Disability Services

Accessibility Tips for Faculty

The Americans with Disabilities Act, as amended (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 mandate that institutions of higher education that receive federal financial assistance must assure that the educational programs and services offered to students must also be accessible to students with disabilities. This means providing programmatic and physical access as well as reasonable accommodations applied to instructional processes.

The goals of ADA and Section 504 are to secure equal opportunity, ensure equitable treatment, foster independence, and create a welcoming environment for students with disabilities.


  1. Make your course disability-friendly. Include a statement in your syllabus welcoming students with disabilities and inviting them to contact the Disability Services Office (DSO) at 617-824-8592 or DSO@emerson.edu to discuss their disabilities. Once documentation is received from the student, the DSO can arrange for reasonable accommodations in compliance with ADA.
  2. Reasonable accommodation in the classroom is a civil right. When you receive a letter from the DSO, you are responsible for providing the accommodations listed. However, you are not required to compromise the academic quality of your course in order to accommodate the student. Students with disabilities are required to demonstrate the required level of understanding or performance competency as determined by the professor and by the department’s course objectives to pass the course.
  3. Because students are the experts on their own disabilities, ask them if you need more information about how they learn best.
  4. Students have a right to privacy in disability matters, and their confidentiality must be maintained. Please file letters of accommodation in a safe place and refrain from discussing students’ disabilities and necessary accommodations in the hearing of others who have no educational "need to know."
  5. Some students may have invisible or hidden disabilities. They have the same rights as all students with disabilities.
  6. Please refer to the Emerson College Faculty Handbook for additional information.

Please Note: If a student has identified to the DSO and been approved for accommodations, s/he will deliver an accommodation letter to you. However, there are students who have disabilities who don’t wish to work with the DSO or identify as having a disability. It is not uncommon for a student to have more than one disability.

The following tips for teaching students with disabilities are useful for teaching all students more effectively.

General Teaching Tips

  1. Provide a syllabus that includes textbook information, description of assignments, and due dates.
  2. Post the syllabus on the Canvas system as far in advance as possible.
  3. Offer frequent, detailed and timely feedback on students’ coursework.
  4. Encourage students to contact you to clarify assignments.
  5. Communicate with students in a timely manner.
  6. If your course requires an alternate location, off-site work or a field trip, it is essential to work with students and the DSO well in advance. Students may need assistance with ASL interpreters, describer support, transportation, special seating, or frequent rest breaks.

Tips for Specific Disabilities

Nature of Disability

More Information

Learning disabilities

Students with learning disabilities often have normal or higher intelligence, but they also have "information-processing deficits" that can create significant challenges in academic areas (abstract concepts, reading, writing, math).

Students with learning disabilities report some common problems, including slow and inefficient reading; slow essay-writing with problems in organization and the mechanics of writing; and frequent errors in math calculation.

  • Be sensitive to students who, for disability-related reasons, may be unable to read aloud or answer questions when called on.
  • Compose assignments in a way that makes them accessible for students with learning disabilities. Make sure that assignments and exams are clearly typed, with spaces between lines. To eliminate visual confusion, avoid putting too much information onto one page. Print information on only one side of the paper.
  • Suggest that students use graph paper or other visual tools to ensure neatness and avoid confusion.

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD/ADHD)

ADD/ADHD is characterized by a pattern of frequent and severe inattention, hyperactivity, and/or impulsiveness. People with ADHD have problems similar to the problems of people with learning disabilities: slow and inefficient reading, slow writing, and frequent errors in math calculation and the mechanics of writing.

Students with ADHD often have problems with paying attention, time-management, task-completion, organization, and memory.

  • Invite students to sit at the front of the class.
  • Remind students frequently of deadlines.
  • Start class sessions with a summary of material to be covered or provide a written outline.
  • Review major points at the end of each class.
  • Vary your teaching approaches.
  • Permit breaks.
  • Give assignments orally, write them on the board, and hand them out in written form.
  • Break down assignments into component parts and set deadlines for each part.

Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD (formerly Asperger’s Syndrome)

People with ASD are often extremely bright and understand ideas in novel ways, but they may have trouble with prioritization, flexibility, organization, and persistence. They may have trouble making eye contact, reading others’ moods or facial expressions, and making social connections.

Academically, they may do very well with concrete assignments, but less well with abstractions, and work and effort may be inconsistent. Particular challenges may arise with oral participation and with group work both in and outside of class.

Strategies for students with ADHD and psychological disabilities with be helpful for students with ASD. In addition:

  • Give written information about your anticipated process and objectives for each class.
  • Give specific, direct information, (orally, online & written) about expectations, assignments, and next steps.
  • Be prepared to assist with group dynamics during group work; students may need moderation for the social interaction aspects. It may help to assign clear roles, responsibilities, and deadlines.
  • In group work in and out of class, suggest/set up structures so that guidelines for participation are clear.
  • Consider distributing written expectations and tips for successful group participation in your course.
  • If students get stuck on a topic or are overreaching or speaking out of turn, it's ok to be clear about your boundaries and move on.

Psychological Disabilities

Psychological disabilities include depression, bipolar disorder, autism spectrum disorders, and severe anxiety. Students with these disabilities report difficulties with concentrating and completing work in a timely fashion.

Ability to function effectively may vary from day to day. Medications help with some symptoms of psychological disability, but medication side-effects (e.g., drowsiness or headaches) can contribute to a student's academic problems.

  • Please make every effort to make students feel comfortable if they disclose their psychological disabilities to you and also understand that they may not wish to do so; with the student’s consent, the DSO office can provide you with further information.
  • Please review the suggestions about learning disabilities and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. These suggestions may also be appropriate for students with psychological disabilities.

Deaf or Hard of Hearing

Students who are deaf or hard of hearing are not all alike. Some are adept at reading lips and others are not. Some communicate orally and others use sign language, gestures, writing, or a combination of these methods.

In class, students with hearing disabilities may have American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters scheduled to be in class with them or they may use hearing aids or other technologies.

  • Speak directly to the student, not to the student's American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter.
  • Ensure that only one person speaks at a time during class discussions. When a class member asks a question, repeat the question before answering.
  • Use captioned videos whenever possible. When showing uncaptioned videos, slides, or movies, provide an outline or summary in advance.
  • When using the board or an overhead projector, pause so that the student may look first at the board/screen and then at the interpreter, to see what is being said.
  • When requiring field trips or off-campus meetings, please work with the DSO in advance. Students may need ASL interpreters or special seating.

Visual Disabilities

Students with visual disabilities may have trouble seeing class syllabi, textbooks, PowerPoint presentations, videos, exams, and some Internet websites.

Most students with visual disabilities take advantage of assistive technology. Computers can enlarge print; read the text on a computer screen aloud; or scan books, articles, and other printed materials and then read their text. Some students use audio recorders, portable note-taking devices, or talking calculators.

  • Please provide the DSO with text titles in advance. For some students, the DSO must acquire textbooks in an accessible format (e.g., audio or e-texts).
  • Handouts may need to be modified so students can access the information. Please work with the student or the DSO to modify formats/font sizes.
  • When using an overhead projector or PowerPoint, use a large font size: at least 18 points. When possible provide printed or electronic copies of material that has been presented in class.
  • Pace the presentation of material. If referring to a text, allow time for students to find the information.
  • Avoid making statements that cannot be understood by people without sight (e.g., "This diagram sums up what Iam saying about statistics.")
  • Read aloud everything that you write on the board.

Speech Disabilities

Students with speech disabilities may communicate in various ways. Some students speak with their own voices, but slowly and with some lack of clarity. Other students write notes, point to communication boards, use electronic speech-synthesizers, or communicate through assistants who interpret their speech to other people.

  • When communicating with students who have speech disabilities, do not indicate that you have understood if you have not. Students are accustomed to being asked to repeat, so don't be afraid that you'll offend them if you ask them to "say it again" or to spell words.
  • When students have speech challenges, meet with them to discuss their communication styles and how they can best function in your classroom.
  • If a communication assistant accompanies the student to class, address your comments and questions to the student rather than the assistant.

Limited Manual Dexterity/ Other Mobility Impairments

Mobility impairments can have many causes: for example, carpal tunnel syndrome, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, and spinal cord injury.

Students with mobility impairments have varying physical limitations and deal with their limitations in different ways. They may use crutches, braces, or a wheelchair.

  • Students with mobility impairments may not be able to raise their hands to participate in class discussion. Establish eye contact with the students and call on them when they indicate that they wish to contribute.
  • Whenever you are talking one-to-one with a student in a wheelchair, try to be seated so the student does not have to look upward at you.
  • If your course requires an alternate location, off-site work or a field trip, it is essential to work with students and the DSO well in advance. Students may need assistance with transportation, special seating, or frequent rest breaks.

Chronic Illness or Pain

Students can have disabilities related to chronic illnesses such as migraines, arthritis, diabetes, cardiopulmonary disease, cancer, chronic fatigue, immune deficiency syndrome, lime disease, or seizure disorders. They can experience medical conditions that cause intense and continual pain (e.g., repetitive stress injury, post-surgery, back problems).

Symptoms of these conditions can be unpredictable and fluctuating. Students’ pain or the side-effects of medications may cause them to become immobilized, dizzy, or confused, making it hard for them to attend class, pay attention in class, or complete assignments.

  • Please review the sections above.
  • Letters of accommodation will detail individual accommodations as needed.

This information has been adapted from the University of California at Berkeley’s web page Teaching Students With Disabilities.