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  • Information About Disabilities

  • Students with Learning Disabilities

    What is a learning disability (LD)?

    A learning disability (LD) is a disorder that affects the way individuals with normal or above-normal intelligence record, store, organize, retrieve, and use information. Common types of LDs are dyslexia (affects reading), dysgraphia (affects writing), and dyscalculia (affects mathematical calculations). People with an LD can also have difficulties processing information in auditory, visual, or spatial form. The origins and causes of LDs are not known, although many feel they are neurological disorders.

    How is a learning disability diagnosed?

    An LD diagnosis is determined by an evaluation consisting of a battery of aptitude and academic achievement tests administered by a licensed medical/mental health professional, usually a psychologist or a psychiatrist. This process often includes a medical, psychological, and education history to determine other contributing factors and to gain an understanding of the person's academic and life functioning. Testing can be expensive and is often not covered by insurance. Testing also requires a time commitment, since the process can take several months from start to finish. Once someone undergoes the battery of tests and other evaluations, a summary report is provided with a diagnosis, if applicable, and recommendations for academic and vocational settings.

    Is poor classroom performance a sign of a learning disability?

    Not always. There are many reasons why some students do not do well in school. While someone with an LD may be experiencing difficulties (such as receiving poor exam grades) in an academic setting, students without an LD often face the same difficulties. The opposite is also true. Students with an LD graduate with honors, go on to medical school, become lawyers, scientists, and college instructors. Many times an instructor won't even know a student has an LD. In fact, people with an LD generally have above average to superior IQs, and one of the signs of an LD is a significant discrepancy between a person's IQ and his or her performance on an achievement test. For example, a person with dyslexia may achieve perfect scores on graduate-level exams but spell at an 8th-grade level. The spelling isn't due to lack of intellect but to a processing disorder. Thus, it can't be assumed that every student with poor classroom performance has an LD.

    What are the signs that someone has a learning disability?

    Students with LDs generally have been diagnosed at an earlier point in their education, such as in grade school, but this is not always the case. If a student is having problems in a class, the most important step is to have an in-depth conversation with that student as to his or her perceptions of the problem. Simply present your concerns to the student. For example, "You've been getting D's on all your exams, and your essays have common grammatical errors." The student's response is crucial. Is the student working two jobs plus taking a full course load? Is the student in need of more study and review time? Is the student unsure why he or she is not doing well, and does he or she claim to be putting in adequate time? Some common things to look out for are poor organizational skills, difficulty with short- or long-term memory, discrepancies between what the student knows and how he or she performs on exams, trouble conveying information verbally but not in writing (or vice versa), common yet consistent spelling errors, and trouble understanding what's been read or said in class.

    What should I do if I suspect a student has a learning disability?

    The most important thing to do is to meet with the student and discuss your concerns. Again, state observable facts over speculations. For example, "I've noticed you make a lot of spelling errors" is a good way to initiate the discussion. Saying "I think you have dyslexia" can be off-putting to a student or serve as a premature and possibly inaccurate diagnosis. If the student reports having a history of an LD, refer him or her to the SDS office. If the student is uncertain why he or she is having trouble in class, the SDS office may be able to help figure it out. If there is a suspicion of an LD, the office can talk to the student about this in more detail.

    What happens once I send the student to SDS?

    SDS staff will sit with the student and help sort through his or her concerns. Questions will be asked to help the student gain further understanding into his or her academic difficulties. For example, "Which specific tasks are easy in your history class, and which are hard?" We ask students directly why they suspect they have an LD. We also ask students if they have ever been diagnosed before.

    What can the SDS office do?

    If a student has not been diagnosed but has an interest in being tested, we can discuss this. Our role is to provide information as a starting point for the student to further explore this area. We can discuss what to expect out of an LD evaluation in terms of time, cost, process, etc. If the student has been diagnosed we ask the student to bring in his or her documentation for review and discussion. Once the documentation is received, we talk with the student about what services will benefit him or her.

    What kind of help is available to a student with a learning disability?

    Help can be divided into two main areas: academic accommodations (sometimes called adjustments) and learning assistance.

    Academic adjustments are required under federal law for students with disabilities. Details as to this process can be found in the section How to Obtain Accommodations. Common academic accommodations for students with disabilities include extended exam time, use of a computer for in-class essays, books-on-tape, private exam location, tape-recording of lectures, and preferential seating. These legally mandated accommodations will be listed on an Academic Adjustment Notice from the SDS office, which will be signed by both the student and SDS staff and hand-delivered to the class instructor by the student. Please see the handbook for additional details.

    Learning strategies are ways the students can be helped, but they are not legally required accommodations. That means that while you don't have to do these things, they can help. An example of a common strategy is meeting one-on-one during office hours with the student to be sure that he or she understands instructions for assignments, which is something any student has the right to request from an instructor, and any student can benefit from. For a student with an LD, this is often a crucial step in achieving academic success. Of course, this meeting has to be initiated by the student.

    Should students with a learning disability be graded differently?

    Absolutely not. Students with LDs have a right to be held to the same standards as other student. This includes being graded on the same criteria. As long as accommodations are provided, academic success is up to the student. The accommodation process is designed to equalize the playing field so that students with LDs have the same chance of success as other students. To grade students with LDs differently is discriminatory, as is lowering standards in other ways such as requiring fewer or less demanding assignments. However, you can still treat these students the same as others by developing extra-credit assignments, alternative assignments, extensions, etc.

    What if a student with a learning disability is not doing well in my class?

    Treat the student as you would any other student who is not doing well. Have a conversation with him or her. See if he or she is taking advantage of available resources such as the University Learning Center. Refer the student to SDS if the student has an LD and needs accommodations.

    What if the student is receiving accommodations but is still not doing well?

    If a student is not doing well even with accommodations, discuss this with the student and see if there are any suggestions you can make to help the student and/or support services available. Also, notify the Student Disability Services office so that they can meet with the student and determine whether additional or alternative accommodations may be helpful.

    Does the SDS office offer testing?

    SDS does not do evaluations, but the university offers evaluations through  Low-Fee Psychological and Educational Testing. We can also refer students to outside agencies for testing if appropriate. It is important to note that testing can be expensive and may require planning on the part of the student. Testing also takes time. The student has to research and select an evaluator, schedule an intake, and then go through the testing process. It is not unusual for the process to take several months and to involve multiple visits. Also, there is no guarantee as to the outcome of an evaluation, meaning it may be determined that the student does not have a learning disability.

    What if I need more information?

    Additional information about working with students with disabilities is available from Student Disability Services. Any questions or concerns should be brought to the attention of Jason Luchs, director of Student Disability Services, 80 Fifth Avenue, 3rd floor, 212.229.5626.

    Students with Mental Health or Psychological Disorders

    What are mental health/psychological disorders?

    Mental health disorders affect one in five Americans to such an extent that they have sought some form of treatment. Psychiatric conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, and eating disorders are considered disabilities under the provisions of the ADA, and therefore people with medically recognized mental health issues are protected under the legislation. Like many other medical conditions, mental health disorders can change in severity from time to time. Because of this, we encourage students with mental health-related disabilities to remain in contact with our office to ensure they are getting the necessary accommodations and support and to be prepared should they suddenly require services.

    What should I take into consideration when teaching a student with a mental health disorder?

    Students with mental health disorders experience the same challenges as any other student. However, depending on the nature of their illness, they may face particular obstacles when dealing with stress or knowing when to ask for help. If a student feels that they are experiencing personal, social, or academic difficulties because of their mental health, it is better for them to be proactive and seek help sooner rather than later. Students can also be referred to the Counseling Center or to Student Support and Crisis Management for assistance as needed.

    What information does SDS consider to be confidential?

    Any disability that brings a student to our office will remain confidential, and students do not have to disclose the nature of their disability to anyone else. Academic adjustment letters can be given once a student has come to our office and provided the appropriate documentation of their disability.

    What other forms of mental health support are available to students at The New School?

    The New School offers psychological counseling to students in both one-on-one appointments with counselors and therapy groups that focus on specific areas at the Counseling Center at 80 Fifth Avenue, 3rd floor. Therapy groups cover topics such as drug and alcohol harm reduction, having a healthy relationship with food, sexuality, grief, and stress management.

    The Student Support and Crisis Management office is another excellent resource for any student with mental health concerns.

    What kinds of accommodations are typically provided to students with mental health disorders?

    As always, the accommodations provided to a student are done so on a case-by-case basis because each student has different needs. Often, these students have conditions that can affect processing speeds and also take medication that can slow down thought processes. A common accommodation for a student who has a mental health disorder is extended time on in-class exams. Other accommodations may include permission to audio record classes to prevent missing key points during lectures.

    Are students with psychological disorders required to adhere to the same attendance policy as other students?

    All students, no matter what type of disability they may have, are expected to adhere to the same policies and procedures set forth by the university. A student with a psychological disorder is not absolved of the responsibility of attending classes. However, instructors are encouraged to be flexible with attendance and deadlines if possible.

    Typically, students who may have more absences due to a psychological condition are willing to do all of the work required, but they may not able to attend class as often as their peers. This may be especially true of those students with conditions like bipolar disorder and depression, where symptoms can flare up and cause an increase in absences.

    More information about attendance and disability can be obtained by contacting SDS and viewing the information on attendance and disability.

    Additional Resources

    Student Disability Services is available to answer any questions you may have about mental health disorders, how to work with students who have mental health disorders, or any other issues that may arise.

    Students Who Have Chronic Medical Conditions

    What is a chronic medical condition?

    The category of chronic medical condition is very broad, and refers to any medical condition that affects one or more of the body's systems, including the digestive, respiratory, endocrine, immune, circulatory, and neurological systems. There are many examples of chronic medical conditions that can affect a student's ability to function at school, including cancer, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, epilepsy, Lyme disease, lupus, MS, sickle cell anemia, Crohn's disease, and many more conditions, not all of which will be visible to an observer. In fact, chronic medical conditions are often hidden disabilities.

    What kind of challenges might I expect when working with a student who has a chronic medical condition?

    Chronic illnesses present unique challenges because they are often unstable and their severity can vary over time. For example, a person with sickle cell anemia may have flare-ups of the condition that causes them to have more absences than other students. Some students may also have to keep frequent appointments with specialists that monitor their health which may be difficult to reschedule.

    Is the university attendance policy enforced for students with chronic medical conditions?

    All students, no matter what type of disability they may have, are expected to adhere to the same policies and procedures set forth by the university. A student with a chronic medical condition is not absolved of the responsibility of attending classes. However, instructors are encouraged to be flexible with attendance and deadlines if possible.

    Typically, students who may have more absences due to a medical condition are willing to do all of the work required, but they are not able to attend class as often as their peers. More information about attendance and disability can be obtained by contacting SDS and viewing the information on attendance and disability.

    What kinds of accommodations are provided to students with chronic medical conditions?

    Each student is different and there are a wide variety of accommodations that may need to be arranged. Students should meet with Student Disability Services to discuss what types of accommodations are available and appropriate.

    Can I ask a student what his or her condition is in order to provide them with more specific assistance?

    Our office guarantees all students a degree of confidentiality and thus students are not required to disclose the nature of their condition to instructors unless they choose to do so. Depending on the nature of the condition, a student may be more cautious about revealing details because he or she fears embarrassment or even discrimination because of the disability. Medical conditions such as HIV or Irritable Bowel Syndrome are very personal; therefore, individuals with these conditions are often guarded about giving more than basic information.

    How do I know that a student really needs accommodations if I don't know what his or her condition is?

    All students who self-identify to SDS and are determined to be eligible for reasonable accommodations have submitted appropriate disability documentation. SDS certifies that any student who provides an academic adjustment letter to their instructor is entitled to the outlined reasonable accommodations. If you have specific questions about accommodations, or have questions about what is on a student's academic adjustment notice, please contact SDS.

    What if I need more information?

    Additional information about working with students with disabilities is available from Student Disability Services. For further information, contact Student Disability Services by email at or by phone at 212.229.5626.

    Students Who Have Visual Impairments or Are Blind

    What are visual impairments/blindness?

    Blindness and visual impairments directly affect over 12 million people in the United States, and many college students with disabilities have one of these types of disabilities. Visual impairments may be present from birth or the result of an illness or accident; however, not all visually impaired people are considered blind. There are varying degrees of blindness, and very few legally blind individuals lack all sight completely.

    It is important to consider that even though an individual may use a white cane, he or she may still have some vision. Some people may have sensitivity to light or the ability to make out large shapes and objects, but be unable to read a book or see writing on a blackboard. A lack of peripheral vision and extreme near- or far-sightedness are also considered visual impairments and may require accommodation in an educational setting.

    What should I take into consideration when teaching a blind or visually impaired student?

    Each student is different, and there are a variety of accommodations that may need to be arranged; one individual may use a cane or a guide dog, while another may need enlarged-print copies of course materials and have to sit at the front of the classroom in order to see the professor. For this reason, blind and visually impaired students are encouraged to submit documentation to Student Disability Services as early as possible and to remain in close contact with the office so that their individual needs can be assessed. Once this has occurred, the appropriate reasonable accommodations will be made.

    What types of accommodations are available to blind and visually impaired students?

    Not all blind people read Braille, and some conditions (such as diabetes, which can cause both vision loss and numbing of the extremities) even preclude this. Braille materials are also expensive to procure and limited in their availability. The New School does have a Braille embosser available for any individual who wishes to make use of it. For more complex jobs and to ensure accuracy, we can outsource the creation of Braille materials to professional organizations. If a student uses Braille regularly, it is likely he or she will own a refreshable Braille display which will allow them to read electronic documents and also take notes or write papers.

    Increasingly, blind and visually impaired people are making use of adaptive technology. They may make use of devices such as talking calculators, computer programs with speech output such as JAWS or Kurzweil, and adapted electronic writing tablets with speech output that make taking notes easier. Some students may also use a scribe in class, usually a fellow student who takes particularly detailed notes or types his or her notes on a laptop. In some cases, a reader may retype or scan handwritten notes so the student can use screen-reading software and listen to the notes through a computer.

    What kind of technology is commonly used by students who are blind or visually impaired?

    As mentioned above, blind and visually impaired students use a variety of software to assist them in the completion of their assignments. JAWS is a very common software for blind students: it reads the content of the computer screen aloud by using optical character recognition (OCR) and synthesized speech output. JAWS is increasingly compatible with more programs and websites, especially as more Web designers take a more accessible approach to building their Web-based content. JAWS can also be configured to work with a refreshable Braille display, which is essentially a Braille keyboard that can display the information on screen for the student to read in Braille format.

    Kurzweil 1000 is also widely used by blind and visually impaired students for its invaluable scanning capabilities. A student can get access to printed materials by scanning them via Kurzweil 1000, which uses OCR to determine the content and then display it on the screen. Kurzweil 1000 also has speech output like JAWS, and thus can read on-screen content to the user.

    Zoomtext is another useful program for individuals who have low or limited vision. As the name of the product suggests, Zoomtext increases the size of on-screen content up to 24 times. Combined with the use of a large monitor, Zoomtext can be an invaluable tool for students with visual impairments.

    What technology is available at The New School for students who are blind or visually impaired?

    There are workstations in the some of the university computer labs reserved for use for students with disabilities. They are equipped with the latest version of JAWS and Kurzweil 1000. There is also a flatbed scanner available for use if students need to scan materials for JAWS or Kurzweil 1000 to read aloud. Other software is installed as needed. Student Disability Services also has workstations with this software in our Testing Room (80 Fifth Avenue, third floor, room 324), which doubles as a lab when no exams are being administered.

    The programs and equipment for students with disabilities can also be installed on designated computers at the university as needed.

    All PCs and Macs come equipped with basic accessibility features in the operating systems that usually consist of a basic magnifying program and sometimes a screen-reading program. This built-in accessibility ensures a certain baseline level of access even if more specialized software is not available for use.

    Do I need to do anything special for the student if I use a lot of handouts or put a lot of material online?

    If you use handouts in your class, it would be extremely helpful to contact SDS about getting the materials in advance so that they can then be translated into Braille or audio format. Keep in mind that if a blind student comes to class and the instructor has decided spontaneously to give a handout, that student will not have access to this information during class.

    When dealing with posting material on websites, it would be best to have multiple versions of the files that are being used to ensure the highest level of accessibility. Blind students will most likely be using screen-reading software that can access the website, but the program might not be able to read the material posted, depending on the file type. If the student couldn't access the file, emailing an electronic (Word or accessible PDF) file to the student could help.

    What is a "reader"?

    Some blind and visually impaired students will have another student assisting them with important tasks such as picking up books from the library, scanning course materials, and editing written work for errors in punctuation and formatting. These assistants are called "readers" because before the advent of speech-output computer technology, the reader would actually be making recordings of themselves reading books aloud. Nowadays, most readers spend a lot of time organizing books and articles and scanning them into a computer equipped with speech-output software. A blind student enrolled full-time will often need more than one reader because of the volume of work involved with this process.

    The readers are students with a federal work-study award who are hired by Student Disability Services, which oversees their progress and facilitates communication between the readers, students, and instructors.

    What is the role of SDS in providing accommodations?

    SDS works with students who are blind or have vision-based disabilities on a case-by-case basis to ensure they receive all reasonable accommodations necessary. As mentioned above, each student will have his or her own abilities, strategies, and skills, and because of this, he or she is encouraged to remain in close contact with our office. In cases where the student desires to work with readers, SDS arranges this and monitors their progress. If a student requires particular adaptive technology programs or hardware, SDS can evaluate the request and procure the needed items.

    What are some helpful strategies for working with blind and visually impaired students?

    Most blind and visually impaired students have their own strategies for learning, but professors can help in many ways. If a student is working with a reader to get course materials scanned into a speech-output or text-enlargement equipped computer, it is extremely helpful if the professor provides a reading list and course packet several weeks before the semester begins. Similarly, if there are going to be any classroom hand-outs or last minute additions to the coursework, a student who relies on readers will need some time to prepare. For situations such as tests, field trips, and study abroad, the student and professor may need to make special arrangements, and these should be discussed with the SDS office on a case-by-case basis.

    Courses with a strong visual component, such as film studies or art history, are not immediately out of the question for a student with a visual impairment, as there are many ways to appreciate the visual arts and to learn about their history. In fact, a blind or visually impaired student may open up our perspective on subjects such as art appreciation, film making, etc. SDS can also reach out to other universities for additional techniques on working with this student population and visually oriented classes.

    Additionally, instructors who have blind or visually impaired students in their classes are encouraged to consult with SDS regarding implementation of accommodations whenever there is uncertainly about an accommodation, or other more general questions. Students can also be very helpful in determining how best to make something accessible because frequently they have a high level of knowledge about their condition. Accommodations typically work best when SDS, students, and faculty work in concert to ensure access to all academic materials.

    Additional Resources

    Student Disability Services is available to answer any questions you may have about blindness and visual impairments, how to work with blind and visually impaired students, and any other issues that may arise.

    Students Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

    What is deafness/hearing impairment?

    Approximately 7 percent of Americans experience some loss of hearing that affects their ability to hear both speech and environmental sounds. An individual may be born deaf, become deaf later in life, or experience hearing loss as a temporary disability due to a medical condition or injury.

    Do all deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals have the same hearing loss?

    There are varying degrees of deafness and hearing loss, with a small number of individuals hearing nothing at all and many others retaining some hearing.

    How do deaf people communicate?

    Individuals who are deaf and hard-of-hearing communicate with one another and with hearing people through visual means instead of or in addition to speech, such as writing and sign languages such as Signed English, American Sign Language (ASL), and finger spelling. Some deaf or hard-of-hearing people may understand lip-reading, but it takes a lot of practice to become accustomed to particular accents, and lip-reading is dependent on having a clear view of someone's face.

    What is the role of SDS in providing accommodations?

    SDS works with hard-of-hearing and deaf students on a case-by-case basis to ensure they receive all reasonable accommodations necessary. Each student will have his or her own abilities, strategies, and skills, and because of this, he or she is encouraged to remain in close contact with our office. In cases where the student desires to work with interpreters and note-takers, SDS arranges these services.

    What should I take into consideration when teaching a student who is deaf or hard of hearing?

    Each student is different, and there are a variety of accommodations that may need to be arranged, including sign language interpreting and note-taking services.

    How do sign language interpreters work in class with a deaf student?

    Many deaf and hard-of-hearing students will use sign language interpreting services in the classroom. Sign language interpreters are professionals who can work as freelancers or be employed by an agency. Because interpreting is mentally and physically demanding, interpreters often prefer to work in pairs, with one actively interpreting while the other rests.

    Depending on the course content, the interpreters may request materials from you in advance so that they can prepare for upcoming classes. For example, in a class where there is a large amount of new terminology, vocabulary, and readings, like a literature class, it would be beneficial to provide as much of this information to the interpreters in advance.

    Should I speak to the interpreter or directly to the student?

    When speaking, address the student rather than the interpreter, and keep in mind that the student will need to be able to see the interpreter and the interpreter will need to be able to hear what you are saying. Additionally, students who use an interpreter will not be able to take notes while they are looking at the interpreter. Therefore, they will either use the services of a note-taker or photocopy the notes of another student in the class.

    Is there technology available to assist students who are deaf and hard of hearing?

    Some students may sit at the front of the class in order to hear the lecture, while others may use an amplification system or radio-microphone that is directly connected to a hearing aid. Transcription services are also available to deaf and hard-of-hearing students but would most likely be used by a student who has recently or temporarily lost their hearing and is therefore not fluent in sign language.

    Some schools that have more extensive programs for deaf students offer real-time speech-to-text transcription services by using voice recognition software, like Dragon Naturally Speaking. Depending on the needs of a student, a specially trained captionist will use a voice recognition program to create a real-time transcription of the class, much as a court stenographer transcribes courtroom proceedings. However, instead of typing, the captionist dictates into a special "mask microphone" that muffles the voice to minimize any distraction to the class.

    What should I do if a deaf student in my class does not have an interpreter?

    First off, we must consider if the student actually needs an interpreter or not. It could be incorrect to assume that just because a student has hearing loss that s/he needs an interpreter. This is something that SDS can determine by meeting with the student. If you believe a student in your class would benefit from having an interpreter, refer him or her to SDS.

    If this is a student who usually comes to class with an interpreter but does not have one, contact SDS to find out if there is a problem with the interpreting assignment for that student. Typically, SDS will contact a student in advance if there is a problem with interpreting services and work to correct the situation. SDS makes all interpreting arrangements for deaf and hard-of-hearing students.

    Should I make arrangements for an interpreter if I have to meet with a deaf student privately during office hours?

    The student should know if s/he will require an interpreter for such a meeting and thus be in contact with SDS to request interpreting services. It is not the instructor's responsibility to make this request, but a reminder to the student wouldn't hurt.

    Is there anything special I need to do for deaf students if I am showing a movie in class?

    If you intend to show movies in your class, it would be a good idea to get copies that have closed captioning. This way, if you do have any deaf students in your class, you can simply turn on cc and the student will be able to read the transcription from the screen.

    If the film you are showing does not have cc, an interpreter might be able to interpret if given information about the film in advance. Interpreting a film on the fly is very difficult.

    Do I need to do anything special if I am showing a PowerPoint presentation or using overhead slides?

    Most instructors will dim the lights in the classroom when they are showing a slides or a PowerPoint presentation so that students can better see the screen. However, a dark room can make it difficult for deaf students to see their interpreters. Try to keep some light on around the interpreter or use a small lamp to illuminate the place where the interpreter is sitting. This will ensure that the deaf student can properly see what the interpreter is signing, while not compromising the ability of other students to see the presentation.

    It is also helpful for interpreters if they have copies of the material that you will be showing in advance so that they can prepare and be able to more effectively interpret for their students. It is very challenging for interpreters to work on the fly with no preparation material.

    Additional Resources

    The office of Student Disability Services is available to answer any questions you may have about deafness and hearing impairments, how to work with deaf and hard-of-hearing students, and any other issues that may arise.