The most frequently asked questions about Disabilities and Accommodations

Am I obligated to comply with a student's request for specific learning adjustments?

If a student has a documented disability and requests academic adjustments, you must respond under the ADA legislation of 1990 as well as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. If you have a question about exactly what constitutes an appropriate adjustment or whether the student has a documented disability, consult the designated service provider for disabilities at your institution.

What are the consequences if I do not provide the requested adjustments?

The student can take legal action against you and the institution. In 1993 the Education Department reported that its Office for Civil Rights determined that 86 colleges had violated the rights of students. This was almost twice the number of cases recorded in 1992. In addition, 325 inquiries into possible violations were recorded in 1993.

Is it fair to other students to grant academic adjustments to those students who are disabled?

It is unfair not to grant adjustments. The accommodation "evens the playing field" and insures that the student's knowledge is being tested, not his/her disability. A disabled student learns and performs more successfully with certain classroom adjustments which would be unlikely to aid a nondisabled student. For example, one of the most frequently requested academic adjustments is for additional examination time. Studies have shown that giving additional time to nondisabled students will not affect their performance on an exam. However, disabled students receiving additional time perform better.

How can I tell when a student is "faking" a disability?

That students feign disabilities in order to receive special consideration is a common myth. No student who truly understands the nature of a disability would want to "fake" having one. If you have any reason to question whether or not a student has a disability, contact your campus office providing services for students with disabilities.

Must I evaluate the academic work of a student with a disability differently from other students who do not have a disability?

In fact, you should not differently evaluate the academic work of a student with a disability. A good rule of thumb in evaluating a student's academic performance is to treat all completed work equally. All students must ultimately perform at the same level if they are to receive the same grades.

I want to give students with specific learning needs as much assistance as possible, but where do I draw the line on insuring that students take advantage of available help and accommodations?

All students are responsible for their own academic achievement. Each student must be personally responsible for class attendance, assignments, and all other course material. It is up to the individual student to seek outside help and to utilise agreed upon classroom adjustments.

What are "reasonable accommodations" and who determines the appropriateness of the accommodation request?

Since the appearance of Subpart E of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, educators have been urged to avoid using the term "reasonable accommodations" in favour of the more neutral phrase "appropriate academic adjustments." These adjustments should be determined by your institution's designated service provider who will then communicate them to you as requested by the student.

What are some guidelines regarding confidentiality of disability related information?

Any information from medical records or postadmissions inquiries must be considered confidential and shared with faculty on a needtoknow basis only. Faculty members should not expect to see diagnostic information for a particular student. Of course, faculty members need to know what academic adjustments are necessary and appropriate in meeting an individual student's needs, but only with permission of the student. The information that you receive about a student's disability is confidential. It cannot be shared with a third party without the student's permission. Any discussion that you have with a students about their disability and/or accommodations should not be in a public setting such as the classroom.

Can a faculty member forbid a student with a disability to use a tape recorder in class?

No, not if it has been recommended as an appropriate academic adjustment. Tape recorders are specifically mentioned in Section 504 as a means of assuring full participation in educational programs. Faculty members concerned about their right to privacy may work with the service provider to draw up a contract between the student and the faculty member. Such a contract could detail specific, limited use of the tapes and arrange for their disposal at the end of the term.

In working with an individual student, what is the best way to get additional assistance or advice?

Many times, your best resource is the student who is often able to offer valuable insights about a specific situation or condition. The designated service provider on your campus can also provide important input.

For more information on Subpart E of Section 504 see the AHEAD publication Subpart E: The Impact of Section 504 on Postsecondary Education by Jane Jarrow.