Information for Faculty and Staff

Students with disabilities must be prepared for college studies if they are to succeed in postsecondary education. Faculty and staff play a pivotal role in the promotion of preparedness and inclusion in postsecondary education. The information in this section is designed to aid in the understanding of the issues that impact students and disabilities, the disability services process and the resources that may assist these students. 

Faculty/Staff Learning Modules - How to Most Effectively Teach and Reasonably Accommodate 

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Disability in the Classroom (UNT Policy 16.001)

The intent of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 are to ensure a level playing field. This is accomplished in the academic context by modifying course, program and degree requirements in ways that do not fundamentally alter the course, program or degree. The modification - or reasonable accommodation - process is a two-step process requiring interaction between (1) a student and the Office of Disability Accommodation, and (2) a student and the faculty member. A third step may be required if a faculty member determines that he/she cannot provide a reasonable accommodation that does not fundamentally or substantially modify course, program or degree standards.

Student and Office of Disability Accommodation Responsibilities

The Office of Disability Accommodation (ODA) is responsible for verifying that a student has a disability (as defined by the ADA). In order to receive a reasonable accommodation, a student must have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity (including the major life activity of learning), be perceived as disabled, or have a record of a disability. Because not all physical or mental impairments are considered disabilities under the ADA, including those that present themselves in noticeable fashion (e.g. wearing eyeglasses), it is important for faculty members to direct students to the ODA for verification of disabilities when a student seeks a reasonable accommodation. Once the ODA establishes that a student is disabled, the instructor/department, in consultation with appropriate departments (i.e. legal and ODA), determines whether a reasonable accommodation can be made that does not alter the fundamental requirements of a particular course or program.

Reasonable Accommodation Not Retroactive

Syllabi should inform students that they must go through the ODA before receiving a reasonable accommodation for a course and that they should have any disability for which they want a reasonable accommodation verified before a specified class day. Failure to obtain verification by the date established by the faculty member does not mean the student can never receive a reasonable accommodation in the course. However, the faculty member only has to provide a reasonable accommodation once the disability is verified (assuming reasonable accommodation is possible). Grades received prior to verification of a disability and implementation of a reasonable accommodation need not be changed.

No Obligation to Identify Disability

A faculty member is not legally obligated to identify or diagnose a disability. Even if the disability is readily apparent and the student is having difficulty in the course, a faculty member should not ask the student whether his/her disability or condition is causing the academic difficulty. Instead, have a list of resources ready as you would for all students experiencing academic difficulty and include the ODA in that list.

ODA Recommendations are Advisory

The ODA has the expertise and staff to obtain and review the medical information necessary to determine whether an individual is disabled as defined by the ADA. The ODA also has the expertise to recommend reasonable accommodations that may be appropriate for the particular disability. The faculty member (with appropriate consultations) determines whether a reasonable accommodation is possible. You should discuss any questions you have about recommendations made by the ODA with that office.

Temporary Impairments

Faculty members are not required to modify course requirements if a student is experiencing a temporary physical or mental impairment. The ODA will take into consideration the duration of the impairment when determining whether the student is disabled as defined by the ADA. However, an instructor may offer adjustments for students with temporary impairments (e.g. broken arm).

Letter Confirming Disability

The ODA will give a student a letter confirming he/she is disabled. This letter will recommend reasonable accommodations that the instructor should consider making.

Professors: What do I do when I receive an official Letter of request for Reasonable Accommodation?

  • First, read it carefully. It is a formal notice, signifying that the student has furnished the university with documentation of a disability, which he or she feels will impact the learning situation.
  • Second, discuss the request with the student. The letter lists the reasonable accommodations which have been recommended by the physician, diagnostician, or counselor as compensation methods. If you do not understand why the specific reasonable accommodation was requested, ask the student to talk with you. You may want to call the Office of Disability Accommodation at (940) 565-4323 to request more details. You may want to talk to your department's ADA liaison or other appropriate departmental official.
  • Third, regardless of disability, all students must be able to meet the essential competencies for your course. Naturally, if the student cannot meet them without reasonable accommodations, he/she must be given an opportunity to meet them with reasonable accommodations. If you are unable to reasonably accommodate the student's request, ask yourself the following questions. Will the student's request affect an "essential competency?" Is there a better way to make the class/requirement accessible? Is the request reasonable? Do I have an alternative suggestion? Discuss the request with the student and try to find a compromise. Tell the student why you cannot meet the original request and what reasonable accommodations you can make. But please, never deny reasonable accommodations without first discussing the matter with the ODA.
  • Fourth, if you cannot work out an alternative that is agreeable to both you and the student, involve your department's ADA liaison or other appropriate department official in the process. If there is still no way that you and your department can reasonably accommodate the student and have him/her meet the essential competencies of the course even after discussing the matter with the ODA, the student should be so informed. Your department should maintain a record of all efforts to provide reasonable accommodations.

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Student and the Instructor

Student Responsibility

A student seeking a reasonable accommodation should present the letter from the ODA confirming his or her disability to the instructor. If the student does not provide the letter, direct him or her to the ODA for assessment.

Interactive Process Mandatory

The instructor is legally required to talk to the student about what accommodations would be reasonable, given the course requirements. The faculty member should consider the recommendations made by the ODA and any other reasonable accommodations suggested by the student. All recommended or suggested reasonable accommodations should be considered in relation to the fundamental requirements of the course, as determined by the faculty member's professional academic judgment.

What Accommodation is Reasonable?

A faculty member is legally required to provide a reasonable accommodation when doing so does not lower or substantially modify the course's fundamental standards.

  • The instructor should consider the student's first preference for reasonable accommodation
  • The instructor is required to reasonably accommodate the student or provide an effective, reasonable accommodation – not provide the "best" reasonable accommodation
  • The reasonable accommodation must be related to the disability

Determining Fundamental Alteration of a Course or Academic Program

To determine whether a reasonable accommodation fundamentally alters the nature of a course, faculty members who teach or who have taught the course should:

  • Identify the essential academic standards of the course (i.e. course requirements that go to the very nature of the subject matter or that are of the utmost importance in achieving the course objective)
  • Articulate specific requirements that individual faculty members believe are fundamental to teaching the course (Takes academic freedom into consideration)
  • Discuss the unique qualities of the course in relation to its overall objectives and any program in which the course is required
  • Engage in "reasoned deliberation" as to whether modification of the course would change the fundamental academic standards
  • Determine whether there are any options to the fundamental requirements of the course
  • Ask:
    • Why is the standard that the faculty member believes will be lowered important to the course?
    • Is the standard the better way (only way) to achieve the desired academic objective?
    • Will the requested adjustment lower academic standards of the course (or the program if applicable)?
    • Can a different method/requirement that will not be altered by the adjustment achieve the desired academic/pedagogical result?
    • If not, why not?

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Academic Freedom and the ADA

Academic freedom does not allow an instructor to refuse to reasonably accommodate a student with a disability.

ADA – Practical Guidance

Doing the following will facilitate compliance with state and federal disability laws:

  • Clearly state the department's ADA policy on your syllabus (see ADA Taglines for UNT Publications and Syllabus Statements)
  • Direct students to the ODA office to complete the disability documentation process
  • Discuss with the student the course modifications that do not change the essential academic standards of the course
  • Be able to identify the essential academic standards of the course (i.e. course requirements that go to the very nature of the subject matter, are of the utmost importance in achieving the course objective) when discussing reasonable accommodations with students
  • Discuss possible, reasonable accommodations with the department chair and the ODA (possibly other experienced faculty members) before denying a reasonable accommodation
  • Note any reasonable accommodations granted on your copy of the student's ODA Reasonable Accommodation Request Form Letter
  • Never discuss a student's disability in the presence of others (even if the student tells you it is okay to do so)
  • Only reasonably accommodate students who bring an official letter from the ODA. If you choose to make adjustments for students without a letter from the ODA, do not consider these to be official ADA reasonable, accommodations, but simply adjustments that you as the instructor are choosing to make in your class.

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Disability Etiquette

From the video, "The Ten Commandments of Communicating with People who have Disabilities".

It is not unusual for faculty and staff to have very little in the way of experience working with people who have disabilities. This lack of experience can create a communication barrier and result in misunderstandings at best, and at worse no communication at all. So, we suggest the following when communicating with students who have disabilities:

  • Speak directly rather than through a companion or sign language interpreter who may be present.
  • Offer to shake hands when introduced. People with limited hand use or an artificial limb can usually shake hands and offering the left hand is an acceptable greeting.
  • Always identify yourself and others who may be with you when meeting someone with a visual disability. When conversing in a group, remember to identify the person to whom you are speaking. When dining with someone who has a visual disability, ask if you can describe what is on his or her plate.
  • If you offer assistance, wait until the offer is accepted. Then listen or ask for instructions.
  • Treat adults as adults. Address people with disabilities by their first names only when extending that same familiarity to all others. Never patronize people in wheelchairs by patting them on the head or shoulder.
  • Do not lean against or hang on someone's wheelchair. Bear in mind that people with disabilities treat their chairs as extensions of their bodies. And so do people with guide dogs and help dogs. Never distract a work animal from their job without the owner's permission.
  • Listen attentively when talking with people who have difficulty speaking and wait for them to finish. If necessary, ask short questions that require short answers, or a nod of the head. Never pretend to understand; instead repeat what you have understood and allow the person to respond.
  • Place yourself at eye level when speaking with someone in a wheelchair or on crutches.
  • Tap a person who has a hearing disability on the shoulder or wave your hand to get his or her attention. Look directly at the person and speak clearly, slowly, and expressively to establish if the person can read your lips. If so, try to face the light source and keep hands, cigarettes and food away from your mouth when speaking. If a person is wearing a hearing aid, don't assume that they have the ability to discriminate your speaking voice. Never shout to a person. Just speak in a normal tone of voice.
  • Relax. Don't be embarrassed if you happen to use common expressions such as "See you later" or "Did you hear about this?" that seems to relate to a person's disability.
  • For a more in-depth look at Disability Etiquette, and recommendations on how to construct your courses with the maximum degree of accessibility for a variety of specific disabilities, we recommend The Faculty Room ( at Project DO-IT.

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