Accommodating students with disabilities in higher education is a shared responsibility. Faculty, students, and disability services staff must work together to coordinate reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities who request support. Coordinated efforts and support from departmental, administrative, facilities, and other student service personnel can also enhance the overall accessibility of the postsecondary learning environment for students with disabilities.

Educators can contribute to greater academic and career success for the students they serve. Knowledge of legal issues, accommodation strategies, and campus resources for students with disabilities can facilitate this success. Studies show that faculty members who are familiar with accommodation strategies are better prepared to make arrangements to ensure that students with disabilities have an equal opportunity to participate in their programs. In addition, faculty and staff who have had interactions with students with disabilities generally have more positive attitudes about working with these students.

The disability student services office on your campus is a key resource when working with students with disabilities. It is typically the responsibility of disability students services staff to:

  • maintain confidential records of the student's disability
  • recommend and coordinate accommodations (e.g., sign language interpreters, Braille documents)
  • arrange special equipment (e.g., assistive listening devices)
  • provide other resources/referrals for students with disabilities (e.g., assistive 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 her or his academic needs. Generally, students who require accommodations in postsecondary education are responsible for disclosing their disability and registering with the disability student services office following the procedures at their respective campus. Each student is also usually responsible for requesting accommodations with each instructor.

Not all students with disabilities need academic accommodations. Ultimately, a student with a disability requires alternative arrangements only when faced with a task that requires a skill that her disability precludes. If a student informs you that she has a disability and would like to arrange for academic accommodations, you may ask which course or program requirements are expected to be problematic and which solutions and campus resources have been identified to help minimize the problems.

Each student has his own unique needs. Some examples of academic accommodations include preferential seating, notetakers, assistive technology, sign language interpreters, audiobooks, and extended test-taking time. Many accommodations are simple, creative alternatives to traditional ways of doing things. The instructor and student may generate additional ideas based on individual needs and course requirements. Sometimes, an effective solution can be found by thinking creatively about how the learning environment could be modified.

Here are some general suggestions for modifying the learning environment to make your class more accessible:

  • Add a statement to your syllabus inviting students who have disabilities to discuss their needs and accommodation strategies with you. An example of such a statement is, "If you have a documented disability and wish to discuss academic accommodations, please contact me as soon as possible."
  • Select course materials early so that they can be procured in appropriate formats in a timely manner.
  • Ask students about successful accommodations they have used in the past.
  • Use materials which are available in an electronic format.
  • Find alternative methods of administering tests and testing comprehension of a subject.
  • Use the disability services available on your campus as a primary resource.

Faculty, administrators, students with disabilities and other key personnel can also work together to develop campus and departmental plans for improving the instructional climate and access for students with disabilities. If we continue to take time to think about how to make our programs and courses accessible to all students we'll be better prepared to overcome current and future academic challenges.

For more information on academic accommodations for specific disabilities or activities, see Accommodations. Consult Students with Disabilities Preparing for Postsecondary Education: Know Your Rights and Responsibilities for more information.