Best Practices for Teaching Students with Disabilities

Download Best Practices handout

Things to consider:

  • Not all students with disabilities are registered with the Disability Resource Center. In fact, statistically, most students with disabilities are not registered with the DRC.
  • An estimated 60-70% of disabilities are not visually apparent.
  • Students may have the same disability but it may manifest differently; be sure to keep an open mind even if someone discloses a disability with which you have experience.
  • Students may choose not to or may not be able to advocate for personal needs or wishes. This may be cultural, personality, or disability related.
  • Students may need additional time to process what you are saying. Allow time for responses. Most research indicates internal processors need 7 seconds to hear a question or statement, think about, think about their response, and then verbalize.  Some students may need more based on English as second language, cultural differences, or disability.
  • Your demeanor and response to a student informs the rest of the class. Be accepting and respectful of disabled students. Be aware of your nonverbal responses.
  • Consider principles of Universal Design:
    • Have handouts of all slides, including one or two large-print. Also, post slides and other handouts so that students with computer accommodations can access them online. Ensure that they are accessible to screen readers.
    • Offer alternatives for visual and auditory information.
    • Offer alternatives means of completing assignments if it does not interfere with assignment outcomes. Example: voice recorded journal entries.
    • Only use videos that are close captioned.
    • Clarify symbols, vocabulary, acronyms. Either provide a handout of common acronyms or refrain from using them even after explaining.
    • Use multi-media forms of representation – graphics, illustrations, images, etc. Be sure to describe all graphics so that those with visual impairments can participate. (font should be no smaller than 22 point in power point presentations)
    • Use a calendar as a visual representation of assignment due dates, in addition to listing due dates. Provide all due dates in writing.
    • Supply background knowledge, along with reasons (especially cultural and social customs – be sure to include things like nonverbal communication, including eye contact, dress, email rules, etc.).
    • Provide prior exposure to test formats, with ample time for questions.

Getting to know your student:

  • Look for and read over Letters of Accommodation prior to the beginning of class. Contact the Disability Resource Center with questions.
  • If your student does not introduce themselves, ask them to meet with you outside of class time to discuss accommodations. If you cannot accomplish this within the first week of classes, contact the Disability Resource Center for assistance.
  • Keep confidentiality in mind when talking to a student – do not discuss accommodations when other students can overhear.
  • Work with the student as an individual in regards to strengths, difficulties, goals, skills. Even if you have worked with a student with this particular disability before, remember that each student is different.
  • Hold your student to high academic, attendance, and conduct standards. If you have questions about behaviors or academic habits as they relate to a disability, contact the DRC for clarification and support. Call us about Advocacy & Flexibility
  • If you do not have a Letter of Accommodation for a student, and they request accommodations for a disability, or appear to need access support, check with the DRC to see if they are registered. If not, refer them to the DRC by saying, “Let me take you over to the Disability Resource Center. They can provide accommodations for all your classes.”
  • Keep in mind that some students need:
  • A specific communication method – email, Canvas, in person. An understanding of social communication differences that may come across as impolite over email.
  • Access support in joining, meeting with, and communicating with a group
  • Access support in obtaining notes from volunteer note takers.
  • Additional follow-up. If a disabled student stops attending class, or turning in work, and your efforts to reach out to the student are not successful, contact the DRC for additional support.
  • Direct instruction on classroom rules. If a student is breaking a rule, especially an unspoken rule, such as asking too many questions, have a conversation with them and tell them directly what the limits are. Brainstorm with them how they will remember, and how they will get their questions asked outside of class.

When effectively implemented, social justice should provide equal learning opportunities for all students, help foster respect among individuals, and create individuals who are empowered to not only notice, but challenge the inequalities and injustices in society (Levinson, 2009).

If a student needs more than you can reasonably provide, or they mention they had an IEP or 504 plan in high school, refer them to the Disability Resource Center. or 425.564.2498


Last Updated January 3, 2016