Teaching Disabled Students: Emphasis On Their Abilities, Not Their Disabilities

This was one of the two "current issues" discussion groups sponsored by ACRL's Instruction Section (IS) at Midwinter. I was planning to go to both, but impromptu Collage training (more on that in another post) changed my plans. The topic for this discussion is very relevant to me as an instructor. IS has an overview page for this discussion (the link should be good for awhile…but I know they are planning a redesign eventually).

Scott Scheidlower from York College (CUNY) lead the discussion. Scott started by reminding us that the student, the institution's disability coordinator, and the instructor/librarian are all responsible for student success.  We must accommodate special requests if possible, except if they are prohibitively expensive. The student's disability must be documented with the institution for the accommodation to be required.

Invisible disabilities are not seen by casual observation. Invisible disabilities can include deafness, dyslexia, color blindness, depression, and mental illness. It is okay for us to ask how to help someone. It is not okay to ask what the disability is specifically.

Scott is a firm believer that we should understand and effectively use Gardner's multiple intelligences to increase student learning. Scott had created 10 scenarios and assigned each table to discuss two. I jotted down notes as each table reported their ideas.

These ideas can be used to improve your teaching technique and handouts for students with/without disabilities:

  • speak clearly and depending on the room louder than normal
  • face your students when speaking (speechreading aka lip reading)
  • make sure you are illuminated in a dark room
  • gesture with your hand or with a laser pointer instead of saying "click the search button"
  • number handouts instead of relying on color to distinguish the
  • use shading or patters on charts and graphs instead of colors
  • label colors with numbers
  • consistently use the same shape to represent a color (e.g. triangles are red, squares are blue)
  • ask a student to take notes and make them available to the entire class
  • ask a student to navigate the computer allowing you the ability to maintain eye contact and gesture freely
  • accept alternative assignments if possible
  • determine if your disability services office provides a scribe service

These ideas can be used to improve the computers in your libraries and your library's web sites:

  • install a text to speech screen reader on computers
  • install voice recognition software on at least one machine
  • use alt text in html pages to be very descriptive of the image being displayed
  • don't use frames and limit the use of tables to layout pages

One participant suggested that we find out if our institution was a member of Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic. She had positive experiences working with "RFB&D" to obtain materials for students.

Scott recommended that we read the following references for more information.

Fabio, D. (1994-2007). Howard Gardner's multiple intelligences. In Encyclopedia of educational technology. Retrieved December 3, 2007, from <http://coe.sdsu.edu/eet/Articles/multiintell/index.htm>

Hernon, P., & Calvert, P. (Eds.). (2006). Improving the quality of library services for students with disabilities. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Hurst, A. (1996). Reflecting on researching disability and higher education. In L. Barton (Ed.), Disability and society: Emerging issues and insights (pp. 123-46). Longman sociology series. London: Longman.

Konur, O. (2006, July). Teaching disabled students in Higher Education. Teaching in Higher Education, 11(3), 351-363. Retrieved January 3, 2007. doi:10.1080/13562510600680871

U.S. Department of Justice. (n.d.). ADA home page. Retrieved November 27, 2007, from <http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/ada/adahom1.htm>

[tags]ALAMW08, Midwinter08[/tags] 

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