Working with Students with Disabilities: A Faculty/Staff Guide
Academic Advising for Students with Disabilities
Faculty advising students with disabilities should follow the same general guidelines they would use when advising any student at Towson University. Work with the student as an individual by becoming familar with his or her goals, skills, strengths, weaknesses, and so forth. Good advisement is essential to the success of students with disabilities, and the following information is provided to assist in the advising process.
Students registered with DSS are provided with memos for their instructors specifying their approved accommodations. The memo can be a good tool to use to discuss the student’s disability so you can better understand how the disability may impact the student academically.
Most DSS students receive priority registration, so advising should take place early in the registration process.
Be familiar with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (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.
Due to the nature of their disability, some students may need some extra assistance initially in understanding academic requirements. If a student needs more help than you can reasonably provide, he or she may be referred to DSS for assistance.
Help students consider the number of courses to be taken so they don’t become overloaded. It is sometimes advisable for students with disabilities to take 12 versus 15 credit hours per term.
Encourage students with learning disabilities to take a balanced course load. Depending on the particular disability, they should not take too many courses that require heavy reading or math, a lot of memorization, or extensive writing. Ask the student if you are not sure how the disability may impact him or her academically. 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 suggest that students avoid longer classes that meet only once a week, and spread their classes out over a full day instead of taking classes back to back. Students should also avoid scheduling classes back to back if they receive extended time for tests as an accommodation.
Students who anticipate absenteeism due to medical conditions should be encouraged to discuss their situation with instructors before registering for classes. Students should make arrangements with instructors at the beginning of the term to insure that class requirements are met despite absenteeism due to chronic disabilities. A reduced course load should also be discussed as an option for students concerned about missing classes.
Be sensitive to student concerns about selecting specific courses or instructors because they may be following 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.
Encourage students with disabilities to register with DSS if they have not done so. Even if the student doesn't use the services immediately, it is a good idea to register so that services can be provided in a timely way if the student needs them 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 register for services.
Advisors can receive information about various disabilities and consult about specific advisees by contacting DSS..