Accommodations for ELL Students with Disabilities

Instructor: Yolanda Reinoso Barzallo

Yolanda holds a CELTA Cambridge, a Juris Doctorate, and a Master of Public Administration. She is a published author of fiction in Spanish.

English language learners (ELLs) face a challenge as they try to learn a new language. ELLs who have disabilities have an extra challenge to face. This lesson overviews the accommodations teachers can make for ELLs with disabilities.

What Is an Accommodation and Why Apply It?

Tamara is an English language learner (ELL) from Ecuador. In addition to working hard to learn English, Tamara also has dyslexia. This learning disability means that Tamara has serious difficulty when reading and writing. Tamara writes very slowly, has difficulty putting her thoughts on paper, and has poor spelling. Tamara is an ELL with a disability who needs accommodation in school.

An accommodation is a modification that educators can make to the regular way things are done to give the same opportunity to students with a disability that their peers have. In our example, Tamara can have the same opportunity as her peers to academically succeed if we make an accommodation for her disability. Now, let's explore how this can happen.

Types of Accommodations for ELLs

ELLs with disabilities are provided equal educational opportunities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which is the law that defines disabilities and the general principles that guide accommodations. Under the ADA, ELLs who have disabilities are entitled to general accommodations in school, such as wheelchair access to school facilities, personal assistants (e.g., trained animals) and personal devices (e.g., hearing aids) to help overcome a disability. We are somewhat familiar with these accommodations because they apply to most facilities that provide goods and services, such as stores, hospitals and parks.

For schools, different states across the country create policies to accommodate ELLs with disabilities. However, most states use the following guiding principles. Keep in mind that accommodations for ELLs with disabilities are not to lower school expectations but to aid students with disabilities.

Allow for Partial or Total Exclusion of Tasks

Tamara is beginning a specialized program to overcome the limitations of her dyslexia. However, this is a process and Tamara has extreme difficulty writing fast enough during tests. For this reason, her school allows teachers to make the accommodation to partially exclude the student from the time limit guideline for tests. The Reading standardized test Tamara must take has a time limit of two hours for students. Given her disability, she is allowed to take the test separately with a time limit of three hours instead.

This example illustrates that teachers and administrators in schools can have policies that allow partial or total exclusion from general guidelines in tests, school tasks, etc. to help ELLs with disabilities. We would make partial or total exclusions according to the severity of the disability and find an appropriate alternative. For instance, a deaf student might be excluded from a listening task and have a sign language interpreter during a test instead.

Allow for Separate Proctor During Tests

As Tamara takes her standardized tests separately from her peers, the school provides her with a separate proctor as well. This case shows that schools also can make accommodations regarding test proctoring to help ELLs with disabilities. A separate proctor guarantees the student has the exact same test environment while performing a test.

Allow for Extra Guidelines to Clarify or Re-read Instructions

Tamara's dyslexia prevents her from quickly understanding instructions that are written on tests or classwork sheets. Luckily, Tamara's school has a policy to accommodate students with disabilities and aid them by reading and re-reading instructions to them and providing oral clarification of instructions. During tests, this accommodation might mean students take the test separately so that reading or clarification of instructions does not bother other students. This accommodation certainly provides ELLs with disabilities the help they might need because of their disability.

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