Teaching Considerations for Students with Disabilities

This resource highlights some of the conditions or disabilities your students may have. It also recommends ways to prepare your course resources and how to deliver your course to lessen or avoid challenges students may have as a result of their condition or disability.

Disability Awareness

Firstly, it is important to be aware of the variety of effects that disabilities can have on an individual’s learning, and why traditional teaching and content display methods may not work for everyone.

The World Health Organization (WHO, 2011) estimates that 15% of all people have some form of disability. In 2017, more than 22% of the Canadian population aged 15 years and over — or about 6.2 million individuals — had one or more disabilities (Statistics Canada, 2018). To be more precise, in Canada:

  • more than 5% of people have hearing loss;
  • 4.5% have some form of visual impairment;
  • 7.9% have mobility related disabilities and 3.6% have a dexterity disability;
  • 4% have a learning disability; and
  • 3.5% have a memory disability.

Use of Assistive Technologies for Teaching and Learning

Awareness of assistive technologies will help instructors relate to students’ challenges.

Consider the tables below. Here, we present a variety of conditions and disabilities, recommendations for course design and assistive technologies which may also be considered for teaching and learning to address them.

Condition or Disability Learner Experience Design Recommendations Assistive Technologies
visual impairment, low vision, blindness
  • May be able to touch type.
  • Challenged reading the screen.
  • Screen reading technology does not interpret diagrams or visuals well. Recorded messages (such as through Dragon Dictate) can be difficult to navigate sections or paragraphs.
  • use 12 point fonts or larger
  • use a sans serif font (e.g., Arial, Helvetica, or Verdana)
  • using italics or upper-case letters for emphasis is not recommended
  • space between the lines should be at least 25% of the point size
  • left-aligned text is the most readable alignment for Western learners; avoid justification or centering text
  • add descriptive text about the content or function of an image or graphic
screen reader, screen magnifier
Condition or Disability Learner Experience Design Recommendations Assistive Technologies
hard of hearing, deafness
  • unable to follow or hear verbal discussions
  • challenges with cues for ‘turn taking’
  • some learners know a form of Standardized Sign Language (ie, British, American, etc.) but not all
  • provide transcripts or closed captioning
  • provide summaries of key points in chat
closed captions, transcripts
Condition or Disability Learner Experience Design Recommendations Assistive Technologies
physically disabled, mobility issues
  • inability to freely move hands, arms, or fingers leads to inability to use keyboard or mouse at typical able-bodied user speeds, or possibly at all
  • users may utilize or rely on alternative methods of interacting with content, such as input devices, text-to-speech software, or text prediction software, to assist with the composition of responses and feedback
  • users may not be able to participate in a timely way with synchronous activities
  • asynchronous discussions would likely benefit these users, giving them more time to formulate and add contributions
  • ensure all content is accessible by assistive devices
  • provide text alternatives to all relevant course imagery and media, including diagrams, photos, charts, and videos
  • text prediction software
  • speech recognition software
  • on-screen keyboard
  • some ergonomic keyboards are single-handed use or have large keys for those with poor muscle control
  • adaptive switch technologies
  • input devices
Condition or Disability Learner Experience Design Recommendations Assistive Technologies
cognitive disability, learning disability
  • may not be able to contribute to a traditional synchronous discussion model
  • brightly colored or flashing text and images could be problematic, potentially inducing distraction, loss of concentration, or even seizures
  • asynchronous discussions tend to work best for users who may required alternative devices to access their course content
  • ensure all course content, including media, are provided in accessible formats
  • simple, clear fonts preferred, with no serifs
  • these design decisions also benefit second language learners
  • spelling and grammar checkers are of benefit
  • may prefer to use dictation or assistive technologies to produce contributions

Student Life at Memorial University has some great resources on Creating Accessible Materials. They also offer support in determining how to make your classroom accessible. You can also reach out to CITL for assistance with this as well.

Pedagogical Strategies Using Universal Design (UDL)

A solid approach to consider how to teach while keeping students with disabilities in mind is to follow the principles of Universal Design for Learning.

Video Captioning and Transcripts

The easiest and quickest technique for an educator to reach the most learners is to utilize video captioning or transcripts, or both, for presentations and videos.

Here are a few statistics on video transcript/captions:

  • 80% of people who use captions aren’t deaf or hard of hearing;
  • 80% more people are more likely to watch an entire video when captions are available; and
  • 98.6% of students find captions helpful (3PlayMedia, 2020).

Why do so many people use video captions and transcripts? It’s because they help with comprehension of dialogue, clarification of terminology, concentration, and engagement, which enables people:

  • to focus:
    • 65% of students say captions help them focus;
    • 63% of students say captions help them retain information;
    • 50% of students repurpose transcripts as study guides; and
    • closed captions help maintain concentration, which can provide a better experience for viewers with learning disabilities, attention deficits, or autism.
  • to watch videos in noisy or quiet environments:
    • captions allow viewers to watch videos in sound-sensitive environments, like offices and libraries.
  • to understand the language:
    • closed captions help with comprehension of dialogue that is spoken very quickly, with accents, mumbling, or background noise;
    • video that mentions full names, brand names, or technical terminology provides clarity for the viewer when the captions spell out these words; and
    • viewers who know English as a second language benefit from closed captions, because they make it easier to follow along with the speech.
  • to accommodate a hearing disability; or
  • to learn new vocabulary (3PlayMedia, 2020; and Sauld, 2020).

In general,


Resource created by Stacey A., Jane C., & Keith P.