People with disabilities are people first. Yes, the disability is part of them, but it is not the most important aspect. Recent changes in laws, policies and attitudes have opened opportunities for people with disabilities to pursue education, recreation and employment in mainstream community life. The students with disabilities attending college are no different than any other student attending our college; they all have the same aspirations… to be loved, appreciated, respected and productive. Negative attitudes are often the greatest barrier for people with disabilities to overcome. Creating a positive attitude toward people with disabilities will not only increase opportunities for them, but will present opportunities, diversity and insights to all of us.
Ideas for Optimal Interaction
Talk directly to the person with the disability, even if they use an interpreter. Ask if assistance is needed, rather than assuming it is. Use a normal tone of voice. If the person cannot hear/understand you, they will tell you. When talking with a person who has a mental disability, speak simply, not loudly. Remember that simple language is not childish language. Be careful not to assume that a person with one disability also has others. A person in a wheelchair does not necessarily have a mental disability, nor is a person who is blind likely to have a hearing impairment. Be sure to make events accessible by considering the needs of people with disabilities when planning the events. When first speaking with a person with a vision impairment, always identify yourself and introduce anyone else who might be present. If you are a sighted guide to a person with a visual impairment, allow the person to take your arm at or above the elbow so that you guide rather than propel. When offering a seat to a person with a visual impairment, place their hand on the back or arm of the seat and tell them which way it is facing. When talking with a person using a wheelchair, do not lean on the wheelchair because it is considered part of the body space of the person using it. If possible, sit down when talking to the person so that you are at their eye level. When talking with a person with a speech impairment, listen attentively, ask short questions that require short answers, avoid correcting, and repeat what you understand if you are uncertain. When speaking to a person with a hearing impairment, look directly at the person and speak somewhat slower than normal. Avoid placing your hand over your mouth when speaking. Written notes may be helpful for short conversations. Do not try to avoid using common idioms like “see,” “walk” or “hear” around people with disabilities. Being overly conscious of a person’s disability can cause discomfort and awkwardness.
General Strategies to Optimize Learning
Many teaching strategies that assist students with disabilities are also known to benefit students without disabilities. Instruction provided in a variety of approaches will reach a greater diversity of student needs in the classroom. The following are suggestions for teaching strategies that may be helpful in benefiting students in an academic setting.
The Syllabus & Textbook:
- Include a statement on the syllabus encouraging the student to inform the faculty members of their accommodation as soon as possible to ensure that those needs are met in a timely manner
- Because many students with disabilities need additional time to process and complete assignments, convey expectations in the syllabus (e.g., grading, material to be covered, due dates)
- Have the class syllabus and list of required texts available by request to students before the start of the semester to allow time for students to obtain materials in alternative formats and to begin reading assignments
- If available and appropriate, select a textbook with an accompanying study guide for optional student use. (Consider a text that offers an alternative format.)
- Announce reading assignments and list in the syllabus well in advance for students using taped or alternative material formats. Recording an entire book can take up to 6 months, if available, ordering a book may take 7-14 days, and converting a book into electronic format may take up to a month
An example is:
“Any student who has a documented disability and is in need of academic accommodations should notify the professor of this course and contact Disability Support Services at (609-771-3199). Accommodations are individualized and in accordance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1992 (as amended).”
General Strategies for Teaching and Presenting:
- Begin class with a review of the previous lecture and an overview of topics to be covered during the lecture. At the conclusion of the lecture, summarize key points
- Provide access to lecture outlines and major concepts, perhaps on the blackboard before class, on a website, or as a handout
- Highlight major concepts and terminology both orally and visually, be alert for opportunities to provide information in more than one sensory mode
- Speak directly to the students at a distinct and relaxed rate, pausing frequently to allow students time for note-taking and asking questions
- Diminish or eliminate auditory and visual distractions
- Use visual aides such as diagrams, charts and graphs
- Give assignments both written and orally
- Provide adequate opportunities for participation, questions and/or discussion
- Provide timelines and sequential steps (i.e. select a topic, outline, submit rough draft, make necessary corrections for approval, final draft) for long range assignments
- Provide study questions, sample test questions and/or review session to aide in mastering material and preparing for exams
- Encourage students to seek assistance during your office hours, to utilize the Tutoring & Learning Center services, and study groups
Appropriate Conduct When Working With a Student With a Seeing Eye Dog
As faculty, you play a significant role in the success of the working partnership between a student with a visual impairment and his/her Seeing Eye dog. It cannot be emphasized enough the importance of the first few weeks at home in the development of the relationship between them. In that time, the success of the two as a working team will be determined. Good teamwork develops when the owner follows three rules in dog handling: consistency, praise when earned, and correction when necessary.
Faculty, classmates, friends, and family can help by observing a few simple rules of their own:
- When owner and the dog arrive, greet them in a relaxed manner. Do not rush up to them.
- Give the owner and dog a chance to adjust to new surroundings gradually.
- Let the dog make the first advance to greet you. Don’t stare at the dog; it’s unnerving.
- Never follow the team when it is working. The dog will recognize you and look back at you rather than paying attention to its work. This is a serious distraction and will prevent the team from working safely and effectively.
- The owner has been taught to correct the dog using a leash. A leash correction does not hurt the dog; coupled with affection, it results in efficient guide work and good behavior.
- The owner has learned how to groom and care for the dog completely. It is the owner’s responsibility to feed, groom and take the dog out 3 or 4 times a day to meet its needs.
- A Seeing Eye dog is not a pet, but others need not ignore it. The important thing to remember is that the greatest amount of affection and care must come from its owner.
- Even though the owner has a wealth of experience gained from working and living with a previous dog, a new dog means a new relationship. The owner needs to help the dog adjust to new working conditions away from The Seeing Eye and the instructor. Each dog has a unique personality and will be quite different from its owner’s previous dog.
This information will help you become more familiar with the Seeing Eye program and more confident in your role of helping to strengthen a wonderful working partnership.