What is current practice?
A letter is used to inform course instructors that a student has a documented disability and qualifies for accommodations. Typically the disabled student meets with staff in the disability services office, requests a copy of the letter and hand-carries it to the instructor. The student is asked to discuss the accommodation with the instructor.
John Doe is registered for [course name] this semester. John has a disability which results in a substantial limitation to a major life activity. This letter serves as verification of disability and eligibility for reasonable accommodations which were determined by our office through an interactive process in compliance with the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. John has provided the disability services office with documentation supporting the need for the accommodations or academic adjustments listed below) to help offset the functional limitations of his/her disability. As required by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the University in mandated to make accommodations available.
John has been instructed to set up an appointment with you to discuss this letter and to coordinate with you how accommodations will be provided.
If you have any concerns about these accommodations compromising an essential requirement of your course or providing an unfair advantage, please call the disability services office to discuss these concerns and work out alternatives.
[List of accommodations]
What are the implicit messages?
- The disability is the problem, not the course design.
- Accommodation is the solution, not a change in design.
- Disabled students must take responsibility, which requires extra time and effort, for the coordination and provision of accommodations.
- Students cannot be trusted so it is important to have a formal procedure to ensure that unqualified students do not receive service.
- It is the professional, guided by the law, that determines reasonable accommodations. The student is passive in the process.
How could this be different?
Since we are so ingrained in thinking about access for disabled students as being achieved through individual accommodations, we are automatically concerned with how to notify faculty. This general approach leads disability resource staff, faculty and students to focus their communication with faculty on disability rather than course design, on accommodations rather than curricular barriers.
An alternative is to transition from a singular focus on the disabled student to an approach that balances the individual and the design of the course. Our goal should be to clearly emphasize that the course design choices instructors make create barriers that must be overcome through accommodations and to minimize the student’s burden in achieving the access that their classmates are afforded automatically.
As disability resource offices create staff positions dedicated to faculty outreach and partner with teaching centers to promote inclusive design, campuses will move away from the tradition of thinking only of individual accommodations as the answer to access. This could change the campus narrative.
SAMPLE 1: ONLINE NOTIFICATION
Website with the following information that faculty can access when they have a need to know which students may use accommodations. Students request that their names and accommodations be included on the individualized faculty site either when they first affiliate with the disability resource office or by class each semester via a brief online request form.
Because of curricular barriers, the following students may use accommodations to access course content and/or demonstrate learning. If you would like to discuss ways to minimize the need for individual accommodations by modifying your course design or have concerns about these recommendations, please contact DRC staff at [email].
John Doe- 1.5 extended test time; note-taking
Jane Doe – 1.5 extended test time; testing in a distraction reduced environment; ASL interpreting
You are invited to contact the student to discuss course barriers. You will receive additional information if your assistance is required in the implementing these accommodations.
Accommodations listed may be hyperlinks that provide the instructor with additional information about their role providing that accommodation.
Sample 2: Email notification
An email to faculty is automatically generated when students make an online request that their instructors know they may use accommodations. Information populates from a database.
Dear Dr. Smith,
The University is committed to providing inclusive learning environments. Equal access can often be achieved through course design. However, barriers to learning or assessment may still exist for a student with a disability in your course. The following accommodations may be requested by this student to facilitate access. Contact the DRC if the methods listed do not eliminate barriers or there are concerns about how this accommodation will work with your particular course design.
Student: Jane Doe
Course: Econ 101
- 1.5 extended test time
- Distraction-reduced test environment
- ASL interpreting- coordinated by DRC
DRC staff is available to provide support in designing inclusive, accessible learning experiences for all students. The following are some universal design strategies that can help reduce the need for accommodations for individual students.
- Post PowerPoint slides and class notes in the course LMS
- Provide options for students to demonstrate mastery of concepts.
- Provide reading materials electronically in accessible formats.
- Use only captioned videos.
- Visit the DRC’s website to learn more about curricular design and the process for implementing accommodations. Please let me know if you have questions.
What is the potential impact of this change?
- The focus is intentionally and consistently on the design of the curriculum as the problem.
- Student responsibilities in achieving access are minimized.
- Faculty are reminded that they may inadvertently create barriers.
- Disability resource professionals and faculty work collaboratively to ensure access through inclusive course design and accommodation.