Working Together: Teaching Assistants and Students with Disabilities University of Washington

Legal Issues

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and Washington State laws prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities.

According to federal law, no otherwise qualified individual with a disability shall, solely by reason of his or her disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity of a public entity.

"Qualified" with respect to postsecondary educational services, means "a person who meets the academic and technical standards requisite to admission or participation in the education program or activity, with or without reasonable modifications to rules, policies or practices; the removal of architectural, communication or transportation barriers; or the provision of auxiliary aids and services."

"Person with a disability" means "any person who (1) has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities [including walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working], (2) has a record of such an impairment, or (3) is regarded as having such an impairment.

Disabilities covered by legislation include (but are not limited to) AIDS, Cancer, Cerebral Palsy, Diabetes, Epilepsy, head injuries, hearing impairments, specific learning disabilities, loss of limbs, Multiple Sclerosis, Muscular Dystrophy, psychiatric disorders, speech impairments, spinal cord injuries, and vision impairments.

UW Identification and Accommodation Process

Faculty members and teaching assistants are encouraged to be responsive to the pedagogical needs of all students. However, students with disabilities may have some additional educational needs which they should discuss with each faculty member. Teaching assistants can also play an important role in making accommodations. It is helpful to include a statement on the class syllabus inviting students who have disabilities to discuss academic needs. An example of such a statement is "To request academic accommodations due to a disability, please contact Disability Resources for Students (DRS), 448 Schmitz, 206-543-8924 (voice) or 206-543-8925 (TTY). If you have a letter from DRS indicating that you have a disability which requires academic accommodations, please present the letter to me so we can discuss the accommodations you might need in this class."

A student with a disability needing accommodation should provide each instructor with a letter from DRS indicating possible accommodations. The faculty member can then work with the student to make the appropriate accommodation(s) for the specific class. Under no circumstances should the faculty member or teaching assistant refuse to make a requested accommodation; instead, if agreement is not reached on an accommodation, the faculty member should contact DRS for assistance. If, after working with DRS, a satisfactory accommodation is not obtained, the student can appeal to the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action at 206-543-1830 or

If a student does not present a letter from DRS and does not have a visible disability, the faculty member should refer the student to DRS prior to making an accommodation for a disability.

UW faculty members are encouraged to apply universal design principles in their instruction to minimize needs for accommodations and to make their courses more accessible to all students. For more information about universal design of instruction, consult

Examples of Academic Accommodations

Low Vision

  • Seating near front of the class
  • Large print handouts, lab signs, and equipment labels
  • TV monitor connected to microscope to enlarge images
  • Class assignments made available in electronic format
  • Computer equipped to enlarge screen characters and images


  • Audio-taped, Brailled or electronic-formatted lecture notes, handouts, and texts
  • Verbal descriptions of visual aids
  • Raised-line drawings and tactile models of graphic materials
  • Braille lab signs and equipment labels, auditory lab warning signals
  • Adaptive lab equipment (e.g., talking thermometers, calculators, light probes, and tactile timers)
  • Computer with optical character reader, speech output, Braille screen display, and printer output

Hearing Impairment

  • Interpreter, real-time captioning, FM system
  • Notetaker
  • Visual aids
  • Written assignments, lab instructions, summaries, notes
  • Use of email for class and private discussions
  • Visual warning system for lab emergencies

Learning Disability

  • Notetaker and/or audio-taped class sessions
  • Captioned films
  • Extra exam time, alternative testing arrangements
  • Visual, aural, and tactile instructional demonstrations
  • Computer with voice output, spellchecker, and grammar checker

Mobility Impairment

  • Notetaker, lab assistant, group lab assignments
  • Classrooms, labs, and field trips in accessible locations
  • Adjustable tables, lab equipment located within reach
  • Lengthened pull-chains on safety showers
  • Class assignments made available in electronic format
  • Computer equipped with special input device (e.g., voice input, alternative keyboard)

Health Impairment

  • Notetakers
  • Flexible attendance requirements
  • Extra exam time
  • Assignments made available in electronic format
  • Use of email to facilitate communication

Useful Teaching Techniques

Below you will find examples of teaching techniques in the classroom, laboratory, examinations, and field work that benefit all students, but are especially useful for students who have disabilities.


  • Select course materials early so that students and DRS or the ATL staff have enough time to translate them to audiotape, Braille, and large print.
  • Make syllabi, short assignment sheets, and reading lists available in electronic format (e.g., CD, email, online).
  • Face the class when speaking. Repeat discussion questions.
  • Write key phrases and lecture outlines on the blackboard or overhead projector.


  • Take the student on a tour of the lab they will be working in. Discuss safety concerns.
  • Assign group lab projects in which all students contribute according to their abilities.
  • Arrange lab equipment so that it is accessible to and visible by everyone.
  • Give oral and written lab instructions.

Examination and Fieldwork

  • Ensure that exams test the essential skills or knowledge needed for the course or field of study.
  • Some students will require extra time to transcribe or process test questions. Follow DRS recommendations regarding extra time on examinations.
  • Consider allowing students to turn in exams via email or Collect It (
  • Ask student how they might be able to do specific aspects of field work. Attempt to include student in field work opportunities, rather than automatically suggesting non-field work alternatives.
  • Include special needs in requests for field trip vehicle reservations.

University of Washington-Seattle Campus Resources

For most issues, Disability Resources for Students will be the first point of contact.

Access Guide for Persons with Disabilities 
A guide to accessible UW campus routes and building entrances is available at all campus reference stations and online.

Access Technology Center (ATC)
206-685-4144 (voice/TTY), Mary Gates Hall
Students, faculty, and staff with disabilities have access to computing resources through specialized equipment and software in the ATC. Check the University of Washington Technology Services catalog for classes.

Braille Service
206-685-4144 (voice/TTY), Mary Gates Hall
You may contact the ATL to have syllabi and short class handouts Brailled. Requests for transcription can be sent to For Braille textbooks and lengthy class materials, contact DRS (see above).

Disability Advocacy Student Alliance 
A peer advocacy group for students with disabilities, DASA (disability advocacy student alliance) is available as peer support. DASA plans social and educational events surrounding disability pride. Subscribe to their listserv at

Disability Resources for Students (DRS)
206-543-8924 (voice), 206-543-8925 (TTY)
Contact DRS for assistance with the provision of academic accommodations, e.g., audio recording, large print, and Braille class materials, test access, classroom relocation, and sign language interpreters.

Electronic Resources
Many UW departments and classes now have class information, notes, and resources available via the Internet. Electronic access to this information may be helpful for students with disabilities. Catalyst may be able to help instructors get started, visit for more information.

Some students and instructors find email to be an effective communication tool. Direct students to University of Washington Information Technology Services to set up a new account. Email accounts are free to students, faculty, and staff.

The Faculty Room
A DO-IT website where postsecondary faculty and administrators can learn how to maximize educational opportunities for students with disabilities.

Physical Access Problems
Call Maintenance and Alterations or go online to FS-Works to report problems with the operation of University facilities such as automatic doors and elevators.

Study Skills
Students having academic difficulties may benefit from resources offered by the Counseling Center. Resources include information regarding academic skills, study skills, and test anxiety, among others.

Telephone Communication With Students Who Have Hearing or Speech Impairments
If you have regular communications with a student who uses a TTY (teletype), contact DRS for loan of a TTY or talk with the student about getting an email account. For infrequent mediated phone conversations call the Washington Relay Service (711), a free service.

About this Publication

This brochure is available online at The content of this brochure was developed by the following units at the University of Washington:

  • Center for Change in Transition Services
  • Disability Resources for Students
  • Disabled Student Services
  • DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology)
  • Rehabilitation Medicine


A 9-minute video, Working Together: Faculty and Students with Disabilities, may be freely viewed online at, or purchased in DVD format.

About DO-IT

Copyright © 2008, 2007, 2006, 2004, 2001, University of Washington. Permission is granted to copy these materials for educational, noncommercial purposes provided the source is acknowledged.

DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology) serves to increase the successful participation of individuals with disabilities in challenging academic programs such as those in science, engineering, mathematics, and technology. Primary funding for DO-IT is provided by the National Science Foundation, the State of Washington, and the U.S. Department of Education. DO-IT is a collaboration of UW Information Technology and the Colleges of Engineering and Education at the University of Washington.

Grants and gifts fund DO-IT publications, videos, and programs to support the academic and career success of people with disabilities. Contribute today by sending a check to DO-IT, Box 354842, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195-4842.

Your gift is tax deductible as specified in IRS regulations. Pursuant to RCW 19.09, the University of Washington is registered as a charitable organization with the Secretary of State, state of Washington. For more information call the Office of the Secretary of State, 1-800-322-4483.

To order free publications or newsletters use the DO-IT Publications Order Form; to order videos and training materials use the Videos, Books and Comprehensive Training Materials Order Form.

For further information, to be placed on the DO-IT mailing list, request materials in an alternate format, or to make comments or suggestions about DO-IT publications or web pages contact:

University of Washington
Box 354842
Seattle, WA 98195-4842
206-685-DOIT (3648) (voice/TTY)
888-972-DOIT (3648) (voice/TTY)
206-221-4171 (fax)
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Founder and Director: Sheryl Burgstahler, Ph.D.

DO-IT Funding and Partners

Copyright © 2014, 2013, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2004, 2001, University of Washington. Permission is granted to copy these materials for educational, noncommercial purposes provided the source is acknowledged.