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Talking about accommodations

This page covers accommodation meetings with professors from start to finish. DRS recognizes that there is a power differential between students and professors.  If you are uncomfortable talking about your accommodations with your professors at any point, please reach out to us!

Setting up a meeting with your professors

Talking to your professors at the beginning of the quarter allows you to clarify how your accommodations will implemented in each of your classes.  Sometimes that information can be covered easily via email.  Other times, students find it helpful to set up a meeting.

In general, it’s best to reach out to your professors after they’ve received an email from DRS notifying them about your accommodations.  These emails are typically sent out 1-2 weeks prior to the start of each quarter.  Refer to the information provided in your APM for more details about how and when you’ll know that your professors have been emailed.

1. You can start an email to your professor by saying “Hi Professor X.” Not all professors have doctorate degrees so “Professor X” is safer than saying “Dr X.”

2. Your professor may be teaching multiple courses, so you’ll want to make sure to let them know what course you’re in:

“I’m in your <Y> course.”

3. Then you can state the purpose for the email:

“Hopefully you have received a letter from DRS regarding my accommodations. I’d like to set up an one-on-one appointment to discuss how these will be implemented this quarter.”

4. Ask the professor when they are available:

“What are some good times for you?”

5. The end of the email is a good place to express any authentic enthusiasm you may feel for the course. We’ve written some examples below but make sure to use your own words so your email is genuine.

“I am very excited to take <Y> course. I took <Z> course last quarter and it got me very interested in learning more about <subject>.”

“I’ve always wanted to learn about <subject>. I’m looking forward to your course!”

6. Add your signature, proofread, and then hit send!

<Your name>

Preparing for the meeting

Before your meeting with your professor, take some time to look over your accommodations. Visualize using each accommodation in each class. Ask yourself “how?” “where?” and “when?” to figure out what information you need to gather from your professors and what information you want to share with them. Jot down a few notes. Make sure to write down any needs or ideas you have.

Do not rely on your professors to know what will work for you. If you’re unsure if it would be useful to talk about something, it’s safer to err on the side of bringing it up. Take this list to your meeting. We find students have a hard time preparing for these meetings when they are not sure how they can be beneficial. If you’re feeling unclear, review our information on the purpose of meeting with professors.

Get into a collaborative mindset

The way you approach a conversation can make a big difference in the outcome.  The same communication skills that are useful in other contexts can be used when you talk with professors.  Take time to think about how you want to talk about your accommodations.

Effective vs. Ineffective Approaches to Communication

Let’s explore the difference between effective and ineffective approaches by thinking about an experience in a restaurant. Imagine for a moment that you order a dish with tofu. Your dish arrives with meat instead. You’re vegetarian so meat is not going to work for you. You have a few choices at this point:

You could call the waiter, yell at them for not getting it right the first time, demand that they give you what you asked for, and remind them angrily that you are a paying customer. They’ll give you the tofu, but they will be impacted negatively by your approach. Future interactions will feel tense. The meal will be less enjoyable.

You could also choose to say nothing and end up paying for a meal you can’t eat, leaving you both hungry and with less money.

Alternatively, you could kindly let the waiter know that you ordered something different and ask it to be fixed. You will end up with the dish you wanted. Occasionally, you may also end up with a free dessert. Either way, it will also be easier to address any other issues that come up during the meal.

Going to school is quite different than going to a restaurant. Learning isn’t as simple as ordering a meal and eating it. It’s an interactive process in which you have to work hard and engage in your classes. And your relationships with your professors are much longer and more involved with different power dynamics than what you have with a waiter.

However, the same principles of respectfully asserting your needs apply. You pay tuition at the University of Washington. In that sense, you are a paying customer. What you are purchasing is your education. Your accommodation increases your access to the education for which you are paying. Therefore, you are well within your rights as a paying student at the UW to ask for any clarification you need around your accommodations.

At the same time, keep in mind that demanding things is often less effective than politely engaging in a back-and-forth conversation about those needs. Your relationship with your professor will extend beyond this meeting and possibility beyond the quarter.  Starting off collaboratively can set a good foundation for ongoing communication.

Participating in the meeting

Remember, how you approach your meetings can make a big difference. When possible, take a collaborative stance.

Communicating collaboratively

Express your eagerness to learn and your enthusiasm for the course. Let the professor know what you need in a friendly way and then make sure to ask if they have preferences or concerns. Keep in mind that you don’t need to have all the answers ahead of time.

What to cover during the meeting

The main focus of your accommodations meeting is to clarify how your accommodations will be implemented.

#1 Gather information about how your accommodations will be implemented

Begin by asking your professor for their thoughts about implementing your accommodations. You’ll want to focus on the when, where, and how of your accommodations. Start with a simple, polite inquiry focused on logistics. The word “would” is often a good word to use in question format during this stage of the process.

Example: If your accommodation is time and a half on tests, you can start by saying “I have an accommodation to receive extra time on tests. Where would you like me to take the test so I can receive that extra time?”

#2 Offer input

If your professor’s initial plan for implementing your accommodation works for you, confirm it with the professor and move on. However, if you have a concern that all your accommodations cannot be implemented effectively in the way that the professor has suggested, you may want to offer some input.

Example: Your professor may say that they would like you to come to their office to implement your extra time on tests. However, maybe you also have the accommodation of reduced distraction, and you believe it would be distracting to complete an exam in your professor’s office. Or perhaps you have a speech-to-text accommodation and you’re concerned about how it would work to dictate the exam with your professor there in the same room.

You can share your concerns with your professor. You can also suggest alternatives if you know about them.

Example: You could ask your professor if it is possible to take the test at the DRS testing center.

The professor may be fine with this option, at which point you can move on to the next accommodation on your list.  However, if your professor has concerns about your request, you may choose to go through another round of input.

Example: Your professor may say that they do not want you to take the exam in the DRS testing center because they want to be available for you to ask questions during it. You could ask if there would be a way that DRS could contact them if you had questions during the exam. Or you could ask if they would be able to arrange for an empty room next to their office to take the exam so you would have a quiet, private space but could still come talk to them.

Of course, you may not be aware of all of the options for implementing accommodations.  Reach out to DRS at any point for assistance.

#3 Create a plan for addressing unresolved questions or concerns

It’s helpful to create a plan for addressing any unresolved concerns or questions. Sometimes the plan is as simple as following up with one another after an option is investigated.

Example: Your professor may need to look into room availability in their department before a decision can be made about where you will take your test.

Other times you and your professor may need help problem-solving or resolving differences in how you would like to approach an accommodation.  If you find that your professor does not seem to understand your needs or if you are unable to negotiate an outcome that works for you, please reach out to your DRS coordinator as soon as possible. You are not alone. We are here to help! We will meet with you to discuss your concerns and to figure out next steps. Your professors can contact us for help too!

Do I need to explain my disability?

In most cases, you do not need to share your diagnosis to figure out how to implement your accommodations. You’ve already gone through the process of disclosing your disability with the DRS office. What’s left is to clarify how those accommodations will be implemented in each one of your courses and that’s what you’ll be talking about with your professors in this meeting. We have some additional tips for how to talk about your needs without disclosing your diagnosis.