ACRL IS Current Issue Discussion Digest – ALA Midwinter 2008 – Discussion 1

Teaching Disabled Students: Emphasis On Their Abilities, Not Their Disabilities

Convener: Scott Sheidlower

Saturday, January 12, 2008, 4-5:30 p.m.
LOEWS Commonwealth A/B  |  Philadelphia, PA

The American Library Association [ALA], in its mission, envisions a world where its members take on “broad social responsibilities.” This is one of the basic tenants that motivate us as librarians. Part of these responsibilities, also quoting from the ALA mission, is “enhanc[ing] learning and ensur[ing] access to information to all.” This desire is one of the things that motivate the library profession to make sure that library buildings are open and accessible to the vast majority of the public. Access, however, is a tricky concept. When dealing with the disabled, what creates access for one person, such as a sign language interpreter for a deaf person who would need to watch the interpreter sign, may be useless to another person, such as a blind person who is able to hear the lesson or information being presented, but would be unable to see the interpreter signing. In the classroom or the library, the teacher or librarian is required to modify their individual teaching style to meet the specific needs of the disabled student/patron. Since, in a perfect world, the librarian would be constantly modifying his/her teaching style to meet the needs of the student’s learning style the modification needed during a library lesson with a group of disabled students or even a mixed group of disabled and non-disabled students could be very complicated.

What Are The Various Types Of Disabilities?

There are two types of disabilities that need to be addressed:

  • Visible disabilities. These consist of disabilities that you can identify visually. For example, a blind patron with a Seeing Eye dog, someone missing a limb, someone in a wheelchair, a patron with a limp.
  • Invisible disabilities. These consist of disabilities that are hidden from the casual observer. For example, someone with a mental illness that appears only when they are under stress, dyslexia, clinical depression, color blindness.

What Are The Various Types Of Learning Styles?

According to Howard Gardner there are eight different learning styles, which he terms intelligences. The best teachers adapt their lessons to teach to some or all of these styles thereby helping the student remember what has been taught. These learning styles, according to Gardner, styles are:

  • Linguistic Intelligence.
  • Logical & Mathematical Intelligence.
  • Visual & Spatial Intelligence.
  • Musical Intelligence.
  • Bodily & Kinesthetic Intelligence.
  • Interpersonal Intelligence.
  • Intrapersonal Intelligence.
  • Naturalist Intelligence.


Fabio, D. (1994-2007). Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences. In Encyclopedia of educational technology. Retrieved December 3, 2007, from <>

Hernon, P., & Calvert, P. (Eds.). (2006). Improving the quality of library services for students with disabilities. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Hurst, A. (1996). Reflecting on researching disability and higher education. In L. Barton (Ed.), Disability and society: Emerging issues and insights (pp. 123-46). Longman sociology series. London: Longman.

Konur, O. (2006, July). Teaching disabled students in Higher Education. Teaching in Higher Education, 11(3), 351-363. Retrieved January 3, 2007. doi:10.1080/13562510600680871

U.S. Department of Justice. (n.d.). ADA home page. Retrieved November 27, 2007, from <>

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