Why do so many students wait until mid-semester to request accommodations?
“I wanted to try to make it on my own.”
“I wanted my professor to get to know me first.”
“I didn’t want my professor to think I’m stupid or lazy.”
“I don’t want to be labeled as having a disability.”
“I thought I was doing better.”
“I was just diagnosed.”
In an environment that values mental competence and intellectual achievement, it can be especially difficult for students with learning and psychological disabilities to request accommodations. You can help students to feel comfortable disclosing their needs by putting a statement on your syllabus inviting students to bring you their accommodation letter as soon as possible. Remind students that it is good to have the accommodations in place as a safety net, even if they aren’t used.
Do I have to provide an accommodation if a student doesn’t bring me an accommodation letter?
No. Remind students the first day of class to please bring you an accommodation letter from AccessAbility Services.
Is it OK to provide an accommodation to a student who does not have an accommodation letter?
If the requested accommodation seems to makes sense, it is fine to offer the accommodation until the student brings you an accommodation letter. For example, if a student shows up with her dominant hand in a cast, it’s fine to give her a copy of your notes or allow her extra time to complete her quiz; but encourage her to schedule an appointment with AccessAbility Services. Similarly, if a student shows up who is obviously sick with flu symptoms, it may be in the best interest of you and the other students to allow her to take the exam in a separate room or the following week (please note, the flu is not a disability). When in doubt, call AccessAbility Services for advice.
I have a student who is trying hard, but writes poorly and keeps failing exams. She has not brought me an accommodation letter, but I think she may have a learning disability. What should I do?
Speak to the student privately. Let her know you are concerned and want to help. Encourage her to attend your weekly office hours and let her know about any tutoring support available in your department. Ask her if she ever received any kind of assistance in a resource room and suggest that she schedule an appointment with the AccessAbility Services Director to discuss her learning challenges. Also discuss whether it would be best for her to withdraw from the course.
When my student brings me an accommodation letter, is it OK to ask what the disability is?
This is an inappropriate question. It is considered impolite and an invasion of privacy to ask someone what type of disability she has.
If I do not know what my student’s disability is, how am I supposed to know how to teach her?
When she brings you her accommodation letter, ask her how she learns best. Ask her if there are specific types of activities or exams that are difficult for her to do because of her disability. This type of questioning shows your interest in making the classroom environment accessible. If she tells you she needs to see everything in writing, this may be an indication that she has difficulty hearing or with auditory processing or auditory memory. Giving out your PowerPoint notes, providing visual demonstrations, and putting all instructions and assignments in writing will help her.
Is it reasonable to give a student with a disability fewer or easier assignments?
No. Faculty should never compromise the academic integrity of a course by holding students with disabilities to lower standards. At the college level, we generally accommodate by process, not content. If a student is unable to do a particular assignment because of her disability, you may give her a substitute assignment that is relevant and equally intellectually challenging.
I have a student who has a serious illness and is frequently hospitalized. I hate to fail her because she is trying so hard and gets A’s on all of her assignments. What should I do?
When a student discloses a serious medical condition, consider whether you can offer flexibility to allow her extended absences. Does your course require in-class participation or group projects? If so, explain that these are essential requirements of the course and she might want to consider choosing a different course. If not, consider allowing her to work on projects independently. Help her find a class buddy who will share notes when she is sick. Allow her to make up missed exams. If reasonable, offer her extra time to turn in written assignments. Encourage her to register with AccessAbility Services. She may be eligible for accommodations such as a reduced course load.
I have a student who seems increasingly despondent. She has been missing classes, not turning in assignments on time, and today I noticed fresh cuts across her arm. I am concerned for her well-being. What should I do?
Ask to speak with her privately after class. In a kind, gentle way, let her know that you’re concerned (“I’m concerned because you’ve been missing classes and falling behind on assignments; and I can’t help but notice that you seem unhappy. I wanted to check in with you to let you know that I care about you and to see if I can offer assistance.”) Start with empathetic listening to help her feel comfortable speaking with you. Try to offer reassurance that it is not unusual for students to struggle and there is a lot of support available on campus. Discuss an action plan that includes both emotional and academic support. Encourage the student to call the Counseling Center immediately. Refer her to other helpful campus departments. If appropriate, discuss flexible options for catching up on your course work.
If a student seems to be in emotional distress, try to keep her calm. Ask her if she has thoughts of suicide. If she does, do not leave her alone. Call the Counseling Center immediately at extension 2037. If there is no response, contact the Campus Police at extension 5555 from a campus phone or (413) 559-5424 from a cell phone. Report your concern to Rene Davis, Dean of Students, at extension 3133.