Food for Thought
Accommodation vs. Modification
When working with students with disabilities, we often reference their accommodations. These purposeful activities are designed to reduce the functional impact of the specific student's disability and may be slightly different than the next student with the same diagnosis. Students with accommodations nearly always take the same exams, have the same project requirements, and have the same deadlines for project completion as other students. In other words you are not expected to, nor should you, modify your course requirements for a student just because he or she has a disability.
Instructors are encouraged to include a disability statement in each of their syllabi. The purpose is to invite students with disabilities to self-identify and to begin to build collaborative academic relationships with their instructors. It also serves to remind students with disabilities that they are responsible to make their needs known and recognizes that we are prepared to meet our legal obligations to reasonably accommodate. Instructors may use the following statement or adapt it with their own information:
Disability Services: If you are a student who needs accommodation in this course based on the impact of a disability, please do the following: (1) contact me privately to discuss your specific needs for this course and (2) contact the Coordinator of Disability Support Services at 217-479-7176 or dss(at)mac(dot)edu to review and coordinate reasonable accommodations.
Providing accommodations to students with disabilities is a collaborative effort between you, the student, and the Office of Disability Support Services, and communication between all three is important to the student's academic success. In this accommodation triangle, the DSS office generally approves and provides specific accommodations serving as an advocate and consultant; instructors provide the coursework information/materials in ways accessible to their students and evaluate their students' academic responses; and students perform the required tasks that facilitate the accommodation process, apprising instructors and DSS if their accommodations are or are not effective toward meeting their needs. On-going three-way communication helps to ensure the accommodations are effective and timely.
Timeliness Is Critical
The beginning of each semester is challenging for everyone, but for many students with disabilities, delays in securing academic accommodations are delays they cannot afford. For example, when the student requests help securing a note taker, do so at the very next opportunity. If DSS or the student requests textbook or print material information two months before the class, understand that an extensive, time-consuming process is required to ensure accessible materials are available to the student at the same time their peers receive theirs.
The Right Not to Self-Identify
While we encourage students with disabilities to self-identify (to come forward and tell us about their abilities), not all students choose to do so. Those who want accommodations, however, must register with DSS to ensure appropriate accommodations are afforded and are consistent with current practices. Be aware that students who are registered with DSS should be able to produce an Accommodations Notification and that you are welcome to call the DSS office to confirm eligibility at any time.
The Right Not to Use Accommodations
Students with disabilities have the right not to use their accommodations. For a variety of reasons, most students registered with Disability Support Services have classes in which they choose to use part or none of their approved accommodations. If they do not use their accommodations and start to have difficulty, they may tell you that they would like to start using them, and you should accommodate their requests from that point forward. You are never expected to, nor should you, provide retroactive accommodation, e.g., re-taking an exam with accommodations.
Academic Early Warnings/Flags
As with any other student who is falling behind or doing poorly academically, students with disabilities benefit from early detection and intervention. Your submission of an academic early warning or Flag alerts the Center for Learning Excellence and, where appropriate, the Office of Disability Support Services; and a plan is developed to help the student identify the issues and work to resolve them. Be sure to include DSS when you submit Early Warning Flags if your student has a documented disability. To learn more about Flags, click here.
Private Conversations and Confidentiality
Most students prefer conversations related to their accommodations be conducted privately. They are encouraged by DSS to ask you when and how it is best to talk with you about their needs and to schedule appointments if they want privacy. Unless the student has told you differently, assume any discussion about accommodations must be done in private. Additionally, disability-related information is always considered confidential and is to be shared in accordance with applicable statutes including the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Unless students disclose their disability diagnoses with you, you likely will only know their accommodations, so please contact the DSS office directly if you have any questions about their accommodations or if an accommodation seems unreasonable. Collaboration with DSS and with the student almost always results in effective and reasonable solutions.