Working with Students with Disabilities: A Faculty/Staff Guide
Academic Advising for Students with Disabilities
When advising students with disabilities, treat them as you would any other student. Work with the student as an individual by becoming familiar with their goals, skills, strengths, weaknesses and so forth. The following points should be kept in mind when providing academic advisement for students with disabilities:
Students registered with Disability Support Services (DSS) are provided with memos for their instructors and FYE advisors certifying their disability and specifying their approved accommodations. The memo is a good tool to use to discuss the student’s disability so you can better understand how the disability may impact the student academically.
Students are not required to disclose any information about their disability unless they want an accommodation. Then they must identify themselves to DSS, request the accommodation and provide appropriate documentation of their disability.
DSS students receive priority registration.
Be familiar with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the ADA. These civil rights laws provide protection from discrimination for individuals on the basis of disability. Legally, you may not advise students to enter or dismiss a particular major or career because of their disability. As an expert in the field, you may point out the necessary skills and abilities needed to be successful. However, you may not be an expert on how the student’s disability will affect job performance or whether an accommodation will be able to compensate for the disability. For example, while you cannot advise a student who is visually impaired not to go into the field of computer information services, you could inform the student that if he or she does choose this field, an accommodation may be needed that will allow him or her to read computer screens.
Information about students’ disabilities is confidential. The student must give permission before you can discuss his or her disability with faculty and staff as provided under privacy protections.
Due to the nature of their disability, some students may need a little extra assistance initially in understanding academic requirements. However, avoid doing the students’ work for them or giving more help than needed out of sympathy or uneasiness with the disability.
Help students consider the number of courses to be taken so they don’t become over loaded. It is sometimes advisable for students with disabilities to take 12 versus 15 credit hours per semester.
Encourage students with learning disabilities to take a balanced course load. They should not take too many courses requiring heavy reading or math, a lot of memorization, or extensive writing. When advising, keep in mind how a student’s disability may impact him or her academically. If you are not sure, ask the student. An example of an appropriate question could be, “I am not trained in learning disabilities, so could you give me specifics on how your disability may affect you academically?”
When the disability or side effects of medication result in a short attention span you might suggest that students avoid classes that meet for 3-hours once a week, and that they spread their classes out over a full day instead of taking classes back to back. Also, if students are using extended time for exams they may want to consider leaving time between classes.
Be sensitive to student concerns about selecting specific courses or instructors because they may be following expert recommendations based on their disability. Students with disabilities often do best in smaller, structured classes, with instructors who use a variety of teaching and assessment methods, provide a detailed syllabus, and present information in an organized manner.
Always advise the student as an individual with a disability, not a disabled student. Treat students who have disabilities as you would other students because they have more in common with other students than differences.
Encourage students with disabilities to register with DSS if they have not done so. Even if the student chooses not to use the services immediately, it is advisable to register so that disability documentation is maintained should the student need services later. It is appropriate to refer students to DSS who suspect they have a disability but do not have documentation. DSS will advise the student about how to obtain an evaluation.