Post navigation

Students with Disabilities

Accommodating Students with Physical Disabilities


General Principles

  • Always talk directly to the student, not about the student to the interpreter or caretaker.
  • Monitor small group work to make sure the student is included.
  • Make a concerted effort to include the student in class discussion.
  • Accommodate the student’s needs without lowering course requirements.

Accommodating Deaf/Hearing Impaired Students

Assignments and Instructions:

Put on the board or hand out written statements of all important dates, assignments, exams, instructions, or changes in location. Consider providing a brief outline of the course as a handout or on-line.

If you need to communicate with the student by telephone, use the General U.Va. TDD/TTY Relay (982-HEAR) or the Virginia Relay Center (1-800-828-1140/1120).

Set up a system to notify the student ahead of time if class is canceled so that she/he can inform the interpreter.

Be aware that students will not be able to lip-read films. You will need to have the movie opencaptioned (consult with the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services Coordinator at the LNEC for assistance), or provide an interpreter, written summary, or screenplay.

Discussion and Lecture:
When speaking, look directly at a student who relies on lip-reading. Try not to pace or turn your back to the student while speaking (such as to write on the board). If you need to speak while writing on the board, have a student write while you dictate. If you tend to speak quickly, try to moderate your speed, and slow down when explaining important ideas and facts. Speak naturally, and don’t over-enunciate or shout. If you have a beard or mustache, keep it trimmed so the student can see your mouth. Since even the best lip-readers may understand only 30-50% of what is said, don’t consider it an indication of the student’s intelligence or competence if she/ he has trouble understanding you. Be patient about the need to repeat yourself sometimes.

You can arrange moveable chairs to facilitate the student’s ability to understand you. Students can lip-read best when they have their backs to the light source and you face that source. In the second-best arrangement, the students and teacher have the light source to their side. Avoid having students face the light source (Blair 81).

If the student uses a sign language interpreter, do not walk in front of the interpreter while speaking. Address the student directly, not the interpreter. (Don’t say, “Does he have the paper today?” or “Ask her if she has the paper today.” Say instead, “Do you have the paper today?”) Don’t praise the interpreter’s skill unless you are competent to judge this. If the student has trouble understanding a point or answering your question, consider that this difficulty may be due to problems with the interpreter’s skill, rather than to the student’s intelligence or preparation. Moderate your speaking pace so the interpreter can keep up, and allow a slightly greater response time for questions so the interpreter has time to relay questions.

Repeat other students’ questions before answering them and put their responses on the board. When necessary, identify the student asking questions or contributing to discussion, so the hearing impaired student knows who is speaking.

Hand out a written sheet of the questions or topics you will discuss in class that day or the following day.

Put technical or unfamiliar words and important new terms on the board or handout. Consider providing these to the interpreter before class.

Outline clearly your main ideas on handouts, overheads, or blackboard.

Control the noise level of the room. Many hearing-impaired students rely on hearing aids, which magnify allsound, including background noise. A few students speaking in the background can thus make your lecture or comments very difficult to hear. Watch for such whispered conversations and stop them. It may also help to announce that you expect quiet when you lecture and when students speak. Keep the door closed. If the room has extremely high echo levels, you can contact the Associate Provost for Classroom Management and Academic Support (924-6313) to request a room change (carpeted rooms have lower echo levels than do rooms with hardwood floors). Do not, however, single out the hearing impaired student by announcing that you are making these changes so the hearing-impaired student is able to hear better. Treat it as good general classroom policy instead.

Encourage the student to sit in the first few rows. Hearing-impaired students may not be as aware as deaf students of how important distance is to understanding speech (Blair 71-73). If such students consistently arrive late, they may sit in the back, which may significantly affect their ability to comprehend. Request privately that they arrive early enough to sit in the first five rows, or allow the student a designated seat near the front.

Course Structure:
<Consider letting the student communicate with you and/or the class through e-mail or an online discussion group.


If the student communicates through American Sign Language (ASL) and his/her writing shows consistent patterns of grammatical errors similar to those of ESOL students consider the student to be an ESOL studentwhose first language is ASL. Recommend or require that the student work regularly with Writing Center staff. See also the list of resources in Appendix I.

Accommodating Blind/Visually Impaired Students

Keep the physical room arrangement consistent. Warn the student ahead of time if you must change it (such as for small group work).

No one should pet or distract the student’s guide dog, if he/she uses one.


Assign readings and organize photocopy packets as soon as possible, since some students with visual impairments use taped readings and books on CD. Indicate clearly what material is required (and so must be taped), and what material is only recommended. At the student’s request, the LNEC will acquire, prepare, and/or tape reading materials. Preferably the student’s request will come before the semester begins, and the sooner you are able to specify reading material, the more likely the student is to have that material by the time class starts.

Discussion and Lecture: 

Make written information available in another format by describing what you write on the board or narrating demonstrations. Use precision when narrating; don’t just say “this” or “that” when referring to notes on the board or parts of transparencies.

Provide advance notice of meeting location changes or meetings outside of the classroom so the student has adequate time to find the new location.

Accommodating Mobility/Coordination Impaired Students & Students with Medical Conditions

Course Structure and Location:

If the student is chronically late, meet with him/her privately to find a reasonable solution. Because of the terrain and the distance between buildings at U.Va., a student with a mobility impairment may have to take an indirect route to get from class to class. Consider moving your classroom closer to the student’s previous class to ameliorate this.

If you schedule a meeting outside class, check to see if the location is accessible. If you want your students to attend a lecture or even to meet you during office hours and the location is inaccessible (e.g., Jefferson Hall), other arrangements should be made. The University is responsible for rescheduling lectures; but you should request such a change from the Associate Provost for Classroom Management and Academic Support well ahead of time.

Recognize that the student may be absent from class for medical reasons. Generally, if a student knows in advance that he or she will need to be absent occasionally for medical reasons, he or she will have an accommodation called “unavoidable absence” approved by the LNEC. This signals the instructor that the student will sometimes need to miss class. The student still has to meet all requirements of the class, however, and should work out in advance with the instructor how he or she will make up work, and how soon it will be due.

Classroom Dynamics:
A student who has been recently disabled may be reluctant to speak in class though there may be no physical cause for this reluctance. In such a case, examine your course standards and goals to determine whether, how, and to what extent you need to require or encourage class participation. You might speak to the student privately and stress the importance of participation. If the student continues to feel extremely anxious about speaking in class, respect the student’s needs; do not force vocal participation, as long as such a response does not seriously hinder your course standards. Allowing the student to participate via e-mail or in a computer-assisted discussion group may provide a viable alternative as well.

When students work in small groups, make sure that all students, including students with disabilities are included. You can assign groups logically or randomly. Once groups are formed, check that all students are equally involved and intervene if necessary by prompting students to ask each other questions.