Ten Things Faculty Should Know About Supporting Students with Disabilities
- The DRC website is the best starting point for information on students with disabilities.
- The Faculty Portal in DRS Connect will give you access to the names and accommodations of students with disabilities in your classes that are registered AND have selected their accommodations for the semester. The DRS Team can guide you to and help you access the Faculty Portal by calling (602) 243-8395. Keep in mind, students must “select” their accommodations before DRS can be sent the Faculty Notification Letter (FNL).
- Students Must Complete the SMCC Accommodation Process to be Granted Accommodations: To receive services from the DRS, students submit medical or other appropriate documentation. The Director of DRS or a qualified DRS Representative determines if the documented communicates functional limitations due to the disability. If it does, the student will be guided through the remainder of the SMCC Accommodation Process. If a student approaches you about granting accommodations but is not registered with DRS, you must communicate the need to register to receive accommodation. The faculty must notify DRS about any student who self-identifies as having a disability.
- Accommodating students is a shared responsibility between the student, faculty, and DRS. Based on the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the ADA of 1990, and the ADAAA of 2008, any institution receiving federal funding is required to provide all students access to their classrooms and course materials. At SMCC, the process to identify and implement accommodations is collaborative. After receiving a Faculty Notification Letter (FNL), the faculty should expect the student to schedule a meeting to review their accommodations with him/her. If the student does not initiate contact, the faculty may want to communicate their willingness to meet with the student. DRS is always available to assist if needed.
- Most common accommodations: alternative testing (extended time and a distraction limited environment); note-taking, and print alternatives, such as Braille or electronic text.
- Universal Design: How can educators design instruction to maximize the learning of all students? The field of universal design can provide a starting point for developing a framework for instruction. You can apply this body of knowledge to create courses where lectures, discussions, visual aids, videos, printed materials, labs, and fieldwork are accessible to all students.
- DRS Supports Accessible Technology:
- Web Access (e-info needs to conform to specific standards)
- Instructional Materials (available in an alternate format at the same time)
- Procurement (electronic and information technology (EIT) products and services that we buy, create, use and maintain)
- Maintain confidentiality. Student accommodation plans are confidential. It is important to make sure no other students and/or staff can overhear conversations you are having with a student about his/her disability or accommodations. Even if the student approaches you in front of other students, which clearly violates this right, you should still attempt to speak with the student away from other students to preserve it. Students are not obligated to disclose their diagnosis, but you can ask for information about how their disability impacts class participation and meeting course expectations. In addition, when e-mailing, send each e-mail to each individual student.
- How to address questions from other students in your class, about why a student is receiving an accommodation: Even if a disability is obvious (e.g., blindness), instructors need to keep that information confidential and can only share on a need to know basis with other staff. If an instructor is questioned by students as to why a classmate is receiving “different” treatment (e.g. being allowed to test longer in class), the instructor can point out that many school issues are personal, SMCC practice is to respect each individual’s privacy.
- When in doubt: ask. Reasonable accommodations are provided to individuals with disabilities in order to ensure they have an equal opportunity to participate in all programs and activities. Civil rights laws protect individuals from discrimination but do not require special privileges or unreasonable accommodation. Accommodations should not fundamentally alter the nature of the academic task or activity or pose a financial hardship to the university. If you question the reasonableness of an accommodation request, please contact the DRS Office at (602) 243-8395 so we may collaboratively assess the situation.
- MCCCD Guidelines and Expectations which includes a standardized syllabus statement
- DRS 101 for Faculty: https://maricopa.instructure.com/enroll/TKYYW8
- Helpful Classroom Tips: https://www.w3.org/WAI/people-use-web/
What is a Reasonable Accommodation?
A reasonable accommodation is the provision of auxiliary aid or academic modification to the course or program that will allow access to the educational program, material, activity or degree.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Subsection E, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act require institutions of higher education to provide reasonable accommodation to qualified individuals with documented disabilities, provided that accommodation does not:
- Fundamentally alter an essential component of the course, curriculum, or program. Substantial changes to admissions criteria, the way a course or program is delivered, or the way an exam is administered, is not required by colleges and universities if any of these changes would fundamentally alter what is being taught or measured.
- Constitutes a service of a personal nature (tutoring, personal aid, personal product/tool, etc.)
- Creates an undue administrative or financial hardship. An undue hardship refers to any accommodation that would be unduly costly, expensive, substantial, disruptive, or that would fundamentally alter the nature of the business or program (see bullet one).
- Results in posing a direct threat to the health or safety of self or others
Who Qualifies for Accommodations?
A student with a disability is eligible to receive reasonable accommodations if the documented disability is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Major life activities include: caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, concentrating, and working.
Each applicant with a disability must meet Maricopa County Community College District (MCCCD) admissions requirements, or be enrolled as an MCCCD student, and must provide Disability Resource Services (DRS) with required documentation (https://district.maricopa.edu/regulations/admin-regs/section-2/2-8) verifying the nature and extent of the disability prior to receiving any accommodations. The DRS Manager and qualified DRS Representative are responsible for evaluating documentation and determining accommodation eligibility.
To receive accommodations, the student must contact the Disability Resources & Services Office and complete the five (5) steps of the South Mountain Community College (SMCC) Accommodation Process (see New Student Tab for details).
A student with a disability must be “otherwise qualified” to meet the same academic requirements and standards as non-disabled students. These requirements and standards must be considered necessary to maintain the integrity of a course, program or college policy. Students with disabilities are required to meet an instructor’s expectations for students in regard to class participation, work standards, attendance, and ability to demonstrate acquired knowledge.
What should faculty do if they have questions regarding an accommodation?
If a faculty member has a question or concern regarding a granted accommodation, how to implement an accommodation in the classroom or learning environment, or other, he/she should contact the Disability Resources & Service Office immediately by calling (602) 243-8395 or e-mailing the Director of DRS, Catherine Pettet, at email@example.com. Calls to the DRS Office will be answered in 24-48 hours.
Once an accommodation has been requested, supported by documentation (based on the functional limitations of a disability), determined to be reasonable, and communicated to faculty (via the Faculty Notification Letter (FNL), it is expected to be implemented in a timely manner. Failure to implement an accommodation is a violation of a student’s civil rights under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the ADA of 1990, and the ADAAA of 2008 and could result in a formal complaint, OCR investigation, and/or litigation.
If a faculty member believes an approved accommodation represents a functional alteration to their class, there is a process they can go through to provide documentation to support their belief. While working through the appeal process, the faculty member is required to provide the accommodation in question. Instructors are expected to be able to articulate how the accommodation alters their class in a “fundamental way.” If through discussion, the faculty member and the DRS Director cannot come to an agreement, the Dean and Division Chair can be brought into the discussion.
Please keep in mind, sometimes a faculty will say, “I don’t like being recorded” or “Attendance is a requirement of my course.” While faculty members’ preferences are valued, they do not represent a functional alteration of the class. The question asked of faculty is “If you do not like to be recorded, how can you ensure the student has the materials needed for your tests?” or “In what other ways can the student demonstrate the course competencies you are teaching during the time they are away from the classroom due to the limitations created by his/her disability?”
The key is to communicate early and often with the DRS Office and the student. The student’s experience should always be positive.
What if the student is communicating they do not need an accommodation that has been granted or is not part my class (i.e. testing)?
As noted, accommodations are granted based on functional limitations, but classrooms are changing and Universal Design Learning (UDL) is granting better access than ever before. Many faculty members are developing in-person and online “classrooms” that proactively address barriers to access (i.e. testing, note-taking, etc.).
Three key principles to UDL include:
- Multiple means of representation-give learners various ways of acquiring information and knowledge
- Multiple means of expression-provide learners alternatives for demonstrating what they know
- Multiple means of engagement-tap into learners’ interests, offer appropriate challenges and increase motivation
If a student is communicating they do not need an accommodation that has been granted and is listed as part of their FNL, faculty should have the student communicate that information in writing (copying DRS) or encourage them to “de-select” the accommodation from their list of granted accommodations in DRS Connect.
When possible, ask them to identify why they feel the accommodation is not necessary for your class (i.e. I feel comfortable taking my tests in the class because you let us work in a group or I found a student who is going to help me take notes and I am going to record the class). By providing you “why” they do not need the accommodation, they are stating there is no “functional limitation” or barrier for them. In other words, they have access to your course materials and/or classroom space.
Can a faculty member deny an accommodation?
No, if a faculty member believes an approved accommodation represents a functional alteration to their class, there is a process they can go through to provide documentation to support their belief. While working through the appeal process, the faculty member is required to provide the accommodation in question. Instructors are expected to be able to articulate how the accommodation alters their class in a “fundamental way.” If through discussion, the faculty member and the DRS Director cannot come to an agreement, the Dean and Division Chair can be brought into the discussion.
Can a faculty member accommodate a student who is not registered with DRS?
No, if a student approaches you about granting accommodations or granting accommodation beyond what is provided as part of a Faculty Notification Letter (FNL), the student should be guided to DRS. Students who are not registered with DRS may need the resources & services we provide as they continue through their educations pathway. By connecting them early in their journey, you could ensure the resource travels with them. Should a student approach you about needing an accommodation related to a disability you need to notify DRS.
If the student is asking for accommodations beyond the FNL, it could mean they now need more resources and services to support their learning needs. By connecting them back to DRS, they will be encouraged to secure the documentation needed to support limitations moving forward.
It is not what you are willing to do, it is what the next faculty is not. Most students who experience variations in their accommodations can feel the difference. Students who feel a need for additional academic adjustments are best served when they are guided back to DRS to request additional accommodations. Per our process, the student will be guided to secure the documentation needed to support their request.