Including all: Working with Disabled Learners. Information for Teachers of English

1.            Who has special needs?

Anyone disadvantaged because of a personal condition: as well as disabled students, those who are foreign, psychological problems, etc. This leaflet focuses on students with disabilities.

Some statistics: “12% disabled” (TR), “10% dyslexia”-“1in7 hearing impaired” (UK), “15% university students disclose a disability” (NL), “41% have a deficiency”(FR)

Disability variables:

* Impaired function: physical (mobility, neuro-muscular), sensory (vision, hearing), speech, metabolic, learning difficulties (e.g. dyslexia), mental health, etc.

* Start: from birth or acquired, early childhood/ later; sudden or gradual.  Appropriate information and guidance can improve acceptance and learning of necessary skills.

* Level: partial or total.  A small amount of sight can help in many situations; fewer than 4% of visually impaired people have no sight at all.

* Stability: a condition can be stable, variable (good days, bad days) or -most challenging- progressive/degenerative.

* Pain: æ concentration, ä exhaustion. External factors (stress, noise, etc.) affect tolerance.

* Acceptance: Perceptions, by others and of self…

* Range of abilities, skills and strategies impact on mobility, independence, expression of thoughts and needs, study, etc.  Better strategies mean more life choices.

* Unseen disabilities: the great majority of disabled people appear ‘normal’; their needs are unnoticed.  Pain and lack of energy are not visible to others; these challenges are often ignored.

2.       Disabilities and EFL:

— English teachers are not disability specialists: both collaborate as stakeholders in the education of disabled learners.  Teachers are important points of contact: you can notice different needs, and ask for information and support.

— A Personal Plan can help identify specific needs and strategies.  1. EFL Task Analysis: what  are knowledge / skills to be acquired?  2. Task classification: which tasks a) can be done without changes, b) are possible with alternative formats, and c) have no obvious solutions.  Replace the latter with an equivalent task; avoid exemptions.  Ask specialist for advice on skills development.

— Abilities: Ask each student about their skills and preferred ways of working. Disabled people can be expert computer users.  Visually impaired learners may need Braille or large print; some record digitally. Some hearing impaired people lip-read; when Deaf people are trained early, some can learn many languages.

— Some less obvious points: Group work can be challenging for hearing impaired learners.  In listening exam, visually impaired candidates can’t read cues while listening.  Students with muscle weakness need time to rest, and breaks in exams.  Etc.

3.       Identifying and approaching students with special needs:

— Every learner is different. General truths and myths are irrelevant to each individual, whose situation and needs are specific. Ask the student. Question assumptions.

— Give a clear message in 1st hour of a new class “Any student with different needs can come and talk to me about how I can best help“.  Be open and willing to listen.   When a teacher is open, ready to listen and believe, a student can then decide when they want to talk.

— A person with a disability can talk about their condition and their needs more easily when they trust you. Create a safe space.  Confidentially: keep personal information secret.

— Younger children, with little experience and less knowledge of role models, might be less able to describe their needs.  Observe and ask.

— Previous negative experiences, family/community attitudes, or just ‘wanting to be like the others’ can discourage learners from talking about their needs.  Share information, talk about successful disabled people in class, explain advantages of disclosure/ what alternatives are possible; build bridges and link with people who know.

— Opportunities for disclosure: Students often do not disclose until facing a barrier (exam, new class, new situation…) or finding a way to disclose.  What channels exist at your school?  Can someone who discloses get the support they need?

— “Learnt helplessness” disempowers; don’t teach it!  Notice your own feelings; avoid pity.  Follow the Social Model of Disability. 

— Schools and universities are responsible for providing equal opportunities in education: each student decides when s/he is ready to disclose; it is their choice.  Give information and contacts; it will help each to decide and be responsible for their choices.

— Attitudes, behaviour and expectations of all stakeholders affect inclusion.  Aim for independence, responsibility and self-confidence.  Ask for Disability Awareness Training/ Engelsiz Bilinç Eğitimi training, for all stakeholders: staff, parents, and pupils of all abilities.

— Cooperate:   You do not have to know the solutions to every question. Listen and talk with all stakeholders, then pass on requests/needs to specialists, including disabled people.

4.       Classroom management: priorities, maintaining a balance for the whole class.

  • Class dynamics can change with a disabled student.  Some advantages: a real reason to share tasks, giving clear explanations of study skills, challenge, etc.
  • Success-Failure can depend on having key information, a particular skill for effective learning, confidence coming from previous experience, better communication and expression, or a piece of advice from a good teacher.
  • Whole class involvement in peer support group;
    • Inclusion of disabled student
    • Tasks and responsibility shared between many
    • Opportunity for peers to develop skills, understanding and awareness.
    • Cooperation: A class teacher can get help from the school or MEB RAM.  Also Engelsiz ODTU Birimi, METU’s Disability Support Unit.
    • Sharing ideas and experiences can benefit others and bring a variety of ideas alternative ideas.
    • NOTE – Confidentiality: information disclosed in trust is private and should be treated as such.  Leaked information leads to loss of trust.

5.       Key points:

Extra Time is the common factor needed by all disabled students: to do tasks, reach places and materials, communicate, concentrate, recover energy, acquire new skills, etc…

Transition to new situations:

Students coming into your class: reduce stress by providing cues and agreeing on effective predictable systems.  Ask the student what works for them.

Students leaving your class: review achievements, share what’s been effective, and pass on information to the next stage teachers.  A description of ‘what worked’ can be written up by all involved: informed future instructors will provide better conditions.

Exams: A range of alternative arrangements exist.  Students should have exams in familiar formats, to best allow them to show their knowledge and abilities.  Disabled students must apply for alternative exam formats well in advance as exam procedures are arranged weeks before.

Skills and competence:  Competence in one area can compensate for lesser ability in another: all students benefit from developing new skills and strategies.  New formats should be introduced to disabled students as early as possible, to have equal opportunities in participation, learning and exams.



6.        Useful links:

  • MEB Rehberlik Arastirma Merkezleri:
  • ‘AccessEnglish’: Materials, methods and examples of strategies for teaching/ learning English with a disability:
  • Models of Disability:
  • Towards Inclusive Universities by Empowering Disabled Students
  • Please share your questions and experiences. These can help further clarify the different needs of all those involved in assisting a learner with different needs.

11th METU ELT Convention,   May 2012

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s