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What is a learning disability?

According to Putting a Canadian Face on Learning Disabilities, an applied research study by the Learning Disabilities Association of Canada:

“Learning Disabilities refer to a number of disorders that may affect the acquisition, organization, retention, understanding or use of verbal or nonverbal information. These disorders affect learning in individuals who otherwise demonstrate at least average abilities essential for thinking and/or reasoning. As such, learning disabilities are distinct from global intellectual deficiency”.

Most often, students with learning disabilities will excel in one or several areas of learning but exhibit significant difficulties in another area. Such variance in performance may be a manifestation of a disability.

What should I do if I suspect that one of my students has a learning disability?

If you encounter a student that is not registered with ACCESS (i.e., you have not received an Accommodation Memo from the ACCESS Team) who discloses that they have a disability or if you suspect a student may have an undiagnosed learning disability, please encourage them to they make an appointment with ACCESS for an evaluation of their case and/or a screening. Depending on the screening results, ACCESS may refer the student to an outside source for an assessment, which could then potentially provide a diagnosis and ensure that the student receives the necessary supports.

A student has asked me for accommodations; how do I know the student truly has a disability and has the right to request accommodations?

Students requesting accommodations on the basis of a specific disability must first meet and register with one of the ACCESS Advisors; during this initial meeting the student is required to provide a formal diagnostic documentation from a qualified professional.

Once registered with ACCESS, an Accommodation Memo is sent out to the students’ teachers at the beginning of each semester, which specifies the accommodations that this student requires. Teachers requiring additional information about students’ unique learning needs are encouraged to contact the ACCESS Advisors.

When is a student required to notify me that they require accommodations?

Although students are encouraged to register with ACCESS at the beginning of each semester, it is possible for students to register with the services at any point throughout the term. Therefore, while you will be made aware of the accommodations needed for the majority of students at the beginning of each term, there is a possibility that you will receive Accommodation Memos later in the term.

In some cases, even though you have received an Accommodation Memo, the student will not initiate communication with you regarding accommodations. This may be because the student is trying to manage their course without accommodations or simply because the student does not require accommodations in your course; but may need them in another course. Sometimes students may take the first few tests in your class without any accommodations, only to realize later in the semester that they require the accommodations and so will request them at this point. In these types of cases, you are not required to provide the students with makeup exams for those that were taken with accommodations as they are not retroactive.

Some of the reasons students may register with ACCESS later in the semester is because:

  1. They were still waiting for the documentation specifying their disability.
  2. They were apprehensive about disclosing their disability and wanted to try and take their classes without accommodations but eventually realized that they were struggling and therefore decided to request accommodations.

In order for a student to request accommodations, do I need to receive a new Accommodation Memo every semester; even if I have had a student in a previous class and already received a Memo?

In order for students to continue receiving accommodations they must renew their registration with ACCESS every semester, which means that you should receive a new Memo each semester. Renewing students’ registration with ACCESS at the beginning of each semester not only allows us to ensure that students are still in fact registered in courses at Vanier but that their needs are being appropriately met.

Does the provision of accommodations give students with disabilities an undue advantage?

Accommodations compensate for the limitations caused by a disability, and therefore are not advantageous but equitable.

Am I allowed to request that a student provide me with their official disability documentation?

The ACCESS Team keeps all psychological, medical and/or psycho-educational documentation for students with disabilities. Students often do not feel comfortable discussing the specifics of their disability and/or diagnosis. In addition, official disability documentations are often written using field-specific terminology, which can be difficult to interpret. If interested in learning more about a student’s unique needs, then you are encouraged to speak with their ACCESS advisor directly.

Is it OK for me to ask the student about their disability?

Some students may choose to discuss the nature of their disability with you; however in order to receive accommodations, the student is only required to disclose their disability to the ACCESS Team. Should you have further questions regarding the nature of a student’s disability and/or their learning needs, please feel free to contact the ACCESS Team for more information.

How should the accommodation Extension on Assignments be handled?

Students are encouraged to speak with their teachers prior to the deadline of the assignment. The teacher and student should negotiate a revised deadline. The revised deadline usually ranges from a few days to a few weeks after the original deadline and depends on the nature of the situation. In some circumstances, it can be longer and can even be extended to after the semester is finished. In these types of situations, the Access Advisor should be involved.

What do I do about a student who is disruptive or misbehaving in class?

A student with a disability who is disruptive in class should be treated like any student who is disruptive. Inappropriate behaviour is unacceptable. But if there is a medical reason for the student’s behaviour, the teacher can discuss with the Access Advisor to explore the situation in greater detail and to arrive at a feasible solution.

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