Teaching disabled students

Making our teaching accessible to disabled students, including those studying for research degrees, can benefit all our students. 

Specific advice is available for those teaching students with dyslexia or other specific learning difficulties (SpLDs) and Asperger Syndrome.

Dyslexia and SpLD

Approximately 4% of all university students are diagnosed with dyslexia.

Each Specific Learning Difficuly (SpLD) is characterised by an unusual skills profile. This often leads to difficulties with academic tasks, despite having average or above average intelligence or general ability.

Different individuals will face very different difficulties, even with a similar SpLD diagnosis.

Many students with an SpLD may experience a visual-perceptual discomfort and disturbance which is sometimes known as Irlen Syndrome. This affects their reading of print on white paper, on overheads and slides, and use of a computer.

Stress and anxiety may also have an impact, as individual students develop and implement their own coping strategies.

There are a number of ways in which you can adjust teaching to help students with SpLDs to participate effectively.

  • Upload all lecture notes and other teaching materials to the virtual learning environment (VLE) in advance of lectures so students can familiarise themselves with the general content and vocabulary.
  • Outline the structure of each lecture clearly at the start.
  • Avoid unnecessary jargon or unusual grammatical constructions and, when introducing a new term, write it out and provide a definition.
  • Provide a written glossary of terms to explain complex terminology.
  • Avoid asking students to read aloud, and make sure you give plenty of time when asking students to read documents to themselves.
  • Provide clear, step by step, written instructions to guide students through any practical work.
  • Ensure you give students plenty of time to gather their thoughts before they need to give a verbal response to a question.
  • Design your presentation slides in an inclusive and accessible way. Use a large and clear front (such as Arial, font size 22 or larger), limit each slide to a small number of key points and use diagrams, pictures, charts and other visual aids effectively.
  • Read our guidance on producing accessible written and printed materials, as this will provide advice about font choice, font size, etc.
  • Whenever possible, design all materials (including slides, handouts, school handbooks) on a pale yellow or pale blue background. For many students, a white background creates glare and is difficult to read.
  • Allow plenty of opportunities for questions and feedback.
  • If you know of a student who has an SpLD but has not contacted the Disabled Students Assessment and Support (DSAS) team, encourage them to contact us.

Asperger syndrome

Asperger Syndrome (AS) is an autism spectrum condition which is not uncommon; research suggests that around 1 person in 100 has AS. The University aims to provide equal access to learning to students with AS. 

There are a number of ways in which you can adjust teaching to help students with Asperger Syndrome to participate effectively. 

  • Establish a clear line of communication to inform the student of changes in routine (for example, room changes, if a lecturer is off sick etc).
  • Make the links between aspects of learning explicit as generalising across contexts can sometimes be problematic. For example, students may not intuitively transfer skills learnt in one area of the programme to another area.
  • Accommodate different learning and thinking styles by using visual strategies and multi-sensory approaches when planning lectures and seminars.
  • Provide hard copies of presentation slides and information published on the VLE before taught sessions. Check that the student has received these, and that they are understood.
  • Ensure instructions and deadlines are very clear and assignment briefs are specific.
  • Consider the implications for off-site activities. The student may have difficulty using public transport, or may not be able to use it at all.
  • Consider giving the student permission to work alone rather than in a group. If group work is essential, help may be required with choosing partners.
  • Arrange frequent meetings with their personal tutor to check progress.