Lesson 02: Rights and Responsibilities

Serving Students with Disabilities
Distance Learning Course


The purpose of this lesson is to increase your awareness of the RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES of the STAFF, the STUDENT WITH A DISABILITY, and the INSTITUTION in relation to persons with disabilities at postsecondary institutions.

By considering and responding to the QUESTIONS for discussion, you will develop an awareness of the shared responsibilities of students and staff, as well as the teamwork essential to finding creative accommodations to meet these responsibilities.


Question to REFLECT upon while reading the CONTENT

In what ways does YOUR department or office meet your RESPONSIBILITY as the staff member for a person with one or more disabilities?



Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 PROHIBIT discrimination against persons with disabilities and mandate the provision of reasonable accommodations to ensure access to programs and services. REASONABLE accommodations may include but are not limited to redesigning equipment, assigning aides, providing written communication in alternative formats, modifying tests, redesigning services to accessible locations, altering existing facilities, and building new facilities. Reasonable accommodations do not include personal devices such as hearing aids, wheelchairs, and glasses. A "person with a disability" means "any person who has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities including walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working; has a record of such impairment; or is regarded as having such an impairment."

EXAMPLES of disabilities that can impact a student in postsecondary institutions include but are not limited to AIDS, cancer, Cerebral Palsy, Diabetes, Epilepsy, head injuries, hearing impairments, learning disabilities, loss of limbs, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, psychiatric disorders, speech impairments, spinal cord injuries, and visual impairments.

Many of the conditions listed may LIMIT individuals' abilities to perform specific life tasks. Some of these conditions are visible, while other conditions, such as learning or psychiatric disabilities, are "invisible." Individuals with the same diagnosis or label may present a range of symptoms and functional limitations. For example, an individual with Cerebral Palsy may need to use a wheelchair, may be unable to speak, and may require a personal assistant for self care. Another person with Cerebral Palsy may walk with a cane and manage all personal care tasks and communication independently. Likewise, an individual with a learning disability may have difficulties with reading, writing, math, and/or verbal information processing. Clearly, each individual has UNIQUE NEEDS in postsecondary education settings. In all cases, the institution has a responsibility to provide program access to qualified students with disabilities.

The DESIGN of a product, environment, or service that is flexible and meets the needs of a wide range of users can eliminate or minimize the need for specific accommodations for a person with a disability. (In contrast, a mismatch between the individual with a disability and the environment, attitudes, or society can create or exacerbate barriers.)

For example, an individual with a mobility impairment may fully participate in most life activities if the buildings, transportation, and facilities he uses are wheelchair-accessible. However, when he cannot accept a job or attend a class because the work site or classroom environment is inaccessible, he is being excluded as a consequence of an architectural barrier that prohibits access. Similarly, captioning on videos eliminates the need for an accommodation for a student who is deaf or hard of hearing.

Accommodating students with disabilities in higher education is a SHARED RESPONSIBILITY. Administrators, faculty, student services staff, students, and disabled student services staff must work together to coordinate reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities who request support in academic and student support activities at our school. Such efforts can enhance the overall accessibility of the postsecondary learning environment for students with disabilities.

Your efforts as an ADMINISTRATOR or other STAFF member can result in greater academic and career success for the students you serve. Knowledge of legal issues, accommodation strategies, and campus resources for students with disabilities can facilitate this success.

The services on campus designed to support students with disabilities are also available to help staff. The DISABLED STUDENT SERVICES OFFICE on your campus is a key resource when working with students with disabilities. Following are typical responsibilities of disabled student services staff:

* Maintain confidential records of the student's disability.

* Recommend and coordinate accommodations (for example, sign language interpreters, Braille documents).

* Arrange special equipment (e.g., adaptive technology, assistive listening devices).

* Provide other resources/referrals for students with disabilities (e.g., adaptive technology specialists, testing centers, counseling).

Staff should also be able to answer questions and provide details about policies and procedures and legal and compliance issues related to meeting the needs of students with disabilities at your campus.

The STUDENT WITH A DISABILITY is the best source of information regarding his or her needs. Generally, students who require accommodations in postsecondary education are responsible for DISCLOSING their disabilities, REGISTERING with the disabled student services office following the procedures at their campus, and REQUESTING ACCOMMODATIONS with staff. The need for accommodations depends on the students' abilities. Ultimately, a student with a disability requires alternative arrangements only when faced with a task that requires skill that his disability precludes.

If a student informs you that she has a disability and would like to arrange for accommodations, you may ask which program requirements are expected to be problematic and which strategies and campus resources might help to overcome barriers.

Many accommodations are simple, creative alternatives to traditional ways of doing things. Sometimes, an effective solution can be found by thinking creatively about how the environment can be modified.

Here are some suggestions for making your service more accessible:

* Use the disabled student services available on your campus as a primary resource.

* Include students with disabilities as you plan and evaluate services.

* Make sure information resources are provided in accessible formats.

* Add a statement to your print and web-based materials telling students who have disabilities how to request materials in alternate format (e.g., Braille, large print) and to request other accommodations.

* Inform staff on how to work with students who have disabilities.

* Make sure the physical environment is accessible.

Students with disabilities and key personnel can also WORK TOGETHER to develop campus plans for improving climate and access for students with disabilities. If we continue to take time to think about how to make our programs and offices accessible to all students, we'll be better prepared to overcome current and future challenges.


The law PROHIBITS discrimination against persons with disabilities and mandates the provision of reasonable accommodations to ensure access to programs and services. Accommodating students with disabilities in higher education is a SHARED RESPONSIBILITY. You, the other staff, the student with a disability who requests support, and the disabled student services staff must work together as a team to coordinate reasonable accommodations. General accommodations presented in this lesson are simple, creative alternatives to traditional ways of doing things.


SEND an email message to the group with at least one response to the following question:

In your service area, how might you encourage students with disabilities to talk with you about their accommodation needs?

Your email SUBJECT line should read: Access 2: RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES.


You can read answers to frequently asked questions, explore case studies, and access additional resources at The Conference Room, https://www.washington.edu/doit/distance-learning-course-serving-students-disabilities.


(c) 2004 DO-IT. Permission is granted to copy material in this email for educational, noncommercial purposes provided the source is acknowledged. Contact DO-IT at 1-206-685-DOIT (3648) or doit@uw.edu.