The term “learning disabilities”, sometimes referred to as specific learning disabilities, is an umbrella term that covers a range of neurologically based disorders in learning and various degrees of severity of such disorders. Learning disabilities vary from individual to individual and may present in a variety of ways. Learning disabilities may manifest as difficulty: (1) processing information by visual and auditory means, which may impact reading, spelling, writing, and understanding or using language, (2) prioritizing, organizing, doing mathematics, and following instructions, (3) storing or retrieving information from short or long term memory, (4) using spoken language, and (5) clumsiness or difficulty with handwriting.
~ Definition taken from Learning Disabilities Association of America: https://ldaamerica.org/advocacy/lda-position-papers/what-are-learning-disabilities/
Barriers to Access
- Expectations to read out loud
- Read and processing written material in short periods of time
- Technology restrictions (handwriting may take longer or be illegible)
- Transposing numbers or letters which may impact spelling or math calculations
- Expectation to multitask (write and listen simultaneously)
- Timed tasks related to reading, writing or math calculation
Considerations and Tips for Improving Accessibility
Students’ accommodation letters outline the accommodations for which they are approved by D&A. Following delivery by the student, instructors must provide each reasonable accommodation listed. The following list includes tips and best practices to consider in addition to the provision of ADA accommodations. (Information about a student’s disability is confidential with Disability & Access, and while a student may choose to disclose their disability, this information cannot be requested by instructors).
The following list of tips, adapted from Longhorn TIES materials, was gathered to support neurodivergent students. (Neurodiversity recognizes and celebrates the natural differences in human brain wiring. Individuals may self-identify as neurodivergent or identify with one of several neurodivergent diagnoses, including but not limited to: Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Social Pragmatic Communication Disorder, Tourette’s Syndrome, and more).
Items on this list may be applicable or relevant for many different students and disability categories, while they may be less helpful or relevant for other students. This list aims to offer ideas and a starting point for instructors.
Communicating Instructions & Expectations
- Be direct, clear, and specific with assignment instructions, course expectations, and with feedback on assignments. Communicate intentionally and check for understanding.
- Follow up oral instructions with written summaries and provide visual examples on how to complete or submit assignments.
- Provide advance notice of meetings, topics to be discussed, and changes in schedule.
- Create clear expectations and processes for group work, including deadlines, potential roles for group members, and processes for troubleshooting group conflicts.
Creating a Welcoming Classroom Environment
- Create a safe and encouraging environment for students to discuss accommodations (welcoming directions for initiating accommodation conversations in syllabi and in class).
- Periodically check in with students and initiate conversations about challenges in the course.
- Facilitate healthy sensory environments (sound, lighting & visual stimuli). Ask about preferred meeting setting.
- Avoid cold-calling in class. Foster openness to input and questions and allow students to respond.
Flexibility with Teaching & Assignments
- Build flexibility into syllabi and offer multiple formats and/or options for students to submit work and demonstrate their knowledge in ways that best suit their strengths.
- Accept typed, recorded, and handwritten assignments and exam (multiple formats).
- Consider offering multiple assignment options (such as for term projects) and limit timed work (students may be unable to demonstrate full knowledge or understanding within time constraints).
- Build in optional structure for unstructured assignments and/or deadlines (or assist student in creating upon request)
- Provide a variety of formats for engaging with material (podcasts, videos, etc. in addition to reading assignments). During instruction, provide visual or alternate learning tools when possible (pictures, charts, spreadsheets).
For more information and ideas also see: Working with Students with Disabilities, Creating an Accessible Classroom, and other tips and considerations for working with students in particular disability categories from the About Disabilities tab.
- Counseling and Mental Health Center Identity-Based Support Groups: UT’s CHMC offers a selection of identity-based support groups each semester. Previous disability-related offerings have included: Everything All at Once (ADHD), Free to be ND, and Connecting Around Chronicity. See their webpage for a current list of offerings.
- Sanger Learning Center Learning Specialists: Learning specialists assist students with a variety of study-related questions or concerns, and can work with students with ADHD and learning disabilities to explore time management strategies and study methods that work for you.
- Assistive Technology (Disability and Access): https://diversity.utexas.edu/disability/assistive-technology-2/
- Open Dyslexic on UT Library Computers: https://guides.lib.utexas.edu/c.php?g=1327395
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