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CASLL-L  March 1996

CASLL-L March 1996


Learning Disabilities


Doug Brent <[log in to unmask]>


Tue, 12 Mar 1996 14:58:36 MST





text/plain (523 lines)

Both Roberta and Jim asked for more information on our accommodation
policies.  I thought that this information might be of interest to the
entire CASLL list, since those of us in charge of monitoring literacy
at our various institutions are often the firt to identify (or perhaps
the first to cause a crisis for) students with learning disabilities.

The following is the U of C official bumf, followed by a guide written
by Jennifer Hill at Uvic.  They are scanned documents.  I have tried to
clean them up but I apologize in advance for any scanner errors that
have crept in.



To:            All Faculty Teaching General Studies Courses
Date:     19960102
FROM:     Beverly Rasporich, Associate Dean
                  Faculty of General Studies

  Special Exams for Students with Disabilities

As you may or may not be aware, academic departments have now taken
on the responsibility for the provision of exam accommodations for
the majority of students with disabilities. Lisa Schwartz
(220-3277; SS 301) is responsible for co-ordinating General Studies
exams for students with disabilities -- PLEASE ARRANGE ALL SUCH
EXAMS THROUGH HER. The Student Resource Centre will provide
accommodation only for those students whose extraordinary needs
cannot be met at the faculty level.

Conditions requiring accommodation may include hidden disabilities
such as learning disabilities or attention deficit disorder.
Accommodations may include extra time, a quiet room, a mid-exam
break or a computer. Students with disabilities are aware that it
is their responsibility to discuss their need for accommodations
with their professors. The following procedures are now in place to
handle these requests.

 1 ) Academic Accommodation Agreement Form.

Students should first meet with Lawrie Williams, Coordinator of
Services to Students with Disabilities, prior to the start of
classes or as early in the term as possible. Lawrie will give the
student a letter confirming the conditions of the disability and
the exam accommodation requirements.

The student should then arrange to meet with the professor for each
of their courses and after discussing the accommodations, complete
an Academic Accommodation Agreement Form (sample attached), to be
signed by both the student and the professor. This form should be
completed by the third week of classes and submitted to Lisa
Schwartz, Reception area, SS 301.

 2)  Exam Confirmation Form.

An Exam Confirmation Form (sample attached) must also be completed
for each exam written. This form must be submitted to Lisa by:

Midterms: TWO WEEKS before the exam

Fall: November 15
Winter: March 15
Spring/Summer: ONE WEEK after the schedules are posted
Deferreds: the same day as the Deferral Application is submitted by
the student.

Lisa will book a room, arrange an invigilator/scribe, and arrange
for computer facilities where needed. It is, therefore, imperative
that the afore-mentioned deadlines are met in order to allow
sufficient time for arrangements to be made.

Phoebe Heyman is the Faculty contact for students with
disabilities; however, if you require further information about
procedures, please contact Lisa Schwartz (3277) or Lawrie Williams
in the Student Resource Centre (6918).


This form serves as a check list of possible academic
accommodations for ___________ a student who will be in your _____
class this semester. Please indicate below those reasonable
accommodations agreed to by you and the student.


 I.  Classroom Accommodations

a. use of an Assistive Listening Device
b. use of volunteer notetakers
c. permission to tape lectures
d. other

Exam Accommodations

(a) extra time:   30 min ___ 50% ___100% ___ other ___
 b) exam format required:  audio ____tape ____large print ____ braille ____
computer disc ____ oral ____
(c) special exam services required: computer ____scribe ____dictionary ____
(d) other:

(professor's signature)

(professor, printed name)

(professor's phone number)




Prepared by

Jennifer Leigh Hill, Ed.D.
Department of Psychological Foundations
Faculty of Education
University of Victoria
Victoria, BC



It is widely recognized that the population of students with
learning disabilities in postsecondary settings continues to
increase dramatically. In a national survey conducted by the
American Council on Education in 1987, students with learning
disabilities constituted 1.2 percent of all full-time,
first-time-entering college freshmen and 18 percent of the
postsecondary population of students with disabilities (Hirschorn,
1988). Data from several studies indicate that the number of
students who have learning disabilities attending postsecondary
programs is second only to the number of students who have a physi-
cal impairment (Hill, ln press; Marion & lovacchini, 1983; Sergent,
Sedlacek, Carter & Scales, 1987).

The Association for Children and Adults with Learning Disabilities
(ACLD) defines learning disabilities as follows:

 Specific learning disabilities is a chronic condition of presumed
 neurological origin which selectively interferes with the
 development, integration, and/or demonstration of verbal and/or
 nonverbal abilities. Specific learning disabilities exist as a
 distinct handicapping condition in the presence of average to
 superior intelligence, adequate sensory and motor systems, and
 adequate learning opportunities. The condition varies in its
 manifestations and in degree of severity. Throughout life the
 condition can affect self-esteem, education, vocation,
 socialization and/or daily living activities (ACLD, 1985, p. 2).

There appears to be various forms of learning disabilities. Some
students have difficulty reading printed material (commonly known
as dyslexia) and benefit from having reading material in a recorded
form; others have difficulty in producing written material
(dysgraphia) particularly in examination situations when writing
under strict time constraints; others have difficulty in the area
of mathematics (dyscalculla) and rely heavily on calculators for
performing mathematical algorithms. Some students have difficulty
in only one area; others have problems in more than one. Many
students with a learning disability have difficulty in sequential
memory tasks and in organization (e.g., time management, study

It should be noted that many students who have difficulty reading,
writing, spelling or performing mathematical calculations do not
have a specific learning disability. Students who need specific
accommodations as a result of a learning disability are required to
present a current assessment report indicating the nature of the
problem to staff at Student and Ancillary Services. If an
instructor questions the student's right to certain concessions,
s/he should contact the Coordinator of Special Student Programs.
Instructors should not simply accept a student's self-diagnosis.
For students who believe they have a learning disability but have
never had a complete assessment, staff at Student and Ancillary
Services can arrange to have an evaluation conducted by the
Learning Disabilities Association.

According to McGuire and O'Donnell (1989), common characteristics
of college-level students who have learning disabilities include:


- Oral expression and participation in class
- Hands-on, experiential learning
- Persistence
- Sensitivity to peers with problems
- Creativity
- Motivation to achieve
- Personal responsibility


- Written expression
- Spelling and vocabulary
- Poor word attack skills
- Organization and time management
- Problem solving
- Distractibility
- Memory and retrieval of specific information
- Understanding abstract concepts
- Poor computation skills
- Overgeneralizing
- Low self-concept
- Low frustration tolerance
- Social-perception problems

In many cases faculty members have limited knowledge about learning
disabilities (Aksamit, Morris & Leuenberger, 1987) and may have
misconceptions about this particular area (McGuire & O'Donnell,
1989). Faculty members often react negatively to students with
learning disabilities (Minner & Prater, 1984), often falsely
believing that they are mentally handicapped or emotionally
disturbed. Instructors may not recognize the need for accommodation
because of the lack of visibility of the disorder (Aksamlt et al.,
1987). Similar to a loss of hearing, a learning disability is often
referred to as a Hidden handicap". In the case of a student who is
learning disabled and gifted, faculty members may not recognize the
increased intellectual ability of the student. focusing rather on
the student's weaknesses. Some faculty may question the fairness of
modifying the program for a student who does not have an obvious
physical disability. Others feel that their role in instruction is
To teach content and not to cure learning problems (Kahn, 1980, p.

Barbaro (1982), in discussing the considerations needed by faculty
in accommodating the learning disabled student, made the following
 The pinnacle of formal education pursuits is the college
 experience. Expecting students with learning disabilities to
 compete in this arena is like asking a wheelchair student to run
 a marathon. The LD [learning disabled] student can learn
 compensation skills and the wheelchair can be motorized enabling
 both to keep up with the competition, but every step forward only
 emphasizes their differences from the general student body. Even
 if successful, the experience will be painful. Failure in yet
 another educational institution can be devastating. To encourage
 someone to embark on a college career that will end ln failure is
 not a friendly or loving act. On the other hand, to prematurely
 discourage the quest can prevent the student from maximizing his
 or her potential. (p. 600-601)

With appropriate accommodations, many students with learning dis-
abilities are able to succeed at the postsecondary level.
Accommodating to the student does not, and should not, imply a low-
ering of standards. However, as stated by Jastram (1979): There
will probably be no more persistent or difficult problem for
faculty members than this question of how far it is reasonable or
appropriate to go in waiving specific requirements or modifying
significant skill-development exercises in order to accommodate the
limitations of a particular handicapped [LD] students (p. 19). In
a recent study by Nelson, Dodd and Smith (1990), it was found that
there were certain accommodations that faculty are less willing to
provide to students than others. For example, 98.66 percent of
faculty members were willing to allow a student to tape record
lectures, whereas only 32.56 percent of the faculty were willing to
have a student complete an extra credit assignment when this option
was not available to other students.

Depending on the strengths or weaknesses of the student, the types
of accommodation will vary, For students who have difficulty ln
reading, some of the accommodations that have been suggested for
students who have a loss of visual acuity may be appropriate (e.g.,
tape recorded readings and lectures). The instructor should refer
to the section on Visual Impairment. Similarly, for students who
have difficulty in processing linguistic information, some of the
accommodations that have been suggested for students who have a
loss of hearing may be appropriate (e.g., use of visual materials,
preferred seating). The instructor should refer to the section on
Hearing Impairment. For the student who has a speaking disability,
the instructor should refer to the section on Speech and Language

Recently, there has been a plethora of articles related to the
needs of the postsecondary student with a learning disability. The
following suggestions were adapted from Barbaro (1982), Cowen
(1988), Kahn, 1980), Minner and Prater (1984), McGulre and
O'Donnell (1989), Nelson, Dodd and Smith (1990), Runyan (1991),
Scott (1990) and Vogel (1982). For further information, the reader
is referred to these sources.

Instructional Accommodations
- Many students with learning disabilities have difficulty
organizing and managing their time. Instructors can assist by
providing the student with a detailed syllabus (e.g., outlining
course content, schedule of topics to be covered, due dates for
assignments) so that s/he can plan accordingly. In designing the
format for the syllabus, the instructor should ensure that the key
elements are highlighted (e.g., by using a variety of letter size,
underlining, spacing) and that the outline is organized and
material is easily found. At the first class meeting, the
instructor should review the syllabus orally and answer questions
that students might have in order to ensure complete understanding
of course expectations.

- Many students who are learning disabled are slow readers. Some
prefer to have their reading material on tape. Instructors can
assist by providing a reading assignment list prior to the start of
the term so that the student can have sufficient time to make
proper arrangements. Instructors can also assist in determining
whether or not a complete reading, as opposed to certain portions,
needs to be taped.

- Notetaking may be problematic for some students (i.e., due to
memory deficits, slow information processing, distractibility, poor
handwriting and /or spelling, or spatial organization problems) .
Some students may request permission to tape-record the lectures;
others may use notetakers. Providing lecture outlines assists the
student in determining the key elements of the material covered,
and frees the student to listen rather than having to
simultaneously listen, comprehend, synthesize and/or extract the
main idea, retain the information, formulate a synopsis, and
finally write it down (Vogel, 1982). Handouts also eliminate the
student's need to spell new vocabulary and/or proper names. Many
students who are learning disabled receive additional tutorial
assistance, and lecture outlines help the tutor review the material
covered. Some faculty may be willing to provide the student with a
copy of their lecture notes.

- The use of overhead transparencies and board notes may also be
problematic as the student needs to read, copy and listen to the
instructor simultaneously. Copies, in the form of handouts, will
facilitate learning. If overhead transparencies are used or
material is presented on the chalkboard, it is helpful if the
material is clearly written and well spaced so that the student is
able to decipher it easily. Reading the material aloud assists the
student who is tape recording the lecture.

The instructor's style of lecturing can impact on the student's
ability to comprehend the material. The material should be
organized sequentially and presented in a manner that can be heard
clearly and at a rate that can be followed. The use of simple
vocabulary, concrete examples and personal anecdotes will increase
the student's ability to recall information at a later date. The
instructor should allow an adequate amount of time for the student
to locate material before discussion (e.g., the instructor should
wait until the student has found the correct page/diagram/chart in
the text) and sufficient time for notetaking.

The instructor should periodically review key concepts to ensure
that they have been understood. For studying purposes, giving the
student a cue that certain material is particularly important
(e.g., The main points are ...", this might be on the test...") is
beneficial. Teaching students mnemonic strategies will assist in
memorization. The instructor should supplement the lecture material
with references to the textbook pages, if appropriate (e.g., this
point is covered on page 87").

The instructor should provide ample opportunities for the students
to ask questions. Nonverbal signs, such as frowning, may indicate
that a student has not understood the point(s) made during the lec-

Many students who are learning disabled are easily distracted. An
instructor who walks around the room a lot or who wears clothing
that is highly patterned or shiny jewelry may be turning a
student's attention away from the lesson. A room with a lot of
distractions (e.g., flickering lights, loud ticking clocks) is not
ideal. It may help all the students if the hall door is closed and
the window curtains are drawn, prior to the start of the lecture.

Most students with a learning disability will prefer to sit close
to the instructor so that there are fewer distractions. Some
students rely on lip or speech reading to fully understand material
presented orally.

Assignment Accommodations

As in the case of students with a visual or hearing impairment, a
student with a learning disability may require extra allowances in
terms of assignments (e.g., extended deadlines for completion,
alterative assignments such as oral presentations or tape-recorded

presentations rather than written assignment) . The student should
discuss possible problems with assignments at the beginning of the
course, rather than Just before the assignment is due. Requirements
of an assignment should be given by the instructor both orally and
in writing to ensure that the student is clear as to what is

Many students who have particular difficulty in written expression
employ proofreaders (e.g, to correct faulty grammar and punctua-
tion, to substitute higher level vocabulary), in the same manner
that a non-disabled student might hire a typist to type an essay.
Instructors should understand that the proofreader is simply
assisting the student to produce a more satisfactory copy and not
completing the assignment for the student. ln most cases. such
assistance should not be a factor in assigning a grade. The
exception might be in a course, such as creative writing, in which
a grade is determined by the degree of writing skill, as opposed to
the factual content of the material presented. Instructors are
advised to contact staff in Student and Ancillary Services to
discuss any concerns the) man have regarding the use of

Examination Accommodations

As in the case of a student with a visual impairment, allowing
extended time or untimed tests to accommodate for decreased reading
speed should be allowed. Instructors may feel that this
accommodation may be unfair to the non-disabled student. However,
research has shown that extra time will improve the results of
students with a learning disability, whereas normally achieving
students do not perform significantly better with extra time. In
the case of extended time or untimed examinations and tests, the
student should take the exam in a separate room with a proctor.
Staff at Student and Ancillary Services can help with the
arrangements. In some cases allowing an oral rather than a written
exam, having a student dictate answers rather than write them, or
having a proctor read the questions prior to answering them, may be
possible options.

The instructor can also accommodate the student with a learning
disability in the construction of the test items in a written
examination. For example, an essay exam could be substituted for an
objective test (e.g., multiple choice test) that requires a great
deal of reading. If an alternative form of the test will be
required, the instructor must determine how the grades from the
alternative test will be equated with traditional standards (e.g.,
equal weighting vs. unequal weighting).  For a discussion of the
effects of extra time on the ability of university students, the
reader is referred to the article by Runyan (1991) entitled The
Effect of Extra Time on Reading Comprehension Scores for University
Students With and without Learning Disabilities', Journal of
Learning Disabilities, 104-108.

Questions can be phrased in a manner similar to the style used in
class so as to help the student retrieve information. For example,
if a lecture covered material that was stated in a positive way
(e.g.,  The following three factors contribute to ..."), the exam
question could also be stated in a positive rather than a negative
way (e.g.," What three factors contributed to ?" rather than "What
three factors did not contribute to ?"). It Is helpful to the
student if the examiner avoids using double negatives, unduly
complex sentence structure, and questions embedded within a
question in composing test questions (Vogel, 1982). Students should
be allowed to clarify questions verbally with an instructor to
ensure that they have full comprehension before answering a

Computer-scored answer sheets may be difficult for a student with
poor eye-hand coordination. In such cases the student would benefit
from being allowed to write the answers on a separate sheet of
paper and having the items hand-scored. Some students are able to
cope with computer-scored answer sheets if the sheets are enlarged
(e.g.. 11x17 inches). Most Departmental offices have photocopiers
than can produce such enlargements.

Some students with poor handwriting use a word processor (with a
built-in program to check spelling) in taking notes and completing
assignments. Writing requires automaticity and speed in letter
formation, and the material written must be sufficiently legible
and properly spelt to be decipherable at a later date (Vogel,
1982). The instructor and the student must discuss the
acceptability of using such equipment/software in tests,
examinations and/or other inclass written assignments. If a student
is not allowed to use such equipment, s/he should not be unduly
penalized for poor spelling or illegible handwriting. Similarly,
students having difficulty in mathematical computation may wish to
use a calculator during classwork. Students and instructors must
discuss whether or not the use of calculators (and any other form
of reference materials, such as multiplication tables) will be
acceptable. If such materials are not allowed, the instructor
should analyze both the process (e.g., whether or not the correct
algorithms were used) and the product (e.g., the answer) in
determining the overall grade.

Frequent examinations or tests, rather than a major test at the end
of a term, may be helpful for the student with a learning

Special Assistance

The types of difficulties students with learning disabilities may
encounter vary, depending on the strengths and weaknesses of an
individual student. Students are encouraged, by staff at Student
and Ancillary Services, to set up a meeting with the instructor
prior to the start of the course. However, It should be remembered
that not all students are in contact with Student Services, nor do
all students heed the advice given. In the meeting the instructor
should discuss such topics as reading load, course requirements,
frequency and method of evaluation, possible modifications to
method of instruction and/or evaluation and the schedule of
assignments. Such a meeting will allow the instructor to get a
first-hand impression of the seriousness, motivational level, and
commitment to learning that the student has made to the particular
course (Vogel, 1982).

Instructors can assist the student with a learning disability in
course selection (i.e., matching student's learning strengths and
weaknesses, processing deficits, and learning style to course
requirements). For example, a student whose major difficulty is in
reading comprehension and rate might be advised to take only one
heavy reading course per semester. In some cases, it may be rec-
ommended that a student does not take a full load of courses in
order to allow for additional tutorial time. For some students
classes that meet three to four times per week, as opposed to those
than meet once a week for an extended period, may be more

Reasonable modifications of academic requirements, at the program
level, suggested by Vogel (1982) and Cowen (1988) include: (a)
extending time allowed to complete a program, (b) substituting one
course for another required course, (c) modifying or waiving
foreign language requirements, (d) allowing for part-time rather
than full-time study, and (e) allowing a student to audit the
course before actually enroling ln the course (i.e., at reduced or
no cost). However, when considering modifications to academic
requirements, Scott (1990) stressed the importance of examining
each case individually rather than establishing firm guidelines.

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