Students with disabilities

Students can have physical disabilities, learning disabilities (such as Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and dyslexia), chronic disabilities (such as lupus and multiple sclerosis) and psychological disabilities (such as depression and bipolar disorder). Their needs may vary depending on whether they have had a disability since birth or if it developed — or the diagnosis was made — later in life.

Work collaboratively with students and the Disability Resources for Students (DRS) office to ensure that you are meeting students’ needs. The DRS office establishes eligibility for disability-related services such as academic adjustments and auxiliary aids for qualified students and can assist you and your students determine ways to meet disability-related needs in your course or program.

Reluctance to ask for help

Some students with disabilities fear appearing or becoming too dependent if they ask for help. Those whose disabilities are a recent onset, as well as those with invisible disabilities, may be unaccustomed to asking for help. Students also fear being seen as less capable or less competent because of their disabilities or their needs for accommodations.

Efforts to keep up

For many students with disabilities, meeting basic course requirements demands more time and energy than it does for other students. A student with multiple sclerosis may have a certain number of hours each day for school and studying before fatigue, vision problems and cognitive deficits flare. A student who is hard of hearing and uses a real-time captioner (like a court stenographer) may have to review several pages of notes from the captioner in order to create study notes. Some students cannot participate in professional activities such as submitting papers for conferences because they need to devote time and energy to meet the demands of their programs.

Problems that arise from last minute changes

Changes in reading assignments can be difficult for students who are blind or visually impaired. At the beginning of the quarter, these students may need readings to be converted into an alternate format, such as Braille, audiotape or electronic text. Conversion often involves a computer screen reader, or enlargement, with specialized software. Readings added later in the quarter require students to have them converted in a short period of time, and they may not be able to meet reading deadlines. Room relocations may also cause hardships for visually impaired students and students with mobility limitations.


  • Know whether your office, lab or seminar room is accessible. If not, work with the student and DRS to determine what accommodations will ensure equal access.
  • Be explicit in your seminars and on your syllabus that you want students with disabilities to contact you as soon as possible about accommodations. Be sure they know how best to contact you.
  • Put your syllabus together as early as possible so that students with disabilities who need a head start on readings, or need reading materials converted, can do so.
  • Write an outline on the board for each class so that students with learning disabilities can follow the larger context of the learning goals that day.
  • Plan creative group exercises so all students can participate.
  • Be flexible with deadlines. Students with disabilities do not want requirements lowered for them, but they may need additional time to complete tasks.
  • Develop accommodations for missed seminars and meetings in advance and communicate them clearly.
  • Focus on your students’ abilities, not their disabilities.
  • Do not hesitate to ask a student with a disability if she or he needs assistance.
  • If you suspect a student might have a disability, or you are not sure how to meet a student’s needs, contact DRS.


  • Disability Resources for Students (DRS) establishes a student’s eligibility for disability accommodations and works collaboratively with faculty and staff to coordinate and implement these accommodations. DRS is a resource for students, faculty, and staff regarding the provision of equal access for students with disabilities in all aspects of campus life. DRS provides knowledgeable guidance and consultation and is a resource for publications on disability-related subject matter.
  • DO-IT Program (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internet-working and Technology) provides resources for disabled students in engineering and the sciences to help increase independence, productivity, and participation in education and employment. Though directed primarily to undergraduates, graduate students may find helpful information too, or they can volunteer to mentor younger students.