How can Students with Learning Disabilities Succeed in College? (page 3)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

Instructional Accommodations

As noted, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act requires that colleges make reasonable adjustments for students with disabilities in order that they not be discriminated against on the basis of their disabilities. These adjustments can take three general forms: "adaptations in the manner in which specific courses are conducted, the use of auxiliary equipment, and modifications in academic requirements" (Brinckerhoff et al., 1992, p. 421). The following are some examples of relatively common accommodations for students with learning disabilities:

  • adjustments in course requirements and evaluation
    • giving extra time on tests
    • allowing students to take exams in a distraction-free room
    • allowing students to take exams in a different format (e.g., substituting an oral exam for a written one)
  • modifications in program requirements
    • waiving or substituting certain requirements (e.g., a foreign language)
    • allowing students to take a lighter academic load
  • auxiliary aids
    • providing tape recordings of textbooks
    • providing access to a Kurzweil Reading Machine (a computer that scans text and converts it into auditory output)
    • recruiting and assigning volunteer note-takers for lectures

Although the intent of the law and subsequent litigation is fairly clear relative to modification of course requirements, program requirements, and evaluation of students, it is less obvious with regard to individual instructors' approaches to instruction. One can make a strong case that, especially with regard to lectures and discussion courses, some of the same pedagogical strategies that make for good instruction for many students without learning disabilities are of particular benefit to those with them. Starting lectures with a review of past material, providing advance organizers, and using an overhead projector or computerized graphic displays to emphasize main points are just a few of the techniques that help most students, especially those with learning disabilities, attend to and retain information presented in lectures. As yet, however, the law has not been used to dictate that instructors use such techniques.

Institutions of higher education vary widely in how they handle implementation of accommodations for students with disabilities. Although Section 504 has been in effect since the 1970s, the process of interpreting the law through litigation continues. Many universities have adopted policy advisory committees to help university administrators educate faculty about accommodations and resolve disputes when they arise. The notion of academic freedom is ingrained deeply into the consciousness of many faculty, and some are immediately suspicious of anything they think will impinge on it. Policy advisory boards, some of whose members are faculty, can do much to alleviate tension concerning appropriate accommodations.

Some have also pointed out that providing accommodations can help faculty better understand their own programs. Determining what are appropriate accommodations and what are essential components of a program takes more than a cursory review of program requirements:

Defining the essential requirements of academic programs and courses is, in some respects, a Herculean task. Faculty and academic departments are being asked to define and come to consensus on the core of their disciplines. Often, faculty are faced with this task in response to an immediate request for accommodation by a student currently enrolled in a course. On a short-term basis, faculty must apply their best professional judgment in defining the essential elements of a course or program. However, determining essential requirements should ultimately be viewed as an ongoing dialogue for professional examination, perhaps extending beyond individual faculty members and departments to a topic to be addressed within the fields or disciplines. (Scott, 1994, p. 408)

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