During the working group discussions, participants discussed ways in which disability support services, faculty, and IT personnel can work together to support students with invisible disabilities.

Working Group Discussion 1

During one working group discussion, a variety of topics were reviewed related to supporting students with invisible disabilities in computing fields. Working groups were provided with the following discussion questions:

  1. What steps can your department take or are currently taking to embrace the UDI paradigm?
  2. How can disability support staff, counselors, educators, and IT personnel work together to support students with disabilities to create a UDI-friendly environment?
  3. What procedures/protocol does your institution use to facilitate communication and collaboration between different groups such as disability service providers, IT personnel, and educators to stay informed about cognitive disability needs on your campus?
  4. What are your ideas about specific steps that you could take to engage students with cognitive disabilities and to promote self-advocacy?
  5. For students: Why computer science and gaming? What are the barriers in the computing fields for students who learn differently? Student recommendations for faculty and service providers?

Discussions highlighted many ideas that stakeholders should take into account, including the following:

  • The importance of self-awareness and emotional intelligence among faculty, parents, students, and administrators. These traits mean that stakeholders are empathetic to students, more willing to try new tactics, and create a better learning environment.
  • Students can be reluctant to accept their diagnose and to disclose it with educators. This form of self-advocacy is important for students’ success.
  • Training related to socialization skills is critical for student success. Students need to accept responsibility for what they can control.
  • Hands-on-learning is a great way to help students understand social pragmatics and develop academic skills. It can be more effective than video or graphic stories.
  • Showing applications of math principles can help students learn the principles.
  • It is important for faculty to learn from students’ experiences to understand how to best work with students with invisible disabilities. In addition to understanding, faculty should be empathetic.
  • Peer mentors, especially those who have received some training, can be invaluable in helping younger students develop skills and strategies that will help them to be successful in postsecondary education.
  • Parents may be embarrassed or reluctant to admit that their child has a problem. This can be a barrier to students’ getting the support that they need in order to be successful.
  • There are systemic barriers to success for students with invisible disabilities. Teaching to standardized tests take away time from pragmatic education. There are not enough resources to allow for differentiated instruction for students with invisible disabilities because teachers must teach to the average.

During this discussion, students with invisible disabilities highlighted a few issues that they thought were important for educators to understand:

  • There is pressure for students to be sure that they have the right preparation, to get into the right college, and to finish college on time. Using opportunities in high school and college for career exploration, including counseling and internships, can help students decide what the right path is. Some students may find that they are more successful if they spend time at a community college or take some time off to regroup after graduating high school before starting college.
  • There are ways for faculty to help develop important social skills. For example, before a student takes an internship with an outside organization, consider having them complete an internship in your department where they can learn about time management, the importance of being on time, and other work-based skills.

Working Group Discussion 2: Case Studies

During this working group discussion, groups focused on two case studies to focus discuss on real world experiences that students with invisible disabilities may encounter.

Case Study 1:

My name is Stacey. I am a freshman in college with a major in computer science. I have a language based learning disability that makes it difficult for me to understand and organize large amounts of written and textual information. Reading and writing were my most challenging academic areas in high school. I use text-to-speech software for course texts and I am worried that I will not be able to access the course material and keep up with the reading assignments in my computing courses.

  • What can I do as an educator/IT person/disability support person to provide equal access to Stacey?
  • What can we do together to help Stacey?

Participants discussed a variety of strategies that might help Stacey be successful:

  • Ask Stacey more about her experiences with reading and writing, including strategies that worked for her when she was in high school. Help her develop ways to apply these strategies in her new environment.
  • Stacey should learn about resources and tools that can help her access reading or course materials in accessible formats. This might include Bookshare.org, an online library for people with print disabilities; DAISY (daisy.org), the Digital Accessible Information SYstem; Learning Ally (learningally.org/), a collection of audio textbooks; or Apple online course textbook tools (apple. com/education/ibooks-textbooks).
  • Stacey should make an effort to get her course texts early to ensure that she can locate them in an accessible format. Educate faculty to ensure that they are selecting course texts that are available in accessible formats.
  • Faculty need to provide more “live feedback on student performance.”
  • Each syllabus should have a disability statement on it.
  • Peer grading can help to redesign assessments in a way that may be more accessible to students who have difficulties with reading and writing.
  • Encourage faculty to set up alarms using Moodle (moodle.org) or another learning management system, if students don’t log in to the class website.
  • Stacey should be encouraged to contact disability services office, if she hasn’t already.
  • Solicit tips from previous students with invisible disabilities about how to do well in the class to share with incoming students like Stacey.

Case Study 2:

I’m Brad, and I am a freshman with an autism spectrum disorder. I am in a web design and gaming program at a large university. I score well on exams and always attend class on time, but I can’t understand what else my instructors expect from me. I am eager to learn, but I don’t like working in groups and my instructors tell me that I interrupt their classes with too many questions and comments. I often feel left out. I have disclosed my disability. How can I work with my instructors and classmates to make this course more enjoyable?

  • What can I do as an educator/IT person/disability service provider to provide equal access to Brad?
  • What can we do together to help Brad?

Participants discussed a variety of strategies that might help to ensure that Brad is successful:

  • Encourage faculty to offer students multiple ways of expressing knowledge and commenting on lecture material including: tweeting comments to lectures, rotating which students are responsible for responding to questions, or limiting students to asking three questions per class session before asking them to come to office hours.
  • It appears that communication is a problem for Brad. He should be encouraged to go to a leader when he encounters trouble. This might include a faculty member, the disability services office, or another person on campus. Students need to know that it’s okay to ask for help.
  • Although computer science might be more tolerant of employees who struggle with social skills, these are important skills to help students develop. Many companies would expect interns to be able to work in a group, for example. Group work in classes helps students develop an understanding of the process of group work as well as the product that results at the end.

Working Group Discussion 3

Group members were each asked to identify a complex student or faculty-related situation regarding providing equal access to students with disabilities and discuss possible strategies for the situation they chose. Groups were provided with the following sample situations:

  • faculty members reluctant to address invisible disabilities
  • buildings or offices inaccessible to individuals using wheelchairs
  • a new student on campus is deaf and uses a wheelchair. A faculty member has trouble arranging the classroom and discovers that the new interpreters have interpreted other students’ side conversations
  • a faculty member suspects that a student has an invisible disability, but the student has not disclosed that diagnosis to the faculty member
  • making sure that a product designed by a small team takes into consideration the tenets of universal design

One group chose to discuss faculty members who are reluctant to address or stubborn about addressing invisible disabilities. They identified multiple challenges, including faculty members’ limited time, energy, and expertise; resistance to change; and insecurity. The group also felt some institutions may lack a clear policy about how to deal with faculty members who have a negative attitude about invisible disabilities even if they provide students with the required accommodations.

Group members recommended the following:

  • Provide faculty members with professional development training to educate them about issues that students with disabilities face. This training might be a set of online training modules, completed at a faculty member’s convenience, that both address particular disabilities and specific strategies and ideas for accommodating those disabilities. The training should emphasize that although a strategy might not work for every student with a particular disability, the strategies discussed will be successful the majority of the time.
  • Provide faculty members with clear tip sheets about invisible disabilities such as the single-sheet, double-sided tip sheet developed by Lone Star College.
  • Develop a clear policy about students audio- or video-recording classes, requiring that such recordings be used solely for personal study.
  • Recommend or require professors to record every class and provide full lecture notes to all students.