FAQ for Faculty Accommodating Students with Disabilities

Frequently asked questions by faculty pertaining to accommodating students with learning differences.

You can include a statement in your syllabus to signal that you acknowledge that there are students in your class who may have a disability and respect their right to privacy. The syllabus statement should be an invitation to meet with you in a confidential environment, to review course requirements and to discuss their need for accommodations.

Here is a sample syllabus statement to use or adapt as you see fit:

In compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) of 2008 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, Colgate University is committed to ensuring comprehensive educational access and adjustments for all registered students seeking access to meet course requirements and fully participate in all University programs and activities. Students with documented disabilities/conditions are encouraged to request these services by registering with the Office of Disability Services.  

Academic adjustments are provided via the student’s Academic Adjustment Plan and must be renewed each and every semester through the Office of Disability Services. Once renewed, it is the student’s sole responsibility to inform their faculty members of their academic adjustments. Faculty members must be provided a minimum of one business week (or five business days) to review and implement the student’s Academic Adjustment Plan. If the student fails to provide faculty with a minimum of five business days notice before their intended use of adjustments, faculty may not have the ability to provide said adjustments.            

For information related to these services, policies/procedures, and/or to schedule an appointment, please contact Evelyn Lester (elester@colgate.edu), Director of the Office of Disability Services.

Academic adjustments are determined on a case-by-case basis and are designed to address the individual needs/ functional limitations of the student. Typically, adjustments provide allowances in terms of how students do their work; that is, in the duration, manner or condition. An adjustment request would not be regarded as reasonable if it would result in lowering or compromising the academic standards of the course.

Keep in mind that it is the student and only the student who should disclose their disability status to others.

It is important to be aware of actions which may signal to others that a student has a disability:

Grouping students in a single room to administer an accommodated exam. At the very least, you should ask the student whether that is acceptable.

Discussing a student’s disability or academic adjustments in a letter of reference. Under any and all circumstances, it should be the student’s decision to disclose the information.

There are no blanket adjustments for all students with a particular disability. All adjustments are determined on a case-by-case basis and depend upon the student’s needs. While 50% extended time or “time and a half” has become a baseline standard, it is not an absolute standard.

Yes, as long as you have communicated your policy clearly in both writing and orally and are being consistent.

Yes, it would not be unreasonable to make that assumption, and it is probably the safest one to make. However, for a particular student sitting for six hours may not be reasonable. Similarly, finding a six hour slot may prove challenging for the faculty member. There would be various ways to modify the arrangement to make it less onerous for the student and faculty member.

Some faculty members enlist the help of their academic department coordinator (ADC) to locate classroom spaces to accommodate students, if possible. Please note ADCs are not responsible for proctoring exams. Offices or lounges may suffice as long as they do not create distractions which may compromise its use as an environment for testing. It may be beneficial to use the Events Management System (EMS).

You would be the one to arrange proctoring, and what you arrange should be consistent what you normally do.

It would be best to hold to the amount of time which has been granted. Consistency is an important consideration; professors who are too accommodating may help create or fuel the impression that professors who are “holding the line” are being unfair or punitive.

Access is a matter of balancing group standards with individual needs. For a student for whom the technology is an essential learning tool, not having access to it in the classroom would likely be more problematic than the issues it could cause in the classroom. Involve the student in considering possible ways to maximize their opportunity while lessening the negative effects of using the technology in class. 

Another interesting thing to consider is how it potentially may be helpful to have a student with technology in the classroom on those occasions where you may want to refer to the internet to address a question that comes up in class.

Although we all wish to hold our students to the highest level of accountability, it would not be in keeping with the spirit of Colgate policy to condition accommodations upon attendance at class or office hours. It would be appropriate to view the issues of how a student behaves and what accommodations you provide as separate.

Some blanket extensions can be problematic. Some flexibility with deadlines may be appropriate and should be conditional, depending upon the nature of the particular assignment and the volume of work overall. 

Yes, adjustments can be reviewed and changed, as appropriate. Those approved initially may no longer be needed, and others may be appropriate as more is known about the student and how the disability manifests itself in a particular course.

When you grant an extension, establish a reasonable and clear deadline for completion of the work. When a student exceeds the deadline you have agreed to, it would be appropriate to deduct points consistent with your policy.

In principle, you should be using the same criteria for grading all students regardless of disability status.

An academic adjustment is intended to create a level playing field; therefore, it would not be inappropriate to grade the student in alignment with your grading for other students in your class.

The determination of who serves as note taker is based on various factors, including student and faculty input, and previous experience with the note taker, if applicable. In order to maintain confidentiality, the student and note taker do not have direct contact; the peer note taker uploads course notes to Accommodate note taker module.

While the student’s writing process (written expression or handwriting, for example) may be affected by their learning difference, with compensatory mechanisms and appropriate accommodations, the student may produce excellent work. Some students who produce strong written work find the process to be extremely onerous. Some students have been frustrated with teachers who did not take their needs seriously because their written work was so strong. 

It would be a mistake to conclude that a student who produces a good piece of writing didn’t need or does not need an academic adjustment; similarly, it would be a mistake to conclude that for a student who fails on an assignment, the adjustment was not warranted. An academic adjustment is designed to provide an opportunity; it does not insure a successful outcome.

Discuss your concern with the student who may decide that pop quizzes do not represent a problem or who may propose a solution based upon a previous experience in a similar situation. Allowing the student to have input is regarded as a critical element of inclusion. 

One thing to consider is the purpose of the pop quiz and whether there might be alternate assignment you might give the student to demonstrate their learning that would fulfill that purpose. 

If you cannot come up with an alternative test or assignment, you can consider a grading scheme which would not penalize the student for their disability. For example, you could assign less weight to the quizzes, as a whole, or within a quiz, you could assign progressively less weight to each successive question.

The self-scheduled final exam system allows students with extended time to take their exams without doing anything beyond what they do for academic adjustments for other exams. What it does not currently allow for is use of technology since technology of any kind is disallowed.

It would also be worth noting that under some circumstances, the environment of the space where they take self-scheduled exams may create or exacerbate difficulties for the student and may necessitate that they make alternative arrangements with you.

Moving the time and in some cases the day of a final exam may be a reasonable adjustment for a particular student. A case in point would be a student who is using extended time for a final exam in one of their courses and finds themselves with two exams which are back-to-back and with no time for a break between exams. Regarding the issue of approval, moving an exam, including a final, should be regarded like any other request for an adjustment and confirmation that it is appropriate should come from the Office of Disability Services.

You are free to use your discretion to accommodate students for reasons other than for learning differences; however, you are under no legal obligation to do. Understandably, many professors are wary of providing academic adjustments for students who do not submit to a formal review process in terms of determining their needs and appropriate adjustments. It’s the proverbial slippery slope. If you have a particular student about whom you are concerned and would like to discuss the situation, please feel free to contact Evelyn Lester (elester@colgate.edu), Director of the Office of Disability Services.

While it would be premature and inappropriate to use the term disability with the student, it would be appropriate to give the student feedback about what you have observed about their classroom behavior or performance and to discuss ways to address those concerns, including using the resources available on campus, as appropriate.

I do appreciate the need to be flexible, but I am concerned that extended absences may place the student in jeopardy in my course. Can I place a limit on the number of classes the student can miss?

You have the authority to establish an attendance policy for your class while recognizing that you may be asked to modify your attendance policy as an academic adjustment for a student with a disability. In deciding how to modify your policy, consider the essential objectives of your course, how attendance serves the learning experience of students, and what, if any, alternate means may exist to accomplish course objectives. By doing so, you are helping to insure that the decision to modify the policy is a deliberate one which preserves academic freedom without impinging upon the civil rights of students with disabilities. 

When a student initially comes to see you, they may present an overly optimistic account of their circumstances and may not foresee or may be hesitant to anticipate problems or difficulties, including the possibility of missing class. To allow for the possibility that things may change over the course of the semester in unanticipated ways, it would be a good idea to establish a protocol for communicating with the student on a regular basis in order to assess how things are progressing. Another good practice would be to agree upon how you want your student to inform you about class absences. 

Students should not assume that because they have a documented disability or are registered with the Office of Disability Services that all of their absences are automatically authorized or excused. Giving a student a clear idea of the limit on the number of absences you allow enables them to make an informed decision about whether to remain in the course.

If you are questioning the legitimacy of the absences, it would be best to contact the Office of Disability Services or the student’s academic advisor and/or administrative dean.

As is the case with any student who is not meeting course objectives, withdrawal may be an option. When the student knows in advance how many absences would fundamentally alter the nature of the course, they can take that information into account and make an informed decision about whether to remain in the course.

It would depend upon a number of factors and determined on a case-by-case basis. Possibly, an incomplete as an accommodation would be anticipated well in advance of the end of the semester as an adjustment that would stagger due dates for work in a way that would enable a student to complete course requirements. 

And as is the case with all incompletes, the determination is made by the student’s course instructor, academic advisor, administrative dean, and in cases of students with disabilities in consultation with Evelyn Lester (elester@colgate.edu), Director of the Office of Disability Services.

Students’ schedules may make it difficult to accommodate them as a group.

Review students’ schedules to determine a few possible time slots for accommodated testing. For those exceptional cases when a student is not able to take the test at the time you have proposed, please refer the student to Evelyn Lester (elester@colgate.edu), Director of the Office of Disability Services, who can help determine what factors may be at play and, if appropriate, how to assist in helping to administer the academic adjustment.

Some faculty members administer tests in the evening in order to avoid conflicts with academic schedules.

Students should not assume that extensions are automatically granted or that they have permission to submit late work because they have a documented disability and registered with the Office of Disability Services. 

A request for extensions or alternate deadlines as an adjustment may represent an effort to redistribute or stagger the student’s work production. Requesting assignments in advance may also serve that function and could be appropriate depending upon the course(s). 

As is the case with any accommodation, extensions for assignments normally would be determined in advance on a case-by-case basis with the logistics worked out between student and instructor along with the assistance of the Office of Disability Services, as needed.

Test anxiety tends to be a self-diagnosis and because it has not been regarded as a disability, students would not be eligible for academic adjustments. We would provide adjustments for students with documentation of anxiety disorders, which are most often generalized and exacerbated by some situations, which may or may not include exams. 

We have various resources to help students address whatever difficulties they may be experiencing as they try to cope with particular types or all forms of evaluation. The Writing and Speaking Center can help students with writing techniques and writing under time constraints. Evelyn Lester can help students learn strategies for preparing for, taking and recovering from exams, and Counseling and Psychological Services can help assess the particular nature of the anxiety and whether it reaches the threshold of an anxiety disorder and they can help student learn new coping strategies for managing their anxieties.