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disability support services

Working with Students with Disabilities: A Faculty/Staff Guide

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What laws protect a student with a disability?
  2. What is a disability?
  3. What is meant by "is regarded as having such as impairment" in the definition of a disability?
  4. What is the difference between a disability and a handicap?
  5. What is a reasonable accommodation?
  6. How does a student become eligible to receive accommodations?
  7. Who determines the accommodation?
  8. Won’t providing accommodations on examinations give an unfair advantage to a student with a disability?
  9. What do I do when a student discloses a disability?
  10. What if a student doesn’t tell me about a disability until late in the semester?
  11. Can I review the student’s documentation of the disability?
  12. What if I suspect that a student has a disability?
  13. What if a student with a disability is failing?
  14. What if a student with a disability is often absent or late?
  15. What is a note-taker and how can I assist a student with getting notes?
  16. What is the Testing Services Center?
  17. Who is responsible for requesting an interpreter for a student who is deaf or hard of hearing?
  18. Do I need to alter my teaching style with an interpreter present?
  19. What can I expect if there is an interpreter in my classroom?
  20. What if a student with a disability is disruptive or otherwise behaving inappropriately?
  21. What should I do if my class needs to evacuate the building due to an emergency?
  22. What if a student has a seizure in my classroom?

1.  What laws protect a student with a disability?

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 protect individuals with disabilities from discrimination. The ADA extended the protections under Section 504 to cover private institutions of higher education as well as those receiving federal funding. Colleges and universities have experienced increased enforcement of the law with the passage of the ADA due to more awareness of people with disabilities regarding their rights to equal access to programs and services. However, Section 504 contains more specific information about compliance issues in post-secondary education than the ADA.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 states that ... “No otherwise qualified individual with a
disability in the United States ... shall, solely by reason of ... disability, be denied the benefits of, be excluded from participation in, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

Under the provisions of Section 504 the university may not discriminate in the recruitment, admission,
educational process or treatment of students. Students who have self-identified, provided documentation of their disability, and requested reasonable accommodations are entitled to receive
approved modification of programs, appropriate academic adjustments or auxiliary aids that enable
them to participate in and benefit from all educational programs and activities.

A college or university may not:
• Limit the number of students with disabilities admitted
• Make pre-admission inquiries as to whether or not an applicant has a disability
• Use admission tests or criteria that inadequately measure the academic level of students with visual, hearing or other disabilities because provisions were not made for them
• Exclude a student with a disability from any course of study solely on the basis of his or her disability
• Counsel students with disabilities toward a more restrictive career than students without disabilities,
unless such counsel is based on strict licensing or certification requirements in the profession
• Measure student achievement using modes that adversely discriminate against students with
disabilities
• Institute prohibitive rules that may adversely affect the performance of student with disabilities

2.  What is a disability?

An individual with a disability is defined as any person who:
• “has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities (including walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, working, caring for oneself, or performing manual tasks)
• Has a record of such an impairment, or
• Is regarded as having such an impairment.”

3. What is meant by "is regarded as having such as impairment" in the definition of a disability?

For example, a person with a facial disfigurement may not have an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, but others may regard him or her as having one because of appearance.

4.  What is the difference between a “disability” and a “handicap?”

A “disability” is a condition caused by accident, trauma, genetics or disease that may limit a person’s mobility, hearing, vision, speech, or mental function.  A person may have more than one disability.

A “handicap” is a physical or attitudinal constraint imposed upon a person; for example, stairs, narrow doorways, and curbs are handicaps imposed upon people with disabilities who use wheelchairs.

5.  What is a reasonable accommodation?

A reasonable accommodation is a modification or adjustment to a course, program, service, job, activity, or facility that enables a qualified individual with a disability to have an equal opportunity to attain the same level of performance or to enjoy equal benefits and privileges as are available to an individual without a disability. Some common academic accommodations include extended time on tests, use of peer note-takers, use of computer with spellchecker, and provision of sign language interpreters.

6.  How does a student become eligible to receive accommodations?

To become eligible, a student must have a documented disability and inform the university that he or she is requesting accommodations based on that disability.

A student must:
• Contact DSS to schedule an intake meeting.
• Provide DSS with current documentation of the disability from a qualified professional.
• Consult with a DSS specialist to determine appropriate accommodations.
• Provide instructors with a memo prepared by DSS identifying the student as having a disability and
specifying the authorized accommodations.

7.  Who determines the accommodation?

DSS specialists determine the accommodations using:
• Documentation of the disability from a qualified professional provided by the student
• Information gathered from a diagnostic student intake process
• Information from appropriate university personnel regarding essential standards for courses, programs, services, activities and facilities, as needed.

The determination of reasonable accommodations considers the following:
• Classroom or physical barriers
• The array of accommodations that might remove the barriers
• Whether or not the student has access to the course, program, service, job, activity or facility without
accommodations
• Whether essential elements of the course, program, service, job, activity or facility are not compromised by the accommodations

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

“Accommodations don’t make things easier, just possible; in the same way 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.” (Samuels, M. 1992 - Asking the Right Questions. The Learning Center, Calgary)

Accommodations are designed to lessen the effects of the disability and are required to provide fair and accurate testing to measure knowledge or expertise in the subject. Careful consideration must be
given to requests for accommodations when the test is measuring a skill, particularly if that skill is an essential function or requirement of passing the course, such as typing at a certain speed or turning a patient for an X-ray. In such cases, please contact DSS staff for guidance.

9.  What do I do when a student discloses a disability?

Ask for the instructor’s memo documenting the student’s disability provided by DSS. This memo
describes the accommodations that instructors are legally mandated to provide. During office hours or
at another convenient time, discuss the memo and the accommodations with the student. Students must present a memo from DSS to receive accommodations. If the student does not have a memo, he or she should be referred to the DSS office to request services. DSS staff will determine the appropriate accommodations after reviewing documentation of the disability provided by the student.

Discuss any questions about approved accommodations first with the student, then, if needed, with a DSS staff member.

10.  What if a student doesn’t tell me about a disability until late in the term?

Students have a responsibility to give instructors and DSS adequate time to arrange ccommodations. DSS staff encourages students to identify themselves as having a disability early in the term. instructors can help by announcing in class and in the syllabus an invitation for students to identify themselves early in the term: “Any student who may need an accommodation due to a disability, please make an appointment to see me during my office hours. A memo from Disability Support Services authorizing your accommodations will be needed.”

Once a student has been identified as having a disability to the instructor and requests accommodations authorized by DSS, the university has a legal responsibility to make reasonable attempts to accommodate the need, even late in the term. There is no responsibility to provide accommodations prior to identification; for example, allowing the student to retake exams with extended time.

Instructors should feel free to contact the DSS
staff for assistance on arrangements for last-minute
requests.

11.  Can I review the student’s documentation of the disability?

DSS is the office designated to receive and interpret documentation of the disability. DSS staff approve
eligibility for services and determine accommodations. Disability information is confidential and
students are not required to disclose this information to instructors.

12.  What if I suspect that a student has a disability?

Talk with the student about your concerns regarding his or her performance. If the concern seems disability- related, ask if he or she has ever received assistance for a disability. If it seems appropriate, refer the student to the DSS office to apply for services. Whether the student identifies him or herself to DSS is the decision of the student; however, to receive accommodations, disclosure to DSS with proper documentation is required.

If the student has never been evaluated for a learning disability or an attention deficit disorder, DSS will provide a referral list of local resources where the student may be tested. Some of the resources offer a sliding fee scale.

13.  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 see a DSS specialist to discuss some additional strategies to improve his or her grades. Contact DSS to discuss any additional concerns regarding the student’s performance.

14.  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 contact DSS and refer the student.

15.  What is a note-taker and how can I assist a student with getting notes?

A note-taker is usually another student in class who agrees to provide copies of lecture notes taken
during class. The student’s DSS memo will document the need for a note-taker and provide specific
information for instructors on how to recruit one. Instructors should always introduce the student with
a disability to the note-taker privately to maintain confidentiality. DSS will provide the note-taker with a
copy card and stipend.

16.  If a student needs a "reduced distraction testing environment," is a classroom with other students quiet enough?

Talk with the student regarding his or her needs. Students with ADHD, for example, are easily distracted and many do need an environment quieter than the typical classroom. 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. That location should not be in a hallway or in an office with a
phone ringing or other interruptions. It is also not appropriate to move the student from one location to another during the test, as the move itself becomes a distraction.

17. Who is responsible for requesting an interpreter for a student who is deaf or hard of hearing?

Students requiring an interpreter for class are responsible for making the request to DSS well in advance of the beginning of the classes, preferably four weeks before the first day of class. For outside class activities, such as field trips and meetings with the instructor during office hours,
students should request the interpreter from DSS as early as possible, at least two weeks ahead of time, depending on the event.

18.  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 desk 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.

19.  What can I expect if there is an interpreter in my classroom?

Interpreters are bound by the code of ethics developed by the National Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, which specifies that interpreters are to serve as communication intermediaries who are not
otherwise involved.

When an interpreter is present, speak directly to the deaf or hard of hearing person rather than to the
interpreter, and avoid using phrases such as “tell him” or “ask her.”

Speak normally, noting that there may be a lag time between the spoken message and the interpretation.

When referring to objects or written information, allow time for the translation to take place.
Replace terms such as “here” and “there” with more specific terms, such as “on the second line” and “in the left corner.”

In a conference room or class environment, the deaf student and interpreter will work out seating arrangements, with the interpreter usually located near the speaker.

Inform the interpreter in advance if there is an audiovisual element in a presentation, so arrangements can be made for lighting and positioning.

In sessions that extend longer than one hour, the interpreter may require a short break to maintain
proficiency in interpreting.

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

The Code of Student Conduct regarding disruptive behavior applies to all students. Clearly state behavioral expectations for all students; discuss them openly in your classroom, on your syllabus, and with individual students as needed. If you need assistance or guidance regarding a student with a disability, contact the DSS office.

21.  What should I do if my class needs to evacuate the building due to an emergency?

Students should let you know at the beginning of the term if they will need assistance during an emergency.

Students who are blind or have low vision may need a “buddy” to assist them in exiting the building.

Students who use wheelchairs should NOT use the elevator but should wait for police or fire personnel to safely assist them to exit the building. To prevent injuries, instructors or other untrained personnel should NOT attempt to evacuate a student who uses a wheelchair. Please wait for trained emergency personnel.

22.  What if a student has a seizure in my class?

DSS encourages students with seizure disorders to inform their instructors about what should be done if a seizure occurs during class time. Some students may request that the campus police who are trained to provide emergency assistance be called; others may request action as listed below.

Seizures happen when there is a sudden electrical discharge in the brain. Each individual has a unique reaction. A seizure can result in a relatively slight reaction, such as a short lapse in attention, or a more severe reaction known as a grand mal, which involves convulsions. Seizure disorders are generally controlled by medication, so the possibility of a seizure in the classroom is rare.

If one does occur, the following actions are suggested:
• Keep calm. Ease the student to the floor and open the collar of the shirt. You cannot stop a seizure. Let it run its course and do not try to revive the student.
• Remove hard, sharp or hot objects that may injure the student, but do not interfere with his or her movements.
• Do not force anything between the student’s teeth.
• Turn the student’s head to one side for release of saliva. Place something soft under the head.
• Make sure that breathing is unobstructed, but do not be concerned if breathing is irregular.
• When the student regains consciousness, let him or her rest as long as desired.
• To help orient the student to time and space, suggest where he or she is and what happened.
• Speak reassuringly to the student, especially as the seizure ends. The student may be agitated or
confused for several minutes afterwards.
• Don’t leave the student alone until he or she is clearheaded. Ask whether you can call a friend
or relative to help get him or her home.
• If the seizure lasts beyond a few minutes, or if the student seems to pass from one seizure to another without regaining consciousness, contact the campus police. This rarely happens, but when it does, it should be treated immediately.

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