Accommodations and Modification Collaboration Tools and Tips for Students with Disabilities

Everyday students with disabilities in Washington are supported by general education and special education teachers to provide an the most inclusive and least restrictive learning environment. One part of effectively providing this support is collaboration and communication about the student’s needs and critical information from their IEP. Effective communication around the students’ needs does not happen on its own, it requires a concerted effort that can helped with a few tips and tools.  

TIP #1 – Build a common vocabulary

Make sure your team understands the definition of accommodations and modifications. They are not interchangeable terms and each plays a key role in supporting students with disabilities.

What are accommodations? 

“The term “accommodation” may be used to describe an alteration of environment, curriculum format, or equipment that allows an individual with a disability to gain access to content and/or complete assigned tasks. They allow students with disabilities to pursue a regular course of study. Since accommodations do not alter what is being taught, instructors should be able to implement the same grading scale for students with disabilities as they do for students without disabilities.” – UW Do-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology Center) Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 3.0 License

Examples of accommodations: 

  • Text-to-speech 
  • Extended time 
  • Sign language interpreters 

What are modifications?

It is worth noting not all students with disabilities require modification to the general curriculum. “The term “modification” may be used to describe a change in the curriculum. Modifications are made for students with disabilities who are unable to comprehend all of the content an instructor is teaching. For example, assignments might be reduced in number and modified significantly for an elementary school student with cognitive impairments that limit his/her ability to understand the content in general education class in which they are included. ” – UW Do-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology Center) Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 3.0 License 

Tip #2 – Define what the accommodation/modifications look like 

What is extra time? Is it double? Is it time and a half? Is it until the student decides to stop? Is it until the end of time and the eventual heat death of the universe? Some of those options are going to be appropriate for some students and some situations. Different students will need different supports but defining them and keeping them consistent will benefit the student and help educators as well. But clarity around how they are defined is needed.  
When these terms are not defined clearly at the school level an accommodation like read aloud testing or extra time may be implemented very differently and/or inconsistently as a student goes from their science classroom to their math class.

TIP #3 – Emailing the IEP is not collaboration… really collaborate and communicate 

Special education teachers DO need to share a copy of the IEP to all the student’s general education teachers.  This can happen by email or hard copy based on your school/district expectations.  But consider if expecting each general education teacher to dig through the IEP for the appropriate accommodations and modifications for all the students with disabilities across their classes. 

TIP #4 – Explain to the students what their accommodations are modifications are 

Make the students aware of their accommodations and modifications and explicitly explain what they are. This can enable the students to advocate for their own accommodations and modifications to teachers who may not be fully aware of the details in their IEP.  

TIP #5 – Plan to provide practical and possible accommodations and modifications

As an IEP team make sure you are planning for the consistent implementation of your accommodations and modifications.  For example, how are you going to deliver read aloud testing?  Is the Gen Ed teacher reading the test aloud? Is the student with a disability going to be pulled out of their instructional classroom (e.g. 3rd period math) every time they have to have a test read aloud? If they are going to be pulled out to receive their read aloud testing, where are they going to go?   

Addressing these logistical concerns can dramatically impact the effectiveness of accommodations and modifications.   How many times have you seen a student getting read aloud testing in a hallway? Is a hallway the BEST testing environment? Are there ways to use technology to allow the read aloud testing to occur in the general education classroom? (Yes, is the answer to that).   

Effectively providing modifications for students with disabilities also requires significant communication and collaboration between general education and special education teachers. Since modifications change the amount of curriculum content being assessed, special educators need to collaborate with their general education colleagues in order to identify critical curriculum features that they want to focus on.