Working with Students | Pepperdine University

Working with Students

Starting the Conversation

The best way to understand students' needs is to engage in private conversations with them.

Initial questions to ask include:

  • What barriers does the student experience in a classroom?
  • What are the accommodations that help the student access the content, the class, the environment?
  • How can Pepperdine create an accessible experience for these elements of the class? (Addressing the different types of experiences in the class/groups, presentations, tests/quizzes, papers, etc.)

For verification of a student's disability status, ask the student to provide an accommodation letter from the Office of Student Accessibility (OSA). These letters are produced only for students who are registered with the office and for whom documentation of the disability is on file. 

Guidelines for Working with Students with Disabilities

Do not hesitate to call Student Accessibility (310-506-6500) to arrange for a meeting between you, an OSA staff member, and the student to work out any issues and to collaborate on the best instructional strategies for the student.

Learning Disabilities

A learning disability affects the manner in which individuals take in information, organize it, retain it and express the knowledge and understanding that they possess. Individuals with learning disabilities have different accommodation preferences and needs and there are many ways of accessing information and environments. See Types of Learning Disabilities for more information on how this disability can manifest. 

Accommodations may include, but are not limited to:

  • Extended time on tests
  • Least-restrictive testing environment
  • Alternative testing arrangements
  • Readers/ scribes
  • Notetakers
  • Use of assistive technology (e.g., electronic textbooks)

As a professor seeking to support a student with a learning disability, you are asked to:

  • Prior to start of the term: 
    • Consider providing  so that students can begin the readings before the class begins and/or arrange for textbooks to be scanned
    • Provide a suggested time line when making long-range assignments and suggest appropriate checkpoints
  • In the classroom: 
    • Present material both orally and in writing
    • Consider beginning each class with a review of the previous lecture and an overview of the topics to be covered 
    • Emphasize important points, main ideas, and key concepts during the lecture and in the summary at the close of the class
    • Consider presenting course content in more than one modality (e.g. a student who has difficulty processing information auditorily may understand and remember the material more thoroughly if it were shown on an overhead projector or in a "hands-on" activity to supplement the lecture)
    • Make sure that handouts, printed material and whiteboard writing are visually clear and well sized to compensate for visual-perceptual difficulties
    • Provide frequent opportunities for feedback (e.g. weekly quizzes on assigned reading, instructor review of early drafts of essays, and/or error-analysis of tests)
    • Be sensitive to students who, for disability-related reasons, may be unable to read aloud or answer questions when called on. If students make you aware of these difficulties, you and the students can discuss other ways they can meaningfully participate in class sessions. 
  • Outside the classroom: 
    • Periodically check in with the student privately to make sure that all class content is being accessed
    • If a student's written exams seem far inferior to the student's class work, consider meeting during your office hours for a discussion of the exam questions. This discussion can give you a better idea of what the student really knows and how you can help the student produce better exams or other written work.
    • Encourage students to contact you in order to clarify assignments. You might suggest that students re-phrase the assignment and send the re-phrased version to you via email. You can then reply via email, confirming that the student has understood the assignment or correcting misunderstandings.
  • Consider composing exams in a way that makes them accessible for students:
    • Make sure that exams are clearly written or typed (in large black letters or numbers) with spaces between lines and with double or triple spaces between items.
    • To avoid visual confusion, avoid putting too many questions or math problems on to one page
    • Group similar types of questions together. (e.g. all true/false, all multiple choice, all short answer) 
    • Allow students the choice to circle answers in the test booklet rather than utilizing a Scantron sheet.
    • Allow students to use extra paper in preparing answers to essay questions or to write on test booklets when considering test answers.
    • Suggest that math students use graph paper (or lined paper turned sideways) to encourage neatness and avoid confusion when performing math calculations

Psychological Disabilities

Some students have been diagnosed with psychological disorders that may include, but are not limited to depression, bipolar disorder, or severe anxiety. These disorders frequently require medication and cognitive or therapeutic intervention. Note that psychological disorders would fall into the group of non-apparent disabilities, which may or may not affect learning, and may not often be recognizable in the classroom. 

Accommodations may include, but are not limited to:

  • Flexibility of attendance requirements (within the essential requirements of the course and conversation with the professor)
  • Extended time for quizzes and tests
  • Distraction reduced room for quizzes and tests
  • Accommodations due to flare ups of symptoms

As a professor seeking to support a student with a psychological disorder, you are asked to:

  • At the start of term: 
    • Talk with the student about implementing the accommodations in the accommodation letter
    • Collaborate with students about arrangements to make up tests and other assignments, allowing them extra time since these students may miss class during serious psychiatric episodes
    • Provide a detailed syllabus that will list all assignments and due dates in case of a flare-up  
    • Extend a supportive and welcoming environment if a student discloses knowledge of his/her disability with you, and requests assistance in arranging for accommodations
  • Understand that for disability-related reasons, these students may sometimes have to miss class, or even leave the room in the middle of a class. The students will be responsible for the content of any lectures missed, but they will appreciate your helping them to fill in the gaps.
  • Periodically check in with the student privately to make sure that all class content is being accessed, and that expectations are clear

Physical Disabilities

Physical disabilities vary in form and severity. Individuals with physical disabilities have different accommodation preferences and needs and there are many ways of accessing information and environments.

Accommodations may include, but are not limited to:

  • Architectural modifications
  • Adaptive transportation
  • Adaptive technology
  • Lab assistant
  • Adjustable tables
  • Personal care assistant

As a professor seeking to support a student with physical disabilities, you are asked to:

  • Be seated when talking one-to-one with a student using a wheelchair. This allows you to speak to each other at eye level.
  • Talk with the student about classroom accessibility and seating arrangements. Work to make your classroom is barrier-free. If your classroom is inaccessible and a student is unable to get into your classroom, your class location must be moved to an accessible location. Call Student Accessibility (310-506-6500) immediately for assistance in getting your class location changed.
  • Allow for seating modification as stated in the student's accommodation letter. A student may be unable to use the type of chair provided in a particular classroom. The OSA will assist the student in making special seating arrangements.
  • Consult the OSA if you need assistance in making lab courses accessible. Students may need to be paired with another student or a teaching assistant. A student using a wheelchair may need a lower lab table to accommodate the wheelchair.
  • Make arrangements for field trips as soon as possible in order to ensure accessibility. Consult with the OSA about arrangements if you need assistance.
  • Talk with the student to arrange any communication needs. Students who are not able to raise their hand may have another avenue to let you know they would like to speak.
  • Periodically check in with the student privately to make sure that all class content is being accessed.

Hearing Loss

Hearing loss varies from mildly hard of hearing to profoundly deaf. Individuals who are D/deaf or hard of hearing have different accommodation preferences and needs. There are many ways of communicating and accessing information.

Communication may include, but is not limited to:

  • Spoken language
  • Sign language (ASL and signed English)
  • Written language (Captioning, CART)

Accommodations may include, but are not limited to:

  • Assistive Listening Devices (FM systems, microphones/receivers)
  • Preferential seating
  • Notetakers
  • Captioning for videos
  • Real time captioning for lectures and discussions (CART)
  • Oral interpreter
  • Sign language
    • ASL- Linguistically, ASL is a separate language from English with its own syntax and grammar. It is similar to having a spoken foreign language translator in that it will not follow word for word.
    • Signed English- This is more of a transliteration of spoken English into a manual form.
  • Visual warning systems for emergencies

Best Practices

  • Use only captioned materials. If your materials are not captioned, contact the OSA in advance to secure a captioned version of the material. Videos, DVDs and other visual material are normally marked with a "CC" logo if closed-captioned.
    • It has been found that many students benefit from the use of captioning, including students who are deaf or hard of hearing, students with ADHD, students who use English as a second language, and more.

Assistive Listening Devices

An assistive listening device is a wireless microphone unit that is used by the professor (most often worn around the neck on a lanyard or on the lapel) transmitting a clear signal to the student's receiver so that he or she may hear the lecture without static or interference.

As a professor seeking to accommodate a student using an Assistive Listening Device, you are asked to:

  • Wear the receiver whenever you are communicating class content to the students.
  • Ensure that one person speaks at a time during class discussions. When a class member asks a question, repeat the question before answering.
  • Be sure that the students have visual contact with you before you begin lecturing. Avoid giving information while handing out papers, writing on a whiteboard, or using an overhead projection system.
  • Provide an advance copy when reading directly from a text, and pause slightly when interjecting information not in the text.
  • Periodically check in with the student privately to make sure that all class content is being accessed.

Working with an Interpreter

A student's may use a sign language interpreter during classroom lectures/discussions. Interpreters are trained professionals, bound by a code of ethics, who facilitate communication between the professor/classmates and the deaf student.

Because of the specific nature of the interpreter's role, it is important not to ask the interpreter for his/her opinion or to perform any tasks other than interpreting.

It is also important to keep in mind that sometimes, depending on the length of the class, more than one interpreter will be present. Typically, any class over two hours requires the services of two interpreters who will take turns interpreting, usually at 20-minute intervals.

As a professor seeking to support a student using a sign language interpreter, you are asked to:

  • Always speak directly to the student, not to the student's sign language interpreter. Use personal references such as "I" and "You" when communicating with individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. The interpreter will relay your exact words. Avoid speaking of the individual in the third person; phrases such as "ask her" or "tell him" can be confusing. You can speak as you normally would, without "over- enunciating" or speaking loudly. Should the lecture or discussion rate become too fast, the student or interpreter will advise you.
  • Encourage one person to speak at a time during class discussions and ask that students raise their hands to request recognition. The interpreting process only allows one person to communicate at a time. When a class member asks a question, repeat the question before answering.
  • It is customary for interpreters to sit at the side of the instructor. In advance of the first class, arrange for a discussion with the interpreter and the student regarding seating positions that are convenient for all concerned. (Notetakers are provided because it is difficult for a deaf student to watch an interpreter and take notes simultaneously.)
  • Consider classroom arrangement. For interactive situations, circles or semi-circles work best for students who are deaf or hard of hearing.
  • Allow ample time for questions. During class discussions or question/answer periods, give the deaf student an opportunity to raise his/her hand, be recognized, and ask questions through the interpreter. Making time for questions allows the interpreter to finish interpreting for the current speaker and enables the student who is deaf to participate in class.
  • Provide the interpreter with copies of any handouts (syllabus, vocabulary list, or other course materials) to assist interpreters in preparing for the course.
  • If the classroom must be darkened, ensure the student's interpreter is clearly visible. Special lighting may be arranged through the OSA to illuminate the interpreter's hands and face.
  • When reading directly from text, provide an advance copy and pause slightly when interjecting information not in the text.
  • When working with the chalkboard or an overhead projection system, pause briefly so that the student may look first at the board/screen, and then at the interpreter, to see what is being said.
  • Understand that focusing intently on an interpreter for up to an hour or more is extremely fatiguing. Like other students, deaf students may "zone out". If the student must leave class for a moment, the service provider will stop for that time. If a student fails to show up for class, service providers are instructed to wait for 10 to 15 minutes before leaving as discretely as possible.
  • Periodically check in with the student privately to make sure that all class content is being accessed.
  • Don't hesitate to call Student Accessibility (310-506-6500) to arrange for a three-way meeting between you, an OSA staff member, and the student to work out any issues and to collaborate on the best instructional strategies for the student.

Working with CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation) providers

CART is a speech-to-text process that brings communication access to deaf and hard of hearing people. Accurate and complete text representations of lectures or dialogue are simultaneously prepared and displayed to the student at natural language speeds.

The CART provider (captioner) can be onsite or operate remotely (where the audio can be clearly and accurately transmitted via phone or internet). He or she uses a stenography machine and laptop computer to key in all that is being said in class. The student views the text through a standard internet browser in real time and may receive a transcript as well.

As a professor seeking to support a student using CART services, you are asked to:

  • Always speak directly to the student, not to the student's captioner. You can speak as you normally would, without "over-enunciating" or speaking loudly. Should the lecture or discussion rate become too fast, the student or captioner will advise you.
  • During class discussions, ask that one person speak at a time and that the students raise their hands to request recognition. When a class member asks a question, repeat the question before answering.
  • Arrange in advance of the first class for a discussion with the captioner and the student regarding seating positions that are convenient for all concerned. (Notetakers are provided because it is difficult for a deaf student to watch their screen and take notes simultaneously.)
  • Provide the captioner with copies of any handouts (syllabus, vocabulary list, or other course materials) to assist in preparing for the course and/or programming their equipment.
  • When reading directly from text, provide an advance copy and pause slightly when interjecting information not in the text.
  • When working with the whiteboard or an overhead projection system, pause briefly so that the student may look first at the board/screen, and then at their screen, to see what is being said.
  • Understand that focusing intently on an interpreter for up to an hour or more is extremely fatiguing. If the student must leave class for a moment, the service provider will stop for that time. If a student fails to show up for class, service providers are instructed to wait for 10 to 15 minutes before leaving as discretely as possible.
  • Periodically check in with the student privately to make sure that all class content is being accessed.
  • Don't hesitate to call Student Accessibility (310-506-6500) to arrange for a three-way meeting between you, an OSA staff member, and the student to work out any issues and to collaborate on the best instructional strategies for the student.

Useful Resources

Deaf Linx, www.deaflinx.com "Deaf Linx firmly believes that deafness is not a disability, but a condition that produces a sub-culture that should be celebrated." Site offers a resource for information on deafness, deaf culture, American Sign Language (ASL) and all other related topics.

Postsecondary Education Programs Network (PEPNET), http://www.pepnet.org "PEPNET is the national collaboration of the four Regional Postsecondary Education Centers for Individuals who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing. The goal of PEPNet is to assist postsecondary institutions across the nation to attract and effectively serve individuals who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing." Site offers information regarding the four Regional Centers, current news and events, a listserv to ask questions and share experiences, and online training for education professionals.

National Association of the Deaf (NAD), http://www.nad.org "The NAD, established in 1880, is the oldest and largest constituency organization safeguarding the accessibility and civil rights of 28 million deaf and hard of hearing Americans in education, employment, health care, and telecommunications." Site offers information regarding issues related to deafness including "information on deaf people, sign language, and legal rights."

Chronic Health Disabilities

Medical impairments are often non-apparent disabilities, caused by such conditions as arthritis, asthma, cancer, diabetes, orthopedic limitations, post surgery, chronic fatigue syndrome, or seizure disorder. Functional limitations may be episodic for some students who may experience dizziness, disorientation, and difficulty breathing during a recurrence.

Accommodations may include, but are not limited to:

  • Flexibility of attendance requirements (within the essential requirements of the course and conversation with professor)
  • Skyping into class or meetings
  • Extended time for assignments and tests/quizzes.
  • Priority seating
  • Furniture accommodations

As a professor seeking to support a student with chronic health disabilities, you are asked to:

  • Talk with the student about implementing the accommodations in the accommodation letter. These may include:
    • Frequent rest breaks
    • Extended time on exams or assignments, as necessary
    • Seating arrangements, physical supports
  • Periodically check in with the student privately to make sure that all class content is being accessed.
  • Talk with OSA and the student regarding accommodations regarding flexibility of attendance. We will engage in an interactive process to determine how this accommodation will be implemented. The essential academic components of the course should be maintained and the student should not be penalized for their disability.

Determining What is Fundamental to the Nature of a Program

Students must be able to perform the essential functions of a program with or without accommodations. Postsecondary institutions are not required to waive or substitute elements that are fundamental to the nature of the program. It is not up to an individual faculty member to decide what is fundamental to the nature of a program. Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and case law provides guidance for this decision‐making process.

The OSA staff is available to assist with this process and to help answer any questions about the disability issues.

Vision Loss

Vision loss varies from mild vision loss to severe vision loss or blindness. Individuals who are blind or have vision loss have different accommodation preferences and needs. There are many ways of accessing information.

Accommodations may include, but are not limited to:

  • Screen magnifiers
  • Text-to-speech software and screen readers
  • Large print texts, handouts, signs, labels
  • Braille and braille screen display
  • Tactile representations of visual information (charts, graphs, maps, 3-d concepts)
  • Adaptive lab equipment
  • Guide dog

As a professor seeking to accommodate a student with blindness or vision loss, you are asked to:

  • Provide all print class materials well in advance (3-5 weeks) of the first class. Students may need all print material in alternative format which means converted to audio files, scanned onto disks, secured in Braille, enlarged or image enhanced. Conversion of materials takes time. It is important that students have access to class materials at the same time as others in your class. OSA will need lead time to coordinate the alternative formats.
  • Identify yourself when greeting the student, and let the student know when you are leaving.Speak directly to the student, not through a third person.
  • Verbalize visually presented material, such as slides, overheads or information on whiteboard.
  • Discuss seating arrangements with the student. Students with visual impairments may need preferential seating.
  • Create a noise-free environment, as unnecessary sounds can be distracting.
  • Talk and act naturally. The use of words such as "see" and "look" are quite appropriate.
  • Answer questions orally. A nod or gesture will not be seen.
  • Be descriptive when giving directions.
  • Keep doors either opened or closed; half-opened doors create a serious hazard.
  • Ask the student if he/she would like an orientation to the physical layout of the room with locations of steps, furniture, lecture position, low-hanging objects or any other obstacles. If you need to escort the student, let the student grasp your elbow rather than taking the student's arm.
  • Keep in mind that guide dogs are working animals. Do not feed or pet a guide dog. Since they are working, they should not be distracted.

Useful Resources

American Council for the Blind, http://acb.org/, provides general information about the Council, including recent issues of a monthly publication, The Braille Forum.