Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Special Education Vocabulary: Accommodation

The law says that a school has to "accommodate" a student's disabilities. Do you know what that MEANS? Technical jargon can get in the way of understanding your child's rights.

What is an accommodation? The long list of technical terms in special education can be daunting to some parents. And since accommodation is one of the most basic terms, I thought I'd take a little time here to make sure you could find a clear, concise definition...

Schwab Learning has one of the best explanations of the term accommodation that I've come across on the Internet:

Accommodations provide different ways for kids to take in information or communicate their knowledge back to you. The changes basically don't alter or lower the standards or expectations for a subject or test. Through the child's Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 Plan, classroom accommodations are developed formally.

Their page goes on in other places to explain (correctly, I might add) that an accommodation is a change in the student's classroom learning environment so that the student has better access to the educational process.

Accommodations can be simple. If a child's disability has to do with their hearing or vision, one of the simplest accommodations is usually called preferential seating. Johnny can't see very far or hear very well so we move him to the front of the room - closer to the blackboard and to the talking teacher. And in some cases, accommodating a child's disability with a change in their classroom learning environment as simple as that one makes a huge difference in how well they do.

Some other common accommodations include:
  • Extended time - a child with a disability may be given extra time to take a test or complete an assignment.

  • Oral testing - if we want to know whether a child with a learning disability knows who the first president was, we can ask him and let him tell us instead of writing down our question and having him write down his answer. After all, if he knows who the first president was he should get credit for that. And if his disability interferes with his ability to write, that's a fair accommodation to make.

  • Assistive technology - a child with a vision problem can listen to a story on tape instead of reading it from a book and a student with dysgraphia may benefit greatly from using a word processor instead of a pencil.

  • Peer tutoring - simply assigning a classmate to help a disabled student "get it" can be powerful.

Parents should distinguish between these two ideas. Accommodations do not change what is expected of a student in school; they only change the way the student gains access to learning. Modifications actually change the curriculum and expectations placed on a disabled student. But we'll leave that piece of vocabulary, modifications, for another day...

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