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
- Students on the autism spectrum (Asperger's)
- Students with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)/Post Concussion Syndrome
- Students with low vision, blindness (coming soon)
- ADD/ADHD (coming soon)
- Deaf and Hard of Hearing
- Learning Disabilities
- Psychiatric Disabilities
- Assistive Technology Used in Your Classroom by Students with Disabilities
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 student has access to the educational environment. 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 Access (ODA) 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.
What statement should I include in my class syllabus/program announcement/flyer to inform students of the process to request reasonable accommodations?
Student and Office of Disability Access Responsibilities
The Office of Disability Access (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.
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 of Accommodation (LOA)
After completing the registration process, the student will request and receive a letter of accommodation (LOA) to which the student will give to each instructor where accommodations are to be implemented. This letter will list the student's reasonable accommodations.
Professors: What do I do when I receive an official Letter of Accommodation?
- First, read the LOA 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 LOA with the student. If you have questios about the accommodations listed in the LOA, please contact the student's coordinator in the Office of Disability Access to request more details. If you feel that a specific accommodation would interfere with the essential elements of your course and/or course objectives, please contact the ODA immediately.
- 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.
Student and the Instructor
A student seeking a reasonable accommodation should present the ODA letter of accommodation to the instructor. If the student does not provide the letter, refer him or her to the ODA.
Reasonableness of an Accommodation
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 be prepared to discuss with the department Chair/college Dean and ODA:
- 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;
- 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; and
- 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?
Academic Freedom and the ADA
Academic freedom does not allow an instructor to refuse to reasonably accommodate a student with a disability.
Practical Guidance when Working with Students with Disabilities
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).
- Refer a student to the ODA if he or she asks for an accommodation but does not have an ODA letter of accommodation.
- Contact the department chair and the ODA before denying a reasonable accommodation.
- 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.
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 (http://www.washington.edu/doit/Faculty/) at Project DO-IT.