English Language Classroom and Students with Disabilities
This tipsheet is designed as a resource for ESL teachers both in America and abroad who are looking for suggestions on working with students with disabilities in their class.
According to the United Nations' Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, about 15 percent of the world's population are people with disabilities and are the world's largest minority group. Chances are, then, that if you are an ESL teacher in America or abroad you have a student with a disability in your class.
Want an overview? Read: AWAY Topics on English Language Learners
This tipsheet is designed as a resource for ESL teachers both in America and abroad who are looking for suggestions on working with students with disabilities in their class. This resource covers the types of disabilities ESL teachers might encounter in their classroom and offers guidance on accommodating them and additional resources for further research. Each section is appended with links to websites with more information related to the topic of that section.
- General Advice for Teaching Students with Disabilities
- Blind/Low Vision
- Deaf/Hard of Hearing
- Speech Disabilities
- Chronic Health and Mental Health Disability
- Cognitive and Learning Disabilities
- Additional Resources
- Case Studies
The Americans with Disabilities Act defines a disability in the following manner:
- a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual; or
- a record of such an impairment; or
- being regarded as having such an impairment.
Disabilities come in many shapes and forms, but generally speaking, they can be categorized as follows:
- A Mobility disability refers to an impairment of one or more of his or her extremities or physical movement. Students with a mobility disability might use a wheelchair, a walker, prosthetic, or other types of assistive devices.
- A Sensory disability refers to people with low vision or who are hard of hearing and those who are Deaf and/or blind. And while technically not a sense, for the purposes of this tipsheet, speech impediments (aphasia, Tourette's Syndrome, etc.) are included within this category.
- A Chronic Health or Mental Health disability refers to conditions such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis, depression, anxiety or arthritis.
- A Cognitive or Learning disability such as dyslexia and attention deficit disorder are the most commonly seen forms in a language classroom. This also includes Asperger’s and the other forms of autism.
General Advice for Teaching Students with Disabilities
Any advice for working with students with disabilities in an ESL classroom needs to take into account the distinct ESL environment in order to be effective. ESL classrooms are different from non-ESL classrooms in the following ways:
- ESL classes require a great deal of interaction between the teacher and students and between student and student.
- Many ESL activities require students to work in groups, which often requires students to get up, move around, relocate desks, and so on.
- ESL classes are often very diverse, with students of different ages and from different countries. The teacher must be sensitive to these differences.
ESL teachers can be proactive and helpful towards a student with a disability by keeping in mind the following advice:
- Become informed. If you learn that you will have a student in your class with a disability, devote some time to learning about the disability.
- Make sure your course is inclusive. In other words, make it clear to your students (via a syllabus or other methods) that students with disabilities are welcome and that you will make available disability-related services or accommodations. Make it clear that you want to provide an equal opportunity.
- Talk with the student about any adjustments or assistance they might require as accommodations and needs may change.
- Share with your assisting staff (teaching assistant, support office staff, etc.) what you discussed with the student. Ask that they also assist in accommodations he or she needs. The disability information should not be shared, for privacy purposes, with other students or faculty except on a need to know basis and then only the accommodation request usually needs to be shared rather than the full disability disclosure.
- For ESL teachers working in the United States, keep in mind that U.S. schools, agencies and organizations are required by law to provide the same disability accommodations to international students as they do to U.S. students.
- In the United States and in some countries abroad, colleges and universities will have an office, often within student affairs or academic affairs committed to serving students with disabilities on campus. Get in touch with this office and don't be afraid to look to them for advice. In all countries there are disability organizations with access to local resources available to people with disabilities.
- Focus on the student's strengths and capabilities regardless of the exact nature of the student's disability.
- Depending on the situation, students with disabilities can be challenged by typical classroom activities (class/group discussions, presentations, active learning via getting up and doing, etc.). Teachers can often find creative ways to achieve the same goals through adapting activities to create more universal access.
- If you have a student with a disability, hold him or her to the same academic and personal conduct standard that you expect from the other students. Most people with disabilities will appreciate this as a sign that you respect them.
- Ask for regular feedback from the student about what works in class and what does not.
- A World Awaits You online journal on Accessing Foreign Languages includes firsthand advice from ESL teachers, students and disability providers on how inclusion works in the classroom.
- University of California at Berkeley Disabled Students' Program: This website has an excellent overview of different disabilities and classroom advice for teachers.
- Faculty and Administrator Modules in Higher Education: Aimed at college level teachers and staff, this website has a general overview of disabilities in the college classroom.
- National Universal Design for Learning Task Force: UDL is “the process of creating general education curricula … that are conceived, designed, developed and validated to achieve results for the widest spectrum of students, including those with disabilities, without the need for subsequent adaptation or specialized design.” If you are a teacher looking to make fundamental changes to your curriculum, this is a good place to start.
- Association on Higher Education and Disability: AHEAD is an international member association committed to advocacy for students with disabilities in higher education. Their website is an excellent resource for research, guidance, and relevant legal issues (American with Disabilities Act, etc.).
- CAST (formerly the Center for Assistive Technology): CAST is an organization working to “expand learning opportunities for all individuals, especially those with disabilities, through Universal Design for Learning.”
- Universal Design for Learning (UDL), Elements of Good Teaching: This tipsheet provides some quick and easy guidance as to implementing UDL principles in your classroom.
- Webinar Transcript: Understanding Disability Laws & Inclusive ESL Teaching: NCDE presented this one-hour webinar giving an overview of disability laws as related to ESL programs, accommodations, universal design strategies, and review of the resources and issues. Also access the webinar's PowerPoint: Understanding Disability Laws & Inclusive ESL Teaching.
Mobility disabilities vary from a student who requires leg braces to people with spinal cord injuries with limited or no use of their limbs. As a result of less access in some locations where ESL is taught or in the structure of the classroom environment, think ahead about how to provide equal participation and ease of access to learning.
Advice for teachers:
- Moving around for group activities might require more time and flexibility in how groups assemble and in movement of furniture. Arrange pairs or groups accordingly without limiting the variety of partners.
- Many common classroom actions, such as raising one's hand to answer a question, jotting down new vocabulary, or looking up a word in a dictionary require the use of one's arms. Students without the use of their arms will require other means to achieve these ends, such as a note-taker or alternative methods of soliciting responses such as verbal "yes" or "no" from students instead of raising hands. Work with the student to find alternative ways for the student to get the teachers attention when needed.
- Students who use a wheelchair might be late to or need to leave
early from class for reasons beyond his or her control such as
architectural barriers, bus service, or weather. Talk openly with the student to understand if they are late because of an ongoing disability-related accommodation need or because of behavioral reasons, and then respond accordingly in outlining expectations and resolving issues.
- Make sure other students understand that a person's wheelchair or other assistive equipment is part of his or her personal space. It should not be leaned on or moved without the student’s permission. When speaking one-on-one with a student in a wheelchair or of short stature, try to sit down to equalize the interaction.
- Instructional Strategies for Students with Mobility Impairments: This is a more detailed tipsheet on working with students with mobility impairments.
- Teaching Students with Limited Manual Dexterity and Mobility Impairments: This website has an excellent overview of different disabilities and classroom advice for teachers.
Sensory disabilities include students with auditory (Deaf/hard of hearing), speech-related, and visual (blind/low vision) disabilities. ESL teachers need to consider adaptations to their lessons and/or learn to provide students with what is needed for them to have equal access to standard lessons. This might include providing handouts in advance to be braille embossed or wearing a microphone to amplify and direct your voice to a hearing aid.
Advice for teachers:
- Flash cards, pictures, and other visual aids such as printed charts and graphs or pointing to "this" or "that" object in the room will have limited use or require tactile representations or verbal descriptions for these students.
- Workbooks, writing on the whiteboards and other written materials may not be accessible.
Give low vision students a front seat to see
the teacher and whiteboard as clearly as possible. Students may also
bring their own magnifying equipment. Provide in-class prompts or handouts prior to class to the student in their preferred format (large print, electronic, braille, audio formats).
- When presenting information visually, try to print clearly and in large letters, and spell new vocabulary aloud. Use a large font size in handouts and overhead displays. Read out loud as you write, which can help all students. If you are using or drawing pictures, describe the content.
- Students with low vision may find have eye fatigue and need to rest their eyes more often if a lot of reading is involved. Allow breaks during class time or extensions on reading assignments.
- Make sure that the student has access to books and other resources in alternate form (braille, recorded media, large print, etc.). Sometimes the student will have portable computer equipment that converts text to audio, large print or braille if you provide the information in electronic formats.
- Some websites that may be used to supplement teaching lessons may not be designed in a way that makes it accessible to the student’s specialized software. Talk with the student about what websites are inaccessible and consider changing the curriculum to include those that are accessible.
- So the student is oriented to and can navigate independently in the classroom, try to maintain consistency in the layout of the classroom, keeping all desks and tools in the same place each day. If you share a classroom with another teacher see if he or she can help you with this.
- Consider using sound or touch instead of visual cues to get students' attention. Let the student know if you need to move or need to end a conversation. The student may also find it helpful for people to say their names before speaking in group discussions for the student to begin to connect names with identifiable voices.
- Instructional Strategies for Blind/Visual Impairments: Detailed tipsheet for working with students with visual impairments.
- When Foreign Languages are not Seen or Heard: Contains excellent guidance on working in an ESL classroom with students who are visually or hearing impaired.
- Teaching English to Immigrants and Refugees with Visual Limitations: How do you do it?: This article provides examples of the sorts of challenges a blind/low vision student might face in an ESL classroom.
- Strategies for Teaching Students with Visual Impairments: Very thorough tipsheet for teachers working with students with visual impairments.
- Online Resources for Teaching Blind Students: This is an excellent collection of resources for teachers with blind/low vision students.
- Described and Captioned Media Program: The “Keys to Access” guidelines for captioning and description were developed to ensure that the accessibility features of visual media were of the high quality required to provide equal access.
- Teaching English as a New Language to Visually Impaired and Blind ESL Students Resources: This series of resources provides an in-depth look at the challenges to identifying and serving visually impaired immigrants to the United States and training of tutors in instruction.
- Teaching Braille to ESL Students: This PowerPoint presentation provides advice on teaching teaching Braille to students with limited English and the materials that are helpful to use in the process.
- Teaching ESL Students with Vision, Hearing and Other Disabilities: This PowerPoint presentation provides step by step review of how two English language instructors accommodated international students who were blind or who were Deaf in their regular U.S. classrooms.
Advice for teachers:
- Some people who are Deaf/hard of hearing have concomitant challenges with pronunciation that applies to their native language also. Some students may only choose to learn lipreading, signed English and/or the written language. For those wanting to learn the spoken language, technology can be helpful, such as a microphone with an FM system that amplifies and directs the speaker's voice directly to a student's hearing aid. If only the teacher is in range of the microphone, then repeating other student responses can assist all with pronunciation.
- If the student uses sign language, it could be helpful to learn a few simple signs for direct communication and seek out sign interpreter services. There is no universal sign language, so in the case of an international student who can sign it might be a challenge to find a local interpreter who knows the sign language of the student's country. A speech-to-text provider might be a better option. Always speak directly to the student, not to his or her interpreter or speech-to-text assistant.
- Look for ways to use visual aids to supplement lessons. When doing so, pause to give the student time to see both the visual aid and what you are saying through the interpreter or text provider. Also be aware of standing in the sight line between the student and the interpreter. For visual adaptations, try using one's fingers to indicate different subjects when conjugating verbs or different color pens to indicate the different parts of a sentence (subjects are red, verbs are blue, etc.). Geometric shapes can help, too.
- Some Deaf/hard of hearing students can lip-read; avoid standing in front of a window or another location where shadows might hinder lip-reading. Offer the student a front seat to provide a better vantage point or arrange seating so that Deaf/hard of hearing students have a view of both the teacher and other students, such as in a circle, to allow Deaf/hard of hearing students to see who is talking at all times. Take turns in speaking and gesture to indicate when another student is speaking.
- Students may find classroom speaking activities difficult if they require quick reaction time, such as listen-and-repeat activities. Try to reduce the amount of cross-talk and muddled speech; this will help students who are Deaf/hard of hearing follow the flow of the class discussion. Reduce background noise in general (e.g. fans, open windows, crowded groups).
- Remember that Deaf/hard of hearing students might not pick up on speaker announcements or fire/emergency alarms. Use flicking of overhead lights, a wave of a hand or touch instead of auditory cues to get students' attention before making an announcement.
- Watching movies and TV shows is a common and fun activity in English language classes, but make sure to use material that has captions/subtitles in English. If this is not possible, provide a written transcript of the film or make a sign language interpreter or speech-to-text notetaker available. For hard of hearing students, video images may be easier to understand than audio practice.
- English Splash!: This web resource was designed as a “one-stop-shop” for teachers, paraprofessionals, interpreters, and anyone else who works with students who are Deaf or hard of hearing. Created by PepNet, a clearinghouse on accommodating Deaf/Hard of Hearing students, it has an excellent selection of tips, tools, and additional resources, presented in a polished and easily accessible manner.
- Supporting English Acquisition: This web site is to assist educators of Deaf, Hard of Hearing, and/or ESL students. Modules address a variety of problematic English structures and processes.
- Teaching ESL Students with Vision, Hearing and Other Disabilities: This PowerPoint presentation provides step by step review of how two English language instructors accommodated international students who were blind or who were Deaf in their regular U.S. classrooms.
- Instructional Strategies for Students who are Deaf/Hard of Hearing: This is a more detailed tipsheet for working with students who are Deaf or hard of hearing.
- When Foreign Languages are not Seen or Heard: This is an article that provides excellent guidance on working in an ESL classroom with students who are visually or hearing impaired.
- A Visual-Spatial Approach to ESL in a Bilingual Program with Deaf International Students: This article looks at the ESL program of the world's only liberal arts institution for Deaf students.
- Overstream: This website is an example of a free, online service that allows you to easily create sub-titles for video found at popular online sites, such as YouTube and Google Video.
- National Captioning Institute: The NCI is at the forefront of making sure that TV shows and movies are available in captioned format for the benefit of people who are Deaf or hard of hearing. This website also has a valuable section on the use and benefits of using captioned video in the classroom.
- Mainstreaming the Student who is Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing: This is a long document but full of great advice on getting Deaf and hard of hearing students engaged in classrooms with non-disabled students.
English Language Institute, Gallaudet University: This center in Washington, DC specializes in teaching English to Deaf/hard of hearing students.
Deaf International Students at RIT/NTID and their Perceptions about Learning English: This is a research paper developed by a Deaf Fulbright Student from Greece about students attending the Rochester Institute of Technology/National Technical Institute of the Deaf in New York.
- Language Impaired?: This is an article about teaching English to a hard of hearing student in Turkey and the reflections of the foreign teacher on how this student's experiences relates to the teacher's own experiences learning Turkish in Turkey.
- Modern Foreign Languages and Special Educational Needs: This bibliography of articles includes some on teaching English to Deaf/hard of hearing students in Germany, Poland, Scotland, and Switzerland.
Speech disabilities can be the result of neurological impairments (such as cerebral palsy), a degenerative illness (such as Parkinson's Disease), or through a stroke or traumatic brain injury (resulting in aphasia, for example). Some of these students may be able to communicate verbally, but in a slower or less articulate manner, while others will use communication boards or electronic speech-synthesizers.
Advice for teachers:
- Students with speech disabilities can find particular difficulty in articulation, pitch control, and fluency. Resist the temptation to tell a student with a speech disability that you understand him or her when you don't. They are accustomed to repeating themselves and are not likely to be offended. Likewise, don't try to finish the student's sentences. Allow the student time to express him or herself so that confidence can be gained, and revise expectations for accent and fluidity in pronunciation in oral exercises.
- Students with speech disabilities may find it difficult to contribute vocally to class and group discussions. Look for alternate ways for the student to achieve the same goals as the rest of the class. For example, group texting answers to questions, written responses, hand raising, etc. If the student has a communications assistant, speak to the student rather than the assistant. Adjust the pace of discussions to allow the student time to contribute and participate fully.
- How to Adjust a Classroom for Students with Speech or Language Impairments: This short article provides excellent guidance for classroom changes that can benefit students with speech or language impairments.
- Strategies for Teaching Students with Communication Disorders: This is a more detailed tipsheet for working with students with speech disabilities and other communication disorders.
Chronic Health and Mental Health disabilities refers to conditions such as anxiety, asthma, arthritis, depression, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, or seizure disorders. Chronic and Mental Health disabilities are complicated to discuss due to the fact that each individual has his or her own unique symptoms.
Advice for teachers:
- People with chronic and mental health conditions may have inconsistent conditions where a time of day or certain day may have more fatigue or other symptoms than others. This could be due to medications, the environment or the underlying condition. It could affect memory, concentration and attendance. Allow students flexibility to take breaks, extended time to complete assignments, access to a notetaker, schedule adjustments and opportunities to make up missed exams as needed.
- Students with chronic and mental health disabilities might require days or weeks of rest at home but may be able to continue their studies as much as possible while out of class. Having a well-developed syllabus that you stick to can be helpful, as it
gives the student some idea of what to do should he or she miss class.
- Some students may have light, sound or temperature sensitivities or conditions that impact their social interactions with other students or classroom participation. Due to the unique nature of each student's situation, teachers are encouraged to take some extra time to get to know the student and what sort of accommodations are best for them.
- Teaching Students with Chronic Illness or Pain: This website provides classroom advice for teachers.
- Teaching Students with Psychological Disabilities: An brief overview of different psychological disabilities and classroom advice for teachers can be found here.
Cognitive and learning disabilities are common in the ESL classroom and may have a significant impact on the way a student learns English. For people with learning disabilities, autism and other forms of neurological impairments, the standard methods of language teaching probably are not as effective. It is incumbent on the teacher to make modifications to his or her teaching style to assist students with cognitive and learning disabilities in their goals of learning a new language.
Advice for teachers:
- Students with learning disabilities in an ESL classroom are processing words and symbols, issues with memory and word retrieval, articulation, stuttering or disjointed speech, difficulties with high-level abstract reasoning, and organizing one's thoughts and sentences. Rather than focus on a student's weaknesses, look for what psychologist
Robert Brooks calls a student's “island of competence.” This refers to
compensatory strategies that the student may have developed on their
own. Also provide accommodations such as extended time for exams and activities, notetaker services, and tutoring.
- The social elements of an ESL classroom (pair work, group work, etc.) might pose a challenge for some students with neurological impairments that impact their social skills, such as Asperger's. Try to conduct class in a deliberate and structured manner, so that it is clear to students with neurological impairments what the purpose and goal of each “section” of class is.
- Students with attention deficit disorder or brain injuries may find it difficult if multi-modal approaches to learning and alternative formats for assessment are not used by the ESL teacher. Try to use a variety of teaching methods in class, such as lectures, group work, pair work, and games. This will help students discover a technique that works best for them.
- Students with learning disabilities may perform well in one modality (i.e. oral skills) while struggling in another (i.e. written or flashcards). Consider various ways that students can demonstrate their understanding of a lesson, such as oral or artistic formats for assignments.
- Keep in mind that every neurological impairment presents itself in a unique manner. As a result, solutions need to be found on a case by case basis.
- One of the biggest challenges for ESL teachers of students with cognitive and learning disabilities is distinguishing between the sorts of mistakes that naturally crop up when learning a second language and identical problems that arise as a result of a disability. Having a good understanding of the student's capabilities in their native language is a good way to address this.
- Instructional Strategies for Students with Learning Disabilities: This is a more detailed tipsheet for working with students with learning disabilities.
- Instructional Strategies for Students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: This is a tip sheet specifically for students with ADHD.
- A Guide to Learning Disabilities for the ESL Classroom Practitioner: This guide explains the nature of learning disabilities, the challenges they pose in the ESL classroom, and offers some excellent advice for teachers.
- Learning Disabilities and the English Language Learner: This is a scholarly article on identifying people with learning disabilities in an ESL classroom and supporting their ESL learning.
- Learning to write: Technology for students with disabilities in secondary inclusive classrooms: This is an excellent journal article on the sorts of assistive technology that are most commonly used by students with disabilities in the classroom.
Dyslexia in the Language Classroom: Practical Guidelines for Teachers: This article is for teachers of languages, written by a Polish teacher. It provides useful information on the causes, symptoms and diagnosis of dyslexia, as well as presents practical teaching techniques and methods to implement in the classroom.
Coping with Problems of Mixed Ability Classes: Written by a teacher in Turkey, discusses how mixed ability classes are a fact of not only language classes but of all courses. It discusses how no two students can be the same in terms of language background, learning speed, learning ability and motivation, and solutions to address these in classroom settings.
- ESL Learners with Special Needs in British Columbia: Identification, Assessment, and Programming: This resources from the British Columbia Ministry of Education, Skills and Training provides insight into differentiating between learning disabilities and other factors that could be impacting English language learning.
- Language Learners with Special Needs: An International Perspective: The aim of this UK book is to discuss the ESL learning process and the teaching of learners with dyslexia and hearing impairments in various parts of the world, from the USA and Canada to England, Norway, Poland and Hungary.
- National Clearinghouse on English Language Acquisition (NCELA) Quarterly Review: AccELLerate 3.3, Spring 2011: Features theory, research, and practice that address the characteristics of "English learners with special needs," effective intervention practices, and recommendations for professional development.
- ESL Magazine Issue 75: Lesley Lanir addresses the issue of Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) and its potential consequences both for English language learners and their teachers. The aim of this series is to further understanding of the challenges of the ADHD pupil and to enable teachers to make informed decisions in order to promote learning in the classroom.
Foreign Languages for Everyone: How I Learned to Teach Second Languages to Students with Learning Disabilities: Irene Brouwer Konyndyk, Assistant Professor of French at Calvin College in Michigan published this book (Edenridge Press, 2011) for teachers of elementary through college and ESL. It would also be useful for LD specialists and parents. She also provides through an online blog new materials and methods not in the book.
Observant teachers who read this might notice that some of the best practices listed above are often not all that different from best practices as applied to all students. After all, strategies like active encouragement, distraction-free classrooms, and using a variety of methods in the classroom are all practices that can be helpful with or without a student with a disability in class. This underscores an important point: students with disabilities are not all that different from your other students. Just about every student is going to find something especially challenging about learning a foreign language and it's the teacher's responsibility to uncover those difficulties and address them in the classroom.
In the same way, barriers can be reduced for students with disabilities through focusing on instructional strategies that meet the needs of all students, positive attitudes towards inclusion and awareness of accommodations and resources. Students with disabilities deserve a chance to study a second language and that there are enough resources out there to give ESL teachers the tools they need to help them. Good luck!
- To Refer or Not: Untangling the Web of Diversity, “Deficit,” and Disability: This scholarly article should be helpful if you are trying to determine if a student has a disability or if some other factor is creating learning difficulties.
- Project Ideal: Project Ideal is devoted to preparing teachers for working with students with disabilities. Their website has a great deal of information, tips, as well as classroom activities to help all students understand the challenges faced by people with disabilities.
- Teaching Students with Special Needs in Secondary and Vocational Programs: Classroom, Building, Equipment and Instructional Modifications and Adaptations: This 95-page document has an excellent variety of information for teachers that work with students with disabilities, such as ideas for curricular modification and case studies for training purposes.
- Access English: This is a website soliciting contributions from English instructors worldwide on how to make learning English as a foreign language accessible to people with disabilities.
- National Clearinghouse for Disability and Exchange: The NCDE provides information on inclusion of people with disabilities in international exchanges and study abroad programs. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and administered by Mobility International USA, the NCDE website has a wide selection of advice and information for students, potential students, and educators.
- TESOL Resource Center: This has at least 8 different resources for ESL teachers on students with learning, hearing and vision disabilities.
For general understanding of disability topics and issues in the United States and across the globe, the following websites can be useful to browse and provide context to the increased involvement of people with disabilities in all aspects of society worldwide.
- National Organization on Disability (NOD): NOD is a non-profit organization that works to involve people with disabilities in all aspects of society.
- Disability.gov: This is the U.S. federal government's website devoted to disability issues. It includes information on academics, law, and other topics.
- Disabled Peoples' International (DPI): DPI is “a network of national organizations or assemblies of disabled people, established to promote human rights of disabled people through full participation, equalization of opportunity and development.”
- United Nations Enable: This website is the home of the UN's efforts to advocate for people with disabilities across the globe.
In concluding this tipsheet with some case studies, there are two goals. First, to give an idea of the types of disabilities ESL teachers might see in the classroom. And second, to demonstrate some specific examples of accommodations that can be made.
Case Study #1
Alejandro is a 22 year old recent immigrant from Mexico who is studying English in the Adult Basic Education program at his local community college. Alejandro was diagnosed with a learning disability that results in poor handwriting and a poor ability to express himself in writing (dysgraphia). He also has trouble with reading activities. In all other areas he does fine in an ESL classroom. What kinds of accommodations will Alejandro find most helpful?
- Because of his poor penmanship, allow Alejandro to use a laptop in class when writing. If he doesn't have access to one perhaps his school has a multimedia department where he can check one out.
- Spend time in class teaching the value of using an outline for organizing one's thoughts when writing. This will help both Alejandro and other students as well.
- If Alejandro or his school has the resources for it, speech recognition software such as Dragon Naturally Speaking can be helpful for reading exercises.
- For extensive reading activities, the teacher can give Alejandro the material the day before so he has time to read through it at his pace rather than pressuring him to read through it quickly during class.
- For extensive writing activities, it might be a good idea to give Alejandro a few extra days to put his thoughts into words.
Case Study #2
Eun-jeong is a 21-year old Korean woman with a visual impairment who is taking English classes overseas in order to prepare for an ESL program at a college in America. She can distinguish light and darkness and shapes and forms, but cannot read standard print and struggles to read large print on the whiteboard in class. Her penmanship is adequate, but she does write a little bit more slowly than the other students. She uses a white cane to get around. How can her ESL teacher best include her?
- Give Eun-jeong a desk in the front row.
- Discuss with her how she would like reading material offered to her. Does she like books on tape or with large print?
- When doing group work, have the other students join her in her area.
- See if another student or assistant is willing to assist her with any reading any writing on the whiteboard or other visual descriptions. Or suggest monoculars or other magnification tools to use in the classroom.
- Technology can be your friend. When preparing handouts for class, use the font size option in your word processor to prepare one document for Eun-jeong with large print.
- Use Eun-jeong's ability to distinguish shapes and forms in class. For example, when teaching prepositions, use squares, circles, and other shapes as objects (“The circle is above the square.” “The diamond is next to the triangle.”). The point of this activity, after all, is the use of prepositions.
- When using video and pictures in class, try to use things like simple drawings in high contrast (e.g. black on white). For people with low vision like Eun-jeong these are easier to decipher.
Case Study #3
David is from Spain and a quadriplegic with limited use of his hands and arms. He has a difficult time writing and turning the pages of a book. He uses a power wheelchair and a laptop during class, which is loaded with speech recognition software which he uses for writing activities. Due to home circumstances his attendance is not as consistent as it should be. He has demonstrated a sharp mind and an eagerness to improve his English but finds the challenges in class frustrating. How can you best accommodate David?
- Contact the school's disability services office and/or publishing house for your textbook to see if they have a .pdf copy (or some other digital format) that David can use. This will allow him to follow along and turn the pages with a tap on his laptop. Likewise, digital copies of class materials that you create can be helpful for him.
- Talk to David about ways to work around his erratic attendance, such as sending him home with two days worth of class material when possible.
- Agree upon some easy signals David can use in class for asking or answering questions. This might be a tap on his desk or a slight nod.
- It may not be feasible for David to use his speech recognition software in class. For test-taking arrange for a separate test taking space and extended time on tests if necessary.
Case Study #4
Hiroko is a young Japanese woman who has been Deaf since birth. She signs Japanese Sign Language quite fluently and can speak Japanese (and some English) with diminished fluency and articulation. She is planning on studying English in America (she enjoys reading and writing in English) but needs to do well on the upcoming TOEFL test first. How can you and your school best assist Hiroko?
- Contact the Educational Testing Service (ETS) about what accommodations they provide for Deaf and hard of hearing students who want to take the TOEFL test. With this information you can better tailor your instructional strategy for her benefit.
- Communicate with Hiroko to find out what her exact goals are and what she wants out of your program. Would she prefer a composition course or does she want to work on improving her grammar?
- Find alternative activities that Hiroko can work on while the rest of class is doing things like listening and speaking activities. For example, if the class is listening to a discussion between a store clerk and customer, perhaps Hiroko could read or write out a similar conversation.
- Much of what Hiroko will gain from class will be done so visually. Work with Hiroko to establish some visual cues that can be easily used in class, such as index cards, colors, symbols, or hand signals. Think of some commonly used phrases (“Open your book,” “Close your book,”) in your classroom and identify visual cues to represent them. Get the other students involved by having them bring pictures to class for discussion or as writing topics.
- Try to determine if a sign language interpreter, speech-to-text provider, notetaker and/or assistive listening devices would be useful for her participation and understanding in the classroom.
Case Study # 5
Philippe is a young man from France who was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome while a high school student. He is high-functioning, and most people probably wouldn't notice his condition unless they knew what to look for. It does, however, create some differences in his learning style. He wants to attend graduate school in America (for computer science) and so is attending your ESL program in Paris to prepare himself. He is intelligent and very aware of his strengths and weaknesses in the classroom. How can you best include him?
- Work closely with Phillipe to find an approach that works best for him. Given his degree of self-awareness he should be able to give you some helpful advice. One of the primary symptoms of Asperger's is deficits in executive functioning (loosely defined as the ability to process information). Philippe is most likely to be at his best when given activities that allow him to ponder and prepare. Pop quizzes, on the other hand, would probably pose a challenge for him.
- Keep in mind the social aspects of ESL classroom activities. Depending on the extent to which these social activities impact his condition, he may need alternative options to signal if he needs a break from interaction, or other ground rules for the class overall when working in pairs or in groups.
Case Study # 6
Kim is a 25-year old Taiwanese woman who was diagnosed with epilepsy as a child. She takes medication to control her seizures but it has the unfortunate side effect of affecting her ability to study and stay focused in the classroom (through memory loss and fatigue). As a result, her progress through college has been slow and frustrating, but she does hope to graduate this year. She is taking private ESL classes at your school to help her pass her final levels of college English. What can you do to help?
- While she does take medication to control her seizures, it's probably wise to discuss with her how to respond if she experiences seizures during class.
- People with epilepsy often have good days and bad. That is, they have days where the symptoms are low-key and less prevalent and days where they flare up in intensity. Knowing how Kim feels each day for class can be helpful, so perhaps Kim is willing to let you know when she is not feeling at her best. On bad days, give her a time to finish projects and identify other modifications that would be helpful to her.
This tipsheet compiled by Brian Ridge as a consultant for the National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange. He lived in South Korea as an exchange student and ESL teacher. He has a master's degree in Student Development Administration from Seattle University with an interest in international education and students with disabilities.