The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) stipulates postsecondary institutions are responsible for providing necessary accommodations when a student discloses a disability. On many campuses, the disabilities office is tasked with determining the necessary accommodations to facilitate a student's access to instruction and participation in the college academic experience. Faculty members and TAs are important disabilities office partners, as they can help ensure that students have access to the accommodations for which they are approved.
Why do universities provide accommodations?
Accommodations are tools and procedures that provide equal access to instruction and assessment for students with disabilities. Access is the opportunity and ability for an individual to participate in the instruction, discussions, activities, products, and assessments provided to all students within a public institution covered by ADA mandates. Accommodations are provided to “level the playing field.” Accommodations allow students with disabilities to access course instruction and participate fully in the assessment process. They are intended to offset the effects of the disability and to provide students with the opportunity to demonstrate knowledge and skills. Accommodations are intended to reduce, or even eliminate, the effects of a student’s disability.
They do not, however, reduce learning expectations and should not give a false picture of what a student knows and can do. Reliance on accommodations should never replace appropriate and rigorous instruction in the content area.
Informed decision-making regarding accommodations is critical for ensuring successful and meaningful participation of students with disabilities in instruction and assessments. In order to make effective accommodations decisions, disability specialists gather and review as much disability-related information about the student as possible. Initial intake appointments focus on what accommodations the disabilities office can recommend to provide the student equal learning opportunities.
Accommodations are generally grouped into the following categories:
- Presentation accommodations present instruction or assessment in an alternate format. Some examples include ASL, captioning, assistive technology devices, Braille, large print, or a reader.
- Response accommodations allow students to complete assignments or exams in different ways (e.g., use of reference aids, clicker, use of computer, etc.).
- Timing/Scheduling accommodations increase the allowable length of time to complete a test or assignment and may also change the way the time is organized (e.g., extended time, frequent breaks).
- Setting accommodations change the location in which a test or assignment is given or the conditions of the assessment setting (e.g., private exam room, distraction-reduced).
What mandates that universities provide accommodations?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal civil rights law that protects individuals from discrimination based on disability. Along with Section 504 of the federal Rehabilitation Act, the ADA promotes equal access and participation in the University’s programs and services. These laws provide that students must have an equal opportunity to obtain the same educational outcomes and level of achievement as a students without disabilities. Accordingly, the University may neither deny students with disabilities any benefit or service, nor offer any benefit or service that is not as effective as those offered to students without disabilities. Failure to comply with federal disability laws may subject both the University and individual faculty members/instructors to lawsuits and significant monetary penalties.
What is a reasonable accommodation?
A reasonable accommodation is a modification or adjustment to a course, program, service, job, activity, or facility that enables a student with a disability to have an equal opportunity to enjoy the benefits, opportunities, and privileges that are available to all students (with or without disabilities) while simultaneously not reducing or eliminating curriculum standards. Reasonable accommodations do not fundamentally alter or eliminate essential course requirements, and any accommodation that would do so is considered unreasonable and would not be recommended nor approved.
Who determines whether an accommodation is reasonable?
Center for Accessible Education staff are ultimately responsible for determining whether an accommodation is ultimately reasonable and appropriate within the context of a specific course. Instructors play a pivotal role is helping CAE staff make this determination as they are the experts on the essential course requirements for the courses they teach. CAE recommends that instructors be as clear and deliberate as possible on the essential course requirements when outlining them in their syllabi.
Instructors are always entitled to question the determination of a accommodation decision through the University's Fundamental Alteration Process.This appeals process allows for instructors to challenge an approved accommodation's application to a course based on the assumption that the accommodation fundamentally alters or eliminates essential course requirements. Instructors initiating this process should be prepared to provide detailed information to support this assertion.
Privacy Laws and Confidentiality
All disability-related information including documentation, accommodation letters, correspondence, and consultations are considered confidential and will be managed in accordance with The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) regulations. Please read this carefully, as there are instances that may necessitate student information being released without consent. This includes electronic, paper, verbal, and any other types of communication.
Differences from Employment Accommodations
Employees or applicants in need of assistance or accommodations should notify their supervisor or the Insurance and Risk Management (IRM) office. It is the responsibility of the employee with a disability to self-identify and inform the University that an accommodation is requested.