ELs with Disabilities

English learners (ELs) with disabilities, also called English language learners (ELLs) with disabilities, include students who are progressing toward English language proficiency and who have disabilities for which they receive services or supports through an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 accommodation plan. In grades K-12, ELs with IEPs account for about 11% of all students with IEPs in the 2016-17 school year, according to the U.S. Department of Education. ELs with IEPs include those students –

  • whose native language is other than English or whose English language proficiency has been affected by another language or languages as a result of bilingualism/multilingualism, regardless of whether they were born in the United States or abroad,
  • whose difficulties in speaking, listening, reading, or writing in the English language may be sufficient to deny them the ability to successfully achieve in classrooms where the language of instruction and assessment is English, and
  • whose disabilities represent one or more disability categories (autism, deaf blind, developmental delay, emotional disturbance, hearing impairment and deafness, intellectual disability, multiple disabilities, other health impairment, orthopedic impairment, specific learning disability, speech language impairment, traumatic brain injury, and visual impairment and blindness).

States have widely varying percentages of ELs with disabilities. For example, according to the U.S. Department of Education, in the 2016-17 school year ELs with IEPs represented anywhere from fewer than 1% to 30% of a state’s population of students with IEPs. Accurate counts of ELs with 504 plans are not available.

ELs with disabilities who have IEPs may be identified as having one or more of 13 disability categories recognized in federal policy. The categories and the approximate percentage of students identified with these disabilities who were also ELs in 2016-17 were:

Autism (7%)
Deaf Blind (<1%)
Developmental Delay (3%)
Emotional Disturbance (2%)
Hearing Impairment and Deafness (11%)Intellectual Disability (7%)
Multiple Disabilities (1%)
Other Health Impairment (<1%)
Orthopedic Impairment (8%)
Specific Learning Disability (49%)
Speech Language Impairment (19%)
Traumatic Brain Injury (<1%)
Visual Impairment and Blindness (<1%)

ELs with disabilities have both language- and disability-related needs that vary for each student. Successful instruction and assessment for ELs with disabilities are contingent on recognizing and addressing their unique needs. Data on numbers of students in the categories of disability are collected each year through a child count process. Annual reports of these data may be found on the U.S. Department of Education website.

Figure 1. Percent of ELs Ages 6 through 21 Served Under IDEA, Part B by Disability Category*

Percent of ELs Ages 6 through 21 Served Under IDEA, Part B by Disability Category

*Other disabilities combined includes deaf-blindness (less than 0.02%), developmental delay (2.7%), emotional disturbance (1.9%), hearing impairments (1.4%), multiple disabilities (1.2%), orthopedic impairments (0.8%), traumatic brain injury (0.3%), and visual impairments (0.3%).

Data source: Child Count and Educational Environments 2016-17, data were extracted on 4/9/2018. Population: only includes age 6-21 in 50 states.