Yes! Here are several ideas:
- Use positive language when referring to disabilities. Substitute “student with a disability” for “disabled student”; The first term simply refers to one aspect of the person’s capabilities, while the second suggests that the whole student is disabled! Switch from “handicap” to “accessible” (e.g., accessible parking, accessible entrance) because it has a more positive connotation as well. Replace the words “wheelchair bound” with “wheelchair user” to emphasize what the chair makes possible rather than what it hampers. Avoid saying a student “is ADHD” or “suffers from a disability.” Instead, say, a student “has ADHD” or “has a disability.” With practice these new terms will feel natural.
- Keep in mind that there is a range in how comfortable students feel about discussing their own disability status. Even someone with a very apparent physical disability (e.g., blind or a person who uses a wheelchair) may not appreciate being identified as an “expert” in a related discussion in an education or physiology class. At the other extreme are those who would actually feel disrespected if not asked to personally comment. Solution? Wait to take your cue from the student’s spontaneous contributions in class or privately inquire about his/her position before drawing into an open discussion.
- Know the way to the Disability Services office so that you’ll be prepared to direct someone: Located on the second floor of the Hill Student Center near the faculty and staff dining room. The entrance is labeled 220. The DRC telephone number is (502) 597-5076.
- Be aware of additional resources available specifically for your students with disabilities. The Disability Resource Center offers academic support, counseling, and personal coaching, but these services are driven by student request. If you find that someone you are accommodating needs additional help, privately refer him/her back to the DRC.
- Resist the (sometimes powerful) urge to interact with a student’s service animal, and enforce this rule in your classroom. Privately the dog receives much affection from its owner and may be petted by anyone the owner permits, but in public, it is “on duty.”
- Use automatic door openers only when you need them. Advise students that they wear out with over-use, and some are battery powered with a limited number of operations being available before they stop working and need repair. Persons with mobility or health issues AND anyone with an armload of books or packages or pushing a hand truck or stroller absolutely should press the button. If you ever encounter an inoperable switch, please take the time to report it to the DRC office or to Facilities before it creates a barrier for someone with no other option for entering that building. The DRC office would also appreciate hearing about any other barriers or hazards you may notice on campus.
- Understand that a set of accommodations may continue to evolve after the semester is underway. Despite efforts of the DRC, obstacles (and therefore student needs) may not be entirely predictable when the notice is first generated. The interaction of the demands of your course and a particular student’s limitations means that minor adjustments will occasionally be necessary. You will receive an addendum to the original notice if the change is substantial, but you are free to fine-tune the accommodations directly with the student’s input at any time. If you make any changes in the classroom, please notify the DRC and get the student’s agreement in writing on the accommodation form. Your flexibility is both needed and appreciated. Thank you!