Resources For Faculty and Staff
Facilitating The Learning Process
Please note that the following suggestions are examples only and not intended to be an exhaustive list. Academic accommodations are determined on a case–by–case basis.
A student with a learning disability has average or above–average intelligence, but has difficulty acquiring, storing and/or retrieving information efficiently due to a marked pattern of strengths and weaknesses in the basic psychological processes used in an academic environment. The etiology is neurological, biochemical and/or developmental and can be expected to continue indefinitely. The student's capacity for learning is present. It is only the means by which the information is processed that is different. However, students with learning disabilities may exhibit one or more difficulties in performing ordinary academic tasks such as:
- Acquiring a fund of information about the world
- Sequencing events and ideas
- Understanding abstract concepts
- Spontaneously employing cognitive strategies
- Switching strategies as appropriate
- Distinguishing important from unimportant information
- Reasoning in a deductive manner
- Perceiving cause–and–effect
- Remembering things seen and heard (short– and long–term memory)
- Sustaining attention to tasks
- Inability to listen to lectures and take notes at the same time
- Communicating effectively with written symbols. Students may:
- omit or substitute letters and words
- exhibit poor handwriting
- use incorrect syntax and have spelling problems
- read slowly
- Students may also exhibit the following traits:
- deficient spatial organizational skills
- a lack of social skills
- Provide a detailed course outline clearly conveying course expectations (e.g., objectives, material to be covered, requirements/expectations, grading procedures, exam dates and due dates for written assignments).
- Read the course outline aloud to the entire class.
- Allow the student to record lectures, when prescribed by the DSS Office.
- Assist in securing good note takers, when prescribed by the DSS Office.
- Develop a positive student–faculty relationship by showing interest. A good relationship facilitates achievement. Meet with the student to arrange how authorized accommodations will be implemented, clarify concepts and discuss class progress.
- Highlight major concepts and terminology orally or visually (e.g., write new terms and names on the board or read aloud material on transparencies).
- Offer study questions that indicate the relative importance of content as well as the format of possible test questions.
- Critique early drafts of papers, providing pointers and encouragement for follow–up rewrites.
- Extend time for classwork when appropriate.
- Provide modifications of exams such as additional time, isolation, oral vs. written, or essay vs. objective when prescribed by the Coordinator of the DSS Office.
- For some students, merely allowing them a longer period of time to complete a test may suffice. For others, oral exams, hands–on demonstrations, open–book tests or true–or–false tests may be more appropriate. For the aphasic person to whom an oral test might be impossible, an exhibit could serve as a suitable substitute.
- Use a variety of visual and auditory methods to present information.
- Review material to assist students in the retention of information.
- Seat students in the front, if possible, to facilitate attention.
- Provide continuous feedback with weekly quizzes, meetings or emails.
Psychological disabilities describe a broad range of psychiatric and emotional difficulties. The most common forms of disability are anxiety disorders, depressive disorders and schizophrenia. The type, intensity and duration of symptoms vary from person to person. Often symptoms can be controlled through medication and/or counseling. However, periodic episodes may occur that require a change in treatment.
Students with psychological disabilities may have problems with focusing attention and organizational skills, low self–esteem, difficulties with trust or experience high levels of stress. Students with anxiety disorder may have reduced concentration, distortions of perceptions and a reduced ability to learn. Symptoms may include light–headedness or hyperventilation. Students with depression may appear disinterested, inattentive, unable to concentrate, irritable or tired. Students with schizophrenia may have difficulty processing information or may express thoughts that seem fragmented.
- Try to abstain from diagnosing or treating the psychological disorder.
- If discussions with the student are not effective or you are approached for therapeutic help, refer the student to the Coordinator of the DSS Office or the University Counseling Center.
- Call University Security if any student exhibits abusive or threatening behavior.
- See suggestions for learning disabilities for additional ideas.
Students with visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better eye with the use of corrective lenses are considered legally blind; therefore, most students with visual impairment have some vision, but it varies greatly. Regardless of the degree of impairment, students with visual impairments should fully participate in classroom activities, such as discussions, group work and recording of notes with the aid of a note taker if prescribed by the DSS Coordinator. Visual acuity may fluctuate periodically and, thus, require a change in procedure until the acuity stabilizes.
- Provide course syllabus in advance to allow time for arranging the taping or Brailling of textbooks and other educational materials.
- If a service animal accompanies a student, the animal is working and should be ignored. Students need to be reminded that it is not appropriate to treat the animal as a pet.
- Service animals are permitted in most university buildings (there may be some exceptions in health care facilities).
- Assist students in securing a sighted student as a study mate or laboratory partner.
- Seat the low–vision student in the front row and face the class when speaking. The student may need a seat away from the glare of a window.
- Verbalize all information written on the chalkboard, overhead projector or Power Point presentations.
- Encourage taping of lectures.
- Provide large–print copies of all course materials and/or handouts.
- Plan and implement adaptations for laboratory classes, field trips and internships in advance.
- Be flexible with assignment deadlines.
- Consider alternative assignments for specific tasks, which are impossible for the student with a visual impairment to carry out.
- Use alternatives for assessing course achievement such as oral (reader and scribe), large print, enlarging equipment or Braille and taped exams.
- Use tactile materials to present diagrams or charts.
- Speak in a normal voice. Students with visual impairments hear well, unless they also have hearing impairments.
A hearing loss can be considered a "hidden disability" because it is not always recognizable. Students who were born deaf or sustain a hearing loss at an early age have the most sever disability. Never having heard language, they tend to have problems with speaking, reading and writing. English is a "second" language to them.
Some students use interpreters, while others lip–read or wear hearing amplification devices. When an interpreter is used, speak directly to the student, not the interpreter. Remember to refrain from talking down to the student who lip–reads or wears a hearing device. The student's disability is hearing and does not impact his/her intelligence.
In the absence of an interpreter, communicate using a computer or pencil and paper. Use the Department's TTY for telephone communications, or call RELAY 711. The Relay Operator uses a TTY and will translate verbal communications to the student and the student's TTY responses to the instructor.
- Seat the student away from light sources and in a spot where eye contact can be maintained.
- Discuss classroom acoustics for students wearing hearing aids to ensure the speaker's voice is being heard. If acoustics are poor, move the course to a more suitable location.
- If an interpreter is used, allow the interpreter to sit or stand next to you so the student can see both of you.
- Draw the student's attention before speaking. Consult the student concerning rate and volume, speak clearly and naturally. Avoid long periods of facing away from the student or speaking while writing on the chalkboard. Remember lip readers need to see your face.
- Try to avoid movements as pacing, turning your back to the class or putting your hands in front of your face while speaking. Such movements will interfere with lip reading.
- Avoid standing in front of windows or other light sources.
- Communicate directly to the student. Example: "Will you?" in lieu of "Ask Sue if..."
- Repeat other students' questions before answering.
- Provide extra time in labs for a student to find items you are pointing out. The student needs to get instructions from the interpreter, locate materials and turn back for the rest of the discussion.
- Assist the student in finding a volunteer note taker.
- Communicate in writing. Write all important information and changes on the chalkboard.
- Provide a course outline, a list of new specialized terminology and a copy of the lecture notes, if available, as soon as possible.
- Facing the student with the hearing loss and enunciating is important, but remember only about 30% of speech is visually discernible.
- Arrange an independent viewing time for audiovisual materials for the student, if needed.
A wide range of conditions such as musculoskeletal disabilities (partial or total paralysis), amputation or sever injury, polio, arthritis or active sickle cell disease may be some causes of mobility impairments. A student's strength, speed, endurance, coordination and dexterity may be impaired and the degree will vary from student–to–student and from time–to–time. Some students may at times have difficulty getting to and from class, performing in class, managing out–of–class, or may be too sick to attend class. Some students may have fine motor problems, and therefore have difficulty writing, holding a book, opening doors or grasping other materials. The best practice is to consult with the student regarding the areas and extent of adaptations necessary.
- Consider classroom accessibility and if necessary and feasible arrange for a change in classroom or building, if inaccessible.
- Secure the University's emergency evacuation plan for the building and ensure that it is manageable for the student with a mobility impairment.
- Be aware that absences/lateness may be unavoidable due to exacerbation of the disability, problems with personal aides, inclement weather or elevator or wheelchair malfunctioning.
- Consider extending deadlines and using "incomplete" grades when appropriate.
- Assist in integrating the student for support and consistency by teaming him/her with a student who will take good notes, scribe in–class assignments or serve as a lab partner.
- Extend time limits for exams and consider oral, scribed or taped tests in isolation for students, who are unable to write, fatigue quickly or write slowly.
- Arrange for access to resources or library assistance for required class research.
- Speech disabilities include articulation, voice strength, chronic hoarseness, esophageal speech, fluency (stutter, stammer) and aphasia. Some speech disabilities are managed by devices and others by therapy, but all can be aggravated by anxiety.
- Be patient and give students an opportunity to speak in class, but do not insist.
- Permit them additional time to express themselves and do not fill in the gaps.
- Feel free to ask a student to repeat a sentence.
address students using normal tone and volume. They are able to hear and communicate.
- Consider such course modifications as a one–on–one presentation and a computer with a voice synthesizer.
Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS)
AIDS is a virus that destroys the immune system and leaves a student vulnerable to infections. Students may experience extreme fatigue, nausea or other difficulties. Students with AIDS may be hesitant to self–identify, but when they do, it is important that the strictest of confidentiality be observed. Reasonable accommodations will vary depending on symptoms.
The disease causes a wide range of effects, which vary, significantly from one student to another. Some students undergo visual problems, a lack of balance and coordination, joint pains, backaches, headaches, abdominal pains, drowsiness, lethargy, difficulty in breathing and swallowing, weakness, bleeding or anemia. The primary therapies for treating cancer are radiation, chemotherapy and surgery. Radiation and chemotherapy can cause violent nausea, drowsiness or fatigue, which interferes with academic functioning and causes absences. Reasonable accommodations are essential and will vary depending on the effects of the disease and/or treatment.
Students with seizure disorders, generally called epilepsy, are frequently reluctant to divulge their condition because they fear they could be stigmatized. Seizures are the result of an imbalance in the electrical activity of the brain.
- If a student has a seizure in class, remain calm.
- Remove nearby objects to avoid injury to the student.
- Assist student to the floor; roll a garment to form a pillow and place under the student's head.
- Position head to the side.
- Loosen tight clothes.
- DO NOT force anything into the student's mouth.
- DO NOT try to restrain movement.
- Call VCU Police (804) 828–1234.
Support Students with Disabilities at VCU
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Disability Support Services
Monroe Park Campus
907 Floyd Ave.
Voice/TTY: (804) 828-2253
Fax: (804) 828-1944
Office of Health Career/Education and Special Services for Students
VCU Medical Center Campus
1000 E. Marshall St.
Phone: (804) 828-9782
TTY: (804) 828-4608
Fax: (804) 828-4609