Viewing the work of disability services differently


Faculty Development

What is current practice?

Faculty outreach generally involves giving information to faculty through various methods such as an in-person meeting, presentation, faculty guide, and a website. The information and communication typically focuses on disability specific information, disability etiquette, legal requirements, making reasonable accommodations, the role of disability service staff in meeting legal requirements, and procedures for exam accommodation and invigilation.

View Examples

Sample 1: Faculty Guide - Attendance and Disability

Students most likely to request modified attendance policies are those with health-related disabilities that flare up episodically. This might include students with lupus or fibromyalgia, sickle cell anemia, seizure disorders, cancer, migraines, and conditions requiring dialysis. Students with psychological disabilities who are experiencing an exacerbation of symptoms may also request modification of attendance policies.

Federal law requires colleges and universities to consider reasonable modification of attendance policies if required to accommodate a student’s disability. In making this determination, two questions must be answered:

  • Does the student have a documented disability that directly affects his/her ability to attend class on a regular basis? Disability Services will make this determination based on a review of documentation from the student’s physician or psychologist and provide verification in a letter the student presents to the instructor.
  • Is attendance an essential part of the class? Would modification of attendance policies result in a fundamental alteration of the curriculum? Faculty make this determination in consultation with Disability Services.

The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has provided the following guidelines to assess if attendance is an essential part of a class:

  • Is there classroom interaction between the instructor and students and among students?
  • Do student contributions constitute a significant component of the learning process?
  • Does the fundamental nature of the course rely on student participation as an essential method for learning?
  • To what degree does a student’s failure to attend constitute a significant loss to the educational experience of other students in the class?
  • What do the course description and syllabus say?
  • Which method is used to calculate the final grade?
  • What are the classroom practices and policies regarding attendance?

The service office recommends that students with a disability-related need for flexibility in attendance meet with their instructors to discuss the extent to which modification in attendance policies may be reasonable for a particular class. The student and instructor should have a clear understanding of what accommodation can be made for disability-related absences. In cases where attendance is an essential part of the class, a medical or mental health withdrawal may be considered a reasonable accommodation if absences become excessive.

Disability service staff is available to consult with faculty on issues concerning disability and attendance.

Sample 2: Faculty and Disability Service Office Collaboration

Disability service staff is here to support student and faculty interactions. The institution has designated disability service office to evaluate documentation and notify faculty regarding accommodations. An institution of higher education actually protects faculty members from unwarranted and dysfunctional pressures by designating a particular office as the place where documentation about disabilities is filed and where the institution’s experience is concentrated for accommodation design and development. Faculty members are protected by compliance with the accommodations recommended by the DSS office and are encouraged to consult with DSS staff regarding the appropriateness of accommodations within the curriculum.

Faculty are encouraged to announce at the beginning of the semester and put a statement in the syllabus inviting students with disabilities to schedule an appointment to discuss the nature of the disability. If the faculty member suspects that a student has a disability, he or she should discuss the concern with the student, and then, if appropriate, refer the student to the disability services office. If a disability is brought to the attention of the faculty member, the faculty member is encouraged to contact disability service office to verify the disability and to discuss accommodations. We will not ask faculty to compromise the quality of instruction or evaluation or sacrifice class standards.

Attendance Policy

A student’s disability may have an impact on attendance in class. When the service office is provided documentation that supports a student’s need for flexibility in attendance, faculty will be notified at the student’s request. The service office cannot waive attendance requirements and only the professor can determine when excessive absences are preventing the student from meeting the academic standards of the class. Students are instructed to remain in close contact with the instructor and negotiate making up missed assignments with the instructor after each disability related absence. Students are expected to attend and participate in class as part of the essential curriculum and while some flexibility is requested, it is at the discretion of the instructor.

Types of Testing and Classroom Accommodations

Testing accommodations are provided when there is a disability-related need for them. Faculty are not expected to lower their academic standards using accommodations available, students should be able to demonstrate their knowledge without the need for alternative tests or different evaluation/grading standards. The accommodation letters state the appropriate testing accommodations, depending upon the nature of the course-work and the disability-related needs of the student.

Some of the most commonly requested accommodations:
  • Extended time: the request for extended time is one of the most common accommodations for all disability groups. The most frequent accommodation is time and one half, although rarely double time is requested. Unlimited time is not recommended unless this option is available to all students.
  • Accessible testing site and accessible seating: students who may need front row seating include those who cannot walk up or down steps, have difficulty manoeuvring through a row of seats, have vision or hearing impairments, or have disabilities that affect their ability to remain focused on visual or auditory lecture material.
  • Use of a reader: reading printed material, including exams, person-to-person or on cassette tape.
  • Scribe services: Physically writing/typing the student’s answers, verbatim, or filling out a Scranton answer sheet according to the student’s instructions.
  • Converted format: this may include large print, Braille, or audio-taped exam material.
  • Computer access: many students can independently complete essay exams on computers; others may need technology such as print enlargement, speech output, speech recognition or a spell-check program, available through the service office by advance arrangement.
  • Quiet /separate testing environment: some students may require a low distraction environment, need to verbalize the questions or their responses, have physical needs to change position, or stand inside the test room to relieve pressure on an injured area. All students should have testing environments comparable to those of their classmates – i.e. testing space free from frequent interruptions, with proper writing surface, seating and lighting.
We DO NOT recommend:
  • Unlimited time for taking tests. DSS does not recommend this unless the instructor provides this option for all students in the class. This option is usually not necessary or practical.
  • Clarification of test questions. DSS does not view clarification of test questions (e.g. the instructor or proctor giving the student a definition or explaining the meaning of a phrase or question) as a disability accommodation. Students with disabilities should be held to the same standards as other students when it comes to expectations about understanding course content, exam questions, etc. If students without disabilities are allowed to receive clarification of questions they have, however, students with disabilities should receive a similar allowance, whether taking the exam with the class or in a private testing site.
  • Testing in an unsuitable environment. When a request for special location is made students should not be asked to take a test behind a screen or blackboard or in the hall outside the room or a noisy office as this will not provide the student with a distraction reduced environment. Students must be monitored and have the ability to ask questions if that is allowed in the classroom.
Sample 3: Faculty FAQ’S Regarding Disability
Why do students with disabilities need textbook information before classes begin?

For some students, reading a textbook can be a laborious or impossible task due to a reading disability or a visual impairment. These students require textbooks in an alternative format in order to have access to the information presented in the books. In order for the books to be put in an alternate format (i.e. digital, audio or Braille), textbooks are scanned on campus or ordered through external sources; both processes are very time consuming and can take months to complete.

Why do students with disabilities need extra time on a test even if they understand the material being tested?

Students with disabilities may use assistive technology or services that require additional time to use. Also, students with learning disabilities may require extra time in order to process and comprehend the information on the test or to write their answers to the questions.

Can I look at a student’s documentation concerning their disability?

The student’s documentation is given in confidence to disability service office. As long as a student has a letter of accommodations from the service office, the professor is required to implement the accommodations. If you have any questions about the accommodations, please contact the service office to discuss your concerns.

How will I know if a student needs an accommodation in my classroom?

The student will give you an accommodation letter that verifies the qualification to receive accommodations. This letter also states what types of accommodations the student will need. If you have questions or concerns about the letter of accommodations, please contact the service office instead of asking the student.

A student approached me after class and told me that he has a disability and would like accommodations although he did not give me an accommodation letter. Do I provide the accommodations?

You are under no obligation to provide accommodations to students who do not have an accommodation letter from the service office. Direct that student to the disability service office so that staff and the student, together, can determine what eligibility and accommodations are needed to meet that student’s needs.

What should I do if a student with a disability cheats on an exam?

Students with disabilities are held to the same honor code stated in the institutional policy. When a student with a disability breaks the code, he/she must also face the same consequences as students without disabilities.

There is a student in my class who tells me that he has a disability even though it does not look like he has a disability. How do I know if he really has a disability?

Disabilities are often described as “visible or invisible.” Invisible disabilities are those in which the characteristics are not obvious to an independent observer, and may involve cognitive processing or psychological challenges. Typical invisible disabilities include learning disabilities, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorders, traumatic brain injuries, several health impairments and psychological impairments. Encourage students to get an accommodation letter from the service office where staff will review student documentation to determine if the student has a disability and authorize appropriate accommodations.

Is it fair to other students in my class to give students with disabilities extra time on tests and assignments?

By providing the extra time, the student can be evaluated for what he/she knows about the material being tested rather than the effects of his/her disability, therefore, leveling the playing field.

I’ve had several students request accommodations in the middle or end of the semester. Why do students wait so long to let me know that they need support?

Some students with disabilities attempt courses without obtaining accommodation as they may feel embarrassed to disclose their disability, or do not need an accommodation. When they may realize that they need to access the accommodations, they seek support in order to maximize their classroom performance. Instructors can help facilitate the disclosure process formally to the university by including a statement about disability and accommodation options in the syllabus. When the student speaks with you concerning their disability, refer them to disability service office if they do not have an accommodation letter.

Do I need to change my academic standards and objectives in order to meet the needs of students with disabi


No, students with disabilities are held to the same academic standards as all students. However, students with disabilities may require modifications/accommodations so that they may fully participate in the lessons, assignments and tests.

I mainly teach through lecturing. Is this a problem for students with disabilities?

Students with an auditory processing problem may have a difficult time relying only on lectures to access information. Whenever possible, it would be helpful to add a visual prompt to your lecture. This not only enhances learning for those students with auditory processing problems, but also for the students in your class who are visual learners as they benefit from having an outline of the class material prior to class lecture.

If a student is unable to take notes in my class, what should I do?

Students generally obtain note takers. Students have the following options:

  • Locating a note taker on their own or requesting assistance from instructors in locating a note taker.
  • Students must present a letter to the instructor that requests his/her assistance in locating a peer note taker.
  • If students or instructors are unable to find a note taker in the class, inform the appropriate the disability service office to assist in locating a note taker or make other arrangements.

What are the implicit messages?

  • Students with disabilities have extensive needs.
  • Faculty should be careful to only offer disabled students resources and supports that have been discussed with and approved by the disability service office.
  • Disabled students need to develop responsibility and self-advocacy skills by learning to describe their needs.
  • Disability is problematic and requires that disabled students receive differential treatment that could easily result in unfair advantage.
  • Disabled students cannot be successful without assistance from disability service professionals.

How could this be different?

When communicating with faculty, whether it be through a presentation, faculty guide, or website, focus the discussion on the design of the curricula rather than the individual student with a disability. The problem is that generally instructors design and deliver curricula without considering the range of students in the class. If courses are designed for a variety of learners, including disabled students, access becomes part of the course design rather than an afterthought or an accommodation.

The following 3 resources, as a package, can be used in your communication with faculty to facilitate a thoughtful discussion on inclusive design.

What is the potential impact of this change?

  • Disabled students are planned for and expected in the class by design.
  • Course design, not disability, is viewed as the problem.
  • The focus is not exclusively on students; this change allows for an emphasis on designing inclusive environments that minimize the need for individual accommodations or services.
  • Instructors, as course designers, have the opportunity to design courses that minimize the need to customize activities after the fact.
  • By exploring options and design strategies up front, instructors have more control in designing and delivering courses that suit their teaching style while planning for access.
  • The resource office is viewed as an important consultant in the design of all campus environments, rather than just a provider of individual services.

Related Resources

Scott, S and Edwards, W. (2012). “Project LINC: Supporting Lecturers and Adjust Instructors in Foreign Language Classrooms”. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability. Association on Higher Education and Disability: 25 (3), 253 – 258.

Izzo, MV; Murray, A, and Novak, J. (2008). “The Faculty Perspective on Universal Design for Learning.” Journal of Post-secondary Education and Disability. Association on Higher Education and Disability: 21 (2), 60 – 72.

Rao, Kavita and Tanners, Adam. (2011). “Curb Cuts in Cyberspace: Universal Instructional Design for Online Courses”. Journal of Post-secondary Education and Disability. Association on Higher Education and Disability: 24 (3), 223 – 247.