Research and articles on literacy instruction for students with significant disabilities


Hudson, M., Browder, D., Wakeman, S. (2013). Helping Students With Moderate and Severe Intellectual Disability Access Grade-Level Text, Teaching Exceptional Children, 45(3), pp. 14-23.

This article highlights research-based strategies that teachers can use when working with adolescents with cognitive disabilities who are emergent readers. The authors offer strategies for increasing accessibility to grade-level texts by:

  • Shortening the text–dividing into segments, omitting pages and paragraphs while maintaining the essential meaning of the text
  • Augmenting the text–adding pictures, repeating the main idea, adding a repeated story line, affixing actual objects, adding sensory experiences
  • Rewriting the text as a summary–reducing the number of words, the complexity of the sentence structure and vocabulary, adding definitions for important words
  • Using predictable structures–stating the main idea in the first sentence of the first paragraph, adding signal words, repeating story line on every page.

The authors also offer instructional approaches for supporting text comprehension, including:

  • Providing two options for students to select–one correct option and one not plausible, and build from there
  • Creating comprehension questions that are text-dependent­–encourages students to listen to the text
  • Providing graphic organizers–helps readers organize information from the story; students who do not write independently can use pictures and symbols
  • Providing question templates (5 Ws–who, where, when, what, why).
  • Using think-aloud to help students see your thinking.

Erickson, K.A., Hatch, P. & Clendon, S. (2010). Literacy, Assistive Technology, and Students with Significant Disabilities. Focus on Exceptional Children, 42(5), 1 – 16.

This article focuses on the need to carefully select instructional methods and technologies and combine them in comprehensive approaches to literacy instruction. Issues and challenges in word reading and comprehension are discussed as well as assistive technologies and strategies that can support students with significant disabilities in these areas.


Hyer, G. Teaching Literacy to Students with Significant Cognitive Disabilities: A Review of Literature. Academic Forum 32 (2014–15)

Students with intellectual disabilities are at risk of obtaining little to no literacy skills unless they are directly taught emergent and conventional literacy skills. The importance of teaching literacy skills for these students would bring about more independence and open opportunities for employment. Unfortunately many educators are baffled by the best approach to teach literacy skills to students with significant disabilities.

This article reviews what we currently know about teaching literacy skills to students with significant intellectual disabilities and offers approaches for educators to help these students obtain literacy skills.


Erickson, K.A., Clendon, S., Abraham, L., Roy, V. & Van de Carr, H. (2005). Toward Positive Literacy Outcomes for Students with Significant Developmental Disabilities. Assistive Technology Outcomes and Benefits, 2(1), 45-54.

Three classroom teachers and their 23 students with significant developmental disabilities were studied across 8 weeks as a new literacy and communication instructional program, “MEville” to “WEville,” was implemented. Before and after the implementation, the students were tested on a variety of literacy measures, their teachers were interviewed, and each classroom was observed. During the implementation, each classroom was observed at least once each week for a total of 35 hours of observation. Measured outcomes and benefits of the “MEville” to “WEville” program were evident for the students in each classroom. Students demonstrated increases in their attempts to initiate and sustain social interactions, and improvements in their literacy skills and understandings. Although observed differences did not reach statistical significance, the outcomes represent a significant practical difference for the children in the current study.


Joseph, L.M. & Konrad, M. Teaching students with intellectual or developmental disabilities to write: A review of the literature. Research in Developmental Disabilities 30 (2009) 1–19

The purpose of this review was to identify effective methods for teaching writing to students with intellectual disabilities. Strategy instruction was consistently found to be very effective for teaching writing skills to students with intellectual disabilities. Limitations, directions for future research, and implications for practice are discussed.

Erickson, K. & King DeBaun, P. Teaching Strategies to Support Inclusive Instruction in Reading and Language Arts, 2006.

This document was developed to support the inclusion of children with severe physical and/or communication impairments in general education classrooms. The emphasis across the strategies is to create a single instructional approach that addresses the learning needs of all of the children in the class rather than creating a parallel program for children with special needs. The strategies are meant to suggest one way to support students in an inclusive reading and language arts program. The focus of the article is on the use of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) as a framework for supporting all students.

MEville to WEville: Early Literacy and Communication Curriculum Research White Paper

The MEville to WEville Early Literacy and Communication Program is specifically developed for students with moderate to severe disabilities to succeed in all areas of literacy including reading, writing, and communication. The program is based on research in literacy education, differentiated instruction, and effective instructional practices.

Project Converge – Project Converge is a Phase I Steppingstones of Technology Innovations grant awarded to the Center for Literacy and Disability Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. There were two primary goals of ProjectConverge. The first was to develop innovative reading and writing technologies that were built to leverage the power of MEville to WevilleTM, The Start-to-Finish ® Literacy Starters, and SOLO™. The second goal was to investigate the effectiveness of the technologies when they were implemented in the context of MEville to Weville™ and on their own.


For other articles and research on teaching literacy to students with significant disabilities, please visit Learning for All.