Disability Characteristics & Accommodations

The information below describes characteristics related to specific disabilities, along with suggestions for instructors.

Learning Disabilities

Students are considered to be learning disabled when there is a significant discrepancy between measured mental ability and achievement in one or more of the following skill areas: basic reading skills, reading comprehension, mathematical calculation, mathematical reasoning, spelling, written expression, receptive or expressive language. The discrepancy may not be the result of language differences, sociocultural, physical, emotional, or environmental factors. Students who are learning disabled possess average to superior intelligence and may exhibit cognitive strengths and weaknesses.

Students with learning disabilities may have difficulties with input, processing, or output. Input problems can be visual or auditory. For example, students exhibiting difficulty with short-term visual memory may not be able to quickly and accurately copy information introduced via powerpoint or overhead projector presentations. Students with auditory input problems may possess inadequate short-term listening memory functions. Such students may have difficulty keeping up with lectures that move information quickly.

Students with processing problems may have little understanding of the subject matter despite having no difficulty taking accurate notes. A student with an output problem may take great notes, make worthy contributions to class discussions and debates, and appear to understand the material, yet perform poorly on examinations, depending on the format of the test.

Note: Students may not need all of these accommodations. Specific accommodations are based on the diagnostic information that is on file in the Student Accessibility Services.

Typical challenges associated with learning disabilities
The following chart illustrates specific difficulties often experienced by students with learning disabilities.

Study Skills

  • Poor organizational and time management skills
  • Difficulty taking notes/outlining material
  • Difficulty following directions
  • Difficulty completing assignments on time

Writing Skills

  • Frequent spelling errors
  • Incorrect grammar
  • Illegible penmanship
  • Inadequate sentence structure
  • Difficulty taking notes while listening to class lectures
  • Problems with organization, development of ideas, and transition words

Oral Language

  • Difficulty understanding oral language when lecturer speaks fast
  • Difficulty attending to long lectures
  • Inadequate vocabulary and word recall
  • Using incorrect grammar
  • Difficulty in remembering a series of events in sequence
  • Difficulty with pronouncing multi syllabic words

Reading Skills

  • Slow reading rate
  • Inaccurate comprehension
  • Poor retention
  • Poor tracking skills (skip words, lose place, miss lines)
  • Difficulty with complex syntax on tests
  • Incomplete mastery of phonics

Math Skills

  • Computational skill difficulties
  • Difficulty with reasoning
  • Difficulty with basic math operations (multiplication tables)
  • Number reversals, confusion of symbols
  • Difficulty copying problems
  • Difficulty with concepts of time and money

Social Skills

  • Spatial disorientation
  • Low frustration level
  • Low self-esteem
  • Impulsive
  • Disorientation in time
  • Difficulty with delaying problem resolution

Did you know that…?

  • Learning disabilities vary from person to person and are often inconsistent within an individual
  • Students with learning disabilities can perform effectively with appropriate accommodations
  • Some professionals use other terms to describe learning disabilities:
    Dyslexia – a learning disability in reading
    Dyscalculia – a learning disability in math
    Dysgraphia – a learning disability in written expression
    Aphasia – a learning disability in the area of receptive or expressive language

Reasonable accommodations approved by SAS for students with learning disabilities may include, but are not limited to:

  • Use of a calculator for students with math calculation or math reasoning disabilities
  • Use of audio recorders to facilitate note taking
  • Copies of classmate’s notes
  • Use of textbooks on audiotape or readers for students with reading disabilities
  • Blank card or paper (marker) to assist in reading
  • Extended time on tests
  • Test read to student
  • Student responds orally to essay test
  • Alternative type of exam
  • Employment of a scribe
  • Extended time for in-class assignments to correct spelling, punctuation, grammar
  • Use of word processor with spell and grammar check

Strategies to try in the classroom to support students with learning disabilities:

  • Use advanced organizers to preview material and prepare for the class session;
  • Use multi-sensory techniques to allow for multiple learning styles and processing modes;
  • Use activators (brainstorms, demonstrations, etc.) to help student establish personal connection with material;
  • Use clear, concise directions to make assignments explicit;
  • Use strategizers (opportunities for self-assessment and correction) to promote meta-cognitive reflection;
  • Use frequent summaries and assessments;
  • Use routines for predictability to minimize executive functions (fear, anxiety, etc.);
  • Use connectors to link new content with existing knowledge;
  • Develop multiple assessment tools to allow students a variety of ways to demonstrate mastery of course content.

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder

The symptoms associated with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD) have carried a variety of labels over the last 50 years including: hyperkinetic syndrome, minimal brain dysfunction, minimal brain injury, and attention deficit disorder with or without hyperactivity.

In general, individuals with AD/HD exhibit difficulty sustaining selective attention.

Many individuals with the AD/HD also exhibit problems with impulse control and/or hyperactivity. It used to be assumed that the symptoms disappeared after puberty but now it is recognized that for most individuals, AD/HD continues into adulthood and contributes to lifelong difficulties. For an adult to be diagnosed with AD/HD, it must be documented that the symptoms have existed since childhood and cause impairment in two or more settings.

There are a number of other disorders that may present very similar symptoms and must be ruled out before a diagnosis of AD/HD may be made. Disorders presenting similar symptoms include: learning disabilities, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), neurological disorders (i.e., petit mal seizures), allergies, and various psychological disorders like depression (especially bipolar type), or anxiety disorders (i.e., obsessive-compulsive disorder).

Students with AD/HD may demonstrate problems with:

  • Concentrating
  • Listening
  • Starting, organizing, and completing tasks
  • Following directions, especially if more than one direction is given at a time
  • Making transitions
  • Interacting with others
  • Producing work at a consistent level
  • Organizing multi-step tasks
  • Remaining seated in the classroom

A student with AD/HD may:

  • Perform better in morning classes or not perform well at all before noon
  • Need to sit at the front of the class
  • Need assignment organizers
  • Need assignments in writing
  • Benefit from structure (i.e., having a set classroom schedule)

Many of the same accommodations may be used for students with AD/HD that are used for learning disabled students. They include, but are not limited to:

    • Use of a audio recorder to facilitate note taking
    • Providing the student with a copy of the professor’s and/or a classmate’s notes
    • Providing the student with a copy of course material
    • Use of a scribe
    • Alternative texts
    • Extended time for tests
    • Proctored testing in a quiet, separate area
    • Alternative type of exam
    • Blank card or paper (marker) to assist in reading
    • Word processor with spell and grammar check
Strategies to try in the classroom to support students with AD/HD:
  • Use advanced organizers to preview material and prepare for the class session;
  • Use multi-sensory techniques to allow for multiple learning styles and processing modes;
  • Use activators (brainstorms, demonstrations, etc.) to help student establish personal connection with material;
  • Use clear, concise directions to make assignments explicit;
  • Use strategizers (opportunities for self-assessment and correction) to promote meta-cognitive reflection;
  • Use frequent summaries and assessments;
  • Use routines for predictability to minimize executive functions (fear, anxiety, etc.);
  • Use connectors to link new content with existing knowledge;
  • Develop multiple assessment tools to allow students a variety of ways to demonstrate mastery of course content.

Visual Impairment

The American Medical Association defines legal blindness as visual acuity not exceeding 20/200 in the better eye with correction, or a limit in the field of vision that is less than a 20-degree angle (tunnel vision).  Legal blindness may be caused by tumors, infections, injuries, retrolental fibroplasias, cataracts, glaucoma, diabetes, vascular impairments, and myopia.

Did you know that…?

Some students with visual impairments may not require any mobility assistance. Students with no light perception or functional vision may use a white cane, a guide dog, or a sighted guide to assist with mobility.

Approximately 80% of legally blind individuals have some usable vision; students with visual impairments benefit from seating at the front of the class. Lighting is important.  Glare may be especially troublesome. Poor quality print or copies and written materials on colored paper may reduce legibility for the student.

Tips for working with visually impaired students

  • Identify yourself when speaking with the student
  • Guide dogs should not be petted
  • When serving as a sighted guide, let the student take your arm just above the elbow
  • Use a black felt tip marker when writing on the board in class, making remarks on written assignments, and grading exams  
  • A lower noise level in the classroom is important to hearing and concentration
  • Passageways through the door and aisles should be kept clear. When furniture is moved, students should be advised of the new arrangement. Any changes in class locations should be given to students in advance, or a student with adequate eyesight should be assigned to wait at the door and guide the student with blindness to the new location
  • Consult SAS for suggestions about formatting papers and test items (i.e., font size)

Reasonable accommodations approved by SAS may include, but are not limited to:

  • Advance distribution of reading lists and syllabi to permit time for transferring into alternate format
  • Ordering textbooks in a reasonable medium (i.e., large print, tape recorded e-text, allowing for use with a screen reader)
  • Seating in the front of the class without glare from windows
  • Audio recording lectures and class discussions
  • Using black print on white or pale yellow paper
  • Providing testing accommodations such as taped tests, a reader, a scribe, extended time, an alternative location, enlarged print, and word processing software with speech access
  • Use of low vision aids such as a magnifying glass, monocular, or CCTV in class
  • Reading out loud materials that are presented on the board or on transparencies
  • Lab assistance
  • Advance notice of class schedule changes
  • Note takers or note sharing

Types of alternate format of printed material for student with blindness/visual impairments include:

  • Audio tape: Many textbooks can be ordered on tape from Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic (1-800-221-4792), or directly through the publisher. When ordering books for classes, please keep in mind that books should be accessible to all.
  • Large print: Standard sized materials can be enlarged on a copier using 11" x 17" paper
  • Computer disk: Convert the text of materials to ASCII format
  • Braille: Adaptive equipment will be necessary to provide alternate format in Braille. 

Hearing Impairment

Did you know that …?

  •  More individuals in the United States have a hearing impairment than any other type of physical disability.
  •  Any type or degree of auditory impairment is considered to be a hearing impairment.
  •  Deafness is an inability to use hearing as a means of communication.
  •  Hearing loss may be sensorineural, conductive, or mixed. Sensorineural hearing losses involve impairment of the auditory nerve. A conductive loss of hearing involves a defect in the auditory system, which interferes with sound reaching the cochlea. Mixed impairments involve both sensorineural and conductive loss. Hearing loss is measured in decibels and may be mild, moderate, or profound.
  •  A person born with a hearing loss may have some English language deficiencies similar to those of foreign individuals learning English as a second language. American Sign Language (ASL) is a unique language that is different from English, with it’s own syntax and grammar.
  •  Students with more severe loss or deafness, who have knowledge of sign language, may require an interpreter.
  •  Students with mild to moderate hearing loss may use hearing aids and/or rely on lip reading.

Reasonable accommodations approved by SAS may include but are not limited to:

  •  Providing an interpreter
  •  Insuring that an interpreter is located where the student can see both the interpreter and the lecturer
  •  Seating in the front of the classroom
  •  Written supplements to oral instructions, assignments, and directions
  •  Use of visual aids when appropriate
  •  Having the speaker face the class during lectures
  •  Designating or providing a note taking assistant for class lectures
  •  Allowing extended time on oral tests that require an interpreter
  •  Providing a small amplification system called an FM loop system for the instructor to wear
  •  Reducing excess noise as much as possible

Tips for working with students who are hearing impaired or deaf

  • Hearing aids and lip reading: Hearing aids increase the overall sound level but do not necessarily make speech more readily understood. In some cases it can distort sound for the listener. Individuals who lip read typically distinguish no more than 30% of spoken words. It is important when speaking to a student with a hearing impairment to look at the student, keep your hands away from your mouth, use shorter sentences, speak slowly, and use appropriate facial expressions and gestures. Technical and unfamiliar vocabulary should be written down for the student. Standing in front of a window or a source of glare may limit visibility for the student. It is not helpful to shout or exaggerate lip movements.
  • Interpreters: If the student uses an interpreter, remember to look at the student, not the interpreter. The interpreter should be seated so that the student can see the lecturer and the interpreter. If overheads or videos are used, some light should be left on so that the student can see the interpreter. A note taker or copies of another student’s notes may be necessary as the student cannot watch the interpreter and take notes at the same time. Interpreters are professionals with specialized training but they should not give opinions about the student’s progress in the course. Consideration of a brief break during a long lecture will give the interpreter and student a rest. For additional information about interpreters, contact John Antablian at the Riverside Campus, phone 223-6151, and check out their web pages.
  • Other considerations: Classroom discussions may be difficult to follow. The instructor should repeat questions raised by other students. A written summary of relevant points made should also be provided. Videos without captions require a written summary or outline of the important points. Verbal assignments, due dates, changes in schedule and other information may be missed by the student and should be provided in writing. The student may not hear what is said while the instructor writes on the board. The use of overheads and all types of visual aids provide better communication.

Mobility Impairment

Mobility impairments result from congenital conditions, accidents, or progressive neuromuscular diseases. These disabilities may include conditions such as spinal cord injury (paraplegia or quadriplegia), cerebral palsy, spinal bifida, amputation, muscular dystrophy, cardiac conditions, cystic fibrosis, paralysis, polio/post polio, and stroke. Functional limitations and abilities vary widely even within one group of disabilities. Accommodations can best be determined on a case-by-case basis.

Disabilities that can affect mobility functioning:

  • Cerebral Palsy: The term applies to a number of non-progressive motor disorders of the central nervous system. The effects can be severe, causing inability to control bodily movement, or mild, only slightly affecting speech or hearing. The term is a general classification for stable cerebral lesions that usually occur at or before birth.
  • Spinal Cord Injury: In damage to the spinal cord, the level of injury determines the extent of the resultant paralysis and sensory loss.  Injuries below the first thoracic nerve root (T1) level result in paraplegia, a spastic paralysis of the lower extremities. Injuries above the T1 level result in quadriplegia, a spastic or flaccid paralysis of the lower and upper extremities. The injury may be complete or incomplete.
  • Degenerative Diseases: Progressive diseases such as muscular dystrophy and multiple sclerosis may limit gross motor functions and/or fine motor activity.
  • Post-Polio Syndrome: A variety of problems are presumed to be the late effects of polio. The symptoms may include fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath, and pain.
  • Motor Neuron Diseases: A group of disorders such as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), Progressive Bulbar Palsy (PBP), Progressive Spinal Muscular Atrophy, and Charcot-Morie-Tooth disease produce symptoms such as pain, numbness, weakness, loss of upper and lower motor functions, and problems in breathing.

Students with orthopedic/mobility impairments may have any of the following conditions:

  • Pain, spasticity, or lack of coordination
  • Flare-ups of intensity of the symptoms
  • Periods of remission in which little or no symptoms are visible
  • Inability to walk without crutches, canes, braces, or walkers
  • Ability to stand or walk but may use wheelchair to conserve energy or gain speed
  • Inability to stand or walk, and use wheelchair for total mobility
  • Limited lower body use but full use of arms and hands
  • Limited use of lower body and limited use of arms and hands
  • Impairment of speech
  • Decreased physical stamina and endurance
  • Decreased eye-hand coordination

Reasonable accommodations approved by SAS may include, but are not limited to:

  • Accessible location for the classroom, and a place for faculty to meet with the student
  • Extra time to get from one class to another
  • Priority seating in classrooms
  • Note takers, audio recorders, laptop computers, or photocopying of peer notes
  • Test accommodations such as extended time, separate place, scribes, and access to computers
  • Special computer equipment/software such as voice activated software, word prediction, and keyboard modifications
  • Extra time for assignments due to slow writing speed
  • Adjustable lab tables or drafting tables for classes taught in lab settings
  • Lab assistance
  • Advance planning for field trips to ensure accessibility

Tips for working with students who have mobility impairment

  • If the college provides student transportation on field trips, it must provide accessible transportation on a field trip.

Speech Impairment

Speech and language disorders may result from hearing loss, cerebral palsy, learning disabilities, or physical conditions. The symptoms may include stuttering, problems with articulation, voice disorders, or aphasia. Although certain symptoms may improve with speech therapy, anxiety and stress often accompany oral communication and exacerbate the problem.

Reasonable accommodations may include, but are not limited to:

  •  Modifications of assignments, such as one-to-one presentation or use of computer with voice synthesizer
  •  Written reports may be substituted for oral class reports

Special considerations

The student may speak slowly in class and should be given time to express his/her thoughts. Interrupting or completing a sentence for the student is not helpful and may lead to embarrassment. It is appropriate to ask the student to repeat the statement. Summarizing the message helps the student check for accuracy of understanding. The instructor’s acceptance and support of the student is important to facilitate communication and provide an opportunity for success. If an oral presentation is required, the instructor should discuss alternatives with the student.

Psychological Disorder

Psychological disorders cover a wide range of syndromes such as mood, personality, and thought disorders. The majority of psychological disorders are controlled using a combination of medications and psychotherapy. If the student self-discloses to the instructor, it may be appropriate to discuss problems and side effects associated with medications. Depression may affect social functioning, concentration, motivation, and the ability to tolerate stress. Depressive and/or anxiety disorders are the type most members of the faculty will encounter in the classroom.

Did you know that…?

Psychological disorders fall into the group of invisible disabilities that may have a significant impact on learning.

For example, situational disorders that present a depressive and/or anxiety component, are common occurrences that may affect social functioning, concentration and motivation, and the ability to tolerate stress. Traumatic personal events may cause these symptoms during the course of a semester. In some cases, the student may need to withdraw from school or take an incomplete in course work to allow time for the condition to stabilize. Flexibility with assignments and exams may need to be negotiated between the student and the instructor.

Some medications prescribed for treatment of psychological disorders may cause sleep disturbances, interference with concentration, or successful completion of assignments or exams. Accommodations may be needed for the side effects of medication.

Some students may exhibit negative behavior such as indifference or occasionally disruptive behavior. In the event of disruptive behavior, the student should be informed about the specific limits of acceptable behavior in the classroom and on campus. Faculty and students should adhere to the ACC Student Discipline Policy and Student Rights and Responsibilities.

Reasonable accommodations may include, but are not limited to:

  • Allowing extended time for exams, and a quiet testing area with a proctor
  • Allowing lectures to be audio recorded
  • Giving a grade of incomplete or consenting to a late withdrawal in place of a course failure in the event of prolonged illness
  • Being flexible in attendance requirements should the student require hospitalization during the semester

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Post-Concussion Syndrome

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is one of the fastest-growing types of disabilities, especially in the 15 -28 age range. Additionally, many veterans are returning from war with Post-Concussion Syndrome, or Minor Head Injury (MHI). Over 500,000 cases are reported hospitalized each year. The effects of a TBI on an individual vary, but most cases result in some impairment. Affected functions may include: headache, dizziness, blurred vision, neurovegetative problems, memory, cognitive/perceptual communication, speed of thinking, communications, spatial reasoning, conceptualization, psychosocial behaviors, motor abilities, sensory perception, and physical abilities.

Students with TBI/MHI may demonstrate problems with

  • Organizing thoughts, cause-effect relationships, and problem solving
  • Processing information and word retrieving
  • Generalizing and integrating skills
  • Interacting with others
  • Memory and judgment

Reasonable accommodations may include the accommodations for students with learning disabilities.

A student with TBI/MHI may especially need

  • An established routine with step-by-step directions
  • Books and lectures on tape/video
  • Repetition or some type of reinforcement of information to be learned
  • A learning assistant