LBS Practitioner Training

Professional development support for Literacy and Basic Skills educators in Ontario

3.5 Moving Towards Self-Advocacy

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Most research on learning disabilities talks about the importance of using appropriate accommodations with LD learners.  What do we know about accommodations? Is an accommodation the same thing as a strategy? What accommodations can we offer learners in school board LBS programs? What happens when learners who are used to certain accommodations leave the LBS program environment? How can we help learners access what they need for themselves after they leave?

In this unit, we look at:

  • defining and describing accommodations for LD learners;
  • what we should expect an appropriate accommodation to accomplish;
  • instructional accommodations we can use for LD learners in school board LBS classes;
  • accommodations through assistive technology;
  • helping learners build skills for self-advocacy.


Defining and describing “accommodations”

It can be a little confusing when the terms “accommodations” and “strategies” are used inconsistently or people use the terms but do not have the same meanings in mind.  Most learning disabilities specialists, however, tend to agree that the term, “strategies” refers to “different ways to approach a task”, but “accommodations” are “strategies that a person needs all the time in order to be successful”.


If you notice that a learner seems to have difficulty focusing his attention because of other distracting noises, you might suggest one of these strategies for him to try:

  • he could sit further away from the source of the noise;
  • he might work by himself in a designated “quiet” area;
  • he might use “white noise”, a personal CD or cassette player with his own music (and earphones of course);
  • he might wear earplugs or headphones to shut out sound.

Any one of these strategies might do the trick.

If, however, you discover that the learner absolutely cannot work without complete silence, then earplugs or headphones that block out all sound might be the best solution. In this situation, the headphones or the earplugs would be considered an accommodation because the learner would need to have them every time in order to work successfully.

Another quote from a workshop with Pat Hatt:

“If you don’t need to use this strategy all the time, it isn’t an accommodation;
it’s just a good way to learn something.”

Visit the Learning Disabilities Adaptations and Accommodations Guide, developed by the Virginia Adult Learning Resource Centre, to see a definition of accommodations for LD learners. Read, What is an accommodation? to see a definition that is intended for the learner.


That’s another good site to bookmark, don’t you think? Did you happen to see the valuable information about the rights of learning-disabled people, and accessing accommodations in the workplace? Go back to the Table Of Contents, and spend a few minutes moving around in the document to get a sense of the information that’s available.

More on describing accommodations for LD

Go to About Accommodations and read a short-but-good overview of accommodations. If you want see the article online, it is at: The online link opens at “Accommodating Math Students with Learning Disabilities”.  Scroll down until you come to the green title: “Defining Accommodations” This is the section that gives a nice overview.

What can we expect an appropriate accommodation to accomplish?

An appropriate accommodation is:

“That which allows the individual to be able to perform a skill “independently” so that he can be more effective and efficient.”

According to “Supporting and Sharing, Best Practices in Learning Disabilities Practitioner Training”, written by Pat Hatt for LDAO, 2002, a successful accommodation will:

  • enable a learner to use support people, print materials and technology, independently;
  • allow a learner to use strength and minimize disability;
  • allow the learner to become independent in the use of a skill;
  • allow the learner to be more effective and efficient.

What kinds of accommodations can we provide for LD learners in our LBS programs?

Instructional Accommodations

Practitioners who are sensitive to the needs of their learners may already be using a number of instructional accommodations in their programs without even realizing it. It’s just instinctive for them; it follows basic good teaching sense to consistently use the approaches that prove successful.

When experienced instructors learn that a particular approach or strategy turns out to be, in fact, essential for a particular learner, then they will use that strategy all the time.

Examples of strategies, that might turn out to be accommodations for some learners, can be found in some links you looked at earlier in Finding the Right Strategy. Read the strategies again, but this time, read for the purpose of identifying a number of potential accommodations that could be important for your learners. Which ideas do you already employ as strategies or accommodations on a regular basis, and which ones might you now adopt? Here are the links:

Donna Zener’s report also talks about instructional accommodations. To read this excerpt, visit Instructional Accommodations

JOURNAL REFLECTIONS: What do you think?

Based on your knowledge of the learners and on these readings, are there some additional accommodations you could put in place that would make a difference to learners in your program? What would those be?

What concrete steps would you take in order to incorporate those changes? (We suggest you commit yourself to only one or two changes at a time and choose a timeline for making those changes.)

Is it fair?

Some people struggle with providing certain helps for some people and not for others.  “Am I being fair?”, they wonder.

Instructors need to be clear that providing accommodations for LD learners is not cheating, but it is a way of evening the playing field.  We need to keep going back to our recognition of a learning disability as a true disability. Perhaps this can illustrate the point. Would someone ever say,

“How come he gets to ride in a wheelchair and I have to walk?" or "How come he gets to have someone push him around, and I have to get there by myself?  It’s just not fair!”

Of course not. It would be ludicrous!

As Rick Lavoie succinctly puts it, “Sometimes, in order to treat people fairly, you have to treat them differently”.

JOURNAL REFLECTIONS: What do you think?

What is your own personal philosophy on helping certain learners by providing individual accommodations?


Accommodations Using Assistive Technology (AT)

“Assistive technology" is any device or form of technology that increases independence of an individual with a disability. This device can be any item, piece of equipment, or product system that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities.” (From the Technology-Related Assistive Act of 1988, and the Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1990 – USA)

Assistive technology (AT) allows people with disabilities to bypass their area of need and use their strengths. Read the next three links to web pages that illustrate what AT can offer learners.

The first article entitled, “Taking the Mystery Out of Assistive Technology”, is excerpted from Learning Disabilities
and Assistive Technology: An Emerging Way to Touch the Future.
The article focuses on:

  • reasons why people with learning disabilities should consider using assistive technology,
  • explanations of AT as a tool for living, learning and working,
  • answers to myths about AT that limit success.

Visit Assistive Technologies and Accommodations for Students with LD to find helpful information for frequently asked questions about AT in the classroom.


What happens when LD learners leave the program?

Don’t be seduced by technology. The reality is that one-day learners will be leaving the program and that is an important factor to keep in mind when choosing assistive technologies as accommodations. Instructors need to weigh the benefits of training the learner to use assistive devices that she may not be able to afford, not be able to maintain, cannot afford to get fixed, or can’t use by herself in day-to-day life after leaving the program. (E.g. computer voice input, note-takers etc.)

On the other hand, many learners definitely continue to have access to AT accommodations, especially if they go on to further education or apprenticeship training programs. Remember though, that, in order to access these accommodations in further education or in further training, learners might be required to produce documentation that identifies:


  • what particular learning disability they have
  • what accommodations are recommended.

This is one of those situations that would support a learner’s decision to obtain formal learning disabilities assessment from a certified professional.

How can we help the learner develop skills for self-advocacy?

Self-advocacy is the ability to:


  • fend for oneself
  • negotiate for oneself
  • understand one’s needs
  • ask for, and get what one needs
  • access all the agencies and legal rights available.

The following links provide information on how to
help adults learn to advocate for themselves:

Steps to Self-Advocacy is a checklist that learners can use for planning out the steps to becoming more independent and for getting what they need to succeed.

Roles in Self-Advocacy describe the instructor’s role and the learner’s role in the learner’s move towards self-advocacy

To Tell or Not To Tell provides practical guidelines to help learners with the issue of disclosure.


JOURNAL REFLECTIONS: What do you think?

What is your opinion of your learners’ current abilities to advocate for themselves? If there are gaps in their knowledge and skills, what are they? How would you begin to address these issues?

More on Disclosure

How risky is it to tell someone about your learning disability? Whom should you tell? Read Who Do You Tell - an article by Dr Edward M. Hallowell, child and adult psychologist. In his article, Dr Hallowell explains how some people may have adverse reactions to hearing about learning disabilities, and he gives some practical advice on how to approach the subject.

SIDETRIP for experienced instructors

The following SIDETRIP is an opportunity for experienced instructors to explore this idea a little more. If you are new to LBS, this link is not essential for your training. If it interests you, however, by all means, take the trip!

Most instructors like to gather a number of good resources as they begin to develop particular training. Self-Advocacy Resources may help as you think about your learners’ needs in the area of self-advocacy.




JOURNAL REFLECTIONS: What do you think?
What in your mind are the greatest barriers to self-advocacy for your LD learners? What is needed in order for you to help learners deal with these barriers? How can you get what you need?

Finding the Right Strategy

In the Classroom

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