially within the time constraints imposed by class schedules.  Occasional lateness may be unavoidable.

Be prepared for a change of classroom or building if the building is not accessible to students with mobility impairments.

Familiarize yourself with the building’s emergency evacuation plan and assure that it is manageable for students who have mobility impairments.

Some courses and classrooms present obstacles to the full participation of students who have physical disabilities.  In seating such students, every effort ought to be made to integrate them into class.

Laboratory stations may be too high for wheelchair users to reach or may have insufficient under-counter knee clearance.  Stations may need to be modified or they may have to be replaced by portable stations.  Students with hand-function limitations may have difficulties in both the laboratory and the classroom, taking in-class writing assignments and taking written tests

For students who have mobility impairments or hand-function impairments, completion of required work may be delayed, the extension of deadlines and the use of “Incomplete” grades may be appropriate.

Visual Impairments

Disorders in the structure of and function of the eye are manifested by at least one of the following: (1) visual acuity of 20/70 or less in the better eye after the best possible correction, (2) a peripheral field so constricted that it affects one’s ability to function in an educational setting, (3) a progressive loss of vision which may affect one’s ability to function in an educational setting.  Examples include, but are not limited to cataracts, glaucoma, nystagmus, retinal detachment, retinitis pigmentosa, and strabismus.

Things to Remember

Provide reading lists or syllabi in advance to allow time for arrangements to be made such as taping or brailling of materials.

In cooperation with the Director of Disability Services, assist the student in finding notetakers, as necessary, or team the student with a sighted classmate or laboratory assistant.

Reserve front seats for low vision-students.  Make sure seats are not near windows; glare from the light can make it hard for a student to see the instructor or the board. 

If a service animal is used, remind the class that the animal is working and is not a pet.  The service animal will be highly disciplined and require little space.

Face the class when speaking

Convey in spoken words whatever you put on the board and whatever other visual cues or graphic materials you use.  Provide copies of all materials for transcription, if needed.

Permit lectures to be taped and/or provide copies of lecture notes, when appropriate.

Provide large print copies of materials by enlarging them on a photocopier, or print in at least 18 point using high contrast non-encumbered fonts.

Be flexible with assignment deadlines.

Plan field trips and special projects well in advance and alert field supervisors to whatever adaptations may be needed.

If a specific task is impossible for the student to carry out, consider an alternative assignment.

Students should not be exempt from examinations or be expected to master less content or achieve a lower level of scholastic skills because of a visual impairment.  The most expedient devices are alternative examinations (oral, large print, braille, or taped), time extensions for exams, and using such aids as print enlargers, specialized computer programs or taped recorders.  The Office of Disability Services assists with the above mentioned accommodations.

Hearing Impairments

Hearing impairments are considered to be a loss of 30 decibels or greater, pure tone average of 500, 1000, 200 Hz, or unaided in the better ear.  Examples include but are not limited to, conductive hearing impairment or deafness, sensorineural hearing impairment or deafness, high or low tone hearing loss or deafness, and acoustic trauma hearing loss or deafness.

Students who are deaf or hard of hearing may use varying services depending on their personal language or communication system.

Some students who are deaf are members of a distinct linguistic and cultural group.  They may use American Sign Language as their first language.  Therefore, members of this group are bilingual and English is their second language.  Because of this faculty should be sensitive and attentive to cross cultural information in the classroom setting.  Some students, who are hearing impaired, may use American Sign Language interpreters in the classroom setting.

Hard of hearing refers to those individuals who may use speech reading and other hearing aids to enhance oral communication.  Hearing aids or amplification systems may include public address systems and transmitter/receiver systems with a clip on microphone for the instructor (FM Loop).  For those who use speech reading, only 30-40 percent of spoken English is comprehensible even for those who are highly skilled.

Things to Remember

Students who are deaf or hard of hearing will benefit from front-row seating.  An unobstructed line of vision is necessary for students with interpreters and for those who rely on speech reading and visual cues.  If an interpreter is used, the student’s view should include the interpreter and the instructor.  If the speaker is in a shadow or standing by a window with movement outside of it, the person who is speech reading may have difficulty seeing or attending to the speaker’s mouth.

Keep your face within view of the student and speak in a natural tone.

Repeat questions and remarks of other people in the room.

Use visual aids and board to reinforce spoken presentations.

Don’t hesitate to communicate in writing when conveying important information, assignments, scheduling, deadlines, etc.

If the speaker has a beard or mustache that covers part or all of the lips, remember that a student who speech reads will have a hard time following the lecture or class discussion

Use audio-visual equipment that provides good audio clarity.

Always use captioned media.

Try to reduce the amount of surrounding noise, such as fans or background noise.

How to Work with an Interpreter

Interpreters can be described as a communication link.  A telephone, for example, is a communication; it does not add information or alter the content of the message.  The interpreter makes communication possible between persons separated by different language modes.  Listed below are some tips on how to work with an interpreter.

The interpreter is bound by a Code of Ethics, which requires him/her to interpret everything communicated, whether it is signed or spoken.  This includes any phone calls or comments you make in a deaf person’s presence.  It is inappropriate for you to request the interpreter to keep anything from the deaf person.

First remember the interpreter’s role is to facilitate communication.  It is inappropriate for you to address him/her directly.

Maintain eye contact with the deaf person, not the interpreter.

Allow the interpreters to position themselves near you.  This will allow the deaf person to watch the interpreter and your expressions, as he/she needs to.

Address the deaf person directly, avoid phrases such as, “ask her this….” or “tell him to….”

Recognize the processing time the interpreter takes to translate a message from its original language into another language (whether English to American Sign Language or vice versa) because this may cause short delays in the student’s receiving information, asking questions and/or offering comments.

Emotional/Social Impairments

Students with emotional and social disabilities present some of the most difficult challenges to an instructor.  Impairments may be hidden or latent, with little or no effect on learning.  Emotional disabilities may manifest themselves in behavior ranging from indifference to disruptiveness.  Such conduct may make it difficult to remember that students with emotional and social impairments have little control over their disabilities.

One of the most common psychological impairments among students is depression.  The condition may be temporary; a response to inordinate pressures at school, on the job, at home or in one’s social life.  It may appear as apathy, disinterest, inattention, impaired concentration, irritability, fatigue or other physical symptoms resulting from changes in eating, sleeping or other living patterns.  Anxiety is also prevalent among students and may be a reaction to stress.  Mild anxiety, in fact, may promote learning and improve function.  Severe anxiety, however, may reduce concentration, distort perception and weaken the learning process.  Anxiety may manifest itself as withdrawal, constant talking, complaining, joking, crying, or extreme fear, sometimes to the point of panic.

Some troubled students who are undergoing treatment take prescription medication to help control disturbing feelings, ideas and behavior.  This medication might cause undesirable side effects such as drowsiness or disorientation.

Things to Remember

Discuss inappropriate behavior with the student privately and forthrightly, delineating the limits of acceptable conduct.  It is strongly suggested that you have a witness (Dean. Counselor or Director of Disability Services) to your conversation.

In your discussions with the student, do not attempt to diagnose or treat the psychological disorder, but only the student’s behavior in the course.

If you sense that the discussion would not be effective, or if the student approaches you for therapeutic help, refer the student to the Counseling Center or the Director of Disability Services.

If abusive or threatening behavior occurs, immediately dial 911 to contact Campus Police.

Autism Spectrum Disorders

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that may cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. Individuals with ASD do not have any differential physical characteristics as other people.  However, individuals with ASD may communicate, interact, behave, and learn in ways that are different from most other people. Since Autism is a spectrum disorder, each individual’s strengths and challenges are different. The learning, thinking, and problem-solving abilities of individuals with ASD can range from gifted to severely challenged, such as non-verbal or physically combative. According to the Center for Disease Control, Autism affects an estimated 1 in 59 children in the United States today. (Autism Speaks)

Asperger’s Syndrome is one diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder. Individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome are a growing population on college campuses. Individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome generally have strong verbal skills and intellectual ability. Strengths of those with Asperger’s can include: Remarkable focus and persistence, aptitude for recognizing patterns and attention to detail. Challenges of those with Asperger’s syndrome can include:  Hypersensitivities (to light, sounds, tastes, etc.), difficulty with give and take of conversation, difficulty with non-verbal conversation (distance, loudness, tone, etc.), uncoordinated movements or clumsiness, anxiety and depression. (Autism Speaks)

Things to Remember

Provide a clear definition of all course requirements.

Encourage group participation.

Provide concrete details of descriptions and instructions.

Limit subtle gestures, facial and social cues.

Provide reminders of assignments and test dates.

Give advance notice of any changes affecting course requirements or classroom settings.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a syndrome, which is characterized by serious and persistent difficulties in three specific areas: attention span, impulse control, hyperactivity (sometimes). There are three subtypes of ADHD: Predominantly inattentive ADHD features forgetfulness, disorganization, and lack of focus. This was previously known as ADD. Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive ADHD, which involves restlessness and impulsive decisions, but not inattention.  Combined ADHD which features inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Once thought to only manifest itself during childhood, ADHD is now being diagnosed in adults.  It is a negative impact on the individual life at home, school, and within his/her community.

Things to Remember

Maintain eye contact with student during verbal instruction.

Make directions clear and concise.  Be consistent with daily instructions.

Simplify complex directions.  Avoid multiple commands.

Make sure the student comprehends before beginning task

Repeat in a calm, positive manner, if needed

Help the student to feel comfortable with seeking assistance.

Speech Impairments

Speech impairments range from problems with articulation or voice strength to complete loss of voice.  They include difficulties in projection, as in chronic hoarseness and esophageal speech; fluency problems, as in stuttering; and normal aphasia that alters the articulation of particular words or terms.

Things to Remember

Patience is the most effective strategy in teaching students with speech impairments.

Give the students the opportunity, but do not compel them, to speak in class.

Permit students the time they require to express themselves, without unsolicited aid in filling in gaps in their speech; don’t be reluctant to ask the student to repeat a statement.  While waiting for a student to find a word or to complete an expression, maintain comfortable eye contact and posture with the student.

Address students naturally and in your regular speaking voice.  Don’t assume the “spread phenomenon”—they cannot hear or comprehend.

Seizure Disorders

Students with epilepsy and other seizure disorders are sometimes reluctant to divulge their conditions because they fear being misunderstood or stigmatized.  Misconceptions about these disorders, that they are forms of mental illness, contagious and untreatable, for example, have arisen because their ultimate causes remain uncertain.  Evidence suggests hereditary factors may be involved and that brain injuries and tumors, occurring at any age, may give rise to seizures.  What is known is that seizures result from imbalances in the electrical activity of the brain.

In the Event of a Seizure

Keep Calm

Call 911.  The individual may refuse transport; however, it is the policy of Butler Community College to call for medical assistance.

Remove nearby objects that may injure the student during the seizure

Help lower the person to the floor and place cushioning under his/her head.

Do not force anything between the teeth.

Do not try to restrain body movement

Contact the Director of Disability Services and the Vice-President of Student Services.