Five Fundamentals for Working with Students with Disabilities

What is the best way to refer to a person with a disability?

Visually impaired? Deaf? Handicapped? Crippled? Hearing impaired? Physically challenged? Gimp? Amputee? Paraplegic? HIV positive? Disabled? Differently-abled? Hard of hearing? Dyslexic? Mute? Invalid?

Simply by Name -Joelle Winninghoff

1. Confidentiality/Privacy is a top priority:

Please remember that it is up to the student to disclose his or her disability. Avoid calling any special attention to the student or mentioning the fact that he/she is receiving accommodations in front of others. For more information, refer to Confidentiality of Disability Related Records.

2. The individual comes first:

When speaking about a student with a disability, use language that refers to the person first and foremost, and the disability second. Referring to or defining the student in terms of his or her disability, (e.g., "a blind student" rather than "a student with a visual impairment") can limit him/her. Avoid referring to the student as the condition itself, such as "an epileptic" or "a paraplegic."

3. The student is usually the best source of information:

Students know what accommodations are needed to assist him/her to succeed in your class or program. Disabilities Services encourages the student to discuss his/her accommodations with faculty and staff members. Ask the student in a private conversation how best to provide support.

4. Interact with the student with a disability as you would with any other student:

The use of everyday language like, "I see," "Did you hear about" or "running/walking," etc. when talking with a student with a physical impairment is completely acceptable.

5. Use varied instructional methods appropriate for diverse learning modes:

Designing instruction and activities appropriate for diverse learning modes improves access for students with disabilities. More information about this concept of "Universal Instructional Design" is available. See the Web links in this site.

Communication and Confidentiality

Helpful Practices

  • Ask the student how you can be of support.

  • Ask how the disability affects the student’s learning and participation in your class.

  • Inform the student about Disabilities Services.

  • Ask Disabilities Services staff about individual student needs or accommodations

  • Ask Disabilities Services staff for any support you need.

  • Obtain the student’s written permission if you need to discuss the student with non-SU employees.

  • Only when there is an educational need to do so, discuss the student’s situation with other SU faculty/staff.

Practices to Avoid

  • Ask the student for the actual diagnostic label of their disability.

  • State assumptions about the student based on the type of disability or your previous experience with other students.

  • Comment on the student’s disability or accommodation plans in front of others.

  • Complain to the student about providing accommodations.

  • Challenge the student to explain the need for accommodations. If you have questions please contact Disabilities Services staff.

  • Publicly "single out" or identify students with disabilities to the rest of your class, even to be helpful.

Click to see the Confidentiality of Disability-Related Records

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Use the links below to submit your academic adjustment and electronic textbook request forms. Request forms must be submitted each quarter you wish to use your personalized accommodations plan.

Adjustments Request Form

Electronic Textbook Request