Rock Valley College

Chapter 31: General Disability-Specific Information

As each individual is unique, the following information is intended as a guide only, to help familiarize faculty and staff with some of the characteristics, and inherent challenges, associated with the most prevalent disabilities on campus. Suggestions for appropriate academic accommodations are also included for each disability category.

Learning Disabilities

A Learning Disability (LD) is a permanent disorder which affects the manner in which individuals with average or above average intelligence take in, retain, and express information. Students with learning disabilities demonstrate a “significant discrepancy” between aptitude (intellectual functioning) and achievement in one or more of the following areas: oral expression, listening comprehension, written expression, basic reading skills, reading comprehension, mathematics calculation, or mathematical reasoning. This discrepancy cannot be primarily attributed to vision, hearing or motor impairments; mental retardation; emotional disabilities; environmental, cultural or economic disadvantage; or a history of an inconsistent education.

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD/ADHD) is a neurological disorder that is characterized by distractibility, impulsivity and restlessness. These symptoms are present from childhood on, and with a much greater intensity than in the average person, so that they interfere with everyday functioning.

Some academic difficulties experienced by students with LD and ADD/ADHD are:

  • Reading comprehension
  • Spelling
  • Written expression
  • Time management
  • Math computation
  • Executive Functioning/Organization
  • Oral expression
  • Attention/Concentration
  • Problem solving
  • Social skills

Students who have LD and ADD/ADHD may benefit from: exam accommodations, recorded lectures, tutoring, study skills instruction, books in audio format, time extensions on assignments, and/or alternative ways of completing coursework.

Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing (DHOH)

The term deaf is defined as a condition in which perceivable sounds (including speech) have no meaning for ordinary life purposes.

  • Students who are Deaf will use different services depending on their language/communication system.
  • Some individuals who are Deaf belong to a cultural group that uses American Sign Language, a fully developed language with its own structure and rules. Members of this cultural group are bilingual and English is their second language.
  • Many students who are D/deaf do not perceive themselves as having a disability. As with any cultural group, individuals who are Deaf have their own values, social norms, and traditions. Because of this it is important to be sensitive and attentive to cross-cultural information in the mainstreamed classroom setting.
  • Students who are Deaf may use American Sign Language interpreters in the classroom setting and during other programs/activities. Some students who are audiologically deaf may rely on note taking, captioning, and speech reading.

The term Hard-of-Hearing (HOH) is defined as a condition where the sense of hearing is impaired, but functional for ordinary life purposes (usually with the help of a hearing aid).

  • Hard-of-Hearing refers to those individuals who may use speech, speech reading, and hearing aids to enhance their oral communication.
  • Hard-of-Hearing students may use hearing aid(s) and/or assistive listening devices with an FM transmitter for the instructor. For those who use speech reading, only 30-40% of spoken English is comprehensible even for those who are highly skilled.
  • Hard-of-Hearing students also may use American Sign Language, Signed English or cued speech. The latter two are visual systems that enhance the reception and expression of spoken English.
  • Students will vary widely in their listening and oral communication skills.

For students who are Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing (DHOH) and who choose to speak, feedback mechanisms are limited, therefore their vocal control, volume, and articulation may be affected. These secondary effects are physical and should not be viewed as mental or intellectual weaknesses. Indications that a student has a hearing loss may include a student’s straining to hear, use of loud or distorted speech, difficulty with phone conversations, and consistent failure to respond.

Common accommodations made for students who have hearing loss may include: Sign Language interpreters, assistive listening devices, use of electronic communication (example: Email), signaling devices, priority registration, note-takers, tutoring, preferred classroom seating arrangements, and captioned videos and media.

Psychological/Mental Health Disorders

Students with psychological or mental health disorders have experienced significant emotional difficulty that generally has required treatment in a hospital setting and/or as an outpatient. With appropriate interventions, often combining medications, psychotherapy, and support, the majority of psychological/mental health disorders are cured or controlled. Below are some brief descriptions of some more common psychiatric-related disorders:

  • Depression is a major disorder that can begin at any age. Major depression may be characterized by a depressed mood much of the day, a lack of pleasure or interest in most activities, thoughts of suicide, insomnia, and feelings of worthlessness or guilt.
  • Bipolar disorder (manic depressive disorder) causes a person to experience periods of mania and depression. In the manic phase, a person might experience inflated self-esteem and a decreased need to sleep.
  • Anxiety disorders can disrupt a person’s ability to concentrate and cause hyperventilation, a racing heart, chest pains, dizziness, panic and extreme fear.
  • Schizophrenia can cause a person to experience, at some point in the illness, delusions and hallucinations.

Common accommodations for students who have psychological or mental health disorders may include: exam modifications, alternative ways to complete assignments, taped lectures, and study skills/management training.

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

A Traumatic Brain Injury can occur when there is an injury to the brain as a result of an outside force, such as a closed head injury, trauma or a missile penetrating the brain, or by internal events such as a tumor, stroke, etc. There is great variability in the effects of head injury on different individuals, but most injuries result in some degree of temporary or permanent impairment with three major brain functions: physical, cognitive and behavioral.

The following are some of the areas that may be impacted by the injury:

  • Memory/Recall                                               • Balance/strength
  • Processing speed                                         • Communication
  • Conceptualization                                        • Goal setting/planning
  • Psycho/social behaviors                           • Judgment and reasoning
  • Attention/concentration                            • Ability to control emotions
  • Self-control                                                      • Speech

Common reasonable accommodations for students with TBI will generally be similar to those provided for LD/ADD students. Assistive Technology may also be recommended.

Blindness/Visual Impairments

Vision impairments fall within three general categories:

  1. Visual acuity of 20/200 – This means that the legally blind student can see at 20 feet what the average sighted person can see at 200 feet;
  2. Low vision – The individual has limited or diminished vision that cannot be corrected with standard lenses; and
  3. Partial sight – The student’s field of vision is impaired (this could be due to an illness, degenerative syndrome, trauma, etc.).

Note: Although some students may have total blindness, only 2% of all individuals with vision impairments are totally blind. The majority of individuals have some residual vision. Common reasonable accommodations for students with vision loss may include: alternative print materials, magnification devices, adaptive computer equipment or software (AT), readers for exams, priority registration, recorded lectures, and raised line drawings.

Orthopedic Impairments/Physical Disabilities

The term orthopedic impairment refers to a broad range of disabilities. Students who have these impairments must often use devices such as wheelchairs, crutches, canes, braces and artificial limbs to facilitate mobility. The impairment may be either congenital or a result of an injury or disease. Some of the most frequently seen examples of this type of disability include:

  • Arthritis                                           • Spinal Cord Injury
  • Amputation                                   • Polio
  • Blood Diseases                            • Cerebral Palsy
  • Multiple Sclerosis                        • Muscular Dystrophy

In addition to the above mentioned conditions, some students may also have temporary orthopedic/physical disabilities such as a broken leg, sprained ankle, etc. Common accommodations for students with orthopedic impairments may include: priority registration, note taker, accessible classroom location and furniture, alternative ways to complete assignments, student aides, scribes, assistive computer technology, exam modifications, access to elevators and conveniently located parking.

Other Health Impairments/Chronic Illness

Some other impairments, such as neurological or medical conditions may be observable or hidden. These disabilities can impact students by significantly impairing their energy level, memory, mobility, speech and vision or muscular coordination. Examples of health impairments may include:

  • Asthma                                                         • Narcolepsy
  • Cancer                                                          • Kidney problems
  • Respiratory Disorder                               • Severe Migraines
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome                   • Crohn’s Disease
  • Tourette’s Syndrome                                • Arthritis, inflammatory conditions
  • Cystic Fibrosis                                             • AIDS/HIV+
  • Multiple Sclerosis                                       • Diabetes
  • Epilepsy

Reasonable accommodations for these students will vary greatly. Some will require individually tailored accommodations while others will use accommodations similar to those students who have other disabilities. Accommodations for students who have health impairments will generally be similar to the accommodations given to students who have orthopedic impairments.

Autism Spectrum Disorders

The diagnostic criteria and characteristics for each specific autism spectrum disorder is very detailed and specific. The term Autism Spectrum, however, generally refers to a range of disorders which include Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, and PDD-NOS. These are neurological, pervasive developmental disorders that impair communication, cognitive, and social skills. Students with an autism spectrum disorder typically have problems communicating with others and engaging in peer interactions. They may also have heightened sensitivity to stimuli and follow repetitive routines.

Students with autism are often referred to as “high functioning,” as they are many times very intelligent, capable and proficient in knowledge of facts. Students may struggle with Language comprehension, Social Interaction, Organizational Skills, Distractibility, and Resistance to change. As such, the following could be helpful accommodations for these students:

  • Having access to visual study guides and structured outlines;
  • Extended time for assignments or exams;
  • Provide information both visually and orally;
  • Testing in a quiet environment;
  • Alternative ways to demonstrate mastery of course material; and
  • Providing alternative options for group work