Supporting students with disability
There are many ways you can support a student with a disability, even if you aren't aware of what their disability is and how it affects the student.
Knowing what to do to help, or if they need help and the legislative obligations of the University can help, as can understanding how Disability Services interacts with the student and with the academic.
Disability Services and the student
Starting the relationship
- The student meets with a Disability Services Officer*.
- The student provides detailed and recent documentation, which is reviewed together.
- The student shares their learning environment experiences, outlining what does and doesn't work for them.
- Based on this consultation and review of documentation, the Disability Services Officer determines the support services and academic adjustments that the student is eligible to access, and which the University can provide.
- The Disability Services Officer refers the student to other support services, if necessary.
- The Disability Services Officer determines if any teachers need to be advised up front of the registration and of any specific in-class needs the student may have.
- The Disability Services Officer shows the student how to access services and supports (via an online system).
*Registration with Disability Services is voluntary. Students with disability are not required to register with this service, and stipulations cannot be placed on students to do so in order to fulfill the conditions of an appeal or show cause outcome.
Continuing the relationship
- As required, the student uses the online system to make requests for their eligible supports and adjustments, and contacts their Disability Officer as required.
- If unexpected difficulties occur, or the student's condition changes, they make an appointment to meet with a Disability Services Officer to discuss.
- If required, the student provides updated documentation to Disability Services to support the need for new adjustments or support services.
- The student contacts Disability Services by phone, email, online system, or in person whenever in need of guidance.
It is important to note that Disability Services is not a case-management service. We do not track a student's academic progress or attendance. Disability Services undertakes appropriate action on behalf of a student upon direct contact by the student only. Students who incur adverse academic outcomes are directed to seek the appropriate recourse through Special Consideration and Appeal, and are referred to the SRC or SUPRA for support with these processes.
Disability Services and the academic
You may be teaching students with disability and not be aware of it as Disability Services does not automatically provide direct notification to faculty or teaching staff when a student registers with this service.
Many students may not need direct assistance from their teachers and to maintain as much privacy as possible, awareness of a student's disability occurs only when direct support or an adjustment is required.
You may become aware of a student's registration with Disability Services in one of the following ways:
- the student tells you directly, either in person or by email;
- the student sends you a Disability Notification Letter;
- Disability Services sends you a Disability Notification Letter;
- Disability Services sends you an Academic Plan;
- Disability Services sends you a service referral (ie library assistance);
- Disability Services contacts you for information about the learning materials you will be using;
- Disability Services sends you an Assessment or Examination Adjustment Notice;
- the Exams Office send you advice regarding adjustments being applied to a final exam;
- you receive a call or email from a Disability Services Officer regarding a specific concern, or requesting a specific service;
- you see a note about the student's registration or there is additional supporting documentation regarding a disability attached to the student's special consideration or appeal application.
Ultimately, it is at the student's discretion whether notification occurs.
When a student approaches you for help
You are not expected to suddenly become an expert regarding disability, but the following tips may help you to feel more confident in your dealings with students with a disability.
- Communication is key; listen with an open mind.
- Understand that the student may not provide you with any or all details they may be guarded, and are not required to disclose.
- Accept that you may never know the specifics of the student's disability.
- Don't make assumptions. Some disabilities are hidden, and the nature of the disability may not impact all aspects of their studies, so you may not be aware of a difficulty existing until you are approached by the student or Disability Services.
- Understand that some students may have difficulty communicating their concerns appropriately, as they may already be experiencing a heightened level of stress and anxiety about their studies – be patient, and consider that behavioural issues may be related to the disability.
- A student may not want help until it is too late, and they may not understand that academic concerns may not be able to be resolved retrospectively. Provide students with useful advice and guidance.
- Understand that the first suggestion or recommendation you make may not be the right one for the student and the situation – it can be trial and error.
- Approach each situation individually what worked for one student may not work for the next.
- If you are not sure how to proceed, seek guidance from Disability Services.
When Disability Services approaches you for help
There are two avenues to supporting a student with a disability.
- Recommendations and support services that Disability Services can provide, and
- Assistance provided from the student's direct teaching staff.
Often, Disability Services is unable to provide the specific in-class and teaching support that a student may need, and this falls to the student's direct teaching staff.
We can advise regarding the adjustments needed to complete a piece of assessment, but we cannot ensure that the student can hear what you are saying in class or see what you are writing on the board.
We cannot guarantee that a student with a severe hearing impairment will be supported in group work where following discussion is difficult, that a student with a learning difficulty will be provided with all handouts on coloured paper, or a student with difficulty understanding social constructs is going to be guided with consideration through classroom participation and group work.
When these difficulties are not supported the student risks becoming isolated. As we are not in the room, we cannot provide the required support, and we require your help to provide this most essential level of support.
Going this extra step to ensure that no student is isolated or excluded, is the basis for INCLUSIVE TEACHING. Studies have shown that incorporating inclusive practices into your everyday teaching style can actually reduce your workload over the teaching period, as you will be unconsciously providing all of your students with better access to education, and reducing their need for more of your time.