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.

Understanding 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).