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Disability Accommodations

posted: 4.18.11 by archived

Read Jay’s earlier post, Disability and the Teaching of Writing, here.

In the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act provides the right for students with disabilities to receive “reasonable accommodations” in the classroom. In Canada, we have a very similar system. These accommodations are commonly seen through the prism of the standard teaching model in higher education: lectures, note-taking, tests, exams. So, if students are in a standard classroom, they can get some accommodations that make the learning environment more accessible. But what good is extra time on an exam in a portfolio-based writing class? What good is a note-taker when there are no lectures?

I think our writing classrooms are already very accessible spaces in comparison to many other classes—but this isn’t enough. As writing teachers, when we receive official letters from the Office of Persons with Disabilities (or whatever this office is called at your school) we need to do more than simply sign off on a series of accommodations that don’t apply to the style of teaching and learning in our classrooms.

When I was coordinating a large first-year writing program at West Virginia University, I worked with the Office of Disability Services and the Office for Social Justice to rewrite the standard accommodation letter for our writing students. We made this an official “addendum” to the letters that were usually generated. Some of the recommendations we made could be considered by other English and writing teachers for their own programs, classes, and students.

Below are the teaching suggestions that expand the scope of legal accommodations and that can make the classroom even more accessible. The suggestions are addressed to the student:

To build on your existing strengths and to address individual needs, you and your teacher might consider altering the dynamics of some in-class and assigned work in order to remove barriers by:

  • allowing for collaborative in-class options to translate oral work to written text, perhaps by reading instructions and course texts, recording class notes, describing images in verbal form, and so on.
  • negotiating deadlines or accepting rough work.
  • providing feedback on course progress weekly.
  • reading and responding to ideas and written drafts earlier and more often in the writing process.
  • setting up tutoring at the Writing Center.
  • extending time for in-class assignments.
  • providing distraction-free settings for all work, in class and out, and paying attention to student’s environmental needs and concerns.
  • developing individualized rubrics for assessment

You and your teacher might also discuss ways to access course content and information in multiple formats. For instance, your teacher might:

  • distribute course documents and assignments, post them online, and give verbal reminders.
  • make readings available in multiple formats, not just the textbook.
  • take large-print and pictorial notes of class discussion.
  • post class notes online.
  • avoid the use of red ink, print in larger print on yellow paper, etc., for ease of readability.
  • tape-record or e-mail feedback to student work.

Your teacher can also discuss multiple options for you to express your knowledge throughout the writing process by:

  • allowing means of participating in class discussion without speaking in front of the entire class (for instance, extending discussion online or providing comment cards).
  • using technology such as speech-recognition software.
  • using multiple literacies from the invention through the revision process (for instance, oral drafting, sketching and mapping, or cutting and pasting)
  • allowing short assignments to be submitted in alternative formats, and via alternative avenues (for instance, e-mailing or leaving voice mail messages instead of submitting print copies of work).

Much of this advice, I hope, is also “just good teaching.”  But I am really interested in hearing what other options you can think of to make the writing classroom more accessible.

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Categories: Campus Issues, Classroom Challenges and Solutions, Jay Dolmage
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