Teaching Tips for Students with Disabilities

iStock [agsandrew]
iStock [agsandrew]
Kevin Parker is a US-based writer for MastersDegree.net, here he shares his thoughts on University teaching and effective distance-learning approaches for disabled students. 

Being a professor is quite the challenge and it’s regarded as an art of its own. We spend years in university and then more time to prepare to face students. We’ve been trained to have them in class, but recently distance learning classes are presenting other options.

Traditional classrooms gave us the opportunity to talk to students about their concerns, and even notice when someone is falling behind. But in other instances, we are presented with a few extra challenges, especially regarding distance learning for students with disabilities. So I talked to a few students with disabilities who have taken distance learning courses for some tips on how to improve teaching.

Take it slow

“My experience with professors is that they are always trying to stay within the syllabus they’ve created. I realize it’s not a bad thing, they have a goal to teach those topics and want to achieve it within a semester. But when you have students with disabilities, especially learning disabilities, it’s quite important to realize that not everyone can keep up with such a fast-paced environment in a distance learning class”, says one Political Science student who was diagnosed with dyslexia as a child.

This is the experience of many students with disabilities in both traditional and distance learning classes. Many professors try to go through the material at a slower pace though, but that is not always possible. So a tip would be to offer enough virtual office hours such as individual Skype sessions so that you can help and dedicate more time to students who are falling behind.

Be understanding of their needs

We as professors have created an evaluation program. This includes exams, presentations, papers and others. In a distance learning class, especially when there are students with disabilities, we have to start rethinking our evaluation.

“But if we start making exceptions for one, they will all ask for special treatment!”

I completely understand, but accommodation and understanding doesn’t mean letting them off the hook. It just means that we reshape it based on a student’s particular disability. It goes a long way to encouraging them to learn more.

As one student with a speech problem puts it, “I’ve had professors who wanted me to stand in front of a camera to present on something on the excuse that I must do the presentation for the grade and that practice will help me get over my disability. They have to understand that it doesn’t actually help. If it would, doctors would have figured it out a long time ago”.

Give them options

Since you will have a diverse class and different students might have different disabilities, cooperate with the school to give various learning options. Work with experts to get Braille text or audio lectures for students with vision problems, printed materials or video captions for those with hearing impairments, and so on. You will notice a huge improvement in performance when students feel like they have options and can choose the learning which suits them best.

At the end of the day, that’s what teaching and learning are all about, gaining knowledge through mutual understanding and kindness.

Next steps:

For more ideas on inclusive teaching, see these Teaching Matters blogs:

Making the classroom more inclusive

Supporting student journeys

Kevin Parker

Kevin Parker is a part-time writer at the non-profit blog MastersDegree.net. The website is maintained by a dedicated group of academics who want to help students all around the world make a dent in the universe and fulfill their dreams. As an Applied Physics student in Slovenia, Kevin struggled with anxiety, and since graduating, he has dedicated his free time to helping students with disabilities graduate with ease.

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