Why does an instructor have the responsibility to make reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities?

Section 504 of the Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) require that qualified students with disabilities receive reasonable accommodations in order to benefit from all post-secondary educational programs and activities. An instructor has the responsibility to make reasonable accommodations because such accommodations make it possible for a student with a disability to overcome barriers that occur as a result of the disability.

Accommodations provide the student with a disability the same opportunity to access education as their non-disabled peers. Accommodations enable the student to demonstrate what they have learned in the same way that glasses do not strengthen vision but help a person to see.

What is a disability?

"A person with a disability" is defined as "any person who

  1. Has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities,
  2. Has record of such an impairment, or
  3. Is regarded as having such an impairment."
An individual may have more than one disability.

What are considered "reasonable" accommodations?

Reasonable accommodations at the post-secondary level are designed to make the educational setting and service readily accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities.  Reasonable accommodations may include providing equipment or devices, extended time for tests, opportunity to take tests in an alternative setting, notetakers, sign language interpreters, captioning services, specialized equipment, materials in alternative format, scribes/readers, et al. 

Only accommodations that do not fundamentally alter the nature of a program and the key elements of a course and are not unduly burdensome financially or administratively are considered "reasonable."

What is the procedure for giving students accommodations?

Once a student has registered for classes, they should make an appointment with the campus Disability Counselor.  After careful review of the student's disability documentation and an intake appointment with the student, appropriate accommodations will be determined. A form listing the accomodations to be provided will be prepared for the student. It will be the student's responsibility to give a copy of the Accommodation Form to each instructor at the beginning of the semester.

Accommodations are not retroactive for coursework completed prior to the instructor's receipt of the Accommodation Form.

How are appropriate accommodations for a student determined?

To determine appropriate accommodations for a student, the student must submit documentation to the Disability Services Office.  The documentation is reviewed thoroughly, and an intake appointment takes place with the student.  Appropriate accommodations are determined based upon the student's disability-related academic needs and the essential elements of the course. 

Accommodations vary from student to student; individuals with different disabilities may have different academic concerns, and often individuals with the same disability will be affected in diverse ways.

I just received an Accommodation Form from a student. What should I do?

Students are encouraged to meet with faculty members individually to discuss the recommended accommodations.  The purpose of this meeting is to work out details related to the provision of accommodations. Questions regarding implementation of an accommodation or about the appropriateness of specific accommodations should be directed to the Disability Counselor.

What if I am concerned about, or object to an accomodation in the student's accommodation form?

If you are concerned that an accommodation is not appropriate for your particular course, you should contact the disability counselor as soon as possible.  It is acknowledged that the recommended accommodations can, on occasion, inadvertently compromise the essential elements or standards of a course.  The goal is to find a way to accommodate the student in a manner that does not fundamentally alter the essential performance standards of your class.

How can I be sure that I am doing what is necessary to provide appropriate accommodations?

No two students with disabilities are alike.  Each student with a disability has a different level of functioning, and compensation skills vary widely from one student to another.  The most successful way to ensure that you are providing all appropriate academic accommodations is to discuss with the student his/her individual needs and the course demands.

Do I need to change my grading standards for students with disabilities?

No, the goal of accommodations in higher education is to provide students with disabilities with equal access and opportunity, not to provide an unfair advantage.  Students with disabilities should be held to the same requirements as other students, although accommodations may alter how these requirements are met (e.g., provide more time to complete a test; allow a scribe to record the student's response; allow tests to be taken in an alternate format such as Braille).  If you have questions about a specific situation, please do not hesitate to call the Disability Counselor.

A student presented me with an Accommodation Form indicating extended time on exams five minutes before the exam.  This is the first I have heard of this request from this student.  What should I do?

Students are encouraged to be timely in their requests, present letters of accommodation at the beginning of the semester, and remind faculty of their need for accommodations several days before an exam.  In this situation, if you are able, provide the extended time, but remind the student that he/she needs to work out arrangements with you prior to an exam.

Can I just have the student try testing once or twice without the accommodation?

Students who have been given a letter of accommodation have provided documentation substantiating a disability by qualified professionals.  Refusing to allow the student to use their accommodations is a violation of the ADA and, therefore, against the law.  This can leave both the instructor and the college vulnerable to legal action by the student.

Giving one student accommodations makes me feel like I'm being unfair to the other students?

The Disability Counselor verifies both the student's disability and the specific limitations that this particular student experiences as a result of the disability through a thorough review of the student's disability documentation. Accommodations are not intended to give students with disabilities an unfair advantage, but to remove barriers that prevent students with disabilities from learning and demonstrating what they have learned.  Accommodations allow the student access to education by compensating for their disability while still requiring that the student demonstrate mastery of the course material.

What if a student with a disability is failing?

It is important to remember that providing reasonable accommodations to a student with a disability will not guarantee success in a course.  Students with disabilities may not master the course material, just like any other student.  Students with disabilities have the same right as other students to fail as part of their educational experience.

If we are preparing students for the workplace, won't this give them a false sense of accomplishment?

Students with disabilities must demonstrate the same level of knowledge as other students to complete a course; therefore, their skill level should be the same as that of other students.  In addition, federal law requires that employers provide employees with disabilities reasonable accommodations in the workplace. 

It's no big deal if I talk with students about their disability in front of other students, right?

Any report or documentation regarding a student's disability is strictly confidential.  Release of any information requires the student's written consent.  A student should never be identified in front of other individuals as having a disability. 

All efforts should be made to protect the student's privacy.  It is recommended that faculty include a statement in the syllabus and make a statement on the first day of class inviting students to privately disclose to the instructor any accommodations required to accommodate their disability.  Reference could also be provided in the course syllabus for Disability Services contact information. 

There is a student in my class who I think may have a disability.  How do I refer them to Disability Services?

This can often be a sensitive topic and it is important to be attuned to the student's needs.  For students who continue to struggle despite what appears to be their best effort, you may simply want to recommend they contact the Disability Counselor as a means of finding out if there are resources (e.g., academic support or enrichment services, tutoring, etc.) that are available to help them.  It is not advisable to say such things as "I think you have a learning (or other) disability." 

Typically, the best approach is to be sensitive, discreet, and non-directive, such as simply informing the student of the existence of Disability Services and other resources that are available on campus. 

    What services does Disability Services offer to faculty members?

    Disability Services serves as a liaison for any concern that may arise in relation to students with disabilities.  Please inform the Disability Counselor of the situation and all efforts will be made to assist in resolving the situation.  The goal of Disability Services is to provide as much assistance as possible to both students with disabilities and their instructors. 

    Disability Services is available to answer questions and to provide current resources addressing specific disabilities and how faculty members can most effectively serve the needs of students with disabilities.