There are many teaching strategies that you can use to ensure effective and productive learning environments and experiences for all students, including those with disabilities. Accessible Education[i] is the process of designing courses and developing a teaching style to meet the needs of people who have a variety of backgrounds, abilities and learning styles. Just as there is no single way to teach, people learn in a variety of ways; using different instructional methods will help meet the needs of the greatest number of learners[ii].
Under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, you have a responsibility to learn about accessibility for persons with disabilities and how it relates to the development and delivery of accessible programs and courses.
The following are some practical tips for teaching students with learning disabilities.
The Learning Disabilities Association of Canada defines learning disabilities as follows:
“Learning Disabilities” refer to a number of disorders which may affect the acquisition, organization, retention, understanding, or use of verbal or nonverbal information. These disorders affect learning in individuals who otherwise demonstrate at least average abilities essential for thinking and/or reasoning. As such, learning disabilities are distinct from global intellectual deficiency.
The term learning disability covers a range of disabilities and can vary significantly in nature and in severity. Therefore, requests for individual accommodations in an academic setting can vary between and among students identified as having learning disabilities.
Learning disabilities are often not obvious to others; typically you do not know if someone has a learning disability unless the individual chooses to disclose to you. Under the Ontario Human Rights Code, students are protected from having to disclose the nature of their disability to academic personnel. Students with learning disabilities may find it difficult to disclose their disability to those in the academic environment. Some of the reasons for their reluctance include a fear of being stereotyped, the stigma of being treated differently, and the misperception of not being competent.
You probably won’t know that someone has a learning disability unless you’re told, but you may notice that the person is experiencing difficulty with communication (for example, receiving, expressing or processing information).
The following instructional strategies will help create an environment that is inclusive to students who live with learning disabilities.
Avoid making assumptions about a person’s disability or capabilities; many persons with disabilities talk about being frustrated with people assuming what they can or cannot do. Remember that although persons with disabilities might have specific needs, every individual is different.
As an educator, you have a responsibility to accommodate students with disabilities under the Ontario Human Rights Code. Requests for accommodation are made on an individual basis by students through the Office for Students with Disabilities and require medical and/or formal documentation.
The following are common academic accommodations that may be required for students with learning disabilities. This list is not exhaustive and is not intended to replace the official request for academic accommodations as communicated by the Office for Students with Disabilities.
Remember that students with disabilities do not have to disclose their disability to their professors or anyone else in the academic environment in order to receive accommodations. Unless a student chooses to disclose to you the nature of his or her disability, you will only receive information on the accommodations the student is entitled to receive. It is important to familiarize yourself with the accommodation and the accessibility resources and protocols at your university to ensure that you are following recommended practices.