Teaching Students with Disabilities

From a brochure entitled "College Students with Learning Disabilities,"Equal Opportunity, Affirmative Action, and Disability Services Department, Vanderbilt University, and from advice of the EAD staff.


  • Students have the right to disclose their disability. Please do not break confidentiality by calling attention to them and the fact that they have a learning disability.

  • Students with disabilities want to be treated like other students are treated. However, there are some accommodations that might need to be made. If you have questions regarding what would be most accommodating or helpful, ask the student and the EAD.


  • Provide an easily understood and detailed course syllabus. Make the syllabus, texts, and other materials available before registration.

  • If materials are on-line, consider colors, fonts, and formats that are easily viewed.

  • Clearly spell out expectations before the course begins (e.g., grading, material to be covered, due dates).

  • Include a statement on the syllabus regarding accommodations and modifications for students with disabilities. Let the student know times s/he can meet you to discuss the accommodations and how soon the student should do so. Here are two sample statements:

    • The Department of Spanish and Portuguese is committed to making educational opportunities available to all students. In order for its faculty members to properly address the needs of students who have disabilities, it is necessary that those students approach their instructors as soon as the semester starts, preferably on the first day of class. They should bring an official letter from the Opportunity Development Center (2-4705) explaining their specific needs so that their instructors are aware of them early on and can make the appropriate arrangements.

    • If you have a learning or physical disability, or if you learn best utilizing a particular method, please discuss with me how I can best accommodate your learning needs. I am committed to creating an effective learning environment for all learning styles. However, I can only do this successfully if you discuss your needs with me in advance of the quizzes, papers, and notebooks. I will maintain the confidentiality of your learning needs. If appropriate, you should contact the Equal Opportunity, Affirmative Action, and Disability Services Department to get more information on accommodating disabilities.


  • Start each session with an outline of material to be covered.

  • Briefly summarize key points at the conclusion of class. Speak directly to students.

  • Use gestures and natural expressions to convey further meaning.

  • Present new vocabulary and concepts visually (board, overhead, powerpoint, handout) and in a format that is easily readable.

  • Use terms in context to convey greater meaning.

  • Provide adequate opportunities for questions and answers, including review sessions.

  • Allow students to use tape recorders to tape lectures.


  • Give assignments both orally and in written form to avoid confusion.

  • Announce reading assignments well in advance for students who are using taped materials. It takes an average of six weeks to get a book tape-recorded.

  • If possible, select a textbook with an accompanying study guide for optional student use.


  • Provide study questions for exams that demonstrate both the format and the content of the test, and explain what constitutes a good answer and why.

  • If necessary, allow students to demonstrate mastery of course material using alternative methods (e.g., extended time limits for testing, oral exams, taped exams, individually proctored exams in a separate room).

  • If providing test accommodations for a student, make the necessary arrangements ahead of time (e.g., providing a private or quiet room, sending a test to the EAD).

  • Please do not indicate to the student that accommodations are an inconvenience. Tests are stressful enough without the added feelings of discomfort.

  • Permit use of simple calculators, scratch paper, and spellers' dictionaries during exams.


  • Use the EAD as a resource. For questions or concerns, call EAD (322-4705).

  • Encourage students to use campus support services (e.g., assistance in ordering taped textbooks, alternative testing arrangements, specialized study aids, peer support groups, diagnostic consultation, study skills development training, academic tutorial assistance).

  • Contact the Center for Teaching for more information or to discuss effective teaching practices.



Center for Teaching
1114 19th Avenue South
Peabody Box #183
Nashville, TN 37203
Phone 615-322-7290
Fax 615-343-8111


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