Why Accommodate?

Some consider ensuring equal access to postsecondary education simply the right thing to do. Others are merely responsive to legal mandates. In either case, the federal government has made it clear that postsecondary institutions must provide reasonable accommodations to otherwise qualified students with disabilities to ensure access to educational opportunities. The Legal Issues section of Faculty Room provides more details on disability legislation and its impact on postsecondary institutions.

Each student with a disability has unique needs. The presence of a disability may or may not affect the participation of a student in your class. Disabilities that may interfere with access to or participation in essential postsecondary coursework include:

  • blindness 
  • low vision
  • hearing impairments
  • mobility impairments
  • learning disabilities 
  • health impairments 
  • psychiatric impairments

Reasonable accommodations must be provided to eligible students with disabilities in order for them to access essential course content and essential learning activities. Types of academic coursework to which students with disabilities need access include lectures, written assignments, field or lab work, exams, class discussions, Internet research, and/or participation in class activities.

Some examples of reasonable accommodations in postsecondary settings include sign language interpreters, preferential seating, notetakers, scribes, flexible attendance requirements, test modifications, and classes in accessible locations. Some students with disabilities require the same accommodations for all courses. Other students may need a range of accommodations for various lecture, lab, discussion, and fieldwork activities. Flexibility and effective communication between students, disabled student services staff, and instructors are key to implementing successful accommodations.


It is important to remember that information about a student's disability should usually be kept confidential. Even if a student has disclosed a disability to you as his instructor or to other officials of the institution, this personal information should not be shared with others without his permission. Typically, the process by which information about a disability is shared is as follows:

  • The student brings documentation about the disability to the disabled student services office on campus. He discusses appropriate accommodations with staff.
  • Confidentiality is maintained by the disabled student service office on campus unless the student provides written permission to release the information.
  • If the student agrees that specific information can be disclosed to his instructor, the disabled student services staff shares information and approved accommodations; sometimes reasonable accommodations for specific class activities are determined in consultation with the instructor.

The best accommodations are tailored to the individual and often develop from a cooperative relationship between the faculty member, the student, and staff of the campus disabled student services office.


Which of the following students might need an accommodation in a social sciences lecture? Choose a response.

  1. A student with low vision who cannot see visual aids or overheads clearly.
  2. A student with a mobility impairment who cannot take notes.
  3. A student with a broken leg.
  4. A student with an undocumented learning disability.

Feedback on each response:

  1. A student with low vision may benefit from large print or electronic copies of your handouts, a notetaker, and/or preferential seating. It is also helpful to write clearly and in large print on overhead projectors and blackboards.
  2. This student might need accommodations for notetaking and test taking if his mobility impairment affects hand and finger use and written communication. Possible accommodations include a notetaker, scribe, computer, or audiotape.
  3. A student with a broken leg may need temporary accommodations. She may need extra time to arrive for class, campus transportation, and/or preferential seating.
  4. This student is not eligible for accommodations. Documentation of a disability by a qualified professional and registration with the disability student services office are required on most campuses in order for a student to be eligible for academic accommodations. 

For more information on academic accommodations for specific disabilities or activities, see Accommodations.