Resources for Disabled Students

Students with Disabilities in the Classroom


Reasonable Accommodations Faculty Roles
Faculty Rights Faculty Responsibilities
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Faculty/GTA Information

The following are general guidelines for classroom reasonable accommodations (i.e., academic adjustments, auxiliary aids, and/or services) for students with disabilities enrolled in your course and/or program.  The links at the left will provide you with additional information.  If you do not find what you are looking for, please contact Resources for Disabled Students (RDS), 491-6385.

Students with physical/learning impairments or chronic physical/mental illnesses or conditions are categorized as 'disabled' according to federal non-discrimination laws.  As such, they are eligible for reasonable accommodations based on the limitations that are manifested. Needs vary among among individuals with the same disability and a student may have multiple disabilities that have to be taken into consideration.  Some students may have disabilities that are not readily apparent.  Therefore, please do not assume that a student is not disabled.  If a student presents you with an accommodation memo from RDS, the student has submitted sufficient information to verify the disability (impairment/illness/condition) and is officially identified as having a disability.  For more information on why reasonable accommodations are necessary, go to Why Provide Accommodations.

Reasonable Accommodation

The underlying purpose of reasonable accommodations is to enable students to be participate and be evaluated on the basis of their abilities, not their disabilities, as well as provide equal access to information in the classroom.  Reasonable accommodations are mandatory based on federal regulations.  As faculty, you do not have a choice in participating in the process of providing them.

Reasonable accommodations may require adjustments to how courses are conducted and/or how program requirements can be met. However, reasonable accommodations are not meant to alter the fundamental nature of the course or program or the essential learning outcomes of the course or program.

Fundamental Nature of Course/Program and Essential Learning Outcomes:  Determining the fundamental nature of a course/program or the essential learning outcomes should be a deliberative departmental process and not done in isolation by one instructor.  The fundamental nature of a course or program takes into account a multitude of factors, including available resources or external standards.  Courses/programs are designed so that students meet specific learning outcomes, some more essential than others. Consideration must be made to see if there are alternative means to achieve those outcomes, including substitutions or different activities that would demonstrate an effective outcome.

Reasonable accommodations can range from a need to change the presentation of materials to providing different ways for the student to demonstrate meeting the learning outcomes of a course/program. Reasonable accommodations are determined on a case-by-case basis and not all students with disabilities need them.  Providing them is not as ominous as it may sound although it may require you to do more than expected for the average student.  While the primary driving force in the process is the student, faculty also have a stake in the process and RDS exists to be partners to both you and the student in achieving the end goal - a reasonable accommodation.

For more information regarding reasonable accommodations, please go to Reasonable Accommodations.

Faculty Roles

Federal mandates means the role faculty play is not an optional one.  In fact, it is an essential part of the process that involves:

  • Participation in providing reasonable accommodation
  • Providing access to classroom and materials
  • Maintaining confidentiality of student
  • Determining essential or fundamental learning outcomes for course/program

While the process of providing reasonable accommodations begins when the student requests them, it is an instructor's responsibility to ensure that the learning environment is accessible and welcoming of that request.  Instructors will find it useful to include a statement on their syllabus which directs students with disabilities regarding the steps they need to take to receive classroom accommodations. The following is a sample statement:

If you are a student who will need accommodations in this class due to a disability or chronic health condition, please make an appointment with me to discuss your individual needs.  Any accommodation must be discussed in a timely manner prior to implementation.  A verifying accommodation letter from Resources for Disabled Students is required before any accommodation is provided.

In certain situations, reasonable accommodations may require modifications of standard classroom practices.  The following are examples of accommodations that may be necessary to ensure equal access to education:

  • Provide necessary accommodations for exam taking, e.g., provide a copy of the exam to RDS where the student can receive the accommodations needed.
  • Provide alternative ways to fulfill course requirements.
  • Allow adaptive technology such as audio recorders, electronic note takers, and laptop computers to be used in the classroom.
  • Share copies of power points and/or other lecture notes.
  • Consider alternative ways of assessing students that allow for the student's academic abilities to be measured and not his or her disabilities.

Confidentiality in the accommodation process must be maintained by all parties.  Disclosure of the type of disability is a personal choice and may be freely shared with you BUT asking for that personal information is not allowed.  Nor is asking for any information from the student that would further disclose such personal data beyond what is shared in an RDS accommodation letter. Letters of accommodation should be filed in a safe place, and faculty should refrain from discussing students' disabilities and necessary accommodations in the hearing of fellow students or others who do not have an "educational need to know."  

RDS staff are always available to serve as a resource for faculty seeking assistance in providing reasonable accommodations to students and welcome your questions.

Faculty Rights

Faculty members have the right to:

  • Maintain academic standards for courses/programs
  • Determine course content and how it will be taught
  • Question the appropriateness of a given accommodation for a particular course
  • Confirm a student's request for accommodation and ask for clarification about a specific accommodation with RDS
  • Deny a request for accommodation if a student has not been approved for the accommodation
  • Award grades appropriate to the level of the student's demonstration of mastery of material
  • Fail a student who does not perform to passing standards

Faculty members do not have the right to:

  • Refuse to provide an approved accommodation for a verified disability
  • Determine what is and is not a reasonable accommodation for a given student
  • Challenge the legitimacy of a student's disability
  • Review a student's documentation, including diagnostic data
Faculty Responsibilities

Faculty members have the responsibility to:

  • Understand the laws and university's guidelines regarding students with disabilities
  • Refer students to RDS when necessary
  • Provide requested accommodations and academic adjustments to students who have verified disabilities in a timely manner
  • Maintain appropriate confidentiality of records concerning students with disabilities except when disclosure is required by law or authorized by the student (in writing)
  • Provide handouts, videos and other course materials in accessible formats upon request and in a timely manner
  • Evaluate students based on their abilities rather than the manifestations of their disabilities

Often faculty may feel that giving a student something extra is 'unfair' to other students.  However, not all students have a disability that inherently puts them at a disadvantage in an educational environment.  Students with impairments and/or chronic illnesses/health conditions may not be able to meet the expectations upon which arbitrary practices in this environment have been created.  Therefore, it is inherently unfair to judge a person's capability on whether or not they are able to do certain things 'the same way everyone else does'.  The 'how' may not be as important as to 'what' is actually accomplished.  For more information on the fairness of reasonable accommodations, go to Fairness and Consequences.


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