Provide Equal Treatment
Treat students with disabilities in the same way you treat students without disabilities. Students with disabilities may require academic adjustments to access class material and related services, but they are still students with the same issues and concerns that other college students have. Make sure that you include the student in classroom discussions and activities and that you offer the same level of attention you would to other students. Don’t get in the habit of sending the student with a disability to the disability coordinator for non-disability related issues.
The best way to work with a student with a disability is to talk to that student about his or her academic adjustment needs and establish rapport for future discussions. Don’t be afraid to ask the student questions about his or her disability and accommodations if you are not sure how best to assist the student. For example, you can say to a student using a service animal, “I’ve never had a service animal in class before. Is there anything you could tell me that might help me help you in the class?” Generally a student in this situation would be more than happy to provide you with lots of information about service animals and answer your questions in detail. Just be careful not to pry too deeply. Don’t ever say, “Well I’ve read the list of accommodations, but what exactly is your disability?” As stated previously, it is the student’s right to disclose his or her disability status to the instructor. A specific diagnosis does not have to be given to you in order for you to provide accommodations.
Treat all conversations with the student as confidential. Some students with disabilities are quite open about their disability status and related needs. Others are more concerned about privacy. Don’t make any assumptions in this area. Even students with readily-apparent disabilities may not be comfortable with their disability being the subject of a class discussion or with their accommodation requests being discussed in front of other students. There will be times when other students notice that an accommodation is being given. If they bring this to your attention, explain to them that it is a confidential matter that you cannot discuss.
Emphasize the Whole Student
Avoid referring to a student as the “disabled” student. Do not make a statement such as “I have a disabled student in my class.” While there is nothing wrong with the word disabled, you want to emphasize the whole person and not make any person feel as if they are totally defined by their disability. Say instead, “There is a student in my class with a disability.” Likewise, never say, “I was talking to my blind student yesterday and learned some interesting facts about Braille.” Instead say, “A student in my class who is blind told me some interesting facts about Braille.” If you are not sure of appropriate terminology to use, speak with the student and/or the disability coordinator.
Utilize Student Disability Services
Develop a relationship with the disability coordinator for your division. Make yourself available for training. Request information. Encourage your department to schedule training sessions. Provide the coordinator with a list of topics you’re interested in. Attend off-campus workshops or conferences in your field that cover teaching students with disabilities.