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Teaching Students with Disabilities

Students come in all shapes and sizes. As instructors, we need to be sensitive to their individual differences and needs. Some of these differences come in the form of physical and learning disabilities.

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 define a disability as "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities." Major life activities include the ability to perform functions such as walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, working or taking care of oneself. Disabilities can be visible or invisible, such as in the case of learning disabilities.

Presently, approximately three percent of Purdue's student population has a documented disability. The law is clear in stating that the University MUST make both its physical facilities and programs accessible. The Office of the Dean of Students is responsible for obtaining the appropriate documentation verifying a student's disability. Once this is done, an Adaptive Programs Specialist will work with the student in identifying what classroom accommodations and/or adjustments are necessary to facilitate the student's ability to meet the course requirements. You will receive a letter from an Adaptive Programs Specialist or from the student him/herself outlining the accommodations that they are requesting that you make in order for the student to learn.


Removing Barriers, published by the Office of the Dean of Students


Words of Wisdom

  • How will I know I have a student with a disability in my class?
    You will be notified by the Office of the Dean of Students at the beginning of the semester if one of your students has a disability that requires an academic adjustment. It is then the student's responsibility to contact you to discuss any accommodations that he/she needs to have made.
  • What accomodations might I be asked to make?
    The student may request:
    1. Extra time on exams. (If this is the case, you can make arrangements with the Dean of Students Testing Center in Schleman Hall to have them administer the exams.)
    2. Having a note-taker present to take notes for them in class.
    3. Having you provide copies of your lecture notes. (You might decide to make your lecture notes available to all of your students. Sometimes adjusting your teaching for your disabled student will make you reconsider some of your teaching techniques and help you improve your teaching for all of your students.)
    4. Having an interpreter present to sign for them in class. (When meeting with a student with a hearing disability, maintain eye contact with the student, not with the interpreter. Also, when teaching a class that includes a student with a hearing disability, you may want to include more visuals in your lessons than you normally do.)
  • What suggestions do you have for dealing with a student with a loss of vision?
    When greeting a person with a loss of vision, identify yourself and others with you. When directing someone with a visual impairment to a chair, put the personís hand on the back of the chair for guidance. You might assign a "buddy" each class session to help the student with the visual impairment.
  • What suggestions do you have for dealing with a student in a wheelchair?
    When talking to someone using a wheelchair, do not lean on the wheelchair. The chair is part of a person's body space. Also, when you're talking with them one-on-one, sit so that you're at eye level with them so they won't have to look up.
  • What do I need to know about having note-takers in the classroom?
    Students who have note-takers assigned to them may prefer to remain anonymous (assuming the class is large enough) and not have the rest of the class know that they're using this service. Note-takers do not come to class to take notes for students who are absent.
  • What accomodations can be made for students with a temporary disability?
    If you have a student with a temporary disability — for example, if you have a student who has broken his/her leg when skiing over Spring break and is on crutches — you can notify the Dean of Students Office and get your classroom moved to a different, more accessible location for the rest of the semester.