Exam accommodations such as additional time and alternative formats are the most common reasonable accommodations used by students with disabilities within school or college. There has been little or no consideration given to environmental accommodations for these students and how it impacts their academic performance within an examination context.

The purpose of this article is to introduce the concept of environmental accommodations for 3rd level examinations. This is based upon an identified need within a cohort of students with sensory defensiveness (SD) (also known as sensory over-responsiveness), which is experienced by some students with ADHD, Asperger’s Syndrome (AS), and Developmental Co-Ordination Disorder (DCD) as well as some mental health difficulties. Students with SD can become over-loaded by sensory stimuli (e.g. sound, light, touch, smells, and movement) and can have great difficulty in completing their everyday academic and non-academic tasks in college.  Environments such as lecture halls, restaurants, libraries and examination venues can be overwhelming, leading students to avoid them.

A survey of students registered with Disability Service availing of exam accommodations in February 2011 found that although the majority of students were satisfied with the venues a considerable number reported that they were experiencing great difficulty with the environment in these venues (Fig. 1).

Figure 1

An audit of the exam venues used for students receiving exam accommodations was then conducted by two Occupational Therapists (OT) working within Unilink Service, Trinity College (which is part of the DS Service).  Based upon this audit the therapists recommended to the examinations office that they use low-distraction venues (Figure 2) on a pilot basis and they would give advice on how to develop them.

Figure 2

Students who were deemed appropriate for using these low distraction venues were assessed by the Occupational Therapists within the Unilink Service using the Adolescent / Adult Sensory Profile (Brown & Dunn, 2002).

An investigation was then carried out by the DS staff on the low distraction venues in order to ascertain if they were effective during the examination period.  Invigilators were asked to complete questionnaires and students were asked for feedback by email following the examination period.

The results showed that all stakeholders found the setup of the low-distraction venues to be a positive experience and an improvement on the traditional group venues.  However, some students still experience sensitivity to auditory and visual distractions. The locations of the venues remain to be reviewed and the setup refined.  The pilot shows promising results and the venues will be used over the coming academic year and their effectiveness further assessed.


Brown, C. & Dunn, W. (2002) Adult/Adolescent Sensory Profile: User’s Manual. San Antonio, TX: Psychological Corporation.

For the full article please download this file: TCD Exam Venue Full Article

Authors: Kieran Lewis, Occupational Therapist, Unilink Service. Dr Clodagh Nolan, Unilink Service Director. Declan Treanor, Disability Service Director, T.C.D.


Email: klewis[at]tcd.ie


For more information on Unilink:  http://www.tcd.ie/disability/T-Services/Unilink/index.php