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Communication Access - Diverse Learners

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Diverse Learners

The overall intent of the UDI Online Project is to support the concept of “faculty as designer” in implementing innovative instructional practices in online and blended courses to meet the needs of diverse learners. The terms diverse learners refers to students with mild cognitive disabilities such as Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.

Learning Disability is a specific type of disability that has multiple definitions. The most relevant definition for postsecondary level students and adults comes from the National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities (NJCLD, 1998) which defines learning disability (LD) as “a general term that refers to a heterogeneous group of disorders manifested by significant difficulties in the acquisition and use of listening, speaking, reading, writing, reasoning, or mathematical skills. These disorders are intrinsic to the individual, presumed to be due to a central nervous system dysfunction, and may occur across the life span. Although learning disabilities may occur concomitantly with other disabilities (e.g., sensory impairment, mental retardation, serious emotional disturbance), or with extrinsic influences (such as cultural differences, insufficient or inappropriate instruction), they are not the result of those conditions or influences.”

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder is a neurobiological disability with characteristics of inattention, impulsivity, or hyperactivity that appears in early childhood, is relatively chronic in nature, and is not due to other physical, mental, or emotional causes (Center for Students with Disabilities, www.csd.uconn.edu). According the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV, 1994), "the essential feature of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder is a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that is more frequent and severe than is typically observed in individuals at a comparable level of development" (p. 78). The subtypes of this disorder vary according to the predominant symptom pattern (i.e., inattention, hyperactivity-impulsivity, or a combination of these characteristics).


American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed). Washington, DC: Author.

Center for Students with Disabilities. (n.d.). Disability information: Students with attention-deficit disorder (ADD) or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). University of Connecticut, Storrs. Accessed on May 27, 2010 http://www.csd.uconn.edu/fs_add_adhd.html

National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities (NJCLD). (1998). Learning Disabilities: Issues on definition. Asha, 33. (Suppl. 5), 18-20.


Functional Limitations that May Impact Communication

According to the American with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) of 2008, the definition of disability is:

  • Having a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities;
  • Having a record of such an impairment; or
  • Being regarded as having such an impairment.

Listed in the ADAAA, major life activities include, but are not limited to:

  • Speaking
  • Hearing
  • Communicating
  • Learning

Communication is the ability to effectively engage (give and receive) information through spoken words or concepts.

Communication includes:

  • Writing
  • Speaking
  • Listening
  • Sign Language
  • Other Adaptive Methods of Communication (Center for Students with Disabilities, 2009)

Limitations in interpersonal skills may impact Communication Access. Interpersonal skills are an individual’s ability to establish and maintain personal, family, and community relationships (Center for Students with Disabilities, 2009).

Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) of 2008, PL 110-325, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq.

Center for Students with Disabilities. (2009). Limitations fact sheet. University of Connecticut, Storrs. Accessed on May 27, 2010 http://www.csd.uconn.edu/docs/Functional_Limitation_Fact_Sheet.pdf


Scenarios Involving Faculty and Diverse Learners

The following scenario(s) are based on real experiences involving student(s) and/or faculty at the postsecondary level.  Each scenario was developed to provide a broad example of situations that diverse learners, such as those with learning disabilities, may experience in college level courses, or that faculty may experience working with these students.  However, the specific characteristics and needs of students with disabilities will vary from person to person and from situation to situation. The solutions offered here should be used as guidance only.

  • You are teaching your first online course and are interested in exploring ways to overcome the virtual online environment so that students have a sense of a learning community in your class. You would like to plan your course to be more than a collection of online readings and PowerPoint slides posted within a course management tool like Blackboard or Moodle.

    Possible e-Tools to consider in addressing learning need: Ning, Voice Thread, Fotobabble, Twitter

  • One of your online course assignments requires students to complete a small group project. Several students are frustrated by the inability to interact with other group members in real time. Other students have complained about the challenges of keeping track of the revisions and edits. You are wondering what you can recommend to the groups of students that will enhance the collaborative nature of the assignment.

    Possible e-Tools to consider in addressing learning need: Skype, Facebook, WikiSpaces, Google Documents, Google Sites

  • Hannah teaches an art history class online. A course requirement is postings to the course discussion board. She has noticed in the past that some students actively engage with the ideas shared by individuals within the class, while other students meet the minimum requirements of two postings per week. Hannah is looking for alternate ways to engage all her students to share and discuss ideas.

    Possible e-Tools to consider in addressing learning need: Ning, Voice Thread, Fotobabble, Twitter

  • A course requirement in Dr. McKenzie’s online Educational Psychology course is a group project. Currently, Dr. McKenzie posts the list of possible project topics in the course web site and has students e-mail her their topic of interest. She then accumulates the emails and assigns the students to their groups by topic of interest. This semester Dr. McKenzie is looking for ways to simplify the process of students signing up for topics of interest and coordinating their own groups based on their schedules in order to better collaborate on project activities.

    Possible e-Tools to consider in addressing learning need: Doodle, FacebookTwitter


Research: Link to Bibliography