Teaching Students Who Have Disabilities: What Faculty Can Do?

Resource Title:
Teaching Students Who Have Disabilities: What Faculty Can Do

See also: Information from the Office of the General Counsel; Faculty Handbook (SSD)


To Be Inclusive

  • Include in the course syllabus a statement asking students with disabilities to meet to arrange accommodations.  (Using a standard statement on the syllabus will both protect student privacy and affirm your policy.) 

    Sample Statement endorsed by SACUA

    If you think you need an accommodation for a disability, please let me know at your earliest convenience. Some aspects of this course, the assignments, the in-class activities, and the way the course is usually taught may be modified to facilitate your participation and progress. As soon as you make me aware of your needs, we can work with the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) to help us determine appropriate academic accommodations. SSD (734-763-3000;
    ssd.umich.edu/) typically recommends accommodations through a Verified Individualized Services and Accommodations (VISA) form. Any information you provide is private and confidential and will be treated as such.

  • During the first class, refer to your syllabus language and welcome students to identify any needs for an accommodation, explaining the best ways of communicating with you (or whoever is responsible for arranging accommodations in your course). 
  • Include clear statements about assignments, expectations, and criteria for evaluation to enable students to anticipate accommodations they may need to arrange. 
  • Request or require students to ask for accommodations by a specific date early in the semester, at least two weeks before the first assignment is due, to help students avoid coming in just before a due date or exam time when there's too little time to arrange accommodation. 

To Respond to Student Needs

  • During an initial meeting with a student who comes to discuss accommodations, ask the student for a copy of a written statement of his/her accommodation needs from the office of Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD).  This is the Verified Individualized Services and Accommodations (VISA) letter. 
  • Discuss the course work with the student and establish reasonable, mutual expectations. 
  • Keep all disability information completely confidential.
  • Contact the Service for Students with Disabilities Office or the Office of the General Counsel if you need guidance on reasonable accommodations, university resources, or confidentiality concerns.

To Make Student Assignments Equitable

  • Allow students with disabilities who require alternate testing formats to demonstrate mastery of course material using accommodations appropriate to the student and the subject matter (e.g. extended time limits, taped exams, proctored exams in a separate room, use of simple calculators or speller’s dictionaries) as recommended in the student’s VISA letter from SSD (see above).
  • Announce readings well in advance for those students using taped materials or alternative formats. 
  • Provide visual materials online so students have ample time to engage with them.  With visual materials like charts and graphs, be sure to include a narrative description so students who are blind or have low vision can understand the material.
  • Give assignments in both oral and written form.
  • Provide study questions for exams using the same structure and level of inquiry that will be used on the examinations. 

To Improve the Learning Process in the Classroom

  • Develop your presentation strategy to speak directly to students and to be as clear as possible.
  • Provide information in class in more than one mode -- e.g., written in addition to verbal instructions, or a description of an image in addition to the image itself.
  • Provide opportunities for questions and repeat student comments and questions to ensure that they are heard. 
  • Provide lecture notes on-line or record lectures if the pace of a lecture or mini-lecture is too quick for student note taking, or decrease the pace or density of the lecture. 
  • For general inclusive teaching strategies, browse this list.
  • For more information on teaching students who have disabilities, please see CRLT Occasional Paper No. 17, Making Accommodations For Students with Disabilities: A Guide for Faculty and Graduate Student Instructors.