Menu Close

Options and Choices: Physical and Sensory Impairments

Physical Impairments

Here is a selection of some of the main strategies that might be used to address respective needs. These are just the main strategies so additional links to further useful resources are also included. 

These strategies are divided into universal or inclusive approaches that can be applied for the benefit of all learners, and more specific interventions that may be needed over and above these to benefit students with specific needs. 

As you work through these, think about which of these would have been most beneficial to Taylor’s situation.

Universal design / inclusive practice solutions

The principal here is that by predicting the needs of a wide range of learners in the design of learning programmes, we can negate the need for specialist and sometimes intrusive interventions.

Solutions include:


Teachers should utilise a range of teaching pedagogy that is inclusive. This might include:

  • Use of multi-media and delivery methods in teaching sessions
  • Including a variety of activities within programmes of study, such as questions, discussions, practical activities, etc.
  • Clearly define all tasks in advance, including assessment and group activity. This to include clearly defined tasks, instructions and deadlines and clear outcomes. Provision of a glossary of main terms and concepts for all topics. This is most useful if in advance of starting teaching in this subject area.
  • Facilitating the recording of lectures and group sessions by individual students. NOTE: Though lecture capture may exist, students being able to record content themselves and synchronise this with their note-taking software or strategy is often preferable to listening back to whole lectures
  • Recording and making available all synchronous (live) online learning to enable students to access and review content afterwards.
  • Providing accessible electronic formats of lecture notes and presentations and supervision handouts, in advance on the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). This is so that electronic notes can be made during the lecture/supervision. At least 24-48 hours in advance is considered desirable.
  • Ensure captioning (subtitles) of all video materials.
  • Build in sufficient time during question and answer sessions and group discussion to enable students with communication barriers to formulate ideas and take part in discussions.
  • Ensure students can take rest breaks in teaching and assessment activities if needed. 
  • Allow time at the end of teaching for students to ask clarification questions or raise issues.

Inclusive practice in-class

  • Provide a safe environment within which disclosure of a disability or long- term medical condition is supported and encouraged. Encourage people to contact you if they have accessibility or other issues.
  • Setting out clear expectations and guidance on behaviours in class – including embracing and supporting diversity and embracing others different working styles
  • Outline and reinforce group/class discussion protocols e.g. one person speaking at a time, introduce yourself before you speak, allow other speakers to finish.
  • Repeat key learning points and points made by fellow students, to aid understanding in class.
  • Make sure students can see you, the whiteboard and/or screen at all times.
  • Ensure you make eye contact and face all students, thus including everyone in classroom discussions.
  • Use a microphone in larger rooms.

Inclusive practice online

Many of the principles above apply equally in an online environment but just need to be delivered differently. These might include for example, consideration of clarity of instructions and clear and unambiguous communication and materials accompanying asynchronous (recorded) lectures etc.

For live (synchronous) teaching, additional considerations might be:

  • Clear advance notice of timings, what to expect and how this fits with assignment tasks etc. Reminders may be required here – with texts working better than emails.
    • Advance notice of any activities or tasks with clear explanations of how they will work.
    • Proactive check-ins with students afterwards to gauge understanding of key instructions.
    • Recording the session and circulating this to students.

For online group work or collaborative activity, clear expectations in terms of cameras being on and/or off and use of online forums should be set out at the start. There is some evidence that students actually find cameras being off more un-nerving than them being on so clear expectations around this are likely to be beneficial.

As with face-to-face teaching, it is important not to assume that students are disengaged because they do not fully participate all the time or play a proactive part in discussions and activities. At the same time, it is good to check afterwards.

A key barrier to students accessing online learning has been lack of information and support about how to use the platforms themselves. It should not be assumed that students have the technical or practical ability to access online learning so support and information about this at the outset and throughout teaching should be considered (many universities have dedicated teams to support this activity).

Induction / course information

  • Engage in transition and induction activities to ensure that a connection with students is made. This helps students to put a face to the name, helping to establish relationships.
  • Students should be encouraged to take up specialist university and other support. Tutors should support them in this if necessary, by being aware of the support available and being aware of the appropriate referral routes.

Evidence shows that teaching staff play a key role in connecting students to appropriate support services e.g. counselling services.

  • Involvement of specialist services (e.g. disability teams) in induction so students are made fully aware of possibilities for funding support (e.g. DSA in the UK) and other support.
  • Offering clear guidance on how, when and where students can expect to access teaching staff.
  • Acknowledge that some students will find it harder to adapt to a new level of study and may need additional guidance or support during transition into university.

 Student support / Personal tutoring

Allocate a single point of contact for students to speak to about issues relating to their course. At the University of Worcester this role is called a Personal Academic Tutor (PAT). This tutor should ensure that regular reviews are being held with students to ensure that their support needs are being met.

  • When providing one to one tutor support, always consider the learning journey (and life journey) of the student to date. Do not make assumptions. Ask questions to better understand the student’s needs and circumstances.
  • Provide written feedback in accessible formats from all one to one sessions and tutorials*. This will ensure students do not have to worry about taking extensive notes. *It is accepted that sometimes co-design of these notes by the student and tutor is desirable.

Course design

  • Anticipate the broadest range of student needs, experiences and preferences in your course design.
  • Offer alternative methods for students to demonstrate achievement of learning outcomes e.g. through written, visual or verbal methods. Clearly outline what is required in each and offer support with new methods.  
  • Embed diversity and inclusion and disability awareness concepts in the curricula.
  • Ensure that course requirements such as learning outcomes are clearly written.
  • Ensure sensitive timetabling to accommodate the time it takes for some students to travel between different learning activities
  • Provide consistent timetables and locations for all teaching activities.
  • 24 hours+ notice of any changes should be given to ensure students can plan for the journey, find the venue and arrange human support if necessary.
  • Provide clear course guidelines and notification of deadlines, well in advance
  • Were possible work with other tutors to stagger assessments deadlines so that these do not all come at once.
  • Integrate key study skills support within the curricula to ensure anxiety about these is reduced.

The learning environment

It is important to consider physical accessibility of learning environments at all times. 

  • Access might relate to the physical accessibility of the rooms themselves.
    • Are facilities such as parking spaces, lifts and toilets nearby (and are these accessible)?
    • Are corridors, entrances and doors accessible (e.g. wide enough)?
    • Can students easily navigate within rooms (particularly if they need to leave or if group work is involved).

However, there is more to accessible learning environments than physical access to the room itself.

  • Is there space to adapt layout and move furniture?
  • Is lighting appropriate and can it be adjusted?
  • Can background noise levels be avoided/reduced?
  • Is accessible technology such as microphones and hearing loops available (and can tutors use them)?
  • Can everyone see and hear tutors, whiteboards and screens etc?

 Specific interventions. 

Over and above the more general principles of universal or inclusive teaching set out above, there are some more specific interventions that may be needed over and above these to benefit students with specific needs. Some of these are outlined below:

  • Students with a mobility impairment may sometimes wish to use their own furniture or equipment and this should be accommodated as unobtrusively as possible.
  • Ensure that you accommodate human support where a student requires this. Find out about support roles and how they can be supported to support the student.   
  • Offering reserved seating or places in lectures to ensure the student can find an accessible seat or seating position. You may need to plan and rearrange seating etc appropriately.
  • Do not used fixed seating lecture halls if your teaching involves interactive and group working. 
  • Make sure the student can see the tutor, whiteboard and/or screen at all times.
  • Be aware that students with upper-body weakness or paralysis may be unable to raise their hand. Make eye contact to include the student in to ensure that they always feel able to participate (e.g. in question and answer sessions). 
  • Plan groupwork and interactive sessions to accommodate the mobility needs of all students e.g. arrange seating so that there is space for a wheelchair user to move around the class.
  • Advanced planning of practical activities, fieldwork, placements and other off-site activity to ensure that this is accessible and the student is able to prepare suitably.
  • Offering extended library loans and library collection.
  • Do not assume. Ask.
  • Offer alternative assessment options if required.

Sensory Impairments

Here is a selection of some of the main strategies that might be used to address respective needs. These are just the main strategies so additional links to further useful resources are also included. 

These strategies are divided into universal or inclusive approaches that can be applied for the benefit of all learners, and more specific interventions that may be needed over and above these to benefit students with specific needs. 

As you work through these, think about which of these would have been most beneficial to Josh and Hayley’s situations.

Universal design / inclusive practice solutions

The principal here is that by predicting the needs of a wide range of learners in the design of learning programmes, we can negate the need for specialist and sometime intrusive interventions. These are detailed earlier in this resource.

Specific interventions. 

Blind and Visually Impaired specific

  • Discuss whether the student might wish to spend some time discussing visual impairment with their cohort or arrange for a Visual Impairment awareness sessions and/or advice to be made available to the cohort 
  • Provide sufficient time to discuss needs with the student before/during their initial teaching session. Meeting with students before or as soon as possible after the beginning of teaching will help to enable you to understand their difficulties
  • Undertake regular reviews to ensure that a student’s needs are being met
  • Course materials and resources
    • Choose course materials early. This will allow enough time for you to convert the documents into alternative formats, or for students to request the formats they need. Have copies of the syllabus and reading assignments ready five weeks or more prior to the beginning of classes (depending on the policy of your institution it may need to me longer than that). Students with visual impairments will need some or all printed materials in alternative formats. These formats might be audio files, Braille, enlarged or image enhanced text and this conversion of materials takes time. If possible, choose accessible electronic versions of course readings. This will enable students to convert the reading into the format required, whether they use a screen reader, an enlarger or another technology.
    • When digital formats are not available, provide print material sufficiently far in advance to ensure that transcription requirements (for example, into audio-digital or another e-format) can be met in time. Be as precise as you can regarding the texts and pages that will be used.
    • Respond to requests for large print copies where this is required. A minimum of 14 point and preferably 16-18 point text is recommended for this. It can be produced by photocopy enlargement or by producing larger print directly from a PC – the latter is preferable as the quality of the print is better. But note that students can find it difficult to scan large print for too long and as such alternatives as described above are likely to be better options.  
    • Ensure course packs are complete. Please note that some PDFs (Portable Document Format files) are not accessible to students using a screen reader; when possible, choose tagged PDFs, which may be read by assistive technology.

Please note that all students should be able to access course materials at the same time as others, so this needs consideration.

  • Advanced planning of practical activities, fieldwork, placements and other off-site activity to ensure that these are accessible and the student is able to prepare suitably.
  • Accommodation of human support where a student requires this (e.g. sighted guides, notetakers, BSL interpreter). Find out support roles.  
  • Preferential Seating: Students with visual impairments may need preferential seating since they depend upon listening. Therefore:
    • Encourage people to sit where they can hear/see (for those with some residual sight).
    • Keep aisles and open spaces free from obstructions – check for protrusions at head height.
    • Ensure good lighting, small adjustments can make a huge difference. Requirements will differ from person to person; glare can be as problematic as deep shadow. Discuss individual requirements with the student. Small adjustments can make a huge difference and are generally inexpensive; for example, changing a light bulb.
    • Tutors should stand in a well lit place facing the students, but not with their backs to the window as the face would then be in shadow.
  • Students with a sensory impairment may often wish to use specialist equipment which should be accommodated as unobtrusively as possible.
  • Take the time to understand specialist equipment and how you can support the student in using this (e.g. by wearing a microphone)
  • Offering extended library loans and library collection
  • Examinations, tests and fieldwork. Exam’ accommodations may be required, including use of adaptive technology, a reader/scribe (amenuesis) and extra time or rest breaks. A computer, closed circuit TV (CCTV), Braille, enlargements, tapes, and/or image enhanced materials, may be needed. Students are likely to need some time to practice use of specialist equipment.
  • Alternative assessment options such as verbal assignments might be considered.   
  • Provide a script with verbal descriptions of all videos or slides, charts, and graphs.
  • Students will often benefit from an orientation to the physical layout of the room with locations of steps, furniture, lecture position, low-hanging objects or any other obstacles.   
  • Give precise instructions and full explanations. Use descriptive language for any visual information e.g. presentation slides and repeat questions from within the room.  
  • Be prescriptive in setting groups or facilitating group formation, particularly in the early stages of a course. This will ensure all students are able to participate equally in these activities which will reduce anxiety and improve engagement. Set protocols for group behaviour and for sharing of information.
  • Laboratory Assistance: blind and visually impaired students may need a lab assistant or lab partner in lab classes.  You may need to assist the student in finding an assistant. A risk assessment may also need to be carried out.
  • Predict and accommodate use of Guide Dogs (and discuss alternatives in settings such as laboratories if this may be a risk).

Deaf and Hearing Impaired specific

  • Gaining attention – ensure you have a deaf student’s attention before speaking.
  • Asking people to signal before speaking, to allow time for the deaf or hard of hearing student to re-focus.
  • Repeating in summary any questions or comments from the class before answering. 
  • Offer students preferential seating near the front of the classroom so that they can get as much from visual and auditory clues as possible or can clearly see a sign language interpreter if one is used.
  • Avoid ever turning your back on a deaf or hard of hearing student or allowing anything to block their view. They need to see your face.
  • Avoid standing or sitting in front of a window, as this will put you in shadow. The light needs to be on you so you can be seen clearly.
  • Reduce background noise. This might mean closing windows to keep out traffic noise; not allowing students to talk over one another; also ensuring that if the session involves dividing students into small groups for a time, that the group with the deaf or hard of hearing student moves to a quieter place.
  • For online content:
    • Provide captioning for all videos and slides.
    • Arrange for BSL or live captioning for live events / lectures if students require this (i.e. provide equal access as you would in face to face sessions). You may need to speak to disability service to put this in place.
    • Check in with students after sessions to check on any unforeseen access issues 
    • For online group work:
      • Encourage use of the raise hand feature so everyone knows who is about to ask a question
      • Use the chatbox
      • Ask students to identify their name before commenting.
      • Mute microphones until they ask a question (this limits the number of participants on screen at the same time and reduces background noise).
  • Accommodation of human support where a student requires this (e.g. notetakers, BSL interpreter). Find out about support roles and how they can be accommodated.
  • When a student uses a sign language interpreter, discuss with both the student and interpreter(s) where the interpreter(s) should be located to provide the greatest benefit for the student without distracting other class members. 
    • If an interpreter is in the classroom, make sure that they are visible and ensure that they have time to keep up with content.
    • Speak to the student, not the interpreter
  • Sensitive marking.  For some deaf students, English is a poor second language which has never been heard.  This should be taken into account when grading assessments. Follow your institution’s guidance on this.
Translate »