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disability support services

Working with Students with Disabilities: A Faculty/Staff Guide

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What is a disability?
  2. What is a reasonable accommodation?
  3. Who is responsible for determining appropriate accommodations?
  4. Am I required to provide accommodations to students who request them?
  5. How do I know that a student truly has a disability and needs accommodations?
  6. Does DSS test for learning disabilities and ADHD?
  7. Does DSS provide tutoring for students with disabilities?
  8. Won't providing accommodations on exams give an unfair advantage to a student with a disability?
  9. Am I required to lower the standards of an assignment because a student has a disability?
  10. Do I have to provide accommodations to a student who discloses late in the term?
  11. What if I suspect a student who is struggling in my class has a disability but has not disclosed it?
  12. What if a student with a disability is failing?
  13. What if a student with a disability is often absent?
  14. What if I can't find a classmate to share notes with a student who needs them?
  15. Can a student who needs a reduced distraction testing environment take an exam in the classroom?
  16. Do I need to alter my teaching style with an interpreter present?
  17. What if a student with a disability is disruptive or otherwise behaving inappropriately?
  18. What can I do if I disagree with an accommodationthat has been approved by DSS?
  19. How should I assist a student with a disability in the event of an emergency evacuation?

 

1.  What is a disability?

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protect individuals with disabilities from discrimination.  Federal law defines disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.  A condition in and of itself does not necessarily constitute a disability.  The degree of impairment must substantially limt a major life activity (e.g., walking, seeing, hearing, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, working, taking care of oneself),.

2.  What is a reasonable accommodation?

A reasonable accommodation is a modification or adjustment to a course or program that eliminates or minimizes disability-related barriers and enables a qualified student with a disability to participate.  At the college level, the purpose of an accommodation is to correct or circumvent a functional impairment rather than to ensure a student's success.  Examples of reasonable accomodations include a blind student receiving materials in an accessible format and a student with a learning disability receiving extended time on exams.

3.  Who is responsible for determining appropriate accommodations?

Disability Support Services is the office on campus that determines appropriate accommodations.  The office bases decisions on the documentation provided by the student with a disability, the student's functional limitations, and the student's clarification about specific needs and limitations.  The office also consults as needed with faculty regarding essential course and program requirements since a reasonable accommodation should not compromise or fundamentally alter a course or program.

4.  Am I required to provide accommodations to students who request them?

Yes, if the accommodations are approved by DSS.  Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), protect students with disabilities from discrimination and require that they be afforded equal access to an education, including classroom and testing accommodations.

5.  How do I know that a student truly has a disability and needs accommodations?

You should ask the student to provide you with a DSS memo verifying that the student has a disability and specifying the approved accommodations.  A DSS-registered student is provided with a DSS memo every term if the student requests it.  DSS has a file with documentation of the disability for every student who is registered with the office.  If the student does not have a DSS memo, he or she should be referred to the DSS office to request services.

6. Does DSS test for learning disabilities and ADHD?

No; however, DSS does make referrals.  The office maintains a list of evaluators, including those who provide psychological and educational testing at a reduced rate or use a sliding fee scale.

7. Does DSS provide tutoring for students with disabilities?

No, DSS does not provide content tutoring.  However, DSS Specialists do provide services that can include organization and study skills, time management, and reading and writing strategies.  Also, DSS will make referrals for content tutoring.

8.  Won't providing accommodations on exams give an unfair advantage to a student with a disability?

"Accommodations don't make things easier, just possible; in the same way that eyeglasses do not improve the strength of the eyes, they just make it possible for the individual to see better.  Accommodations are interventions that allow the learner to indicate what they know.  Without the accommodations, the learner may not be able to overcome certain barriers." (Samuel, M. 1992 - Asking the Right Questions.  The Learning Centre. Calgary).

The purpose of academic accommodations is to put the student with a disability on a level playing field with other students who do not have a disability.  Accommodations are designed to lessen the effect of the disability, not to dilute academic requirements.  The standard for evaluation and assigning of grades should be the same for all students, including students with disabilities.

The most common accommodation provided to test-takers with disabilities is extended time.  Unless the purpose of the test is to measure speed, this accommodation may be required to provide fair and accurate testing to measure the student's knowledge or expertise in the subject.

9. Am I required to lower the standards of an assignment because a student has a disability?

 

No; essential course standards and requirements should be the same for all students.  However, it may be reasonable to exercise flexibility when a component of an assignment is not essential.  For example, it may be appropriate for a student to complete an assignment orally rather than in writing, if the purpose of the assignment is not to assess written expression.

10. Do I have to provide accommodations to a student who discloses late in the term?

Generally, yes.  There could be numerous reasons why a student makes a late request.  Perhaps he or she could not get documentation of the disability any earlier and therefore could not request accommodations earlier.  Some students try to take a class without accommodations but find they aren't doing well and need accommodations.  Whatever the reason, students may make requests for accommodations any time during the term.

There may be some situations where a student requests an accommodation so late that appropriate arrangements cannot be made.  You must provide accommodations only at the point when a student makes a request, and you and DSS are able to make appropriate arrangements.  Accommodations are not granted retroactively.

11.  What if I suspect a student who is struggling in my class has a disability but has not disclosed it?

Talk privately with the student to discuss your observations regarding his or her performance. If the student then discloses a disability refer him or her to DSS.  If the student does not reveal a disability, one recommendations is to suggest various on-campus resources, including DSS (e.g., Academic Achievement Center, Writing Lab, Counseling Center, etc.).  Another recommendation is to ask if the student has ever receved support services or academic accommodations in the past.  If the student says yes or indicates that he or she may benefit from them, refer the student to DSS. Each situation can be different, so we encourage you to contact DSS to speak with one of our specialists who will consult with you.

12.  What if a student with a disability is failing?

Treat the student as you would any student who is not performing well in your class. Invite the student to come in during your office hours to discuss reasons for the failing performance and what resources the student may use to improve. Encourage the student to consult with his or her DSS Specialist regarding disability-related needs and strategies.  The DSS Specialist is also available to consult with you.

13.  What if a student with a disability is often absent?

Talk with the student to discuss your concerns that absences are affecting class performance. Students with disabilities are expected to comply with class attendance policies. However, there are times when students are approved to have instructors relax class attendance policies for disability-related absences. If so, this will be documented in the student’s DSS memo with specific information for instructors. If the student is missing too much class, the instructor should consult with the student's DSS Specialist.

14.  What if I can't find a classmate to share notes with a student who needs them?

 

If you are unable to find a classmate who is willing to share a copy of his or her notes please contact DSS so that we can provide assistance.  The U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights has ruled that notes should be provided to the student within two weeks of the initial request.

 

15.  Can a student who needs a reduced distraction testing environment take an exam in the classroom?

It depends.  Talk with the student regarding his or her needs. For some students, a quiet classroom may be appropriate.  Others may need an environment quieter than the typical classrom.  The  Testing Services Center has reduced distraction testing spaces, or if the instructor and student agree, they can work together to find a suitable location.

16. Do I need to alter my teaching style with an interpreter present?

Interpreters are professionals who facilitate communication between hearing individuals and people who are deaf or hard of hearing. The role of the interpreter is similar to that of a foreign language translator: to bridge the communication gap between two parties. Some adaptations in presentation style may be helpful when using a sign language interpreter. The interpreter will let you know if you need to slow down your rate of speaking or if they need you to repeat any information. A copy of the textbook is especially helpful for the interpreter when the class is using examples or doing exercises from the text. It is important to note that when a student is looking at the interpreter, he or she cannot be reading a book, writing or taking notes; pausing for the student to finish any of those tasks is appropriate before continuing the lecture.

17. What if a student with a disability is disruptive or otherwise behaving inappropriately?

Towson University's Code of Student Conduct regarding disruptive behavior applies to all students. Students with disabilities are expected to comply with University policies. Clearly state behavioral expectations for all students; discuss them openly in your classroom, on your syllabus, and with individual students as needed. If a student continues to exhibit inappropriate or disruptive behavior it may be appropriate to provide the student with written feedback regarding professional and behavioral expectations.  The DSS office as well as the Office of Student Conduct and Civility Education are available for consultation if you need assistance or guidance.

18.  What can I do if I disagree with an accommodation that has been approved by DSS?

Contact the DSS office.  Start with the DSS Specialist who is assigned to work with the student to discuss your concerns.  You can also talk to the Director of DSS.  The accommodations process is meant to be interactive and collaborative among the parties involved.  If a disagreement continues, a meeting can be held the TU Fair Practices Officer and/or the Department Chair.  The student may also be included, as appropriate.

19.  How should I assist a student with a disability in the event of an emergency evacuation?

In an emergency, faculty and staff should assist individuals with disabilities in the following ways:

  • Ensure that the individual is aware of the emergency.  Inform hearing impaired persons of the emergency individually; do not assume the person will know what is happening by watching others.
  • Before attempting to offer assistance, always ask individuals wtih a disability how you can best assist them and whether there are any special considerations that should be made or items that need to come to them.
  • You may assist in evacuating individuals with disabilities if it does not place you in personal danger.  Note: non-emergency personnel should never attempt to carry anyone down the stairs.
  • Assist visually impaired individuals by guiding them to safety.
  • Assist individuals who are unable to use the stairs by guiding them to an enclosed stairwell (one that is separated from the main building area by doors).  Close the doors to the stairwell tightly and notify 911 of the individual's location.  You may stay with the person requiring assistance if it does not place you in additional danger and there is another person able to meet emergency personnel to report the location of the individuals in the stairwell.

 


 

 

 

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