Skip to Main Content
UCLA Center for Accessible Education

Whether a requested accommodation would fundamentally alter an essential requirement of a course or program will generally need to be determined on a case-by-case basis. The goal is to separate out general expectations and what has always been done from what are the truly essential objectives and components of the course or program. Methods of instruction and assessment can be examined to determine how information is taught and what alternative opportunities are available for teaching and learning the information, the format of materials, skills etc. Flexibility in achieving outcomes may be appropriate depending on the nature of the course and its requirements.

Before a formal determination can be made as to what constitutes a fundamental alteration of an essential major requirement, the University must take into consideration, among other factors, that decisions regarding essential requirements be made by a group of people who are trained, knowledgeable and experienced in the area, through a careful, thoughtful and rational review of the academic program and its requirements, and that the decision-makers consider a series of alternatives for the essential requirements, as well as whether the essential requirement in question can be modified for a specific student with a disability. Every program is different, but factors to be considered in determining whether a standard is essential include the nature and purpose of the program; the relationship of the standard to the functional elements of the program; whether exceptions or alternatives are permitted; whether the standard is required in similar programs in other institutions; whether the standard is essential to a given vocation for which the program is preparing students; and whether the standard is required for licensure or certification in a related occupation or profession.

Once an institution complies with these standards, the courts and OCR accord the decision reached by the institution substantial deference. The University must therefore comply with these standards prior to finding that any requirement is essential and that accommodations will therefore not be granted to students in meeting that requirement. Furthermore, if it is determined that a requested academic adjustment would result in a fundamental alteration, the University must then consider whether there are alternative academic adjustments that could accommodate a student without fundamentally altering the course.

Essential Requirements Defined

Essential requirements are the core learning outcomes (including skills and knowledge) all students must demonstrate, with or without using accommodations, which are part of a larger interconnected curriculum related to a program or degree.

Established Essential Requirements:

  • Clearly articulate the overall purpose of the course/program.
  • Identify required mastery of specific skills, knowledge, principles, and concepts.
  • Convey the framework used to set academic and program standards.
  • Ensure a fair deliberation when determining if a requested accommodation would be a fundamental alteration.

Deliberative Process

The following deliberative process must be followed if it is believed that an accommodation would fundamentally alter an essential requirement:

  • The CAE Counselor is contacted to discuss concerns.
  • In general, individuals involved in a deliberative discussion process may include the CAE Board, Instructor, Department Chair, Academic Counselor or Administrator, CAE administration and other administrators deemed appropriate to determine the reasonableness of the request and any possible alternative solutions, if needed.
  • The CAE Director notifies the student of the final decision regarding the request for accommodation.

What Responsibilities Does the Committee Have?

If a reasonable basis exists to believe there is a legitimate fundamental alteration question, the committee will verify that the instructor, department, and/or program have articulated the essential requirements for the course and/or program and provided notice of them to students.

The committee will be objective persons who collectively are knowledgeable about the academic area, any related licensing requirements, any applicable accreditation for the course of study, the student’s disability, and accommodation methods. The committee will not be limited exclusively to individuals from the department that provides the course or program.

The committee will identify the objective of the requirement, taking into consideration the information provided by the instructor, program or department concerning essential requirements, including curriculum approval or course creation documents. The committee will ensure that the requirement is not simply based on tradition or routine practice without direct connection to essential requirements.

The committee will consider whether the requirement is consistent with similar programs at other educational institutions, and with relevant national and expert guidelines; and whether there is any unique justification for a requirement that is not generally adopted by other educational institutions.

Determining Essential Components of Courses or Programs

Essential requirements are the core learning outcomes (including skills and knowledge) all students must demonstrate, with or without using accommodations, which are part of a larger interconnected curriculum related to a program or degree.

Established Essential Requirements:

  • Clearly articulate the overall purpose of the course/program.
  • Identify required mastery of specific skills, knowledge, principles, and concepts.
  • Convey the framework used to set academic and program standards.

To ensure a fair deliberation when determining if a requested accommodation would be a fundamental alteration, the following should be considered in defining requirements and expectations:

Courses

  1. What are the instructor’s general class policies and process and how do they affect equal access determinations? Do these policies include how each individual disabled student’s access needs are determined and met?
  2. Does the granted accommodation directly correlate with the student’s disability or barrier?
  3. How has the college’s accommodation(s) or modification(s) been taken into consideration? What is the CAE recommending and why?
  4. What is the course designed to do and measure?
  5. What knowledge is the professor or instructor teaching and what activities are being used to determine or measure the student’s understanding, implementation, and expression of gained knowledge? For example, what is the test truly measuring and how does the requested accommodation affect or not affect this measurement?
  6. Does the requested accommodation lower the learning standards? If so, exactly how?
  7. Does the requested accommodation fundamentally alter the class requirement(s)? If so, be very detailed in describing how this is the case.
  8. Does the request give the student an unfair advantage over other students? In other words, is the request exceeding equal access? If so, exactly how? Please note that giving the student equal access to remove barriers does not provide an unfair advantage. The accommodation must actually exceed equal access by giving the student an unfair edge.
  9. Would the accommodation result in undue financial or administrative burden? If so, be very specific in describing how.
    • Please note that burden determination must involve senior leadership or their designee after considering all resources available for use in the funding and operation of the service, program, or activity, and must be accompanied by a written statement of the reasons for reaching that conclusion.
  10. What other equally effective accommodation can be considered and provided that will offer equal access for the student if the instructor denies the requested accommodation?
  11. Does the appeal process afford immediate opportunity for the student to have their petition addressed in a timely manner in order to prevent irreparable harm to the student if their appeal prevails?

Programs or Degrees

  • What skills or competencies will be needed within the field after graduation?
  • What are the requirements for licensing or professional accreditation?

Determining if an Accommodation is a Fundamental Alteration

The Center for Accessible Education is to be contacted to initiate a collaborative process if it is believed that an accommodation would fundamentally alter an essential requirement to a course or program. Once the essential elements are clearly defined and assessed, in coordination with the CAE, determining if the accommodation is a fundamental alteration will be made through a meaningful, informed, interactive and collaborative process that is case-by-case and fact specific.

To do so, the CAE will accomplish a fair review process in the following manner:

  • Ensuring a multidisciplinary group of people are appropriately trained, knowledgeable and experienced in the area for which an analysis will take place;
  • Thoroughly considering a series of alternatives as essential requirements;
  • Providing a careful, thoughtful and rational review of the academic program and its requirements; and
  • Ensuring decision-makers consider a series of alternatives for the essential requirements, as well as whether the essential requirement in question can be modified for the specific student with a disability.

Flexibility in Instructional Methods or Assessment

Universities are not required to modify academic requirements that are essential to the instruction being pursued or directly related to a licensing requirement. However, flexibility in instructional methods, assignments, or assessment may be appropriate as a reasonable accommodation depending on the nature of the course and its requirements. Often-alternative opportunities are available for teaching and learning the information, the format of materials, skills etc.