Making Accommodations for Students with Learning Disabilities in College Classrooms

Dr. Joseph Pitts

Presented at the National Conference on the Adult Learner 2000, Atlanta, Georgia.


The purpose of this presentation is to show how proper accommodations in college classrooms can lead to more students with learning disabilities being successful in more courses. The presentation will center around choosing modifications of traditional ways to do course work so that students are able to bypass obstacles caused by the learning disability, yet at the same time be able to show the professor the material is mastered.


  • To understand what role accommodations play in the college classrooms;

  • To become familiar with the advantages of accommodations;

  • To understand the difference between a proper and improper accommodation;

  • To be able to list accommodations that might be appropriate for your classroom;

  • To develop strategies to help students to become successful in your classroom.

What is the role of accommodations in the college classroom? Specifically, this presenter thinks that the role of accommodations is to let the professor know just what it is that the student knows. A better approach might be to define what are reasonable accommodations. Although reasonable accommodations may be viewed differently by different professors, it would seem that reasonable accommodations are based on the premise that the students with learning disabilities are given an equal opportunity to determine what they have learned, but not an advantage over others in the class. This does not mean lowering course expectations, but it may mean having students learn and express knowledge in a different mode. The basic advantages of reasonable accommodations should be academic success, better motivation, and more confidence. These would continue in an upward spiral if the reasonable accommodations were doing what they are supposed to do. If we try to determine the difference between a proper accommodation and an improper one, this presenter has found the following guidelines helpful: proper accommodations allow the student to present content in a different format. They still have to show the professor they know the material. An improper accommodation would give the disabled student an advantage over other students. In general, support services do not give disabled students any advantage over others; they merely enable disabled students to overcome the disadvantages with which they would otherwise begin. Some of the more common accommodations might include the following: untimed test, notetakers, taping the lecture, readers and scribes, test-taking alternatives, providing the students to check his/her notes for accuracy with those of faculty or another student, or providing sufficient time for copying information from transparencies and the chalkboard.

What are some other general guidelines or suggestions that are important to consider when making accommodations?

The recommendations that follow are taken from the Faculty Guidebook used at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Maybe they will be helpful.

  1. Talk to students with disabilities early in the semester– during the first few days of classes. If they don’t approach you, don’t wait- approach them yourself after class.

  2. Do not single out students for special attention in class because this could embarrass them. Speak to them privately about problems or issues related to the disability.

  3. Discuss course issues related to the disability and identify potential problems. Talk about what the student can do in your course and discuss what adjustments or modifications you might make in your teaching style and in your evaluation procedures.

  4. Encourage students to keep in touch with you during the term so those problems can be solved as they arise and so those crises can be averted. Let students know that you are available to meet with them.

  5. In matters where the disability is not an issue, treat the students as you would any other students.

  6. If the student is failing because the disability makes it impossible to meet certain course requirements, examine the importance of the problematic requirements in your course. If the problematic requirement is not essential, you may want to adjust your grading scheme so that the student can show mastery of course material in equivalent ways. Note: this is not the same as simply waiving a requirement– it is replacing it with one of equivalent importance and level of difficulty.)

  7. If it is essential that the student be able to complete all requirements, let the student know early in the semester what course requirements will not be modified.

  8. If the student fails for the "usual" reason, allow the grade to stand. Do not pass students with disabilities just because they tried hard. This is unfair to all of your students.

  9. Talk about assistance that the student may need from classmates, tell the student about resources for your course that you know of, and discuss what kinds of modifications to your regular routine would be helpful e.g., seating arrangements, format of exam, grading issues).

  10. Make adjustments in your teaching style which would make it easier for the student to learn (e.g., allow audiotaping, say aloud what you write on the chalkboard, hand out assignments and reading lists early.)

  11. Be flexible with exams (time needed, format) and with deadlines on assignments (there may be problems getting articles in a readable format for the student or in finding assistants to help with library research). Do not, however, grant unearned grades.

  12. Make a special effort to be well organized, to make assignments clear and to communicate effectively.

  13. Talk to students about the impact of the impairment on their ability to do well in your course and about adaptations that you can make to help them do well.

  14. If the student’s impairment interferes with writing ability, allow extra time for exams and be flexible with the modality in which the student provides answers (e.g., oral or audiotaped rather than written answers).

Posted with permission.