Accommodating Students with Psychiatric Disabilities


After this presentation faculty and administrators will be able to


Approximately 45 minutes.


The disabled student services coordinator or other staff member who has experience with individuals with psychiatric disabilities; a student with a psychiatric disability could deliver some of the presentation or participate in discussions.


Equipment and Tools

Presentation Outline

  1. Distribute handout.
  2. Introductions.
  3. Begin presentation.
  4. Discuss possible accommodation strategies.
  5. Discuss department or campus issues.
  6. Note campus resources.
  7. Distribute and collect completed evaluation instruments.


For further preparation resources for this presentation, consult

Sample Script

Today we will be discussing how to accommodate students with psychiatric disabilities for full inclusion in your courses.

The objectives of today's presentation are to

What is a Psychiatric Disability?

A person with a psychiatric disability has a diagnosable mental illness causing severe disturbances in thinking, feeling, relating, or functional behaviors that results in a substantially diminished capacity to cope with the demands of daily life (

In 2006, the U.S. Department of Education reported that 11.3% of students with disabilities enrolled in postsecondary institutions report having a mental illness or depression. A mental illness may result in a psychiatric disability.

A psychiatric disability is an invisible disability; it is typically not apparent to others. However, students with psychiatric disabilities may experience symptoms that interfere with their educational goals, which may include, yet are not limited to:

Psychiatric Diagnosis

These diagnoses are defined by the American Psychiatric Association.


This is a mood disorder that can begin at any age. Major depression may be characterized by a depressed mood most of each day, a lack of pleasure in previously enjoyed activities, thoughts of suicide, insomnia, and consistent feelings of worthlessness or guilt.

Bipolar Affective Disorder (BAD, formerly Manic Depressive Disorder)

BAD is a mood disorder with revolving periods of mania and depression. In the manic phase, a person might experience inflated self-esteem, high work and creative productivity, and a decreased need to sleep. In the depressed phase, the person experiences the symptoms of depression.

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)

BPD is a personality disorder that includes both mood disorder and thought disorder symptoms. This diagnosis has both biological and environmental determinants. Individuals diagnosed with BPD may have experienced childhood abuse and family dysfunction. They may experience mood fluctuations, insecurities and mistrust, distortion of perceptions, dissociations, difficulty with interpersonal relationships, and limited coping skills.


This is a thought disorder that can cause a person to experience delusions, hallucinations, and paranoia. Schizophrenic individuals typically demonstrate concrete thought processing and appreciate structure and routines.

Anxiety Disorders

These are mood disorders in which the individual responds to thoughts, situations, environments, or people with fear and anxiety. Anxiety symptoms can disrupt a person's ability to concentrate and focus on tasks at hand. Symptoms may be in response to real or imagined fears. Specific anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, social and specific phobias, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Functional Limitations

The following functional limitations related to psychiatric disabilities may affect academic performance and may require accommodations (Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation, 1997):

Instructional Strategies

Students with a history of psychiatric disabilities can be intelligent, sensitive, creative, and interesting. You can employ strategies that will promote their success in your class. For example:

Reasonable Accommodations

Some students with psychiatric disabilities may require accommodations to allow them equal access to classes, programs, and coursework. An accommodation is the removal of a barrier to full participation and learning. The emphasis is on access, not on outcome. This is done by providing the student with a disability equal access to the content and activities of a course, but not ensuring success.

Each student with a disability is encouraged to register with their campus office that supports students with disabilities in order to receive accommodations. Personnel from this office typically send instructors a letter documenting specific accommodations required for the student with the disability. It is the responsibility of the instructor to provide the accommodations. It is the student's responsibility to fulfill the academic requirements of the course. The best solutions result when the instructor, student, and disability support service professional work cooperatively. Meeting as a group may facilitate problem-solving alternatives. Respecting the privacy of the student by not discussing his or her disability or accommodations with others outside of this meeting is essential. Review accommodations periodically with the student to assess effectiveness and adjust to changing needs.

Classroom Accommodations

Typical classroom, exam, and assignment accommodations that may be recommended by the disabled student service professional for a student with a psychiatric disability include the following:

Examination Accommodations

Typical accommodations for students with psychiatric disabilities taking exams include the following:

Assignment Accommodations

Typical assignment accommodations for students with disabilities include the following:

Not all requested accommodations are reasonable. An accommodation is not reasonable if it would:


On most campuses, a student with a disability must register with the disabled student services office to receive accommodations. Personnel from this office typically send instructors a letter documenting specific accommodations required for the student. It is often helpful to schedule a three-way meeting with the student, instructor, and disability counselor. Review accommodations periodically with the student to assess effectiveness. Respect the privacy of the student by not discussing his or her disability or accommodations with others. It is important that the instructor provides the accommodations required; it is the student's responsibility to fulfill the academic requirements of the course.


Show slide #2: with your campus resources added.

Here are some resources that might be useful to you as you work to maximize effective communication with all students in your classes. [Elaborate.]

For comprehensive information on accommodations, a wide range of case studies, frequently asked questions, and general resources, visit The Faculty Room at This resource was developed at the University of Washington as part of a nationwide project to provide resources to faculty and administrators so that they can make their courses and programs accessible to all students. You can link to this resource from ____. [Arrange to provide a link from your campus' disabled student services website before the presentation.] Consider linking to this website from your department's faculty website.

Thank you for your time today and for your interest in finding ways to ensure that all of the students in our programs have equal opportunities to learn, explore interests, and express ideas.