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Q. CONFIDENTIALITY: Is the information regarding a student's disability and her need for academic accommodations confidential?

A. Privacy of student information, including that regarding student's disabilities or accommodation needs, should generally be handled according to guidelines of FERPA, the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. Personal information of this nature should only be shared with those people within the institution who have an educational need-to-know.

Q. ANNOUNCEMENT: How can I encourage students with disabilities to talk with me about their accommodations?

A. Announce at the beginning of a course that you are available to discuss instructional methods and appropriate course modifications with students who have disabilities. In addition, include a note to this effect on your course syllabus. For example:

"To request academic accommodations due to a disability, please contact the disabled student services office (phone). If you have a letter from their office indicating that you have a disability which requires academic accommodations, please present the letter to me so we can discuss the accommodations that you might need in this class."

Q. CONFIDENTIALITY: Is it acceptable to ask a student who is having obvious difficulties whether he has a disability or to refer the student to the office that provides disability support services?

A. No. It is not a good idea to ask directly about a possible disability for a couple of reasons. First, the Americans with Disabilities Act states that a public entity may not make unnecessary inquiries into the existence of a disability. These inquiries usually relate to hiring or pre-admission screening, but when talking with students such inquiries should also be avoided. A direct inquiry such as this could also be considered intrusive or insensitive. You may simply tell the student that you notice she is having academic difficulty and encourage her to come talk with you about gaining assistance, just as you would with any student.

Q. QUALIFIED STUDENTS: How do I know a student is qualified to receive disability-related accommodations?

A. On most campuses, a student who wishes to receive disability-related accommodations must register with the campus office that supports disabled students and provide documentation from an appropriate professional about his condition before services are rendered. Once a student is registered, faculty must provide the academic accommodations that this office determines reasonable. The student or disability services office provides faculty with a letter written by the office of disabled student services, which documents the disability and the need for academic accommodation.

Q. REFERRALS: How can I encourage students with disabilities to register with the campus office for disabled student services?

A. You may make an announcement to your class and print a statement on your syllabus referring students with disabilities to the office for disabled student services. You may also encourage students to meet with you to discuss their learning needs. For example, you could say to a student: "I noticed that you seemed to have difficulty organizing your paper. You might consider using some of the special support services we have on campus such as the skills center, the peer tutoring program, and disabled student services."

Q. TAPE RECORDING: Can a faculty member forbid a student with a disability to use a tape recorder in class?

A. An instructor is typically required to allow a student to tape record her course if taping the class is determined to be an appropriate accommodation for a student's disability. Tape recorders are specifically mentioned in Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act as a means of providing full participation in educational programs and activities. Occasionally, classroom discussion reveals items of a personal nature about students. If open discussions tend to reveal personal information, it would be appropriate to ask the student with a disability to turn off the tape recorder during these discussions. Contact your campus office of disability services with questions or concerns about tape recording lectures.

Q. REASONABLE ACCOMMODATIONS: How do I know what is a reasonable academic accommodation?

A. Your campus student disabilities office determines which accommodations are reasonable. The student may provide you with a letter from this service office, outlining appropriate accommodations. The student may also share with you accommodations that have proved successful for him in other classes. You can consult with the disabled student services office if his requests do not seem reasonable.

Q. DISAGREEMENTS: What if I do not agree with a recommended accommodation?

A. The institution is required by federal regulation to establish formal grievance procedures for providing prompt and equitable resolution of disagreements. When a dispute involves the conduct of a course or academic program, those procedures provide for consultation between the faculty member responsible for the course, the student, and a representative from the disabled student services office. Contact your disabled student services office to learn about the grievance procedures on your campus.

Q. EXAMINATIONS: Some students with disabilities are provided extended time on examinations. Is this fair to other students?

A. The Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) states: "The results of an examination should accurately reflect an individual's aptitude or achievement level or whatever the test purports to measure, rather than reflecting an individual's impaired sensory, manual, or speaking skills." The courts have held repeatedly that a lengthening of the standard examination period is an appropriate accommodation for some students with disabilities. For example, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ordered the State Board of Bar Examiners to allow double the standard time on the bar exam for an applicant with Dyslexia and Attention Deficit Disorder. Similarly, the State District Court for the Western District of New York ruled that a State Bar applicant with a visual impairment must be allowed a four-day examination period rather than the standard two-day period.

Q. NOTICE: How are instructors informed that a student needs an academic accommodation?

A. Students who wish to exercise their right to disability-related accommodations must provide the campus disabled student services office with documentation of their disability. The disabled student services office then notifies their instructors that specific accommodations are necessary. On most campuses, instructors receive written notification describing the nature of the appropriate academic adjustments for the student. Students are encouraged to request accommodations prior to the beginning of the academic term, however, the student may request accommodations at any time during the course.

Q. FAILING: May I fail a student with a disability?

A. Yes. It is possible to fail a student with a disability. The laws mandate access to education, not guaranteed academic success. When a faculty member has provided reasonable academic accommodations, all that is required to comply with the law, and the student does not meet the course requirements, then failing a student is proper and lawful. The following is a compliance checklist that may be helpful:

  • Stand by academic standards and freedoms, which include full and equitable access to academic programs.

  • Provide verbal and written notice to your students of your willingness to accommodate. For example: "I encourage students with disabilities to discuss accommodations with me."

  • Communicate clear and concise expectations for performance to your students. Distinguish between essential and non-essential components of the course.

  • Respect requests for reasonable accommodations. (The disability student services office facilitates obtaining these alternative formats).

  • Permit students to use auxiliary aides and technologies that ensure access (examples: note takers, sign language interpreters, readers, scribes, research assistants, tape recorders/players, assistive listening devices).

  • Assure that your course materials, whether printed or electronic, are accessible and available in alternative formats (examples: Braille, computer electronic text, large print, internet, CD/cassettes).

  • Consult with your disability student services office if you have questions when a student requests accommodations.

  • Keep student disability-related information strictly confidential.