Disability Resources for Students

Tips for working with different disabilities

Disability Sensitivity Training Video


  • Not all disabilities are visible, such as heart disease, epilepsy or asthma
  • Many people have temporary disabilities which are equally as limiting as permanent disabilities, often more
  • Not everyone with a disability wishes to discuss it or its limitations. Wait until you know an individual before asking personal questions

 Deaf and Hard of Hearing

  • Tap someone who is deaf on the shoulder or wave your hand to get his or her attention
  • Write notes if you don’t sign (short sentences; common words)
  • Learn “survival sign”
  • Look directly at the person while speaking and don’t obscure your mouth (lip reading)
  • Try to limit gum chewing
  • Don’t accept a head nod for understanding
  • Talk directly to the deaf person, not the interpreter
  • Speak in a normal speed and tone unless asked to do otherwise
  • Avoid standing in front of a light source.
  • Do not walk between two people using sign language as you will be cutting off their conversation
  • Try to be expressive in your body language, gestures and facial expressions
  • For more information, please visit Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Resources

 Wheelchair Users/Mobility

  • If engaged in a long conversation with someone who uses a chair, try to position yourself at the same eye level by sitting down
  • Treat the chair as part of the user’s personal space so don’t touch or lean on the chair
  • Ask before giving assistance to a wheelchair user
  • Take “No” for an answer
  • Don’t avoid words like “run” or “walk”. Wheelchair users use these words too
  • When selecting a place to visit, be aware of architectural features which may cause this person difficulty, especially steps or insufficiently wide doors
  • Remember that some parking spaces are reserved for people with mobility limitations: They are not a luxury, they are a necessity
  • Direct your comments to the individual, not their companion or care attendant
  • Never pet, feed or otherwise distract a guide dog without first getting permission from the owner

Speech & Language

  • Allow time for the person to speak, as he or she may speak slower than desired
  • Avoid the urge to interrupt or complete a sentence for the person.
  • If you don’t understand what the person said, ask for repetition.
  • Don’t fake understanding
  • Someone with speech and language barriers may use a variety of communication methods. Keep in mind that communication is your goal
  • Be patient and encourage the person toward expression
  • Suggest writing notes (if needed)

 Learning Disability/ADHD

  • Some people have difficulties with reading, others with writing, and still others with memory
  • No visible evidence of disability
  • Often need mixed modality
  • If writing is involved, a scribe may help (don’t judge my handwriting)
  • Be aware of distractions (radio/screen savers/background noises)
  • Only retain 20% of what they hear
  • People with learning disabilities have average or above average intelligence
  • If a person reacts to situations in an unconventional manner, keep in mind that this person may have a processing difficulty which affects social skills
  • For additional information, check out the Inside Higher Ed webinar. Brent E. Betit, senior vice president of Landmark College and Manju Banerjee, director of the Landmark College Institute for Research and Training, both of whom are national experts on best practices for serving these students. Helping Students with Learning Disabilities Succeed (Webinar)

 Blind & Visual Impairment

  • Be aware that eyes can look normal even though there is a visual impairment
  • Legally blind people often have some vision
  • If asked directions, be very explicit and don’t point. Avoid using such terms as “over there” or “turn this way”
  • Never pet, feed or otherwise distract a guide dog without first getting permission from the owner
  • Provide electronic formats for class information
  • Feel free to use words like “see” and “look”. There just aren’t any reasonable substitutes
  • When leading someone who is blind, let that person take your arm/elbow and follow the motion of your body
  • When seating the person, place his or her hand on the side or back of the chair

 Chronic or Acute Health

Examples: Cancer, Asthma, Emphysema, Diabetes, HIV/AIDS, Sickle Cell

  • Each case is unique
  • Never define the person by the condition
  • Don’t pit the person
  • Don’t treat the person as if he or she is contagious


Examples: Cerebral Palsy, Seizures, MS, Tourette, Muscular Dystrophy, TBI (traumatic brain injury)

  • Many times these conditions will have symptoms that look like mobility issues
  • Person may look like they have no disability


  • Social skills may be impaired
  • It is important to be sensitive to emotional stress when interacting with others
  • Patience is important
  • Check whether the person is “tracking”
  • Frustration may be a precursor to anger
  • Rarely are people with psychological disabilities violent
  • Set clear boundaries for people repeatedly interacting with you
  • Don’t “enable” the individual


  • Be very clear and specific in your language. Sarcasm and subtle humor is often missed. Shorten instructions
  • Present oral information at a slow pace, using frequent pauses
  • Offer cues to help with transitions like “we have 5 minutes left until our meeting is done”
  • Use images to reinforce information
  • Employ modeling, rehearsing and role-playing to help students learn appropriate interactions

 In Case of Emergency

  • Be especially aware of a person with a disability in emergency situations. It may be necessary to alert someone who is deaf to a fire alarm or lead someone who is blind out of a building
  • Stay calm. Panicking in an emergency situation can cause anyone to become “disabled”
  • Remember that people with disabilities are not helpless. Offer help, but only give it when requested
  • If you know first aid, use it. If not, do what you can to keep the person warm and comfortable and call for help immediately