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Understanding Modifications and Accommodations for the Learning Disabled

Dean Traylor is a freelance writer and teacher who writes about various subjects, including education and creative writing.


Academic Tools for Those in Need

Walk into a high school classroom, and one may see the students engaged in a lesson. The subject might be algebra, a Shakespearean play, or the formation of the galaxy; it doesn’t matter, all 30 or more students are taking notes, listening to the teacher or completing an assignment. Everything seems typical; that is until one takes a closer look at some of the students. Some are seated close to the teacher, have a headset hooked to a receiver, or are supplied with typed notes with highlights instead of the hand-written ones the other students in the classroom have made.

Look into another classroom, a special day or resource classroom. While the curriculum here is similar to the regular education class, the methods and lessons are not. The students in this class use modified books, audio-books to accompany a story, or calculators and manipulative for simple math problems. In some cases, the material, lessons focus on fundamental skills rather than the curriculum that’s supposed to be taught.

The teachers in these two classes are tackling the same issue with different tools and tactics: they are attempting to include learning disabled students in the lesson they’re teaching. They either use accommodations, modifications or a combination of the two tools.

Due to these needs, accommodations or modifications to the lesson plans are needed. And, in a classroom – regular or special – these tools are needed for these students

Accommodation and modification are the backbone of special education. Depending on personal student plans such as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 or the Individual Education Plan (IEP) of the Individual with Disability Education Act (IDEA), educators are required to give students with disabilities :

  • inclusion in the same learning process and activities as their non-disabled peers,
  • exposure to the same curriculum, and
  • assurance that their educational needs are being addressed.

Due to these needs, accommodations or modifications to the lesson plans are needed. And, in a classroom – regular or special – these tools are needed for these students.


They are used in different ways for different students. For example:

  • Accommodation is often used by the regular education teacher who has a student with a learning disability in his/her classroom.
  • Modification is often used by special education teachers who teach Special Day, basic or life-skill courses.

Special educators teaching an Emotional Disorder course or may use a combination of the two techniques (this is usually based on the student’s individual disability or needs).

Accommodation refers to tools or techniques used by the teacher to include a special needs student. The lesson or curriculum being taught is the same as the student’s non-disabled peers; however, these students will need certain tools or practices to help them acquire the lesson.

The tools or techniques used for accommodation in the classroom are usually subtle. As mentioned, a teacher may place a student near the board or in the front of the classroom. Also, the teacher may back up his/her lectures with written notes on the board for the student to copy or supply a typed copy in advance.

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Other forms are more drastic: the use of an audio-tape version of a story, for example. Often this is used as an auditory cue to back-up a student’s reading. Some students will have visual processing disorders and may have a difficult time processing written words in a timely manner. The audio-books, in theory, are meant to trigger the auditory processing strengths a student with this condition may have.

Originally published by

Originally published by

Those with auditory processing disorder may benefit from visual cues. Sometimes, it can be a movie or a PowerPoint presentation. In some situations, an FM receiver will be used. In this case, the teacher will wear a microphone near his/her mouth.

While the teacher lectures, the student being accommodated with this device will be able to hear only the teacher’s voice. Class sounds will be filtered out. This is done because students with most forms of auditory processing disorders will have difficulty processing information from several sources. This device allows for one source – the teacher’s – coming through.

Students being accommodated usually have mild/moderate symptoms and are only a year or two behind in academic skills when compared to their non-disabled peers. They may need special education services; however, it’s usually fewer than 50% of the day.


Students who need modifications in the class may need more than 50% of the day. Modification changes lesson. Often, those who need modification have skills that are substantially lower than their non-disabled peers. As an example, a 9th grade student with learning disabilities who is reading at 3rd grade level will be given text that is written at that level.

Modified text is possibly the most popular tool for modification. A teacher doesn’t have to change the subject or curriculum of the class. For instance, if the standard for 9th grade reading required the student reads Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the special education teacher may find an illustrated or graphic novel version of the play, use an abridged version of the play or get a version that’s written at or near the student’s reading level.

(Partial) accommodation/modification page from a student's IEP.

(Partial) accommodation/modification page from a student's IEP.

Another popular form of modification used in SDC math classes are calculators. Usually, these are for SDC Algebra classes in junior and high school. Also, a multiplication chart is popular and is given to students at this level.

Still, in many cases, the curriculum in modified form doesn’t exist. Algebra or Geometry comes to mind. As a result, the course for an SDC math class may focus on the fundamentals; even if the course is entitled Algebra. Basic and Life skill classes will have a totally different curriculum to cater to the low functioning students they serve.

Accommodations and modifications are essential tools in today’s classroom, whether it’s a special ed. or regular ed. classroom. They are used in different ways for different students. Often it’s based on the students’ disability. Either way, they’re tools that ensure students will be able to learn in the same environment as their non-disabled peers.

Work Cited

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2014 Dean Traylor

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