Academic Access

Participation in inclusive college courses provides many benefits to students with intellectual disability, such as improved employment outcomes, increased community engagement, meaningful learning alongside college peers, and added diversity and acceptance (Kelley & Westling, 2019; Kleinert, et al., 2012). It is important that faculty members with students with intellectual disability in their classes to be supported with information about how best to include all students so that all learners can benefit from a more diverse classroom.  With college program staff and faculty working together, learning opportunities are enriched for all.  This Innovation Exchange page  answers some frequently asked questions from faculty, highlights some helpful resources and shares the perspectives of faculty who have taught students with ID.

News & Features

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Universal Design for Learning offers an approach to teaching and learning that can support all types of learners, including those with disabilities. This video features a faculty member who has implemented universal design strategies in his class materials and instructional approach. ...Read more
Students with intellectual disability (ID) are a new kind of college student, as there was no clear path for these students to enter college until recently. Changes to the Higher Education Act in 2008 created a new type of college program that offers alternative admission to those students with ID that wish to continue their education after high school. ...Read more
This webinar shares details on specific strategies used by one university that offers training and support to course instructors to facilitate inclusive and challenging college experiences, collaboration with the disability services office to identify accommodations, and providing individualized coursework adaptations as needed.  ...Read more

Frequently Asked Questions

How do students with intellectual disability benefit from participating in college coursework?

The benefits are many for students with intellectual disability, and of course many of them are the same exact benefits that other students gain. Students with intellectual disabilities are eager to learn and they often select classes that align with career or personal interests. Students are excited to have the opportunity to further explore those interests in a college setting. You might, however, observe that the student’s overall learning styles and processes do not exactly match their peers. College courses and life experiences with their peers play a pivotal role in students being motivated to live and work as independently as possible. As the course instructor, it can be very rewarding having a small influence in the student’s success and providing a supportive living and learning environment for all students to achieve the most they can for their future.

Are college faculty obligated to provide modifications for students with intellectual disability in their courses that go beyond reasonable accommodations through Disability Services?

No. Modifications to course curriculum or assignments are not required under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act or the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which outline the civil rights protections for students with disabilities in college. Colleges and faculty members are not required or mandated to modify coursework or assignments. Faculty may however voluntarily offer to make curricular changes to their course materials or assessments if they would like to do so. If students are auditing the course, there may be additional supports provided or adjustments to course assignments that are coordinated by program staff and faculty may be involved in that process if they wish. The bottom line is that students with intellectual disability want to attend college classes to learn as much as they can, and will be able to get support outside of the class to help them. As a faculty member, you will teach the class as you always have. Faculty members who have had students with intellectual disability in their classes do report that when they make adjustments to assist that student grasp the material and fully participate, it benefits everyone in the class.

What does auditing a course mean for a course instructor?

Auditing usually means students are participating in the class but do not receive a grade or credit. The purpose of auditing courses is usually for academic exploration and self-enrichment. When auditing, students have more flexibility around their participation in all course assignments. Sometimes auditing students may elect not to participate in assessments or exams. Ideally, you as the faculty member for the course still provide meaningful feedback to the student about their work in the class, and offer as typical an experience as possible to auditing students – for example they should be expected to participate in class like other students, be part of group work in the classroom, and participate in class assignments to the greatest extent possible.

The ability to audit a course may depend on space availability and approval of the instructor and their academic dean or supervisor. Instructors usually have to approve or sign forms for students to audit courses. While audit fees can vary, there is a cost to auditing courses at most colleges.

How can course instructors give feedback to students with intellectual disability in their classes?

Although some students auditing courses are not eligible to receive official grades, giving encouragement and genuine feedback to all college students is encouraged beyond numeric grades whether they are auditing a class or taking it for credit. As their instructor, ultimately, don’t hold back. Give earned feedback, but as for all students, concrete suggestions on how to improve are very constructive. Generally, setting goals for steadily improving throughout the semester should be the primary purpose with overall grades being relative, instead of absolute measures.

How can course instructors best partner with the student and program staff and/or disability services?

Many students with ID are eager to advocate for themselves and their accommodations. Initially, however, they may need a little support. Program staff are typically eager to support you as the course instructor and to collaborate with Disability Services to assist as needed with accommodations, assistive technology, information and resources on Universal Design, working to help with modifications as instructors choose to do so, and discussing any classroom challenges or brainstorming potential solutions together. Don’t be afraid to contact the student’s support team members as you are not alone in this new journey.

Other questions?