Eastern Michigan University

Learning Disabilities

A learning disability is a neurological disorder where the brain works differently in how it takes in, uses, and outputs information. Although most individuals with a learning disability possess average to above average intelligence, they have difficulty with one or more areas such as math, reading, speaking, writing, spelling, visual-spatial perception, and understanding language. Examples of learning disabilities include:

  • Mathematics Disorder/Dyscalculia - math and related classes will be challenging.
  • Reading Disorder/Reading Disability/Dyslexia - reading speed may be slower; comprehension of written material may be more challenging; correct spelling may be difficult.
  • Disorder of Written Expression/Dysgraphia - more difficulty with expressing knowledge in writing; correct spelling may be difficult.
  • Nonverbal Learning Disabilities - weaknesses in visual-spatial organization, nonverbal problem solving, and difficulty relating parts to wholes. Strengths in language-based thinking and reasoning, rote memory, and expressive language.
Students with learning disabilities may also exhibit or experience the following:
  • Need to learn or express their knowledge of a subject in a specific way
  • Perform well in one subject (English or Literature, for example), but have great difficulty with another (i.e., math)
  • A gap between the level of achievement that is expected based on the person's ability and what is actually achieved
  • Approximately one third will also have Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
Impact of the Environment on the Disability

Students with learning disabilities will likely perform best in courses that incorporate the following elements, which may also benefit other students:

  • Various forms of instruction and ways to absorb course content to allow different options for learning - group work, hands-on instruction, lecture, course readings, and interactive discussion
  • Visual presentations - incorporate pictures, videos, diagrams, etc
  • Captioning of all videos used in class
  • Written descriptions of content and purpose of any pictures that are used in class handouts
  • Verbal descriptions of visual materials used in class
  • Notes and course readings provided in advance of class
  • Textbook information is submitted to the EMU Bookstore at least six weeks prior to the start of the semester. This will greatly help the Disability Resource Center (DRC) to provide alternative media to students in a timely fashion or for students to locate it on their own, if possible.
  • Handouts, syllabi, articles, coursepacks, etc. provided in accessible, digital formats. Students can use screen readers and/or magnification software to view such documents.
  • Classroom and testing environment that minimizes distractions and recognizes that all students process information differently, some requiring more or less time
  • More than one format of assessing students' knowledge of course content - examinations, in-class participation, presentations, homework, papers, projects, etc
  • Syllabi posted ahead of time detailing how grades are determined, so that students can choose the most appropriate section of the course. Example: a student with a learning disability in writing will perform much better in a section that incorporates participation, presentations, and projects into the calculation of the course grade as opposed to a section of the same course where the grade relies heavily on essay examinations.

When the environment and the disability are not compatible, students with learning disabilities commonly receive any or all of the following accommodations:

  • Extended test time for students who need to read information several times to comprehend or take longer to write/proofread answers
  • Test reader, use of text-to-speech software, and/or alternative media (i.e., audio text provided by the Disability Resource Center) for students who are able to comprehend information better when it is presented audibly in addition to written format
  • Test scribe and/or use of speech-to-text software for those students who have difficulty expressing their knowledge in writing
  • Note-taker and/or permission to record lectures for students who cannot write notes quickly enough to keep up with the pace of lecture and/or learn better by listening to an audio recording after class
Sources and Additional Information