In order to ensure that students are aware of the process for requesting reasonable accommodations, many colleges and universities require that instructors include a statement on all syllabi that provides that information. While it is good to make sure this information is communicated broadly, some of the required statements are problematic.
What is the current practice?
The following are examples of language found on current statements, though they have been edited slightly and are not exact wordings of any given university’s approved statement.
Traditional Approach – Sample 1
Individuals who have any condition, either permanent or temporary, which might hinder their ability to perform or learn in class, must register with the disability service office at [contact information] and request accommodations.
Traditional Approach – Sample 2
The university makes reasonable efforts to assist individuals with disabilities in their pursuit to complete academic requirements. Thus, the university will provide reasonable accommodations for persons with documented qualifying disabilities. Such students must register with the disability services office and present a letter to me that verifies the existence of a disability and the accommodations for which you are eligible.
Traditional Approach – Sample 3
Any student with a disability who may require some special arrangements in order to meet the course requirements should present appropriate verification from the disability service office. The university is under no obligation to provide accommodations prior to your completion of the approved process.
Traditional Approach – Sample 4
Special Needs: The disability services office oversees compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Disabilities covered by law include, but are not limited to, learning disabilities, psychological disabilities, health impairments, hearing, and sight or mobility impairments. To receive services, students must request an appointment with that office and provide documentation of their disabilities prior to registration.
Traditional Approach – Sample 5
Anytown University abides by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 which stipulates that no student shall be denied the benefits of an education “solely by reason of a handicap.” If you have a disability that may have some impact on your work in this class and for which you may require accommodations, contact the disability services office so that such accommodations may be arranged.
What are the implicit messages?
- Disability is framed as the problem, not the course design.
- Disability limits students’ ability to succeed. Accommodations help students achieve rather than removing barriers.
- Instructors should not respond to requests for assistance from disabled students as they would to requests from other students. The disability service office must always be involved, regardless of the request.
- Disabled students have needs that differ from other students.
- The course instructor and student cannot find a solution to an identified barrier.
- The word “handicap” is a suitable word for describing disability.
How might it be different?
Syllabus statements represent disability as an aspect of diversity and access as a matter of equity, recognizing the importance of both inclusive course design and effective provision of accommodations.
Refocused – Sample 1
Diversity and Disability Statement: Our institution values diversity and inclusion. We are committed to a climate of mutual respect and full participation. Our goal is to create learning environments that are usable, equitable, inclusive and welcoming. If there are aspects of the instruction or design of this course that result in barriers to your inclusion or accurate assessment or achievement, please notify the instructor as soon as possible. Disabled students are also welcome to contact the disability resource office to discuss a range of options for removing barriers in the course, including accommodations.
Refocused – Sample 2
Students with Disabilities: If you anticipate issues related to the format or requirements of this course, please meet with me. I would like us to discuss ways to ensure your full participation in the course. Together we can plan how best to remove barriers and coordinate your accommodations. You are also welcome to contact the disability resource office.
Refocused – Sample 3
Students with disabilities: It is the policy and practice of the university to create inclusive learning environments. If there are aspects of the instruction or design of this course that result in barriers to your inclusion or to accurate assessment of achievement—such as time-limited exams, inaccessible web content, or the use of non-captioned videos—please notify the instructor as soon as possible. Students are also welcome to contact the disability resource office.
Refocused – Sample 4
Students with Disabilities: Students with disabilities who experience barriers in this course are encouraged to contact the instructor. The disability resource office is available to facilitate the removal of barriers and ensure reasonable accommodations.
Refocused – Sample 5
Accessibility and Accommodations: It is the University’s goal that learning experiences be as accessible as possible. If you anticipate or experience physical or academic barriers based on disability, please let me know immediately so that we can discuss options. You are also welcome to contact the disability resource office to begin this conversation or to establish accommodations.
Refocused – Sample 6
Usability, disability and design: I am committed to creating a course that is inclusive in its design. If you encounter barriers, please let me know immediately so that we can determine if there is a design adjustment that can be made or if an accommodation might be needed to overcome the limitations of the design. I am always happy to consider creative solutions as long as they do not compromise the intent of the assessment or learning activity. You are also welcome to contact the disability resource office to begin this conversation or to establish accommodations for this or other courses. I welcome feedback that will assist me in improving the usability and experience for all students.
What are the potential implications of this change?
- When the focus is on the instructional environment as the problem, instructors share the responsibility in creating a more inclusive design.
- The disability resource office acts as a consultant in the process for the instructor and/or the student.
- The commitment to access is not just because it is required by law, but because students are valued.