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Information for Staff

Visual impairment varies greatly.  Persons are considered legally blind when visual acuity is 20/200 or less in the better eye with the use of corrective lenses.  Most persons who are legally blind have some vision.  Others who have low vision may rely on residual vision with the use of adaptive equipment.  Persons who are totally blind may have visual memory its strength depending on the age when vision was lost.

Whatever the degree of impairment students who are visually impaired should be expected and facilitated in participating fully in classroom activities, such as, discussions and group work.  To record notes, some use such devices as laptop computers or computerised braillers.  They may experience difficulties in laboratory classes, or off campus assignments, but with planning and adaptive equipment these difficulties can be minimised.

Before Or Early In The Course

  • Provide reading lists or syllabi in advance to allow time for such arrangements to be made as the taping or Brailling of texts
  • In co-operation with disability officer, assist the student in finding readers, note-takers or tutors as necessary, or team the student with a sighted classmate or laboratory assistant
  • Reserve front seats for low-vision students.  If a guide dog is used it will be highly disciplined and require little space.

During The Course

  • Face the class when speaking
  • Convey in spoken words whatever you put on the board and whatever other visual cues or graphic materials you may use
  • Permit lectures to be taped and/or provide copies of lecture notes where appropriate.
  • Provide large print copies of classroom materials by enlarging them on a photocopier
  • Be flexible with assignment deadlines
  • Plan field trips or off campus activities well in advance and alert supervisors/employers etc to whatever adaptations may be needed.
  • If a specific task is impossible for the student to carry out consider an alternative assignment.

Examinations And Assessment

Students should not be exempt from examinations or be expected to master less content or lower level of scholastic skills because of a visual impairment.  Alternative means of assessing their course achievements may be necessary.  The students themselves because of their experience in previous learning situations and the Liaison Officer, may offer suggestions on testing and evaluation strategies.  The most expedient devices are alternative examinations (oral, large-print, Braille or taped) the extension of time for exams and the use of such aids as print enlargers, specialised computer programmes or tape recorders.

Other adaptations suited to specific instructional situations - such as tactile materials in presenting diagrams or illustrations in certain subjects - may be helpful.

Compliments of AHEAD (Association for Higher Education Access and Disability)

Around 17% of the population of Ireland have some form of hearing loss, ranging from mild to profound.  Students who are hard of hearing are more likely to wear hearing aids and some may use spoken language to communicate. Profoundly deaf students will not use spoken language and are likely to communicate through Irish sign language.  The effects of deafness on oral communication depend on the type, extent and timing of the hearing loss.

Deaf students experience a high degree of discrimination in Irish society, and face more barriers accessing education and employment than many other minority groups in Ireland.  Despite the many advances in the area of training and technology over recent years the educational standards of deaf  pupils, particularly in numeracy and reading skills has remained well below the norm.  Research has consistently shown that the reading levels of deaf students aged 16 to 18 is only equivalent to levels attained by hearing children within the age group 9-10.  The need for the Irish education system in particular to  recognise the language rights of the deaf community is a matter requiring urgent attention if students with disabilities are to access and participate fully in higher education.

Before or early in the course

  • For many deaf students English will not be their first language and as such their English comprehension may not be at the same level as their peers.  Providing reading lists or syllabi in advance, and highlighting core reading material will assist students in prioritising work and in organising assistance if required in working through large volumes of written material
  • With less than half of all speech sounds clearly visible on the lips, profoundly deaf students or those with serious hearing impairment have great difficulty understanding the spoken word.  Students thus may require copies of lecture notes or the assistance of a notetaker or additional tutoring.
  • If a student is using a sign language interpreter then it may be necessary to meet with the student and the interpreter in advance of the start of the course, to develop systems for ensuring access to material by the interpreter in advance of lecture if possible.  Your assistance may also be required in explaining unfamiliar terminology, as interpreters may need to work with students in devising signs for new vocabulary or concepts.

In the lecture

  • Ensure that the optimum seating is available to the student, the interpreter or lip speaker
  •  Students may require an opportunity to clarify information presented in the course of lectures, where communication difficulties remain, and in some cases may require additional tuition.
  •  A student using a radio aid will require the lecturer to wear a microphone.

Examinations and assessments

For deaf students presenting examinations in a written format will present specific difficulties.  Difficulties may relate to comprehension of the written examination paper and the impact of limited vocabulary and fluency in written English.  In particular the following accommodations within the examination process will be effective in accessing candidates who are deaf or hard of hearing.

  • Access to a sign language interpreter who will translate the questions into sign language
  • Time extensions on exams and written assignments when there are significant demands on reading and writing skills
  • Avoiding overly complicated language in exam questions and access to the lecturer during exams to clarify comprehension of the exam questions
  • The use of a spell checking programme or a proof reader
  • Where necessary allowing the student to present the examination answer through sign language, a scribe or word processor.

Compliments of AHEAD (Association for Higher Education Access and Disability)

Students with Specific Learning Difficulties (Dyslexia)

A learning disability is any of a diverse group of conditions that cause significant difficulties in perceiving, processing and/or producing, either auditory, visual and/or spatial information.  Of presumed neurological origin it covers disorders that impair such functions as reading (dyslexia) writing (disgraphia) and mathematical calculation (dyscalculia).  Difficulties experienced may include problems with word recognition, aspects of reading comprehension, aspects of writing and/or spelling.  The exact nature, range and extent of these difficulties will vary from one case to another as will the actual learning profile or style.

A learning disability may exist in the presence of average to superior intelligence and adequate sensory and motor systems, as evidenced by the extraordinary achievements of numerous people with learning disabilities.  (Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Edison are just some prominent individuals who are believed to have been dyslexic)

However, the condition has only recently been identified and it still often goes undiagnosed.  That is why it is often misapprehended by people with a specific learning difficulty themselves, as well as others, as intellectual deficiency, which it emphatically is not.

In fact, the marked discrepancy between intellectual capacity and achievement is what characterises a learning disability.  Assessment of the disability is required not only to establish the need for special services but to determine the kind of special services that are required.  Thus it may be appropriate to refer for assessment, students who are believed to have a learning disability that has not been previously or reliably identified.

In working with a student with a learning disability it is important to identify the nature of the difficulties experienced by the individual student in order to determine the kind of strategies that might accommodate it.  Drawing upon the student's own experience offers invaluable clues to the types of adaptation that work.

While a learning disability cannot be "cured," it can be circumvented by various lecturing strategies.  In general, a variety of instructional modes enhance learning for students with learning disabilities, as for others, by allowing them to master material that may be inaccessible in one particular form.

Study skills courses covering note-taking, efficient reading strategies, reading comprehension, brain-storming, essay-planning, study and revision planning will be useful in reducing anxiety and improving performance of students with dyslexia, as with the general student population.

Auditory Processing
Some students may experience difficulty integrating information presented orally, hindering their ability to follow the sequence and organisation of a lecture. The following may help:

  • Provision of a course syllabus at the start of term
  • Outlining lecturers at the start and writing new terms and key points on the board/overhead/in handouts
  • Periodic summaries of the lecture and summaries at appropriate points in the course
  • In dealing with abstract concepts, paraphrase them in specific terms, and illustrate them with concrete examples, with personal experiences, with charts/graphs.

Reading / Visual difficulties
Many students with dyslexia experience word-recognition difficulties and some find it difficult to keep their place in dense text.  These difficulties together with poor reading speed and poor memory result in reading comprehension problems.  Thus use of library materials, references and digesting large quantities of text become obstacles.  Extra time and effort may be required to digest a text fully.  For such a student, comprehension and speed are improved dramatically with the provision of:

  • Chapter outlines or study guides that direct the student to key points in their readings
  • Reading aloud material that is written on the board/overhead or that is given in handouts
  • Arranging access to course material on audio tape.

Memory Difficulties
Some students with dyslexia have poor auditory sequential memory, which makes rote learning and the execution of complicated tasks difficult.  The following may help:

  • Keeping oral instructions concise and reinforcing them with brief cue words
  • Simplifying complicated directions or providing them in alternative formats

Writing Difficulties
Many students with dyslexia have difficulty preparing written work.  Difficulties include poor handwriting, misspelling, poor sentence structure, poor punctuation, miscue of connecting words and omission of suffixes and prefixes.  Handwriting may show letter reversal, mid-word capitalisation's to disambiguate similar letters (e.g. BID not bId) and handwriting may deteriorate readily under pressure.  Spelling may exhibit transposition of letters, failure to apply common rules and the omission of prefixes and suffixes.  Students may habitually avoid words they cannot spell.  All these have clear implications for style, order, structure, and fluency.  A student's written work may thus not be a true or fair reflection of their ability or mastery of the course

Allowing students to use the following appropriate tools and assistance will facilitate the student in demonstrating comprehension of the course material:

  • Use of a dictionary or thesaurus preparing written work or in an exam
  • Use of computer and a spell-checking programme
  • Assistance of a proof-reader
  • Transcription of illegible handwriting
  • Amanuensis (dictation facilities)
  • Use of a tape-recorder/Dictaphone
  • Use of supplementary oral examination to clarify content of manuscripts
  • Extra time during examinations

Note-Taking Difficulties
As outlined above, some students with learning disabilities need alternative ways to take notes because they cannot write effectively or assimilate, remember and organise the material while listening to a lecture.  The following suggestions may help:

  • Permission for note-takers to accompany the students to lectures
  • Permission for tape recording of lectures or making notes available for material not found in text or other accessible sources
  • Assistance, if necessary, in arranging to borrow classmates notes
  • Provision of photocopies of notes and overhead projector transparencies

The Science Laboratory
A laboratory can be especially overwhelming for students with learning disabilities.  New equipment, exact measurement and multi-step procedures may demand precisely those skills that are hardest for them to acquire.  The following suggestions may ease the burden:

  • An individual orientation to the laboratory and equipment can minimise student anxiety.
  • The labelling (possibly colour-coded) of equipment tools and materials is helpful
  • The student's use of cue cards or labels designating the steps of a procedure may expedite the mastering of a sequence
  • Specialised adaptive equipment may help with exact measurements

Other Difficulties
Some students with learning disabilities may have poor co-ordination or trouble judging distance or differentiating between left and right.  Such devices as demonstrations from the student's right-left frame of reference and the use of colour codes or supplementary symbols may overcome the perceptual problem.

Behaviour
Because of a long and painful history of struggling with their difficulties, apparent under-achievement, and continued experience of "failure", students with dyslexia often have low self-esteem and lack confidence in themselves and their abilities.  If the source of their difficulties has not been identified, or identified only recently, students may be experiencing anxiety and frustration. They may have acquired a reputation for laziness or being difficult, disruptive or uncooperative.  Students who have not been assessed are often afraid of being assessed for fear what they might find out about themselves.  Mature students might fit into this category.

Even when students have made significant progress in overcoming their difficulties, low self-esteem and self-confidence may remain.  The following suggestions may help:

  • Creating an environment of acceptance and a supportive atmosphere in which difficulties can be dealt with in an open, positive manner
  • Awareness among academic staff of the difficulties and symptoms described above
  • Confidential access and referral to counsellors familiar with these difficulties and ways of coping with them
  • Study skills courses can be a valuable way of building confidence as well as learning useful skills

Participation
It is helpful to determine the student's ability to participate in classroom activities.  While many students with learning disabilities are highly articulate, some have severe difficulty in talking, responding or reading in front of groups.

Examination And Assessment
A learning disability may affect the way a student should be evaluated.  In many cases, written work will not be a true or fair indication of a student's ability, their mastery of material or their depth of understanding.  If so an alternative examination arrangements may be necessary.  The following suggestions may help:

  • Permission for students to take examinations in a separate, quiet room with an invigilator.  Students with learning disabilities are especially sensitive to distractions
  • Time extensions on exams and written assignments when there are significant demands on reading and writing skills
  • Avoiding overly complicated language in exam questions, leaving plenty of clear space between them on the examination paper.  Avoiding the use of answer sheets especially computer forms relieves the student with perceptual deficits of unnecessary burdensome work while transferring answers.
  • The use of a dictionary, thesaurus, spell checking programme, a proof-reader or, in mathematics and science, a calculator. In mathematics the student may understand the concept, but may make errors by misaligning numbers or writing equations
  • When necessary, allowing students to use a reader, scribe (amanuensis), word processor, tape recorder or typewriter, or personal word book
  • Provision of alternative test design/formats - some students with learning disabilities may find essay formats difficult and a student with a perceptual impairment will always have trouble with pattern-matching type tests.
  • Consideration of alternative or supplementary assignments that may serve evaluation purposes, such as, taped interviews, slide presentations, photographic essays or hand made models.  A supplementary interview may help to clarify ambiguous or indecipherable manuscript contents
  • Awareness and perhaps toleration on the corrector's behalf of poor spelling punctuation or handwriting

Compliments of AHEAD (Association for Higher Education Access and Disability)

Like those with other disabilities, the difficulties experienced by students with mental health difficulties may be hidden, and in fact, latent, with little or no effect on their learning.  Unlike others, however, their emotional disturbances may manifest themselves in negative behaviour ranging from indifference to disruptiveness.  Such conduct makes it hard to remember that they have as little control over their disabilities as do students with physical disabilities.

Among the most common psychological impairments among students is depression. The condition may be temporary, in response to inordinate pressures at school, on the job, at home or in one's social life.  It may be manifested as a pathological sense of hopelessness or helplessness which may provoke, in its extreme, threats or attempts at suicide.  It may appear as apathy, disinterest, inattention, impaired concentration, irritability, or as fatigue or other physical symptoms resulting from changes in eating, sleeping or other living patterns.

Anxiety is also prevalent among students and may also be the transient reaction to stress.  Mild anxiety, in fact, may promote learning and improve the student's functioning.  Severe anxiety, however, may reduce concentration, distort perception and weaken the learning process.  Anxiety may manifest itself as withdrawal, constant talking, complaining, joking or crying, fantasising, or extreme fear, sometimes to the point or panic.  Bodily symptoms might include light-headedness or hyperventilation.

Students are susceptible to the myriad other psychiatric disorders that others are, some of which express themselves in inappropriate classroom behaviour or inadequate performance of assignments. Some troubled students who are undergoing treatment take prescription medication to help control disturbing feelings, ideas and behaviour.  This medication might cause undesirable side effects, such as, drowsiness and disorientation.  In dealing with psychological conditions that impair the functioning of the affected student alone, the principles outlined for all disabled students in the Overview section generally apply.  If the behaviour begins to affect others or your lecturing, other measures may be necessary.
Suggestions

Discuss inappropriate classroom behaviour with the student privately, directly and forthrightly, delineating if necessary the limits of acceptable conduct
In your discussions with the student do not attempt to diagnose or treat the psychological disorder but only the student's behaviour in the tutorial/class
If you sense that discussion would not be effective or if the student approaches you for therapeutic help, refer the student to the Counselling Service/Health Centre

Compliments of AHEAD (Association for Higher Education Access and Disability)

There are many other conditions that may interfere with a student's academic functioning.  Some of their symptoms, like limited mobility or impaired vision, and the types of intervention required may resemble those covered elsewhere in this manual.  The general principles set forth in the Overview apply, particularly the need to identify the disability and to discuss with the student both its manifestations and the required considerations.  Below are brief descriptions of some of the more prevalent disabilities among students, along with recommended accommodations.

Cancer
Because cancer can occur in almost any organ system of the body, the symptoms and particular disabling effects will vary greatly from one person to another.  Some people experience visual problems, lack of balance and co-ordination, joint pains, backaches, headaches, abdominal pains, drowsiness, lethargy, difficulty in breathing and swallowing, bleeding or anaemia.

The primary treatments for cancer - radiation therapy chemotherapy and surgery - may engender additional effects.  Therapy can cause violent nausea, drowsiness and/or fatigue, affecting academic functioning or causing absences.  Surgery can result in amputation, paralysis, sensory deficits, and language and memory problems.  For general information on accommodations, please refer to the Overview.  For particular impairments please see the applicable sections on specific disabilities.

Multiple Sclerosis
Multiple sclerosis is a progressive disease of the central nervous system, characterised by a decline of muscle control.  Symptoms may include disturbances ranging from mild to severe: blurred vision, legal blindness, tremors, weakness or numbness in limbs, unsteady gait, paralysis, slurred speech, mood swings or attentions deficits.  Because the onset of the disease usually occurs between the ages of 20 and 40, students may be having difficulty adjusting to their condition

The course of multiple sclerosis is highly unpredictable.  Periodic remissions are common and may last from a few days to several months, as the disease continues to progress.

For appropriate classroom accommodations, refer to section(s) on speech, visual impairments, physical disabilities and hand-function impairments.

Muscular Dystrophy
Muscular dystrophy refers to a group of hereditary, progressive disorders that most often occur with young people, producing degeneration of voluntary muscles of the trunk and lower extremities.  The atrophy of the muscles results in chronic problems.  Walking, if possible, is slow and appears uncoordinated.  Manipulation of materials in class may be difficult.

Refer to the section on physical disabilities and hand-function impairments for appropriate accommodations.

Respiratory Problems
Many students have chronic breathing problems, the most common of which are bronchial asthma and emphysema.  Respiratory problems are characterised by attacks of shortness of breath and difficulty in breathing, sometimes triggered by stress, either physical or mental.

Fatigue and difficulty climbing stairs may also be major problems, depending on the severity of the attacks.  Frequent absence from class may occur and hospitalisation may be required when prescribed medications fail to relieve the symptoms.

For appropriate classroom accommodations, refer to section on physical disabilities and Overview.

Epilepsy
Students with epilepsy are sometimes reluctant to divulge their conditions because they fear being misunderstood or stigmatised.  Misconceptions about these disorders-that they are forms of mental illness, contagious and untreatable for example-have arisen because their ultimate causes remain uncertain.  There is evidence that hereditary factors may be involved and that brain injuries and tumours, occurring at any age, may give rise to seizures.  It is known, however, that seizures result from imbalances in the electrical activity of the brain

Three distinct types of seizures exist

  • Petit Mal means "little seizure" and is characterised by eye blinking or staring.  It begins abruptly with sudden dimming of consciousness and may last only for a few seconds.  Whatever the person is doing is suspended for a moment but resumed again as soon as the seizure is over.  Often, because of its briefness, the seizure may go unnoticed by the individual as well as by others.
  • Psychomotor seizures range from mild to severe and may include staring, mental confusion, uncoordinated and random movement, incoherent speech and behaviour outbursts, followed by immediate recovery.  They may last from two minutes to a half hour.  The person may have no recollection of what happened, but may experience fatigue.
  • Grand Mal seizures may be moderate to severe and may be characterised by generalised contractions of muscles, twitching and limb jerking.  A few minutes of such movements may be followed by unconsciousness, sleep, or extreme fatigue.

Students with seizure disorders are often under preventive medication,  which may cause drowsiness and temporary memory problems.  Such medication makes unlikely that a seizure will occur in class.
In the event of a grand Mal seizure, follow this procedure

  • Keep calm.  Although its manifestations may be intense they are generally not painful to the individual
  • Remove nearby objects that may injure the student during the seizure.  Help lower the person to the floor and place cushioning under his/her head.
  • Turn the head to the side so that breathing is not obstructed.
  • Loosen tight clothing.  Do not force anything between the teeth
  • Do not try to restrain bodily movement

Compliments of AHEAD (Association for Higher Education Access and Disability)

A wide range of conditions may limit mobility and/or hand function.  Among the most common permanent disorders are such musculoskeletal disabilities as partial or total paralysis, amputation or severe injury, arthritis, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy.  Additionally respiratory and cardiac diseases which are debilitating may consequently affect mobility. Any of these conditions may also impair the strength, speed, endurance, co-ordination and dexterity that are necessary for proper hand function.  While the degree of disability varies, students may have difficulty getting to or from class, performing in class and managing out-of-class assignments and tests.

Getting To And From Class/Lectures

Physical access to classrooms is a major concern of students who have a physical disability. Those who use wheelchairs, braces, crutches, canes or prostheses, or who fatigue easily, find it difficult moving about, especially within the time constraints imposed by class schedules.  Occasional lateness may be unavoidable. Tardiness or absence may be caused by transportation problems, inclement weather or elevator or wheelchair breakdown.  Getting from class may pose similar problems, especially in cases of emergency.

The following strategies may be necessary in supporting students with physical disabilities:

  • Considering the accessibility factor before or early in the semester and discuss it with the student and, if necessary, the Disability Officer
  • Be prepared to arrange for a change of classroom or building if no other solution is possible
  • Familiarise yourself with the building's emergency evacuation plan and assure that it is manageable for students who have a physical disability

In Class/Lectures

Some courses and lecture rooms present obstacles to the full participation of students who have a physical disability.  In seating such students, every effort ought to be made to integrate them, in the class.  Relegating students to a doorway, a side aisle or the back of the room should be avoided.  Even such apparently insurmountable barriers as fixed seating may be overcome by arranging for a chair to be unbolted and removed to make room for a wheelchair.  Laboratory stations too high for wheelchair users to reach or transfer to, or with insufficient under-counter knee clearance, may be modified or they may be replaced by portable stations.  Otherwise, the assistance of a personal assistant to follow the student's lab instructions may be necessary.  Students with hand-function limitations may have difficulties with in-laboratory writing (as in lectures).

The following strategies may help:

  • Allowing the use of a note taker or tape recorder
  • Teaming the student with a laboratory partner or assistant
  • Allowing in-laboratory written assignments to be completed out of class with the use of an amanuenses, if necessary.

Out -Of -Class/Lectures Assignments

For students who a physical disability or who have hand-function impairments, the use of the library for reading or research assignments may present obstacles.  Arrangements for assistance with library personnel may have to be made for access to card catalogues, book shelves, and microfiche and other equipment, or for manipulating the pages of publications.  Because the completion of required work may thus be delayed, the extension of deadlines may be appropriate.

Off-campus assignments may pose similar problems of access to resources.  Lectures should consider such expedients as advance notice to students who rely on special transportation, extension of deadlines and alternative assignments.

Compliments of AHEAD (Association for Higher Education Access and Disability)

Speech impairments range from problems with articulation or voice strength to complete voicelessness.  They include difficulties in projection as in chronic hoarseness and oesophageal speech to fluency problems as in stuttering and stammering.

Patience is the most effective strategy in teaching students with speech impairments.

Some of these difficulties can be managed by such mechanical devices as electronic 'speaking' machines or computerised voice synthesisers.  Others may be treated through speech therapy. All of them can be aggravated by the anxiety inherent in oral communication in a group.

Teaching Strategies

  • Give students the opportunity - but do not compel them-to speak in class
  • Permit students the time they require to express themselves without unsolicited aid in filling in gaps in their speech.  Don't be reluctant to ask the student to repeat a statement.
  • Address students naturally.  Don't assume the "spread phenomenon" that they cannot hear or comprehend.
  • Consider course modifications such as one-to-one presentations

Compliments of AHEAD (Association for Higher Education Access and Disability)