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Learning Barriers & Accommodations

The Disability & Learning Support Service provides a range of supports for students to ensure they can access their programme on par with their peers.

We also work alongside academic staff in supporting our students and have created a number of resources and training sessions that are available through HR or directly through our office.

We are happy to chat with you regarding how best students can be accommodated on your programme so please do not hesitate to contact us - disability.service@dcu.ie


Below we have created a number of short guides, outlining the challenges our students can experience and what you can do to make a difference.


In most cases students with ADD/ADHD have particular difficulty commencing and switching tasks, have a very short attention span and high levels of distractibility.

Students with hyperactivity (ADHD)  may act impulsively and erratically and be noticeably restless and fidgety. Those without the hyperactive trait (ADD) tend to daydream excessively, lose track of what they are doing and fail
to engage in their studies unless they are highly motivated. 

When working with such students they may fail to make effective use of the feedback they receive and have weak listening skills


In the Classroom:

A student may be unable to sustain concentration for an entire lecture and may require a copy of all lecture notes
When giving instructions do not assume the student has understood. Patient questioning and listening, a willingness to rephrase questions and added explanations may be necessary.
Provide reading lists in advance to facilitate early reading and planning. Indicate the most important books on a reading list.
Use multiple ways of presenting information: videos, slides, practical demonstrations, as well as talking through text.
Assignment topics should be provided early and students may require extra time to complete assignments.
Keep oral instructions concise.
Be sensitive to possible self-consciousness by the student about speaking or reading aloud in lectures and tutorials.
In many instances, a student with ADD/ADHD may also have associated learning difficulty. If necessary please refer to the guidelines for specific learning difficulties.
Enable Closed captioning/Auto-transcription on Zoom


External Resources:

ADHD Ireland -  https://adhdireland.ie/

ADHD Third-level guide to ADD/ADHD 

ADDitude ( online resource)


Autism is a neurologically based condition that is recognised as being at the high functioning end of autistic spectrum disorder. People with AS develop cognitive or behaviour characteristics which can impact significantly on the person's outlook on the world.

Strengths - ability to concentrate almost exclusively on a chosen subject.

People with autism can often find a change in their routine quite stressful and challenging. Moving into 3rd level where there is a greater focus on independent learning and thus less of a routine can be particularly difficult.

Characteristics of autism include:

  • Difficulties with social interaction and communicating, often interrupting or misunderstanding people, making it difficult for turn-taking.
  • Rigid routines and ritualistic behaviours which can prove highly effective in achieving calmness and becoming centred. Enables the student to focus wholly on a particular area of interest.
  • These rigid routines can also lead to increased stress, anxiety and annoyance when they are unable to follow their routines. For example, the disruption caused by the redecoration of their bedroom at home could cause a student to be unable to study or complete assignments on time
  • Memories: People with autism often have a truly incredible memory for facts and figures but are poor at autobiographical material.
  • Physically a student with autism may experience motor clumsiness and hypersensitivity to sensory stimuli, especially noise, light and sound.


In the classroom:

Students may find abstract language and metaphors impossible or difficult to understand. Try to use literal language whenever possible and be explicit about precisely what you mean. For example, in multiple-choice exams "Please circle your answers", a student with autism may write their answers in circles.
Students may be demanding of the tutor's time or individual attention. In such cases clear rules for classroom etiquette are important
Use multiple ways of presenting information: videos, slides, practical demonstrations, as well as talking through text.
Introduce new topics and concepts obviously, clarify new language.
When giving instructions do not assume the student has understood. Patient questioning and listening, a willingness to rephrase questions and added explanations may be necessary.
Some students may find it difficult to work in a group. If it is possible an appropriate, consider alternative ways of completing group assignments.
If arranging a meeting with a student with AS chose a quiet venue with minimum distractions and avoid having to reschedule


Social Interaction with Peers

  • Many students with autism have above average IQ but have significant difficulties with social interaction.
  • Very often a student with autism will not be aware of social cues and negative experiences in the past will have taught the student to avoid social interactions.
  • A social group for students with autism is currently available among the Dublin, HEIs ( details can be obtained from the DLSS).



DCU - An Autism-Friendly University

DCU Uni Toolkit


External Resources:

AsIAM Website




Students who are blind or have sight loss may experience significant difficulties in class. They may experience difficulties with textbooks, chalkboard diagrams, overhead projections, audio-visual material etc. However, with planning and assistive technologies, these difficulties can be kept to a minimum.

The level of visual impairment can vary considerably with some students having no vision to others being able to see large shapes and others just requiring magnification of standard print.

The assistive technology utilised by students with a visual impairment can range from enlarged computer print, electronic books or software which reads the text on a computer screen aloud. Some students also use audiotape recorders, portable note-taking devices, or talking calculators.


In the Classroom:

Provide a list of required reading well in advance of the start of lectures. This ensures enough time is given for conversion to alternative formats.
Students with visual disabilities may need preferential seating. Your student should be seated near the front of the lecture to hear clearly what is being presented and to see as much as possible.
Allow the student to digitally record the lecture or use a notetaker.
Ensure that you talk through everything you put on the board or any other visual diagrams etc which you use.
When lecturing, avoid making statements that cannot be understood by people without sight: for example, "This diagram sums up what I am saying about statistics."
Don't worry about using words and phrases that refer to sight: for example, "See you later!" Such expressions are commonly used, and most people with visual impairments don't find them offensive


External Resources:

AHEAD - Assistive Technology Hive

National Council for the Blind - NCBI

Students, who are Deaf or hard of hearing, can face significant difficulties within an academic setting. Maintaining effective communication with these students is imperative and may involve working through a Sign language interpreter or through visual communication, such as gestures etc.

The level of experience and skill of lip-reading, sign language interpretation may vary between students and thus supports and accommodations will also be different. Bear in mind that lip-reading can be tiring for the student and requires a lot of concentration.

Students who have some level of hearing may use a device to amplify sounds in a lecture. Where a student is using an assistive listening device a lecturer may be asked to wear a cordless lapel radio Aid to accommodate the student.

There is a dedicated page on Loop, accessible for all DCU staff which can be accessed HERE ( this is a self-enrol page).


In the Classroom:

Make lecture notes available in advance of lectures on Loop or directly to the student
When using an Interpreter speak at your normal rate, if you are too fast the interpreter will ask you to slow down if necessary. See video above
Face the class while speaking; if an interpreter is present; make sure the student can see both you and the interpreter. Loss of visual contact may mean loss of information for some students who are Deaf or hard of hearing. Unless the students are using sign-language interpreters or Speed Text, be sure that the students have visual contact with you before you being lecturing. Avoid giving information while handing out papers
When desks are arranged in rows, keep front seats open for students who are Deaf or hard of hearing, or their interpreters.
Repeat the comments and questions of other students, especially those from the back rows; acknowledge who has made the comment so the Deaf or hard of hearing student can focus on the speaker
Be mindful when choosing lecture or tutorial Rooms and ensure that there is adequate lighting for lip-reading, with speakers lit from the front.
Use automatic closed captioning/transcription on Zoom and on videos whenever possible. If captions are not possible provide an outline or summary in advance.
If there is an interruption in the class, get the Deaf or hard of hearing student’s attention before resuming teaching
Use visuals frequently. Because visual information is a Deaf student's primary means of receiving information, films, overheads, diagrams, and other visual aids are useful instruction tools.
Be flexible: allow a Deaf student to work with audiovisual material independently and for a longer period of time
Don't assume. When in doubt about how to assist the student, ask him or her

Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD) is an umbrella term for gross and/or fine motor difficulties, motor planning difficulties and sensory integration dysfunction. In general, DCD is now the preferred term instead of dyspraxia. 

DCD implies difficulty in the coordination of movement. Gross motor skills ( big movements of the larger muscles; arms, legs, torso and feet) and fine motor skills ( small movements in the smaller muscles of the fingers, toes, wrists and mouth) are hard to learn and difficult to retain and generalise.

Difficulties that may be experienced:

  • Likely to have difficulties with handwriting, copying diagrams and writing notes from the board. Keyboard skills can be difficult to acquire.
  • Can have difficulties with postural control, balance and co-ordination. 
  • May have difficulty with planning & organising academic work
  • Can have difficulty with fine motor skills for accuracy e.g. lab work or precise clinical skills for courses such as Nursing.
  • Concentration, time management, and planning can be very challenging for some students with DCD.
  • Some students may have difficulties with written expression, work organisation, visual skills, oral skills or numeracy skills.


In the Classroom:

Make lecture notes and other handouts available in advance if possible as a student with DCD may have difficulty writing notes in lectures.
A clear timeline of events, assignments and deadlines for the student who assist students who find it difficult to manage time and plan ahead.
Prioritise reading lists if possible as students with DCD often find it difficult to access and organise information.
Enable Closed captioning/Auto-transcription on Zoom


External Resources:

AHEAD - Assistive Technology Hive

Dyspraxia Ireland - https://www.dyspraxia.ie/

There is an increasing number of students in DCU experiencing mental health difficulties. Conditions such as depression, bipolar affective disorder or severe anxiety can impact all areas of a student’s life.

While each case is individual there are some commonalities in the academic experiences of students with mental health difficulties. Students may find it difficult to focus, concentrate or complete work on time. In addition, their ability to function may also fluctuate from day to day and can be exacerbated by stress. Medication can also compound such symptoms. Some students may also experience fluctuating energy levels or miss lectures due to hospital appointments.

In the Classroom:

A student may be unable to sustain concentration for an entire lecture and may require a copy of all lecture notes.
When giving instructions do not assume the student has understood. Patient questioning and listening, a willingness to rephrase questions and added explanations may be necessary.
Provide reading lists in advance to facilitate early reading and planning. Indicate the most important books on a reading list.
Assignment topics should be provided early and students may require extra time to complete assignments.
Keep oral instructions concise.
Be sensitive to possible self-consciousness by the student about speaking or reading aloud in lectures and tutorials.



DCU Counselling Service - available free to all DCU Students and has a range of resources 

DCU Health Centre


External Resources:

Jigsaw - Offer expert advice and support to young people who experience mental health difficulties


Shine - supporting people who experience mental health difficulties

Neurological conditions are medically defined as disorders of the brain, spinal cord and nerves throughout the body. Many conditions may be stable, others may be variable and some will be progressive.

Major types of neurological conditions include Epilepsy, Multiple Sclerosis, Motor Neurone Disease, Friedreich's Ataxia, Tourettes, Narcolepsy, Brain Injury and Stroke.

 Difficulties that may be experienced:

  • Often experience fatigue ( physical, cognitive and emotional exhaustion)
  • May have difficulties with concentration and completion of tasks or assignments.
  • Experience pain
  • Have to take medication ( with possible side effects)
  • Can be more susceptible to stress, and illnesses could be exacerbated by times of stress.
  • Can miss lectures due to medical appointments, illness or time in hospital
  • Writing and other fine motor activities ( including computer use) may also be affected
  • Students may have difficulty with oral communication


In the Classroom:

A student may be unable to sustain concentration for an entire lecture and may require a copy of all lecture notes.
Provide reading lists in advance to facilitate early reading and planning. Indicate the most important books on a reading list.
Accommodate students who may need to sit in certain learning situations. 
In long lectures, it may be helpful to allow students a quick break
Be patient when teaching students with speech, language and communication difficulties. Do not be reluctant to ask the student to repeat a statement.

Students may need to take additional breaks during exams, e.g. a student with narcolepsy may need to sleep mid-way through an exam


External Resources:

Acquired Brain Injury Ireland

Ataxia Foundation Ireland

Epilepsy Ireland

Narcolepsy Ireland


There are numerous medical conditions that may interfere with a student’s ability to participate fully in university. Some students may experience fluctuating energy levels, fatigue or miss lectures due to hospital appointments or procedures. The student’s condition may impact his/her ability to attend lectures, complete assignments and study to the same level as other students.

The following principles apply:

  • Give clear guidelines to the student on areas for revision, essential texts to read, important lectures in the module etc. this will ensure that the student is utilising his/her available time productively.
  • Be flexible on attendance as it may not be possible for the student to be present at all lectures.
  • A student may require extra time to complete assignments
  • Provide reading lists in advance to facilitate early reading and planning and identify the most important readings.


Below are brief descriptions of the most common medical conditions experienced by our students:

Crohn’s Disease An ongoing disorder that causes inflammation of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. The range and severity of symptoms vary but abdominal pain, fatigue and excessive weight loss often dominate. As a result, students may miss lectures, find it difficult to concentrate or may experience side-effects to their medication.
Cystic Fibrosis (CF) A respiratory disorder that primarily affects the lungs and the digestive system. Students with CF are more prone to chest infections and malnutrition which can eventually lead to damage of the lungs. A student with CF may experience long absences from college due to illness or hospitalisation.
Diabetes ( Type 1) A condition in which the body either does not produce enough or does not properly respond to, insulin, a hormone produced in the pancreas. Most students can manage their diabetes through diet and medication; however, some students can experience fatigue, mental confusion & fluctuating energy levels.



DCU Health Centre


External Resources:

The Cystic Fibrosis Association of Ireland

Diabetes Ireland

Irish Society for Colitis and Chron's Disease


Physical difficulties can be caused by anything from arthritis to amputation to spinal cord injury. People with physical disabilities are more likely to be challenged by the physical environment and or the attitudes and beliefs of society than by the disability itself. Here are some examples:

  • Cerebral Palsy (CP) is a result of injury to the largest part of the brain, the cerebrum. It is characterised by impaired muscular function.
  • Muscular Dystrophy is a group of inherited disorders characterised by the deterioration and wasting of muscle fibres.
  • Spina Bifida or Hydrocephalus can occur when one or more vertebrae in the spine fail to form properly in early pregnancy. When this happens, the nerves in the spine may be unprotected and this can lead to damage to the central nervous system.

Impact on learning

  • Physical access
  • Difficulty writing holding or manipulating objects, and carrying out specific tasks.
  • Those who use wheelchairs, callipers, crutches, canes or prostheses
  • often find it difficult moving about especially within the time constraints imposed by timetables.
  • Decreased stamina.
  • Transport difficulties.
  • A student may be absent from college for hospital appointments.
  • Fatigue and weakness leading to problems completing exams/lectures etc. 


In the Classroom:

Allow for the time and fatigue factors that may arise as the student moves between lectures
Be conscious that the student may tire easily and may require rest periods or breaks during lectures, tutorials or class tests.
Never push a person’s wheelchair without their permission, offer help if you think it is required but do not impose it.
When talking to a person who uses a wheelchair sit down (if possible) so that you are both on the same level.
People who walk using sticks or crutches may appreciate help with carrying belongings or opening doors

Try to keep walkways, corridors and aisles free from obstructions.



DAWN Handbook - Teaching Guidelines for Academics


External Resources:

Arthritis Ireland

Muscular Dystrophy Ireland



Students with Specific learning difficulties account for one-third of all students registered with the DLSS. Such difficulties are characterised by a discrepancy between intellectual capacity and achievement.  There are 3 major specific learning difficulties: dyslexia, dysgraphia and dyscalculia. Other learning difficulties include difficulties with auditory processing, memory, reading/visual difficulties.

Dyslexia is a language-based learning difficulty that mainly affects the development of literacy and language-related skills. Many people with dyslexia can experience difficulties in the following areas: memory, reading, writing, spelling, maths, organisation and speech. 

Dyscalculia is a learning difficulty of arithmetic or Maths. The difficulty lies in the receptions, comprehension, or production of quantitative and spatial information.  Students with dyscalculia may have difficulty in understanding simple number concepts, lack of intuitive grasp of numbers and have problems learning number facts and procedures.

Dysgraphia affects the student's ability to write coherently regardless of their ability to read. Some of the problems include: poor structure of words, incomplete words, and omitted words while writing, significant difficulty putting thoughts and ideas in writing, increased or decreased speed of handwriting.


Difficulties which may be experienced:

  • Students with SpLDs may underperform in examinations or require more time to complete assignments than other students
  • Taking notes in lectures can be difficult for students with SpLDs
  • Students may have significant organisational difficulties
  • Students may have difficulty with handwriting and producing written work


In the Classroom:

Make lecture notes available in advance if possible. Students with SpLDs may have difficulty writing notes in lectures while also trying to listen to what is being said.
A written outline of the course may assist students with learning difficulties to follow the course and revise for exams
Outlining each lecture at the beginning and highlighting new terms and key points can help a student to focus. 
Providing clear feedback on assignments enables students to understand how they can improve.
Consider using alternative assessment options, as students with SpLDs may be able to demonstrate their ability more accurately through visual or by auditory means




Guidelines for Examiners when Marking Scripts from Students with a Disability who have a Reading, Writing or Spelling Difficulty (Dyslexia Guidelines for Lecturers) are included in a student's exam script by the invigilator. They do not apply to assignments.


External Resources:

Dyslexia Association of Ireland