Posts Tagged ‘Students with Disabilities’

For the past several terms, DCAL has offered a program intended to inform faculty of campus trends and student needs regarding accessibility. Previous sessions dealt with learning disabilities and accessibility issues for students with physical handicaps. This session on April 26 in DCAL, focused on psychiatric disabilities. Often “hidden” until a student suddenly falls behind or stops coming to class, psychiatric disabilities like mood and anxiety disorders can interfere with learning, performance and communication. Dr. Mark Reed, a psychiatrist and Director for the Counseling and Human Development at Dick’s House and Ward Newmeyer, Director of Student Accessibility Services were on hand to facilitate discussion and answer questions. The major part of the session was devoted to a panel of students also shared their experiences as Dartmouth students navigating a rigorous curriculum while living with psychiatric disabilities. Their candid and insightful stories were shared in confidence, but I’d like to highlight two major ideas that surfaced and briefly discuss how faculty might address those to the benefit of all their students.

The first idea is that students respond well when they know their professors care about them and their learning. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s surprising how often students mention it in these sessions; there are instructors who appear indifferent. Intentionally looking for the unique contribution each student can make and genuinely valuing that contribution can make a big difference in the quality of student learning and effort, especially for students dealing with disabilities. Knowing your students helps to sense if any might be in trouble with their coursework. Panelists remarked how helpful it was when a professor was proactive in addressing their concerns early.

The second issue raised by students in this session focused on testing. Infrequent, high-stakes testing which has imposed conditions like time limit is stressful for most students, and often detrimental to students with disabilities. Cognitive research tells us that stress impedes learning and memory. This is certainly true of chronic stress, but it also applies to short-term stress, like the mid-term and final exam. Being flexible scheduling, timing and setting can reduce this stress and improve performance. But all students would benefit from a course assessment plan that included plentiful feedback, frequent low-stakes assessments, and a greater variety of types of assessments throughout the term. Faculty benefit as well when the assessment and grading workload does not all fall at the end of the term.

Faculty attending this session had many questions, and the student panelists did have good things to say about the support they have received at Dartmouth. If you suspect one of your students is struggling with a disability and are not comfortable approaching them, it was recommended that contacting their dean to inquire if the student is on their “radar.” (It is possible to identify a student’s dean through the Banner System). The big take-away message is that anything faculty can do to enhance accessibility for students with disabilities benefits all students. For those interested in exploring other ways of making their courses more accessible I recommend the book, Universal Design in Higher Education: From Principles to Practice, edited by Sheryl Burgstahler and Rebecca Cory.

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yeah, it's long -- I didn't have time to make it shorter

Feral Librarian

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