A Special Interest Group on Disability

A Special Interest Group on Disability


All Special Interest Groups start with an issue to improve, a problem to be solved. This SIG on disability, more specifically on how to assist inclusion of university students with disability in order to maximize their success in the EFL classroom, certainly did: the problem, a real, concrete, practical need, a matter of basic human rights, had been gently clamoring for attention for years.Being neither new nor acute, it had always been overshadowed by more urgent matters and remains low in priority.

While most SIGs aim to improve already reasonably satisfactory aspects of English language teaching, the object of this SIG is by no means operating to satisfactory standards: we seem to be tarting with virtually nothing. Furthermore, while no SIG can be expected to be of interest to all eachers, this SIG might require more personal commitment than others, as it will emotionally nvolve participants with previously unfaced issues and situations. This SIG will appeal to those who want to bring about change, not simply superficial technical improvements in methodology but changes that will radically affect the lives of a number of people and in the long term assist the transformation of attitudes in society.

“Not for the faint hearted”. This could explain the response to my first call for participation in this SIG: other than a few messages of support “I’d help if I had time” no one, out of 200 teaching staff, came forward. Should I have written my mail more carefully, expressing the issue more sensitively? Probably not: go too gently and nothing will happen. People probably need to watch from a distance for a while to see what they could be committing themselves to. Those interested will, in time, approach the group when they feel ready. As during its first semester the SIG on disAbility only consisted of one person, meetings were unnecessary though reports were mailed to the departmental e-list. I take full responsibility for everything done so far.

The fact that I am not an expert working within a system has paid back. With my ‘inexperienced and unqualified’ mind, I have taken a fresh untainted look at the situation from all angles in order to gain information from anyone I thought could be in the least way helpful. Nothing was ruled out: often the sharpest insight was gained from negative incidents, ones of rejection or inability to deal with issues of disability. I took advantage of fresh first-hand experience of the emotions and anxieties of an inexperienced teacher when facing one special student among a class of twenty others, all of whom had to reach their individual potentials.

For many years I’d been involved in education, most recently with several years volunteering with blind learners, at all levels in education from primary school to university. This lead to two papers presented at ELT conferences: one on the situation of blind students in tertiary EFL classrooms (Thomas 1998) and another on generally applicable strategies developed with children at a School for the Blind (Thomas 2000). In Fall 2001, the first SIGs were set up in our department but the topics were not for me. It was only when I was given a student with severe hearing impairment that I realized the need for a SIG on disability. This SIG could be a forum to provide me (and any other teacher) with the support I was to need.

Not knowing where else to turn, I referred to my 1998 paper, written for EFL teachers with a blind student in their class. The table of tips was not a bad start as many ideas were directly applicable or could be quickly adapted, often by reversing them. For instance, “Minimize blackboard use” became “Maximize blackboard use”. But my lack of confidence called for more advice. A low point early in the semester was when I was recommended to plan every lesson according to my deaf student! My confidence was shaken; could I manage this? However, common sense rapidly took control. Firstly, this would not be feasible time-wise; secondly, it would be wrong to focus all teaching around one particular student, ignoring the needs and interests of others.

This paper will address the issues directly related to access and empowerment of students learning English at university preparatory schools, in particular those attending the Department of Basic English at the Middle East Technical University (METU) in Ankara. However, this work should have broader repercussions, facilitating, for example, entry of students with special needs to language schools that have so far refused to accept them. Here we will not only look at the ultimate goal of an effective system but also those small first steps that will enable individuals in other institutions – without financial resources or managerial backing – to begin changes that will raise hope, and thus motivation. This area of ELT and Disability seems to be little covered in the literature in two respects. Firstly much evidence in education relates to primary and secondary levels, not post-compulsory education. Secondly, in the words of a British Council officer in Brazil, “the ELT community still shows little interest in special education”. All students I have had direct experience with are native speakers of Turkish, with disabilities ranging from visual and hearing impairments to motor and mobility impairment. I will not dwell on the delicate issue of terminology (discussed in Corbett 1996); I will refer to students with disabilities as “special students” and others as “regular students”.



Because of the general absence of disabled people active in everyday life in Turkey, the general public is “immunized” against the issue. The unconcerned justify their response by claiming th situation is uncommon and doesn’t warrant their attention. Others may be concerned but feel incapable, the vastness of the task being beyond their capabilities. This general lack of awareness is reflected in the scarcity of data; the most recent census of the population of Turkey (2000) was the first to mention disability, but asking no details it will not give rise to any significant data. This joint lack of awareness and confidence is also found in the families of children with disabilities, leaving most without suitable knowledge in the critical early years in which fundamental skills and attitudes are gained. Thus few special children have been encouraged to participate and become independent individuals. However, thanks to television and the Internet, awareness of those people who are achieving despite their disability is spreading: a blind climber on top of Mount Ararat (over 5000m altitude) will inspire even the sighted.
a. History

The history of special education in Turkey goes back to 1951, when the Ministry of National Education took responsibility to provide education for children in need of special education (OECD, 1995). The 1992 Turkish State Planning Committee report (Devlet Planlama Te_kilat_ 1992) states the country’s desire to reach the status of developed countries, through adapting ideas from other countries, to generate a model suited to Turkey. Good words are a step in the right direction. However, new laws and directives from above mean little unless accompanied by parallel change on the ground, in the classrooms and homes of those living with disability. For example in 40 years, little specialized equipment had been provided to the special schools (DTP, 1992).

When handling statistics, it is important to realize that meaningful comparisons can only be made when data have been collected under identical categories with the same criteria. In 1994, the British Department for Education estimated that 20% of the school population would have special educational needs at sometime during their school lives (Mittler, 2000). This figure of 1 in 5 learners comes from a broad inclusive understanding of “special needs”. When looking at figures (OECD, 1995) for children with sensory-motor disabilities, figures range from 5% for Norway, down to 0.03% for Greece. Turkey, with 2.2%, is within the range. However certain figures stand out. In Turkey 0.74% of disabled children was receiving special education (OECD, 1995) while the Netherlands claimed that less than 0.1% of children with special needs were not receiving educational. Since 1986 a number of special children have been educated in mainstream schools, without any provision or support at all. Turkish figures for numbers of children in integrated education are not readily available but probably are probably only a fraction of those in special schools. Thus, large numbers of children are missing out on educational opportunities that the families are not aware of.
b. Skills.

In the absence of an integrated approach to special needs education, pupils will pick up whatever skills and strategies they can. Special students entering our university range from those who have good independent mobility, social skills and high confidence to those who while academically competent are socially unskilled and highly dependent on their needs being noticed: often, these individuals have developed compensatory skills to get others to do for them what they fear to attempt.

Any effective learner must master a range of skills, such as life skills, study skills, information skills and problem solving skills.. However fundamental skills such as management skills may need to be taught more explicitly to special students that are not automatically included within the regular system. Without self-management (the ability to function independently in any given environment) a learner will have difficulty adapting to a situation: without adaptation inclusion will only be partial. However the good news is that such skills can be taught (Westwood, 1998). Skills programs are nothing new in general education, the concept being on the British agenda by the early 1980s (Hanson J, 1990). Students who fail to acquire abilities to organize, to hypothesize or to predict will be at a disadvantage in their studies. Many tools are now available for assessing of a range of factors from self-concept and personal responsibility to social skills(Baumberger and Hayer, 1999) but these should be used selectively and constructively. One significant reason given for the acquisition of such skills is to promote self-reliance and independent work, key aims for people who have been encouraged to depend on others.
c. Current success levels.

How successful are special students in Turkey at the moment? This includes not only access into the system and achievement while in the system, but success once out of the system. Are the students having problems, or are hurdles elements built in to unsuitable systems, blocking learners from reaching their potential? Are observed successes real successes? By this I mean objective and repeatable, stemming from true learning. Or are they partly dependent on softhearted teachers who turn a blind eye and grade leniently? If this is the case, self-esteem is undermined and an alternative agenda is developed, the student learning to manipulate the system to appear to be successful.

Any contact with people with disabilities will reveal their frustration at the lack of support, guidance and awareness concerning those attempting to study with restricted abilities. No mentally-challenged students will be found in higher education. One can assume that anyone who reaches our university classes will not only be as academically capable as their peers but will have had to show great determination to get this far.

One university in Turkey has established a system for supporting visually impaired students throughout their tertiary education: at Bogazici University, each blind student has a personal support teacher allocated to them not only for their time learning English but continuing during their studies in their department. While this certainly overcomes many technical difficulties, it creates an extra social barrier as the special student has fewer opportunities to interact with regular students; furthermore a greater or lesser degree of dependence on the helper will develop. This seems to be corroborated in that, elsewhere, individual education programs have been felt to isolate and segregate learners (Westwood, 1998 and Mittler, 2000).

Language learning differs from other subjects in that the classroom methodology is highly visual. Accordingly, in the language classroom, disabilities can be ranked from the most excluding, visual, through hearing impairment, speech impairment and finally mobility impairment. However, even with identical biological impairments, students will show much variation in the range of strategies they can choose from. For instance among the totally blind, some can Braille, some can touch type while others can’t spell in the foreign language. Some remain very silent, while others are aggressively dominant

To finish on a positive point, many exciting developments are happening. “Yürüyorum”, a bimonthly magazine for people with disability, is raising awareness and connecting people. As large numbers of people get access to the Internet and can exchange ideas, news of what is happening elsewhere is spreading and websites are being set up in Turkish. Speaking programs in Turkish mean the blind can now access materials from computers and an Internet café for the blind has been opened in Ankara. It’s now time to network.



Mittler (2000) identified the main obstacles to change as “lying within ourselves: our attitudes and fears, our tendency to underestimate people and to overestimate difficulties and disappointments”. We need to learn a fresh way of seeing, perceiving the current situation accurately and being able to envision possible futures.

The aim of the disAbility SIG is broadly defined by the need for a systematic approach to ensure that no students should have to ‘hope to get a caring teacher” in order to be able to learn. By providing systematic support for both students and teachers involved and identifying hurdles within the system, we should enable students to become independent autonomous learners. Thinking more idealistically, one might look to a notable change in policy known as the Italian experiment (Mittler, 2000). In the 1970s, all special schools having been closed, all children were sent to mainstream schools. While the education of special children remained a key feature, another main purpose of this radical move was to ensure the next generation of Italians grew up with contact with people with disability. In other words, the majority would not be disabled in their response when encountering a person with special needs.
a. Needs identification.

Mittler (2000) writes of two polarized perceptions of special educational needs. In the defect model, problems are assumed to lie within the learner, who is expected to adapt to fit the system. In the opposite model, the systems are seen as discriminatory and disabling requiring obstacles to be removed from institutions, regulations and attitudes. Although the defect model is seen as obsolete, at this early point in the process, and dealing with young adults, it is essential they be given a share of responsibility: they are part of the solution, and will inspire others. Thus in order to bring about change, both aspects must be looked at. To ensure effective use of limited resources any project should clearly identify specific needs from the start.

i. Learner needs.

Students needs do not just depend on the type of physical disability, but also on the environmental conditions and on psychological reactions, attitudes and approaches to events and situations. Furthermore, we must address not only needs perceived by the students themselves,but often others they are not aware of, that may be too deep down, buried under accumulated defense mechanisms that distort perception of reality.

To some extent, special students need to learn to fit the system, by refining awareness of available options, developing their range of skills and taking greater responsibility for their learning. As young adults in tertiary education, they are assumed to have a minimum of learning skills and strategies in order to reach university. However, many students arrive ill equipped. For this many need to deepen their awareness and mastery of learning strategies. Ultimately, the goal of any appropriate system should be to allow each learner to become autonomous, motivated by internal drive and responsible for their own decisions rather than dependent on external intervention, be it in access to subject material or control in exams. Only when autonomy is reached will the special student feel equal to their peers.

ii. Needs of teachers.

A teacher told she has a special student in her class will begin with her ideas, which will include a number of unfounded prejudices. The reality is that the student will be an individual like any other that the teacher has faced, with abilities, skills and knowledge; like others the student will have weaknesses. However, this student has also been identified as being different. Thi difference may only be a partial impairment; this difference may have added many strengths to the person’s character. The teacher, and all others, should learn to see beyond the label, as they would with skin color, to see the whole person beyond the biological limitation.

Though teachers may lack confidence, they have much they can draw on: natural teaching skills, common sense, experience in handling a large range of student psychology, and patience to learn from a new situation. Within the classroom, good teachers already consider the individual needs of each learner, thus they will be well equipped to handle many aspects of working with special students with particular limitations by using diagnosis (not just testing, but finding out the person’s opinions and expectations) prior to adapting the task (Collins N. 1990). While a special student may increase the heterogeneity of a class, requiring the teacher to stretch their skills a little further, learner profiles (see for instance Millrood 2002) tend to identify learners according to characters unrelated to sensory ability. Experience shows that special students fall into commonly encountered student categories.

However, for technical issues of provision of materials in suitable form and extra time to cover points not grasped in class, the class teacher should not be left unsupported. In all countries with planned integrated education, an essential component of the program is the provision of teachersupport. This is seriously lacking in METU and other institutions in Turkey. Thus any teacher hearing she has a special student in a new class rightly swallows hard and dreads the first encounter.

iii. Needs of the system.

Any system wishing to progress must be flexible. Brighouse (1990) gives a set of principles as criteria to assess the effectiveness of schools. These can be applied to any ‘system’ in which complex interactions of factors are beyond the control of individuals such as the learner or the teacher. The disAbility SIG can raise awareness of points at which the system could be more adaptable, suited to a broader range of student and can work towards changing attitudes of those with authority to change the system.

One particular hurdle within education systems is exams. Exam conditions should enable students to show their knowledge. While current systems overcome certain difficulties, the solution may lead to other stress factors, such as the position of the exam reader for the blind, which gives rise to emotions – on both sides. In the short term guidelines may iron out certain factors, but ultimately technological options should allow any student to answer written papers without a human intermediary.
b. Limits to the potential of a SIG.

How much can a SIG do? A single person can bring about a number of changes, introducing people, increasing awareness of opportunities, passing on information and simply listening to people. We must know and work within our limitations, without promising miracles. We cannot change the law, state exams or campus landscaping. We have no budget to equip laboratories or fly in foreign consultants. We are not computer experts; however, having got in touch with others who know, we can recommend equipment to those who have authority to purchase. Because what has been done in Turkey (Başbakanlık, 1999) relates only to statutory education without mention of tertiary education, there is great potential for members of this SIG to bring about real change in student attitudes and degrees of success. In METU, where students have so far had to sink or swim, each developing its own strategies to get support, an initial function of the SIG could thus be to make initial provision of both student and teacher support, prior to the establishment of a professional service.
c. Psychology

Too often people unexposed to disability will shy away and are unable to respond appropriately. “Vay vay, zavall_ – Poor thing!” does much damage to self-esteem. Furthermore, even well intentioned positive discrimination without understanding can have negative effects, as the learner realizes they have been given credit although they know they haven’t grasped the concept. To shield their children from such experiences, parents of special children will often protect them to such a degree that they will have even less understanding of what is around them.

A general effect of any form of disability is social isolation: this results not simply from the physical isolation or impaired communication (including lack of body language cues for the visually impaired). It is a psychological consequence of being different from others. This is often compounded by family attitudes, such as hiding the person from the outside world, with a variety of justifications. Such attitudes may result in responses that seriously impair learning skills. However, similar degrees of social impairment are seen in regular students with no physical impairment. Many ‘able’ students are in similar states following parental overprotection.

The psychology of learning is taking on ever increasing importance. Advanced neurobiological techniques are now proving the seriousness of the impact of perceived threat and failure. After experiencing failure, most people will avoid repeating the experience unless they see some reasonable hope for success; in other words, when the challenge is feasible. While the brain rewards itself for successful learning, negative experiences can incapacitate learning by breaking off neural connections and releasing stress molecules such as cortisol. Neurobiology is beginning to account for the connection between student attitudes and success: lack of confidence will interrupt pathways for optimal learning and unmotivated learners will make little use of long-term memory (Jensen 1998). An understanding of such processes can help maximize opportunities and effectiveness in learning. Ideally, a support program would include specialists trained in the identification of the skills that a student has and the strengthening those that are weak or lacking.


a. Criteria

Common sense was relied on at first, as there were no known examples to follow. In fact it appears much current practice is the result of research on “evidence”, in other words methods emanating from common sense (Westwood 1998): gut reactions may not be so misleading. My instincts were not without foundation. Over a quarter century of voluntary work of various types and in various forms, I had, for instance, gained both and insight into the widely varying views of those with interests in school processes and knowledge of legal requirements within the British education system.

Cooperation must be the key to penetrating virgin territory, no one person having the answer. Much listening and watching will be needed to gather information to gain the understanding that will be the foundations of future progress. Mittler (2000) stresses that, while doing research is useful for influencing the public, it is also very important to listen to the ideas and opinions of the disadvantaged, even children. Furthermore, electronic communications giving access to information from Brazil or Poland may be more relevant to the mass of children in Turkey than examples from countries with fully subsidized provision of electronic support and a strong legal framework.

A positive outlook will be paramount. It would be too easy to bemoan what is not working and give up. Expectations should be kept high but realistic. To raise levels of confidence, we should look at past successes, develop effective strategies and set achievable goals. Moreover, available resources (people, contacts, time and energy) must be valued. In particular, every effort by volunteers must be appreciated: our driving force is motivation not money.
b. Priorities

i) Be focused and specific. By addressing specific problems encountered by real individuals, their integration and learning can be maximized; the trap is to design a system for stereotype or ideal students that in fact do not exist. Furthermore, any concepts imported to the local situation,even from another institution in the same country, must be adapted. What works elsewhere may not be suitable.
ii) Balance importance against feasibility. In theory, if one has power, one can start with the highest need. Power can break resistance, but few come willingly by force. In Turkey, where many feel powerless with respect to systems and bureaucracy, attitudes have tended towards fatalistic resignation, up against which urgency loses its meaning. Thus in practice it may always be better to work with what can be done, with changes people are ready for.

Starting with highest feasibility means doing things that will work. Some channels are already open; others will need a little digging. Though these first steps may only bring small changes to opportunities, attitudes and willingness will change. The high concentrations of endorphins released by success will create a positive feedback loop in the brain, which will crave for more (Jensen, 1998). An example of an easily achieved change is the extension recently obtained for visually impaired students: a two and a half hour exam was extended not just by one more houbut to double the exam time; it was a matter of asking the right person at the right time.
iii) Think long term while paying attention to the short term. While not losing sight of the broader, more distant aim in mind, we need to focus on each step of the process. In the short term we should increase effective learning of the few who have got into the system, while in the long term increasing access and opportunities for others to get into the system. In the short term we may only find imperfect solutions to immediate needs. These may relieve some stress an increase success. In the longer term, finer deeper analysis of factors affecting success can be combined with knowledge of learning processes and choices of alternative options, both technological and organizational, to design an inclusive system that supports a greater range of students.

iv) Be sensitive. For many this is not a comfortable subject. The issue is considered awkward and to be avoided. To minimize fear, diplomacy and tact, persuasion or respectful silence, a sense of limits (of abilities) and time (to talk or to delegate responsibility) will be required to adjust tasks to individual capacity. Feelings must eventually be faced: behind each event lie the causes: the Why and How behind the What. Confidentiality must be respected if trust is to grow in painful moments.
c. Means

While we have neither money nor authority, we can find both people and links, generating knowledge, which gives power!

People can be involved at different levels. Some will find individual ways of contributing to the group, by researching or contacting others. However, the main involvement is expected to be through support groups. The philosophy behind the establishment of support groups is that nonspecialists must be involved. Issues of disability should not be the problems of a few but the affairs of many. While taking a share of responsibility, a non-disabled person gains in understanding, empathy and humanity. Volunteers will not only be part of empowering routine asks such as sharing revision of lessons and peer checking homework, they will learn to see through the difference of disability to the individual behind the “disabled” label. The student support team will involve any student in prep school, not just classmates of the special student, in order to reduce the social isolation of special students. A training program will prepare volunteers to assist effectively without creating expectations or counterproductive habits. In the same way, the teacher support group will share both practical tasks and experiences. By increasing teachers’ understanding of real people and situations, the myths that currently lurk in staff rooms should gradually disappear. This will only happen if the teachers themselves – not specialists outside the classroom – are active in the process. These support networks will not replace a professional service but complement it. In the absence of a professional service, the support networks may be the only source of support for special students and for their teachers.

Links refer to connections with anyone with any experience including current and ex-students with disabilities, the primary experts in the experience; parents, those who have known the students for longest; teachers, with and without experience: those best placed to adapt the learning environment and psychologists, people qualified in the complex range of factors affecting success and failure. Links will also be made with groups, ranging from associations and other NGOs to official bodies, such as the Disability Section at the Prime Ministry, known as the Prime Ministry Department for the Affairs of Disabled. Links with relevant organizations must be selective as there are now too many. A number of large charities in Europe and elsewhere have collected a wealth of resources and expertise, but a growing number of associations now operating effectively in Turkey are aware of the local situation. Some trial and error, referred by Mıttler (2000) as learning from experience, will be essential in adapting solutions to the specific ituation: textbooks and precedents elsewhere can only provide general guidance.



a. Deeds:

The formation of this SIG has consolidated previous work. A forum on the issue of disabled ccess to tertiary education has been created. As we developed a systematic approach to the problem, issues were analyzed more deeply. I have contacted individuals, groups and nstitutions, many leading to further contacts. Finally, the pace of a semester, with students who ill only be around for another few months, has given a notion of time. The pressure of eadlines leads to efficiency as well as stress!

By becoming a SIG, even if only a one-person SIG, relations within the department have been formalized. This facilitated communication with management, on several instances leading to prompt remedies to difficulties. It also gave a degree of authority when approaching a student’s future department.

Many contacts were made. RNIB and RNID (British Royal National Institutes for the Blind and for the Deaf) websites gave information on issues identified in Britain and some ideas for solutions we could adapt for our students. Contact with a local association for the blind provided support and guidance for a student. They were also able to provide computer training, which is now recognized as equivalent to the compulsory course for regular METU students. Here, both sides benefit from a symbiotic relationship: our students (and department) and the association. We also formalized links with the student society supporting blind learners and assisted them in identifying Braille EFL resources. Finally, a word of thanks must go to Suzan Oniz, who provided a steady stream of highly relevant emails and Internet sites. One of the most positiv moments was receiving a mail from someone somewhere in the Brazilian tropics. Thus as the global picture emerged I realized that, far from being behind and underdeveloped, this SIG could be asking questions and proposing solutions that others have not yet thought of.

The thorny issue of exam conditions was barely broached: increase in exam time for visually impaired students, and written provision of a spoken announcement for a deaf student were token first steps.

In the rapid flow of term time, it wasn’t easy to create time and ambiance for sensitive issues concerning teacher needs: it was easy to talk about technical points, but less so when it came to feelings. One teacher felt under great pressure from ‘all the extra work’ and another felt she was handling the situation perfectly. However, detailed records of my personal experiences with a new type of disability have provided a rich source of not only methods for working with the deaf, but also of feelings as I progressed into unchartered territory.

Work with the psychological support unit began on several fronts. In the absence of other SIG members, a counselor provided support for this teacher! We also discussed ways in which the counseling service could provide appropriate support for special students, especially in making them aware of the need to be more active in the class. A passive student can drain a lot of energy from the teacher. I also wanted to delegate some of the pastoral responsibility: a student should not rely on a single source for support. Finally, we also noticed a less obvious need for psychological guidance: an over-involved friend was attempting to ‘rescue the poor blind girl’.

Finally, reports on activities sent to the departmental e-list proved fruitful. A report after the first month gave rise to a steady trickle of positive response, either in the form of encouraging emails or individual teachers approaching me with ideas or wanting to join next semester.
b. Thoughts

As thought processes were honed by events, understanding deepened The first or easiest solution may not be the best. It may in fact cause counterproductive effects. Unanticipated aspects demand attention: How to manage a group, to prioritize tasks, to decide on criteria, to plan feedback mechanisms, to train newcomers and raise awareness of situations and needs?

At this early stage, a little recognition gives a lot of energy; even a small success empowers and motivates

With the right frame of mind, negatives can be transformed into positives. Unpleasant events and discouraging words are can be seen as challenging, needling you to continue. Another advantage is that negatives can be illuminating as they force us to analyse from a different angle. What fears, insecurity or prejudice were behind the incident? Reflection may lead to understanding if not resolution.

A little refrain for this SIG might be: “Always give dignity; aim for autonomy: empower! Don’t remain alone: share the burden. Don’t be sure you know, others may see differently. Don’t wait for experts; become one yourself!”



All students with special needs should be contacted as soon as possible. By showing disability in a realistic but positive light, looking at what these students can do, certain defense mechanisms may be minimized. The new environment of campus life, new status as an adult in higher education and the change in relationships with family and teachers will all provide an opportunity for many entrenched habits to be challenged if not broken.

The first SIG meeting of the semester will be critical for establishing the right atmosphere for the new working party: to allow ever member to fit in and feel competent. The first task will be to bring the issue to a level at which people can work without being frightened off.

The organization of the SIG, currently just a single person, will have to be considered. The size of the group and personality of members will determine the level of formality of organization. How often will we meet or will much communication be electronic? How will tasks be allocated and assessed? People will wish to join in different ways, according to interest and time. For instance, those with insight may input comments and observations: those who are sensitive enough to see. Others have the energy to take action: they want to get involved and bring about change. Some may come with a particular request, such as “How can I be a better exam reader?” It will be important to pitch action at the right level so that progress can be recognized and lead to further action. We will need to build in feedback loops, to monitor any changes and find out the opinions and feelings of others. And priorities will change as the group grows and the range of issues broadens, introducing new factors to be considered.

As we gain experience, we should develop an annual program: to anticipate regular events and to monitor progress of individual students and teachers. In terms of tasks, one subgroup should certainly look into exam conditions, in Turkey and in other countries, to get ideas for realistic options for objective examination methodology. One clear need is for guidelines for any exam reader. We should first focus on EFL test formats, fairly simple in that no graphics or visual materials are presented. Particular attention should be paid to the presentation of long texts with questions asking for specific details.

Fairly rapid work can be done to draw up a model ‘individual letter’. This will be a type of skills checklist, personalized to the student’s particular abilities. This will not only simplify moving into a new department, with the stress of explaining the situation to busy professors, but in the process of drafting the student will see skills they would be wise to develop

Instances of exclusion and exemption need to be investigated. Though the student may feel relieved when not having to do certain tasks, especially in exams, this may not be in their favor. Firstly this may be a relatively easy part for regular students; thus the deaf student exempt of ‘listening’ finds her average grades lowered. Furthermore, good exams are also learning opportunities; exemption from any of these ultimately deprives the student of an aspect of learning. Eventually university wide examination processes should be looked into. In this respect, secure access to a Braille printer would be a significant step.

Training and support programs should be developed with and for students (both special and regular), teachers and possibly even psychological counselors. The aims of training might be to decrease prejudice, analyse the different roles and responsibilities and increase awareness of opportunities and the need for independence. Furthermore, skills analysis programs should be developed. The psychological support and counseling service at METU does not currently provide for this and would not be able to provide such a service only for students with disability. However, this is an example of the specific need of a limited group being able to enhance the quality of service provision for the broader population: inclusion as opposed to integration, in which all students benefit from the needs of a few.



Any teacher involved will benefit. Obvious benefits are expansion of teaching skills. Teaching a blind person will reveal unexpected ingenuity as the teacher’s mind develops approaches that later turn out to solve situations with a class of regular students. And teaching a deaf student greatly improved my blackboard use. However deeper benefits will become apparent. This SIG is an instrument for change: not just changing opportunities for those with disabilities, but for changing the outlook of anyone who deigns to stop a while and think about others. Teachers will learn to see deeper hidden connections as processes and principles are questioned and revised. Deeper than the learning of knowledge is reflection on thought processes, thinking about how to think and see.

This disability SIG will probably never become a highly popular group attracting great crowds being too limited in scope for the vast majority. However, for those interested, it offers an opening to not just a search for answers but to a process that will bring about very concrete and tangible outcomes, not simply in improvement of individual students – a result that is rewarding in itself – but also, by increasing awareness of both future aims and past experience as we progress down a path of trial and error, increasing contacts and exchanging experiences with others, we will also be able to see progress towards benefit to all. First benefit will come to our students learning English in prep-school; later this will extend to our students in their departments, students at other institutions. There will even be more global benefits and repercussions for students at other level in education or in other countries.

Finally, when taking a first step into the unknown, the practice is fairly easy. Much of the above is obvious commonsense. The difficulty is finding enough confidence to risk being different and question what others accept. The future will show whether this work is accurate judgment or foolhardy dreaming.

Bamberger J.P. and Harper R.E. (1999) Assisting students with disabilities: What school counselors can and must do. Corwin Press

Başbakanlık Özürlüler İdaresi Başkanlığı (1999) I. Özürlüler Şurası, komisyon raporları

Brighouse T. (1990). Effective Schools and Pupil Needs. In: The Management of Special Needs in Ordinary Schools. Eds Jones N. and Southgate T. Routledge

Collins N. (1990). Teaching approaches and student needs. In: The Management of Special Needs in Ordinary Schools. Eds Jones N. and Southgate T. Routledge

Corbett J. (1996) Bad-mouthing: the language of special needs. Falmer Press.

Devlet Planlama Teskilati (1992) Engelliler için e_itim modelleri geli_tirme projesi. T.C. Ba_bakanl_k Devlet Planama Te_kilat_, Anadolu Üniversitesi.

Hanson J. (1990). The Oxfordshire Skills Programme. In: The Management of Special Needs in Ordinary Schools. Eds Jones N. and Southgate T. Routledge

Jensen, E: (1998) Teaching with the brain in mind. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Virginia.

Millrood R. (2002) Teaching heterogeneous classes. ELT Journal 56/2

Mittler, P. (2000) Working towards inclusive education, Social contexts. David Fulton Publishers.

OECD (1995) Integrating students with special needs into mainstream schools

OECD, CERI (1997) Post-compulsory education for disabled people.

Tenberken S. (2001) Yolum Tibet’e dü_tü,, Lhasa’n_n kör çocuklar_. Parantez yay_nlar_. (Original: Mein Weg Fürt nach Tibet, die blinden Kinder von Lhasa.)

Thomas C. (1998) A student with special needs in my class? Proceedings of the 5th METU EFL Convention.

Thomas C. (2000) Beginners in the dark. Proceedings of the 6th METU EFL Convention. Westwood P. (1998) Commonsense methods for children with special needs: strategies for the regular classroom. Routledge.
Useful websites:

For visual impairment: the RNIB: http://www.rnib.org
For hearing impairment: http://www.rnid.org

A comprehensive bibliography of modern foreign languages and special educational needs: http://www.tomwilson.com/david/mfl/bibli.doc

The site for the Turkish Ministry of Education is http://www.meb.gov.tr with special needs provision under ‘Ozel Egitim Hizmetleri’

My web page: http://www.dbe.metu.edu.tr/claire/ has the texts of my previous articles and my email is claire@metu.edu.tr