What is current practice?
A student identification letter is used to inform course instructors that a student has a documented disability and qualifies for accommodations. Typically the disabled student meets with staff in the disability services office, requests a copy of the letter and hand-carries it to the instructor. Increasingly disability service offices are saving these letters as pdf files so that they cannot be altered and sending them by email. The student is asked to discuss the accommodation with the instructor.
Sample 1: Accommodation Letter for Faculty
Dear Professor [blank]
This student,[blank], is registered in your [blank] course for the [blank] term. He or she has provided the disability services office with documentation supporting the need for accommodations or academic adjustments (listed below) to help offset the functional limitations of a disability. As required by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the University has an obligation to make accommodations available.
If a student with a disability is unable to perform certain academic tasks in the traditional manner, alternative methods can usually be found to enable his or her full participation in classroom activities and on evaluations. Such academic accommodations are provided below in the spirit of equalizing opportunity rather than lowering standards or waiving requirements. Please meet with the student individually to discuss specific course requirements, identify areas that may be affected, develop a plan of action, and work out the logistics for providing the accommodations listed below. Please also follow-up before and after exams to ensure that implementation is effective.
If you have any concerns about these accommodations compromising an essential requirement of your course, please call the disability services office to discuss these concerns and work out alternatives. We look forward to working with you.
Sample 2: Instructor Notification Letter
** Please sign and return to disability services office after reading**
FROM (student name):[blank]
Student ID#: [blank]
EFFECTIVE Dates: [blank]
This letter is to notify you that I am registered with the disability services office. I have made contact with disability services office in order to qualify for accommodations. Now I am meeting with you because I require reasonable accommodations in your class as a result of my disability. The disability service office has approved these accommodations based on my disability documentation.
I would like to meet with you to discuss different options and special accommodations to the class that will allow me to participate more fully and effectively. I am qualified for the following accommodations:
- Exam Adjustments: additional time on exams, alternative format tests (take-home, essay, oral, multiple choice), use of a computer, spelling not graded
- Note-taking: copies of instructor’s lecture notes or notes from a classmate
- Classroom Materials: hard copies of transparencies, electronic or enlarged copies of handouts
- Lab Assistance: working with a partner, modifications to lab activities, assistant from outside the class
- Curriculum Adjustments: instructions for assignments in a written and oral form, a 1-2 day extension on large written assignments, options for oral presentations or projects.
- Attendance: opportunity to make-up missed exams and submit late assignment because of absence; flexibility with attendance policy
- Physical Movement/Breaks; changes in sitting/standing positions, periodic breaks outside of the classroom
Thank you for your assistance in making this course more accessible for me. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact the disability services office.
Verified by: [blank]
Disability Support Advisor
Instructor signature [blank] Date:[blank]
What are the implicit messages?
The disability is the problem, not the course design.
- Disabled students must take responsibility, which requires extra time and effort, for the coordination and provision of accommodations.
- Disabled students must demonstrate patience, as access may take a few days.
- Students cannot be trusted so it is important to have a formal procedure to ensure that unqualified students do not receive service.
- Disabled students cannot be successful without the intervention of a professional who determines eligibility and reasonable accommodations.
- Instructors are not authorized to make course design changes without approval or recommendation from the disability rservice office.
How could this be different?
Since we are so ingrained in thinking about access for disabled students as being achieved through individual accommodations, we are automatically concerned with how to notify faculty. This general approach leads disability resource staff, faculty and students to focus their communication with faculty on disability rather than course design…on accommodations rather than curricular barriers.
An alternative is to transition from a singular focus on the disabled student to an approach that balances the individual and the design of the environment (the course). Our goal should be to clearly emphasize that the course design choices instructors make create barriers that must be overcome through accommodations and to minimize students’ burden in achieving the access that their classmates are afforded automatically.
As disability resource offices create staff positions dedicated to faculty outreach and partner with teaching centers to promote inclusive design, campuses will move away from the tradition of thinking only of individual accommodations as the answer to access. This could change the campus narrative.
Sample 1: Online Notification
Website with the following information that faculty can access when they have a need to know which students may use accommodations. Students request that their names and accommodations be included on the individualized faculty site either when they first affiliate with the disability resource office or by class each semester via a brief online request form.
Because of curricular barriers, the following students may use accommodations to access course content and/or demonstrate learning. If you would like to discuss ways to minimize the need for individual accommodations or have concerns about these recommendations, please contact DRC staff at email@example.com.
John Doe- 1.5 extended test time; note-taking
Meghan Jones- 1.5 extended test time; testing in a distraction reduced environment; ASL interpreting
You are invited to contact the student to discuss course barriers. You will receive additional information if your assistance is required in the implementing these accommodations.
Sample 2: Email notification
Email to faculty automatically generated when students make an online request that their instructors know they may use accommodations. Underlined information populates from database or can be typed individually.
Dear Dr. Smith,
The University is committed to providing inclusive learning environments. Equal access can often be achieved through course design. However, barriers to learning or assessment may still exist for a student with a disability in your course. The following accommodations may be requested by this student to facilitate access. Contact DRC if the methods listed do not eliminate barriers or are in conflict with essential course function.
Student: Meghan Jones
Course: Econ 101
1.5 extended test time
Distraction-reduced test environment
ASL interpreting- coordinated by DRC
DRC staff is available to provide support in designing inclusive, accessible learning experiences for all students. The following are some universal design strategies that can help reduce the need for accommodations for individual students.
- Post PowerPoint slides and class notes on a course Website
- Provide options for students to demonstrate mastery of concepts. Options include group projects, papers, presentations, take-home exams, etc.
- Provide reading materials electronically in accessible formats and use only audio material that is captioned.
Visit DRC’s Website at www.drc.university.edu to learn more about curricular design and the process for implementing accommodations. Please let me know if you have questions.
What is the potential impact of this change?
- The focus is intentionally and consistently on the design of the curriculum as the problem.
- Student responsibilities in achieving access are minimized.
- Faculty are reminded that they may inadvertently create barriers.
- Disability resource professionals and faculty work collaboratively to ensure access through inclusive course design and accommodation.