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?
No. AccessAbility Services is the only designated office at Mount Holyoke College where students can request accommodations. If a student shows up to class with an obvious injury, such as her dominant hand in a cast, it is fine for you to give the student a copy of your notes or extra time to write an assignment. Short term injuries and illnesses are not considered disabilities. However, if a student with a short term injury needs assistance, such as a note taker, please refer her to AccessAbility Services and we will try to offer short term help.
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? If I do not know what my student’s disability is, how am I supposed to know how to teach her?
This is an inappropriate question. It is considered impolite and an invasion of privacy to ask someone what type of disability she has. 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. For example, 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. Posting your PowerPoint notes, providing visual demonstrations, and putting all instructions and assignments in writing will help her. If a student does disclose her disability, don’t assume that you know how it affects her. Ask her about her functional limitations so you have an understanding about her learning style and needs.
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 disability that may impact attendance, contact AccessAbility Services. If the student is eligible for accommodations, she will bring you an accommodation letter that may specify permission to have additional absences, extended time on assignments and permission to make up missed exams. Consider whether the format of your class allows you to offer these. Some factors to think about include, does your course require in-class participation or group projects? If these are essential requirements of the course, notify the Director of AccessAbility Services right away. The Director may consider alternative accommodation options. If in-class participation is not essential to your course format, consider allowing the student to work on projects independently. Help her find a buddy who will share notes when she is sick.
I have a student who seems increasingly despondent. She has been missing classes, not turning in assignments on time, and she looks like she’s not taking care of herself. I’m 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 Counseling Services immediately. Refer her to other helpful campus departments. If appropriate, discuss flexible options for catching up on your course work. If she is too far behind, encourage her to withdraw. Follow up with an email and if appropriate, fill out a mid-semester report.
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 Counseling Service immediately at 413-538-2037. Ask for the triage person and consult about what to do/how to help, or to request a same day appointment for the student. If there is no response, contact the Campus Police at 413-538-2304. Immediately report your concern to Marcella Hall, Dean of Students, at 413-538-2550.