Special Populations & iCEV: Individuals with Disabilities

To follow last week's post, Special Populations & iCEV: Accommodations, Adaptations & Modifications, this week's blog will address the needs of individuals with disabilities in CTE classes. To review all of the blogs in the Special Populations & iCEV series, click here.


The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), possibly the most well-known law in education, defines a learning disability as “a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations.” IDEA specifically describes individuals with intellectual disabilities, and the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) broadly covers all individuals with disabilities, including those with physical limitations.

Research shows an estimated 85 percent of individuals with disabilities have the ability not only to succeed but to also master content when given necessary supports (i.e., accommodations and modifications).

Like most advice relating to individuals with disabilities, the teaching suggestions in this post are not one-size-fits-all. Each student is different and has unique requirements. Keep in mind these suggestions are being described generally and may not fit the needs of every single student. 

Safety Tests

Every student—even those with physical or intellectual disabilities—must pass a mandatory safety test when tools or special equipment are involved. Veterinary medical practices, welding and diesel equipment technology are just a few courses that could require safety tests. Rex Miller of Goose Creek ISD requires each of his students to get a 100% on the test before moving into the workshop. When a student misses a question, Miller works with him or her on why it was wrong and allows them to re-test.

Safety is of utmost importance in all courses, and this test provides an additional layer of protection for the students. The safety test may not be modified; if a saw is being used, every student must learn how to properly handle it. Should a situation arise where a student cannot pass the safety test after several attempts, the teacher has two options: talk to the student, parents or guardians and counselor about moving the student to a different course or modify any future lab or workshop assignments.

iCEV Connection:

A requirement in the Construction Technology I course is building a freestanding brick wall with real bricks and mortar. A student who requires a modification of this project would likely be unable to complete a wall according to the standards laid out in the presentation. A wall could be simulated using wooden blocks, miniature bricks or even building bricks and mortar or clay. The wall will still need to be sturdy and level, allowing the teacher to grade on techniques. This modified project will still allow the student to understand the principles behind building a wall but in a smaller, more controlled environment.

Intellectual Disabilities

Disabilities cannot be easily summed up in a tidy description. The six main types of intellectual disabilities are struggles in the following areas and may qualify for an Individualized Education Program (IEP) :

  1. Reading
  2. Math
  3. Writing
  4. Motor Skills
  5. Language
  6. Auditory and Visual Processing

However, emotional or health disorders, such as epilepsy, depressive disorders or Asperger’s disorder, among others, also qualify a student for an IEP. A student’s needs vary according to the content of the course and the severity of his or her disability. It is the teacher’s responsibility to determine how best to serve the student and give him or her the best chance to succeed.

iCEV Connection:

iCEV can help with modifications due to the assortment of projects and how each project can be modified for a student’s needs. For example, many fashion designers are taught early in their education how to develop a fashion collection. The directions for this project require students to create a sketchbook with four garments and a trend board identifying two trends. For students with processing disorders or struggles with motor skills, their requirements could be cut in half, meaning they will only be required to sketch two garments and identify one trend. By eliminating the additional work, the accommodations will allow the teacher to still grade the work and will allow students to have extended time to complete the assignment.

Physical Disabilities

According to a study completed in 2016, only 0.6 percent of individuals in the five to 17 years-old group had an ambulatory (physical) disability. That number rises to 5.1 percent in people ages 18 to 64 and 22.5 percent for those 65 and older. The low number of school-age children with physical disabilities is precisely why teachers need to be educated and trained on how to accommodate them. Intellectual disabilities are more prevalent in schools, allowing teachers to be better equipped to work with them.

Often, students with limited mobility are still intellectually sound; the work will not need to be altered, only the workspace. Some physical disabilities can be temporary, like a broken bone. The majority, however, last a lifetime. The most common ambulatory disabilities include:

  • Epilepsy
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Spina bifida
  • Orthopedic impairments
  • Blood disorders
  • Heart conditions

Modifying assignments for a student with a physical disability can be extremely challenging, especially in physical CTE courses like welding or construction. The school will need to provide specialized equipment like lower tables or smaller tools to accommodate the student’s needs.

iCEV Connection:

Nearly every course with students who are physically disabled will need to provide some sort of accommodation or modification. The CTE Coordinator for Frenship ISD, Amy Baker, describes some of the equipment her teachers provide students for their video production class. “We have a camera that can fit on a student’s wheelchair when he is going on interviews. He can’t set up a traditional tripod, but this lets him get the full experience.” The iCEV course principle of arts, audio/video technology & communications has many lessons that require video interviewing skills and techniques. For a student who uses a wheelchair, teaching him or her interview techniques, such as having the interviewee sit or having a table nearby on which to place the camera, will provide footage at an appropriate height. Teachers must also train students how to video interview a variety of people, both with and without disabilities. Such skills will benefit those students who enter the technology and communication field.


For more information regarding individuals with disabilities and teaching special populations, contact Morgan Dixon via email morgan.dixon@cevmultimedia.com or call her at 806.745.8820.

About the Author

Morgan Dixon is the Education Specialist at iCEV. She previously taught 7th English and Reading for six years. Morgan has a passion for special populations and understands how difficult it is to differentiate instruction for diverse classroom populations. It is her goal to make teachers’ jobs a little easier and provide resources that benefit both teachers and students.


Special Populations & iCEV Blog Series

Special Populations & iCEV: Definitions 

Special Populations & iCEV: Non-Traditional Fields 

Special Populations & iCEV: Economically Disadvantaged

Special Populations & iCEV: English Language Learners

Special Populations & iCEV: Accommodations, Adaptations & Modifications 

Special Populations & iCEV: Gifted & Talented Students 


Learn more about supporting students with disabilities in this resource from Education Degree

Learn more about student loans for students with disabilities in this resources from Bankrate