Lewis, K., & Nolan, C. (2013). Examination accommodations for students with sensory defensiveness . Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability , 26 (2), 163–181. http://www.ahead.org/publications/jped

Journal Article

Lewis, K., & Nolan, C. (2013). Examination accommodations for students with sensory defensiveness. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 26(2), 163–181. http://www.ahead.org/publications/jped


[no doi located]; Also downloadable from ERIC online database: https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1026927


Individual; International (non-U.S.); Postsecondary; Small group; Specialized setting; Student survey





The researchers investigated the effects of using low distraction settings to support students with disabilities during university course examinations.


Participants were university students (n=102) with sensory defensiveness, or a neurological condition indicating a lowered threshold to process sensory information resulting in heightened responsiveness to sounds, touch, lighting, movement, and smells. Additional feedback and perspectives were elicited from an unspecified number of Disability Services personnel at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland.

Dependent Variable

Participants completed questionnaires about their experiences with testing spaces in which researchers managed auditory (i.e., noise levels) and visual distractions, as well as ambient temperature conditions. The questionnaire was designed by occupational therapists and disability service personnel with relevant expertise about sensory defensiveness, and included Likert-scale items and open-ended items eliciting details. Focus group discussions among students with sensory defensiveness and University personnel formed another source of qualitative data for evaluating the piloted low distraction exam settings.


The three phases of the study provided various findings pertinent to testing settings, students with sensory defensiveness, and implications for quality practices. During the first phase, 102 students reported their evaluation of 16 University testing venues through a questionnaire, with about 87% of the participants indicating that they were excellent, and about 13% rating the venues as poor or unacceptable. During the second phase, an audit of the testing venues, two occupational therapists, along with students with sensory defensiveness, identified that most of the 16 testing spaces had auditory, visual, and proximity issues needing correction. In the third phase, and using those recommendations, two small-group testing spaces and two individual testing spaces were created. The testing spaces were piloted during University examinations, and Disability Services staff members and exam proctors also provided feedback. The perspectives of these stakeholder groups were primarily positive, explicating the accommodation's improvements. Limitations of the study were reported, and future research directions were suggested.