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Frequently Asked Questions for Faculty and Staff

  • What is a disability?

    "disability" is a condition caused by accident, trauma, genetics or disease that may limit a person’s mobility, hearing, vision, speech, or mental function. A person may have more than one disability.
    "handicap" is a physical or attitudinal constraint imposed upon a person; for example, stairs, narrow doorways, and curbs are handicaps imposed upon people with disabilities who use wheelchairs.


    An individual with a disability is defined as any person who

    · "has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities (including walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, working, caring for oneself, or performing manual tasks),

    · has a record of such an impairment, or

    · is regarded as having such an impairment."

    What is meant by "is regarded as having such an impairment" in the definition of disability?

    For example, a person with a facial disfigurement may not have an impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities, but others may regard him or her has having one due to how he or she appears.

    What is a reasonable accommodation?

    A reasonable accommodation is a modification or adjustment to a course, program, service, job, activity, or facility that enables a qualified individual with a disability to have an equal opportunity to attain the same level of performance or to enjoy equal benefits and privileges that are available to an individual without a disability. Some common academic accommodations include extended time on tests, use of peer note takers, use of computer with spell check, and provision of sign language interpreters.

    How does a person become eligible to receive accommodations?

    To become eligible, a person must have a documented disability and inform the SDS office that he or she is requesting accommodations based on that disability.

    A student must:

    1. Contact Student Disability Services

    2. Provide SDS with documentation of the disability from a qualified professional, and

    3. Consult with the SDS director to determine appropriate accommodations.

    Who determines the accommodation?

    The SDS office determines the accommodations using:

    · documentation of the disability from qualified professionals provided by the student,

    · information gathered from an intake process, and

    · information from University personnel regarding essential standards for courses, programs, services, job, activities, and facilities.

    The determination of reasonable accommodations considers the following:

    · classroom or physical barriers

    · the array of accommodations that might remove the barriers;

    · whether or not the person has access to the course, program, service, job, activity, or facility without accommodations; and

    · whether essential elements of the course, program, service, job, activity, or facility are not compromised by the accommodations.

    Won't providing accommodations on examinations give an unfair advantage to a student with a disability?

    "Accommodations don’t make things easier, just possible; in the same way eyeglasses do not improve the strength of the eyes, they just make it possible for the individual to see better. Accommodations are interventions that allow the learner to indicate what they know. Without the accommodations, the learner may not be able to overcome certain barriers." (Samuels, M. 1992 - Asking the Right Questions. The Learning Center, Calgary)

    Accommodations are designed to lessen the effects of the disability and are required to provide fair and accurate testing to measure knowledge or expertise in the subject. Careful consideration must be given to requests for accommodations when the test is measuring a skill, particularly if that skill is an essential function or requirement of passing the course, such as typing at a certain speed or turning a patient for an x-ray. In such cases, please contact a DS coordinator for guidance.

    The purpose of academic accommodations is to adjust for the effect of the student's disability, not to dilute academic requirements. The evaluation and assigning of grades should have the same standards for all students, including students with disabilities.

    For many test takers, the most common accommodation is extended time. In specific circumstances, students may also require the use of readers and/or scribes, a modification of test format, the administration of examinations orally, or an alternative time for testing. For out-of-class assignments, the extension of deadlines may be justified, especially if the student is relying heavily on support services (readers for term papers, etc.).

    What do I do when a student discloses a disability?

    Ask for the Instructor’s letter from the student; this letter describes the accommodations that faculty are legally mandated to provide. During an office hour or at another convenient time, discuss the letter and the accommodations with the student. Students MUST present a letter from SDS to receive accommodations. If the student does not have a letter, he or she should be referred to the appropriate SDS office to request services. The SDS director will determine the appropriate accommodations after reviewing documentation of the disability provided by the student.

    What if a student doesn't tell me about a disability until a late in the semester?

    Students have a responsibility to give instructors and SDS adequate time to arrange accommodations. SDS director encourages students to identify early in the semester. Instructors can help by announcing in class and in the syllabus an invitation for students to identify themselves early in the semester: "Any student who may need an accommodation due to a disability, please make an appointment to see me during my office hours. A letter from Student Disability Services authorizing your accommodations will be needed."

    Once a student has identified to the instructor and requests disability-related accommodations authorized by SDS, the University has a legal responsibility to make reasonable attempts to accommodate the need, even late in the semester. There is no responsibility to provide accommodations prior to identification; for example, allowing the student to re-take exams with extended time.

    Can I review the student's documentation of the disability?

    SDS is the office designated to receive and interpret documentation of the disability. SDS director certify eligibility for services and determine accommodations. Disability information is confidential and students are not required to disclose this information to instructors.

    What if I suspect that a student has a disability?

    Talk with the student about your concerns regarding his or her performance. If the concern seems disability-related, ask if he or she has ever received assistance for a disability. If it seems appropriate, refer the student to the SDS office to apply for services. Whether to self-identify to SDS is the decision of the student; however, to receive accommodations, disclosure to SDS with proper documentation is required.      

    If the student has never been evaluated for a learning disability and/or Attention Deficit Disorder/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, the SDS office will provide a list of local resources where the student may be screened or tested. Some of the resources offer a sliding fee schedule.

    What if a student with a disability is failing?

    Treat the student as you would any student who is not performing well in your class. Invite the student to your office hour to discuss reasons for the failing performance and what resources the student may use to improve. Encourage the student to see a SDS director to discuss some additional strategies to improve his or her grades.

    Contact the SDS Director who initialed the Instructor’s Letter to discuss any additional concerns.

    What if a student with a disability is often absent?

    Talk with the student to discuss your concerns that absences are affecting class performance. Remind him or her of your policy on class absences. Determine with the student whether the missed work can be made up and make arrangements with the student to do so. Refer the student to the SDS director if too much class work has been missed.

    What is a note taker?

    A note taker is usually another student in class who agrees to provide copies of lecture notes taken during class. The note taker may make copies of notes at the SDS office or use carbonless note taker paper available at no charge from SDS.

    How can I assist a student with getting notes?

    The Instructor’s Letter will document the need for note takers. Students who cannot take notes or have difficulty taking notes adequately due to the effects of their disability can be accommodated in a number of ways including: allowing them to tape record lectures, assisting them in obtaining an in-class volunteer note taker, and providing them with an outline of lecture materials and copies of overhead transparencies.

    What should I do if a student who is deaf or hard of hearing shows up in my class without an interpreter?

    In the unlikely event that a student shows up for the first day of class without an interpreter, the student should be referred to SDS. SDS will then attempt to schedule an interpreter or work with the student to rearrange his or her schedule into classes where an interpreter is already provided.

    Who is responsible for requesting an interpreter?

    Students requiring an interpreter for class must make the request to SDS at the appropriate office. For outside class requirements, such as field trips or other assigned activities, as well as office hours, students should request the interpreter SDS at least two weeks ahead of time or more, depending on the event. SDS cannot guarantee an interpreter when requests are made less than two weeks before the event.

    Do I need to alter my teaching style with an interpreter present?

    Interpreters are professionals who facilitate communication between hearing individuals and people who are deaf or hard of hearing. The role of the interpreter is similar to that of a foreign language translator: to bridge the communication gap between two parties.

    Some adaptations in presentation style may be helpful when using a sign language interpreter. The interpreter will let you know if you need to slow down your rate of speaking or if they need you to repeat any information. A desk copy of the book is especially helpful for the interpreter when the class is using examples or doing exercises from the text. Please realize that if students are looking at the interpreter, they cannot be reading a book, writing, or taking notes; a pause for the students to finish their task may be required before continuing the lecture.

    What can I expect if there is an interpreter in my classroom?

    · Interpreters are bound by the code of ethics developed by the National Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, which specifies that interpreters are to serve as communication intermediaries who are not otherwise involved.

    · When an interpreter is present, speak directly to the deaf or hard of hearing person rather than to the interpreter, and avoid using phrases such as "tell him" or "ask her."

    · Speak normally, noting that there may be a lag time between the spoken message and the interpretation.

    · When referring to objects or written information, allow time for the translation to take place. Replace terms such as "here" and "there" with more specific terms, such as "on the second line" and "in the left corner."

    · In a conference room or class environment, the deaf student and interpreter will work out seating arrangements, with the interpreter usually located near the speaker.

    · Inform the interpreter in advance if there is an audiovisual element in a presentation, so arrangements can be made for lighting and positioning.

    · In sessions that extend longer than one hour, the interpreter may require a short break to maintain proficiency in interpreting.

    What should I do if my class needs to evacuate the building due to an emergency?

     Students should let you know at the beginning of the semester if they will need assistance during an emergency.

    · Students who are blind or have low vision may need a "buddy" to assist them exit the building.

    · Some students with head injuries or psychiatric disabilities may become confused or disoriented during an emergency and may also need a "buddy."

    · Students who use wheelchairs should NOT use the elevator but should wait for Security to safely assist them to exit the building. Security has the schedules of students who will need emergency evacuation. To prevent injuries, instructors or other untrained personnel should NOT attempt to evacuate a student who uses a wheelchair.

    Please wait for trained emergency personnel.

    Disability Laws

    Disability Rights/Laws:

    Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA):