Specific Disability Information

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder(ADHD)

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurobiological disorder affecting learning and behavior in approximately 2% - 5% of the school population. It is typically characterized by inattention, impulsivity, distractibility, possible hyperactivity and/or aggression. Current diagnostic criteria require evidence of the disorder prior to the age of seven. The symptoms must be pervasive in two (2) or more settings. Evidence of the disorder may be significant in social, academic and occupational settings.

Of those diagnosed with ADHD in childhood, 70% - 80% will continue to manifest symptoms into adulthood. As many as 30% - 60% of individuals diagnosed with ADHD may have accompanying learning disabilities and/or other psychological concerns, such as generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, oppositional defiant disorder. ADHD is also commonly referred to as ADD or Attention Deficit Disorder.

What are some common characteristics of ADHD? inattentiveness, visual and/or auditory impulsivity.
  • distractibility
  • hyperactivity
  • aggressiveness
  • mental or physical restlessness
  • difficulty initiating, maintaining or shifting focus
  • obsessiveness
  • procrastination
  • disorganization
  • forgetfulness
  • mood swings
  • lack of follow through
  • inconsistency
What are some of the areas that can be most impacted by ADHD?

  • academic achievement
  • employment
  • socialization
  • time management, organization
  • impulse control
  • concentration
  • meeting deadlines
  • prioritization
  • self-confidence
  • tolerance
  • reliability
What are some of the most common treatments for adults with ADHD?

One or more of the following:
  • medication
  • counseling
  • anger management
  • time management, organizational and problem solving skills training
  • cognitive therapy
  • coaching, e.g., academic, employment, personal
What are the positive characteristics that can accompany ADHD?

  • high general intellectual ability
  • high energy
  • creativity
  • sensitivity
  • good sense of humor
  • intuitiveness
  • resourcefulness
  • tenacity
What are some of the most common compensation techniques and in-class accommodations used/requested by individuals with ADHD?

Students with ADHD often compensate for and accommodate the disability by:
  • becoming strong self-advocates
  • developing awareness of cognitive strengths and weaknesses
  • implementing appropriate learning and behavioral strategies
  • appropriately balancing and reducing course loads
  • using appropriate testing accommodations, most often a quiet testing area, extended time
  • using technology, e.g., taped textbooks, computer technology, FM systems
  • using note takers and/or tape recording classes
  • using tutorial support

Acquired Brain Injury


Acquired brain injury is when there has been significant trauma to the brain whether by accident or disease. These injuries commonly are the result of motor vehicle or motorcycle accidents. Such injuries have a tendency to be very specific, effecting a certain cognitive function (e.g. short term memory). However, other accompanying problems such as seizures and headaches may also have an affect on cognitive functioning.
What are some of the functional limitations students with ABI may have?

The limitations will vary based on the specific location and severity of the injury. Students with ABI may experience one or more limitations as a result of their injury. The following is a limited listing of some common characteristics:
  • difficulty with receptive and/or expressive language (oral and/or written)
  • difficulty with memory, long term, short term or sequential
  • difficulty with abstract thinking, reasoning, problem solving
  • difficulty managing frustrations and social behavior
  • problems with attention and concentration
  • physical problems
  • gross and/or fine motor deficits
  • difficulty with speed of processing information
  • poor organizational and time management skills
  • psychological concerns
In addition to the individual characteristics of the disability, the presence of medications can have a profound effect on cognitive functioning. Some medications can create varying physiological states, e.g., sedation, some can create various psychological states, e.g., depression, anxiety, hyper-vigilance and some impact cognitive processes, e.g., memory, concentration, speed of processing.

Blind/Visually Impaired


A student is considered visually impaired when his/her vision is 20/70 or less in the best eye with best correction. A student is considered legally blind when his/her vision is 20/200 or less in the better eye with best correction, i.e., with the best correction possible (including glasses), the student sees 20/200 or less.
or
When a student has a field defect such that the greatest diameter of arc subtends an arc no greater than 20 degrees, i.e., the student cannot see out of the center or sides of the eyes. What the student can see is only 20 degrees or less of his/her total vision.

NOTE: Vision plus full correction is less than 20/200 means vision at 20 feet is equivalent to what is normally seen at 200 feet.

A student is considered totally blind when he/she has no useful vision in either eye.
How do students who are Blind/Visually Impaired compensate for their disabilities in higher education?

Students with vision disabilities develop and implement a number of compensation techniques in order to create access and function independently. In higher education, some of the most critical are:
  1. having access to all visual materials in appropriate alternative print format, e.g., Braille, large print, audio tapes, electronic format, computer disk, raised line charts and drawings,
  2. actively using faculty and TA Office Hours for information clarification
  3. using appropriate testing accommodations
  4. using lab aides, tutors, readers, and research assistants
  5. having the option to tape record lectures, and/or access to note takers or technology as appropriate, e.g., talking electronic note taking devices, lap top computers
  6. developing skills needed for efficient/effective use of technology, e.g., computers with speech,
  7. spelling and/or grammar software, talking calculators, character recognition scanners with speech capabilities
  8. developing solid and effective study skills, organization/time management skills, and individualized learning strategies
  9. ongoing orientation and mobility

NOTE: The primary challenge facing students who are blind/visually impaired in higher education is accessing the tremendous amount of necessary print material in an accessible format at the same time as their sighted peers. Textbooks, handouts, class outlines, class schedules, supplemental readings, overheads, board work and exams all pose accommodation challenges.
What accommodations are commonly recommended for this population?

  • alternative print formats, e.g., Braille, large print, audio tapes, electronic text, readers, scribes
  • computers with appropriate adaptive technology for independent testing
  • close circuit TV devices for print enlargement
  • extended time
  • private room
  • lab science aids
What can faculty and instructors implement in course preparation to insure access for students who are Blind/Visually Impaired?

  • Prepare for all classes as if you know a student with a visual impairment is enrolled. Keep in mind that it can take 10-16 weeks to reproduce a textbook in some alternative print formats. Select all reading/text materials for class by the established Bookstore deadlines. This will ensure material availability when requested by DR. When selecting a new text and choosing a vendor, ask about text availability in electronic format.
  • TRY to have all print materials to be used in class, e.g., notes, handouts etc. available on disk. If materials are requested, the alternative print conversion process is completed much more quickly and it is much less expensive.
  • Provide any print materials, e.g., outlines, study guides, handouts to the student from original printouts, on white paper or on computer disk to ensure readable copies and enlargements.
  • Verbalize all information that is being presented in a visual format, i.e., information being written on the chalkboard, PowerPoint slides or overheads
  • If necessary, have slides/films visually described by a classmate.
  • Provide copies of all in-class print materials in advance, e.g., overheads, slides, so that DR can convert materials before the class begins. All print, materials must be available to the student in-class in an appropriate alternative format at the same time as they are available to the other students in class.
  • Provide access to lecture notes in electronic format, e.g., ASCII.
  • Adhere to a course syllabus which includes test/quiz dates and due dates for assignments. If DR is preparing alternative print materials according to a syllabus and the syllabus changes, the student may not have access.
  • Permit/encourage the student to sit where he/she feels it will optimize access through sight or hearing.
  • When appropriate, allow extra time for completion of assignments.
  • When appropriate, assign alternative but equitable assignments.
  • Even when a student has a note taker, allow him/her to tape record lectures.
Are there any tips that would enhance faculty communication with this population?

  1. Ask the student, the best resource, for information about accommodation needs and abilities.
  2. Begin conversation by identifying yourself and letting the student know you are talking to him or her.
  3. Talk directly to the student in a normal volume and tone of voice, using your typical vocabulary.
  4. Don't assume. Some students with visual impairments function independently except for reading.
  5. Timely response to student requests will ensure program access and build rapport with the student.
  6. Be aware the student will know if you are doing something like reading a book while talking to him/her.
  7. When walking with a student, who is blind or visually impaired, offer him/her your arm just above the elbow in a relaxed manner. The student can thus follow the motion of your body. Your body motion communicates to them changes in terrain and when you are stepping up or down.
  8. Do not pet, talk to or feed a guide dog. The dog and owner are a working team. Distracting the animal from work can create a safety hazard for the working team. Any time the dog is wearing the harness he/she is working.
  9. Tell the student when you are going to walk away

Deaf/Hard of Hearing



Hearing loss can affect people in a variety of ways. A hearing loss is plotted on an Audiogram with the frequency (pitch) along the horizontal axis, and decibel loss (severity) along the vertical axis. A line is drawn along the graph. Anything above the line is inaudible. There are "levels" of deafness ranging from slight (16-25 dB loss) to profound (91 dB loss or more).

audiogram picture

What’s the difference between “hard-of-hearing”, “deaf”, and “Deaf”?
  • Hard-of-Hearing refers to individuals who depend on their residual hearing for communication purposes, and typically do not identify with the Deaf Culture.
  • Little “d” deaf refers to individuals who do not have enough residual hearing to depend on for communication purposes, and generally do not identify with the Deaf Culture.
  • Big “d” Deaf refers to individuals who identify with the Deaf Culture regardless of the amount of hearing loss they may have.

Related Links
For more information on these distinctions see: http://www.nad.org/infocenter/infotogo/dcc/difference.html
What are the most common accommodations used by students who are deaf/hard-of-hearing at KU?

  • Sign Language Interpreters
  • Captioned Videos/DVDs
  • Notetakers
  • Assistive Listening Devices (ALD’s)
  • Real-time Captioning (live or remote via the Internet)

Determination of accommodation is primarily made based on amount and type of hearing loss, along with the student’s preferred mode of communication. For example, a student may only need captioned video material.
Why are notetakers necessary?

Students who are deaf/hard-of-hearing primarily rely on their vision to access auditory information, so they cannot use their eyes for two different tasks simultaneously.
How do I know if my videos/DVD's have captions?

Please see Captioned Videos for in depth information on this vital topic.
What is an Assistive Listening Device (ALD)?

An ALD utilizes either infrared or FM waves to transmit an auditory signal from a lapel microphone hooked to a transmitter worn by the speaker to a receiver and earphones worn by the listener. The listener can adjust the volume until it suits his/her needs.
How can I effectively work with the interpreter(s) or captioner(s) in my class?

Interpreters and captioners provide a much more accurate product when they have advanced access to course materials such as copies of handouts, overheads/power point slides, and course texts.
  • DR can arrange for interpreters/captioners to have access to Blackboard in order to access power point slides in advance of the class.
  • If you have an extra desk copy of the text(s), it is helpful to share that with the interpreter/captioner, if not, the interpreter/captioner is to contact DR so other arrangements to get the text(s) can be made.
Limit the use of indiscriminate pronouns (e.g. here, there, and overuse of s/he in reference to more than one female/male). Be aware that the interpreter(s) may move about the class if necessary in order to maintain a proper line of vision with the student, instructor/speaker, and potentially any visual aids.

If there are two interpreters in your class, they will rotate interpreting duties every 20-30 minutes. This helps alleviate physical and mental strain.

Due to the time required to carry out the mental processes of interpreting, the interpreter will be about 3-5 seconds “behind you” in terms of content. For this reason when asking for student response, please be sure to allow a few extra seconds for the interpreter to finish interpreting your question so all students have the opportunity to respond. There is a similar delay when captioning is being used as the accommodation.
What teaching tips can I incorporate in order to make my class more accessible?
  • Present lecture material by facing the students rather than the black/white board.
  • Repeat other students' questions, especially if the questioner is sitting in the farthest corner of the room.
  • Present information in visual as well as verbal formats, especially assignment instructions, or any changes to course content, format or schedule.
  • Use your normal speaking voice when speaking directly to the student; if there is an interpreter in class, she/he will interpret in "first person".
  • If wanting to comment during a video, please pause the video while commenting to avoid competing auditory information.

Related Links
Additional teaching tips can be found online at: http://www.netac.rit.edu/publication/tipsheet/


If you have any further questions specifically related to your class, please contact Kim Bates, Interpreter Coordinator

Learning Disabilities



Although learning is clearly established as a major life function, nowhere in the federal regulations (504/ADA) is there a definition of specific learning disabilities that pertains to adults and higher education. Diagnosis of learning disabilities made in the public schools are typically based on the definition found in Public Law 94-142, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act as follows:

The term " specific learning disability" is a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, which may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, speak, read, write, spell or to do mathematical calculations. The term included such conditions as perceptual handicaps, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia. The term does not include children who have learning disabilities which are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor handicaps, or mental retardation, or emotional disturbance, or environmental, cultural, or academic disadvantage. (U.S. Department of Education, 1977, p. 65083)

The definition proposed by the National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities (NJCLD), in 1988, is widely accepted as the definition that most appropriately addresses learning disability issues as they pertain to students in higher education and adults as follows:

Learning disabilities is a general term that refers to a heterogeneous group of disorders manifested by significant difficulties in the acquisition and use of listening, speaking, reading, writing, reasoning, or mathematical abilities. These disorders are intrinsic to the individual, presumed to be due to central nervous system dysfunction, and may occur across the life span. Problems in self-regulatory behaviors, social perception, and social interaction may exist with learning disabilities but do not of themselves constitute a learning disability. Although learning disabilities may occur concomitantly with other handicapping conditions (for example, sensory impairment, mental retardation, serious emotional disturbance) or with extrinsic influences (such as, cultural differences, insufficient or inappropriate instruction), they are not the result of those conditions or influences. (National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities, 1988, p. 1)

Understanding the nature and impact of specific learning disabilities:
  1. Learning disabilities are life-long and heterogeneous in nature. They affect the manner in which individuals of average to superior general intellectual ability take in information and retain and express the knowledge and understanding they possess. They are presumably due to central nervous system dysfunction and they occur in all languages, culture, and nations of the world.
  2. Learning disabilities are frequently inconsistent. Problems manifested may change throughout life depending upon the setting and learning demands. They may manifest in only one academic area, such as math or a foreign language, or they may manifest across a variety of subject areas and disciplines.
  3. Having learning disabilities can be frustrating. They are not visible, and family, teachers and peers frequently do not understand the challenges faced by individuals with learning disabilities. Individuals with learning disabilities often have to prove their disability is "real".
  4. Learning disabilities are not emotional disorders, a form of mental retardation, or difficulties due to sensory impairments. They are not primarily due to environmental or cultural influences. However, they can occur concomitantly.
What are some of the areas most impacted by learning disabilities?

Some of the areas most commonly impacted by specific learning disabilities are: reading, written expression, mathematics, listening comprehension, oral expression, reasoning, attention, thinking, learning efficiency, memory, organization, time management, or social perception. Keep in mind that no one person will manifest difficulties in all areas!
What are some common characteristics of students with learning disabilities?

Again keep in mind that these are students with average to above average ability. None will manifest all of these characteristics. Many will offset areas of disability with significant ability in other areas.
  • Good verbal expression but poor written expression and/or poor test performance
  • Good written expression despite weak verbal expression
  • Frequently will request clarification (verbal and/or written)
  • Excellent auditory reception but poor visual perception
  • Poor auditory reception but great visual perception
  • Difficulty following directions, verbal or written
  • Difficulty interpreting social cues and subtle differences in body language
  • Struggles with written expression
  • May have difficulty copying information from a distance with accuracy
  • Difficulty reading (e.g., inability to use phonics, poor word recognition skills, poor comprehension, or slower reading rate) Some students struggle to read outloud but have excellent reading comprehension when reading silently.
  • Visual and/or auditory distractibility impacting attention to detail and accuracy
  • Slower speed of processing information, verbal or written
  • Poor math performance. Some who struggle in math excel in language and the reverse is also true.
  • Some excel in math and struggle in reading or written expression,
  • Difficulty concentrating for long periods of time or in certain situations
  • Inconsistent test performance
  • Memory difficulties, short term, long term, visual auditory or sequential

What are some of the common compensation techniques used by college students with learning disabilities?
  • developing an awareness of cognitive strengths/weaknesses
  • developing and implementing appropriate self-advocacy
  • developing techniques for writing and supplementing notes, e.g., taping, using lap-top computers using appropriate technology, e.g., computers with spelling and grammar software, portable FM Systems, laptops, calculators, Kurzweil Reading Edge, Kurzweil 3000, Dragon Naturally Speaking
  • actively participating in study groups
  • actively using faculty and TA office hours for information clarification
  • using tutorial assistance
  • developing study skills, organization/time management skills, and individualized learning strategies
  • working closely with academic advising to appropriately balance course loads
  • developing proficiency at using supplemental taped text

What are the most common accommodations used by students with learning disabilities?
  • appropriate testing accommodations, e.g., extended time, readers, scribes, computer technology, private room
  • note taker, tape recording classes and/or using assistive listening technology
  • front row seating
  • reduced courseloads

Physical Disabilities Section



Physical disabilities, sometimes referred to as orthopedic disabilities, are conditions that affect the supporting and locomotive structures of the body, e.g., bones, muscles, joints, etc. These disabilities may result in functional limitations in walking, manual dexterity, strength, endurance, coordination, and range of motion. They can vary in intensity from mild to severe. Factors such as environmental conditions, medication and individual emotional state may also effect the degree to which symptoms manifest themselves.
What are some of the more common physical disabilities?

Some of the more common physical disabilities are: Multiple Sclerosis, Spinal Cord Injury (SCI), Muscular Dystrophy, Cerebral Palsy, Arthritis, Spina Bifida and Amputation. (This list is not all-inclusive.)
What are some concerns frequently faced by students with physical disabilities?

Mobility, manual dexterity, strength, and endurance are all common concerns in this group of students and as such, accessibility is a major concern. For example, steps, narrow or heavy doors, thick carpet, extremely low or high tables or shelves, aisle obstructions, items lying on the floor or extremely rough floor surfaces can all be potential barriers. The location of elevators, accessible restrooms, and the distance between classes are all possible concerns faced by students with physical disabilities.
What are some common academic accommodations that would be considered reasonable to provide students with physical disabilities?
The accommodations required by students with physical disabilities will differ for each individual. However, some of the more commonly requested accommodations are:
  • in-class note takers
  • lab aide
  • test accommodations, e.g., extended time, use of a computer, scribe
  • an accessible table on which to write.

How does a professor/instructor work effectively with a student whose speech is so severely impaired that he/she cannot be understood?
This can be most frustrating and stress evoking for both student and faculty:
  • Recognize that any personal discomfort experienced is a completely normal reaction.
  • Let the student speak at his/her own rate of speed and avoid completing words or sentences for him/her.
  • Talk directly to the student and do not hesitate to ask him/her to repeat a sentence if it was not understood. Recognition of the difficulties will ease some of the stress or discomfort being felt by both the student and faculty person.
  • Keep in mind that this student is probably used to being misunderstood and asked to repeat him/herself.
  • Ignoring the problem or "pretending" to understand only makes things worse.
  • Given some time and patience, it is possible to develop an "ear" for the student's speech patterns and in this case communication will become relatively easy.

Psychiatric Disabilities


The onset of psychiatric disabilities is often between the ages of 18 and 25. Advances on psychotropic medications have made it possible to control many of the symptoms associated with this disability and allow many to return to productive lives. Higher education is an important part of the return for qualified students with psychiatric disabilities.

How are these disabilities defined?

Psychiatric disabilities are persistent psychological, emotional or behavioral disorders which result in significant impairment of educational, social or vocational functioning. The diagnosis of psychiatric disabilities must be based on appropriate diagnostic evaluations completed by a qualified professional (i.e., licensed or certified) e.g., a psychiatrist, psychologist. The criteria most often used to diagnose psychiatric disorders are found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 4th Edition, (DSM-IV). Keep in mind that in order for the disorder to rise to the level of a disability under the ADA, the impact must substantially limit one or more major life activities. Documentation must specify the functional limitations of the individual that meet the disability criteria. As such, beyond the DSM-IV criteria, additional assessment is often required.
What are some of the stereotypes often faced by individuals with psychiatric disabilities?
  • Fear and misunderstanding of individuals with psychiatric disabilities often create obstacles to their participation in general society although recovery rates are from 50-70%.
  • Individuals with psychiatric disabilities are potentially violent. Individuals with psychiatric disabilities are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators. As a group, they are no more violent than any other member of the general population, despite what is portrayed in the media.
  • Individuals with psychiatric disabilities have lower levels of intelligence. A psychiatric disorder is not the same as a cognitive impairment. Most have average to well above average general intellectual ability.
  • A psychiatric disability is a personal weakness. Individuals with psychiatric disabilities cannot just "snap out of it". They do play an important part in their own recovery, but they do not choose to be ill.

What are some of the functional limitations that could impact academic achievement?

Although returning to school is a sign of progress and health for students with psychiatric disabilities; it can be stressful and intimidating. Difficulties are encountered in negotiating everything from admission to financial aid including renewing or developing relationships with peers, faculty and staff. There are some specific problems including, medication side effects, labile mood, absence due to treatments and medication adjustments, fluctuations in energy and focus, panic attacks, social isolation, distractibility, anxiety, and depression sometimes resulting from long-term goal setting, and difficulties monitoring social responses when under stress. There is also a high rate of co-morbidity with other disabilities, e.g., learning disabilities, ADHD, traumatic brain injury and systemic health disorders. Some additional concerns:
  • difficulty screening out environmental stimuli
  • fear in approaching figures of authority
  • difficulty initiating personal contact
  • problems with time management, organization and meeting deadlines
  • limited ability to tolerate noise and crowds

What are some of the common compensation techniques used by students with psychiatric disabilities?
  • developing an awareness of cognitive strengths/weaknesses
  • developing and implementing appropriate self-advocacy
  • developing techniques for writing and supplementing notes, e.g., taping, using lap-top computers using appropriate technology, e.g., computers with spelling and grammar software, portable FM Systems, lap-tops, calculators, Kurzweil Reading Edge, Kurzweil 3000, Dragon Naturally Speaking
  • actively using faculty and TA office hours for information clarification
  • using tutorial assistance
  • developing study skills, organization/time management skills, and individualized learning strategies
  • working closely with academic advising to appropriately balance course loads
  • academic coaching
  • on-going use of mental health resources

What are some of the common in-class accommodations used by students with psychiatric disabilities?
  • alternative note taking strategies: tape recording, in-class note takers, laptop computers
  • alternative testing accommodation, e.g., extended time, private room
  • as appropriate, negotiated absences, incomplete, or withdrawals without penalty to accommodate psychological states, treatment and medication adjustments
  • reduced courseloads
  • arranged seating

What tips can assist faculty when they are working with students with psychiatric disabilities?
  • expect behavior that is consistent with the student code of conduct
  • provide clear direction regarding behavioral expectations and be consistent with all students
  • be willing to clarify class information expectations as needed
  • if initiated by the student, discuss problems or side effects related to medications
  • express acceptance and reassurance
  • don't attempt a therapeutic relationship
  • keep all information confidential
  • focus on the accommodations, not the disability

Systemic Health Disabilities


A systemic health diagnosis is given when a person experiences a chronic, debilitating health problem. Some typical examples are as follows: asthma, cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome, HIV, heart disease, epilepsy and diabetes. These disabilities are often, unpredictable, creating chaotic situations for the student.

In addition to the individual characteristics of the disability, the presence of medication/s can have a profound effect on cognitive functioning at times. Some medications can create varying physiological states, e.g., sedation, some can create various psychological states, e.g., depression, anxiety, hyper-vigilance and some impact cognitive processes, e.g., memory, concentration, speed of processing.

What are some of the compensation and accommodation techniques commonly used by college students with systemic health disabilities?

The compensation techniques and accommodations used by students with systemic health disabilities will be specific to the individual and the specific disability. There may be times they will function well without the need for accommodation. There may be times when there are significant functional limitations due to the disability and accommodations are required. These students typically develop and maintain close relationships with outside health care providers who also provide guidance to DR in the process of determining reasonable and effective accommodations when necessary.
What are some of the common in-class accommodations used by students with systemic health disabilities?

As noted above, the compensation techniques and accommodations used by students with systemic health disabilities will be specific to the individual and the specific disability. They can vary considerably from none to extensive accommodation needed. As appropriate, some of the most common accommodations include:
  • reduced courseloads
  • alternative print formats, e.g., taped text
  • note takers
  • testing accommodations
  • assistive technology
  • physical accessibility


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