Eastern Michigan University
Ypsilanti, MI 48197
Frequently Asked Questions for Faculty
What is the purpose of accommodations?
The DRC believes that disability in and of itself is simply a personal difference, not a deficiency. The manner in which an environment is designed (class teaching and assessment styles, office policies and procedures, physical layouts, etc.) often determines the extent a person feels the impact of a disability in any given situation. Because the design of an environment impacts people of all abilities in various ways, the environment should be assessed for its general usability and inclusivity. Ideally, any classroom setting, office practice, or physical layout is proactively designed to be usable by everyone to the greatest extent possible. When the environment is not naturally accessible, accommodations are coordinated in order to make it accessible.
From a legal perspective, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 require protection from discrimination and equal access to opportunity for people with disabilities. Students with disabilities are entitled to accommodations so that they may receive an education in a non-discriminatory fashion. The purpose of providing college academic accommodations to students with disabilities is to ensure that a student has equal access and is not discriminated against because of the presence of a learning or medical disability.
What are reasonable accommodations?
Accommodations are modifications to the ways in which things are usually done. The purpose of effective accommodations is to provide students with disabilities an equal opportunity to participate and benefit from college. The following are examples of the most common accommodations that permit a student with a disability to effectively participate in the educational process:
- Changes to a classroom environment or task: extended time for an exam, the use of a dictionary or spell checker, materials in alternative format;
- Removal of architectural barriers: adapting a classroom to meet the needs of a student who uses a wheelchair;
- Exceptions to policies, practices or procedures: priority registration or accessing assignments early;
- Provision of auxiliary aids and services: providing a sign language interpreter, or providing a note-taker or scribe.
In accordance with the law, there are some modifications that the college or university does not provide. Examples include:
- personal devices, such as wheelchairs;
- personal services, such as private tutoring or personal attendants;
- accommodations that would place the student or others at health's or safety's risk as a result of the accommodation; for example, a science lab or medical program scenario;
- modifications that lower or change course standards or program standards (including waivers);
- modifications that would change the essence of a program (including waivers);
- services that are unduly burdensome - administratively or financially.
How does a student get connected with the DRC? How are accommodations determined?
To receive accommodations not naturally available within the environment, students with disabilities are required to contact the DRC to meet with a Disability Advisor. The Advisor will assess each situation on a case-by-case basis based on the information collected and will coordinate with the student and course instructors reasonable accommodations as deemed appropriate.
Can faculty be held legally responsible for refusing to provide accommodations? What happens if an instructor does not agree with a requested accommodation?
Because EMU receives federal money to support our operations and students' educational experiences, everyone has a responsibility to satisfy obligations of compliance under federal statutes and regulations. However, this does not mean that students have to receive any requested accommodation under any circumstances. Accommodations must be requested within a reasonable timeframe and must be reasonable given the situation. When reasonableness clearly exists, instructors must coordinate the appropriate accommodation. When questions about reasonableness exist, instructors should consult with the DRC about how to best address the situation.
When we provide accommodations, are we preparing students with disabilities for the "real world"?
At the postsecondary level, our job is to ensure educational equity and to facilitate the learning process. What may or may not happen in the work world cannot be our responsibility. The educational environment impacts students with disabilities in ways differently from the work environment. Classrooom performance is often measured through only a few events (tests, papers, projects, etc.), whereas work performance is often assessed over a period of weeks and months. Furthermore, successful students, including students with disabilities, tend to choose careers and jobs that match their strengths and may be less likely to need accommodations as a result. When students with disabilities request academic accommodations for a specific course, it is because the design of the course specifically impacts the disability.
Am I being fair to other students by granting one student accommodations?
Reasonable accommodations do not weaken academic standards or the overall integrity of the course. Accommodations provide an alternative way of accomplishing the course requirements by eliminating or reducing barriers within the environment that impact the disability. It is not fair to the student with a disability to have to participate in and to be assessed in an environment that is not accessible to the student.
What if I suspect that a student may have a disability due to some indicator seen in class or in conversation out of class? What is the appropriate way to address?
Ultimately, there is nothing wrong with referring a student to the Disability Resource Center if:
- You are comfortable with making that recommendation;
- You have consulted with the student and learned more about the situation;
- You truly have the student's best interest at heart.
Such referrals are only problematic if the tone of the referral suggests that the basis of the referral is because of a discriminatory attitude or suggests to the student that you have personally come to the conclusion that a disability definitely exists.
Talking to the student and asking how your class is going for the student in conjunction with other classes and activities will help you gain information about the source of the student's struggles. A student may be struggling in a particular course for any number of reasons. The issue may be one of time management, difficulty transitioning to college, lack of good study skills, inappropriate course schedule given the student's situation, personal life challenges, etc. A particular disability may or may not be the primary reason behind the academic struggles.
It is appropriate to comment to the student that you believe the student's class participation does not reflect the current grade or that the quality of the submitted work is not meeting course standards. You can ask if the student is having particular trouble with one aspect of the course. To the extent you are comfortable, consider making adjustments to the created academic curriculum if such adjustments would be a reasonable way to better align the curriculum with the student's learning style.
You might want to mention various resources on campus (Holman Success Center tutoring or Academic Success Coaches, counselors at Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), possible accommodations at the DRC, academic advisors, etc.) so as to provide a broad resource perspective and to avoid making the student feel as though he or she is being labeled into one distinct category. See how the student responds and go from there.
If the student shares information that leads you to believe the student may be experiencing depression or another mental illness, you should first refer them to CAPS. Counselors at CAPS will refer students to the DRC if they see a need for academic accommodations. Students sometimes accept a referral to the DRC more easily from a counselor at CAPS. If you are absolutely unsure on where is the best place to refer a student, consider making a referral to CAPS first.
If it is absolutely clear to you that the student's struggles are directly related to a specific academic difficulties (not a death in the family, a failed dating relationship, mental illness, depression, etc.) based on comments from the student, then the student may be more open to receiving a referral to the DRC. Common phrases from students that suggest a higher probability of a disability history (either known or unknown to the student) are those that present a long-standing history of concerns, such as:
- "always have trouble writing papers"
- "never finish tests on time"
- "usually very anxious prior to or during exams"
- "always take longer to read textbooks"
- "can never listen to lectures for long periods and/or copy notes at the same time"
- "always received extra help in high school," etc.
Should I share the information about the student's disability with anyone else?
All students sign releases in our office that allow us to talk to course instructors about accommodation situations. Beyond the DRC, the student's situation should not be shared with anyone else unless deemed necessary and considered appropriate under FERPA. Faculty members are advised to be careful with what they share with others within the department. While some information sharing can be beneficial to other instructors who may work with a student in the future, other information may generate perceptions and attitudes that could work against the student if a future instructor has already "made up their mind" about a student before ever having the student in class.
What is a preferred syllabus statement?
It is my goal that this class be an accessible and welcoming experience for all students, including those with disabilities that may impact learning in this class. If anyone believes s/he may have trouble participating or effectively demonstrating learning in this course, please meet with me (with or without a Disability Resource Center (DRC) accommodation letter) to discuss reasonable options or adjustments. During our discussion, I may suggest the possibility/necessity of your contacting the DRC (240 Student Center; 734-487-2470; firstname.lastname@example.org) to talk about academic accommodations. You are welcome to talk to me at any point in the semester about such issues, but it is always best if we can talk at least one week prior to the need for any modifications.
Rationale for statement as written:
- Many instructors prefer that students talk to them about course concerns, whatever the reason for those concerns. The goal behind this statement is to encourage conversation even if disability is not a central issue. Furthermore, in promoting conversation, not having an accommodation letter should not be a barrier that prevents communication.
- Some instructors prefer to coordinate reasonable arrangements within a class without the need for directive from the accommodation letter. Other instructors prefer that the accommodation letter be the guiding document by which reasonable accommodations are made. This statement offers flexibility to fit specific situations and allows the DRC to be as involved as necessary.
- By stating "to discuss reasonable options or adjustments," a limit is set as to what is and perhaps is not possible with the instructor and the DRC as necessary playing a critical role in defining those limits after considering the specific situation of the student. Students should have a voice in the process, but do not get to dictate the outcome. For example, it is not reasonable from an accommodation perspective for a student to take exams for an 8:00am class later in the afternoon because the student does not function well in the morning due to medication side effects. But perhaps it might be reasonable to coordinate slightly more extended exam time give the student's sluggish abilities early in the morning.