What are your responsibilities as an instructor?
If a student identifies himself or herself as having a disability and requests an accommodation, generally it is the instructor’s responsibility to ensure that the learning environment is accessible. Due to the very personal and private nature of some disabilities, it is important that instructors create an atmosphere in which students feel comfortable about coming forward to discuss any special needs they may have. Instructors can demonstrate their openness and willingness to help students by including on their syllabi a statement encouraging students to make an appointment with the instructor if they need course adaptations or accommodations, if they have any emergency medical information that the instructor should know of, or if they need special arrangements in the event the building must be evacuated. It is also suggested that instructors bring the statement to the attention of the student at the first class meeting and inform them that the Hawley Academic Resource Center is available to assist them.
It is strongly recommended that the instructor make arrangements to meet with students who choose to identify themselves in order to discuss in detail the particular accommodations that will be necessary. At a minimum, an instructor should (1) make sure the student is aware of services available from the Hawley Academic Resource Center, (2) inquire into the extent of the disability as it relates to fulfilling course requirements, (3) discuss the possible accommodations that may be made, and (4) contact the Hawley Academic Resource Center if the instructor has any further questions. An instructor should also look to his or her academic department for assistance in providing accommodations.
A broad range of disabilities can affect a student’s performance in the classroom. It should be remembered that each student is an expert concerning his or her own specific disability and in some cases has a lifetime of experience at creating accommodations. Communication with the student is therefore essential to discovering methods of accommodation. In thinking about necessary accommodations, an instructor should consider a student’s physical accessibility to the classroom as well as the student’s ability to fully participate in all course activities. Accessibility and communication are key to providing an environment where a student with a disability can realize his or her academic potential.
In general, accommodating a student with a disability in the classroom may be more a matter of common sense than a drastic change in teaching style or curriculum. Successful accommodation strategies for the classroom are the responsibility of both the faculty member and the student.
Students with hidden disabilities often have difficulty revealing their instructional needs. Because of previous bad experiences, students may fear that once they have identified themselves as having a disability, they will be stigmatized and treated differently. As a result, they may try to hide or ignore their own needs for as long as possible.
Failure of students to voice their needs to faculty members results in last minute requests for accommodations. Once notified, faculty members should accommodate those requests in an effective manner. If students wait until the day of an exam to state they need extra time for a test, they have failed to raise their needs in a timely manner. The faculty member should still make an attempt to accommodate them, but if that is not possible, Simpson College will not be at fault. Similarly, if students do not relay the need for additional time on exams to faculty until late in the semester, faculty members are only required to grant accommodations from the time the requests are made. Faculty members are not required to re-administer prior exams.
Another common problem is that faculty members may try to discourage students from specific fields of studies. Simpson College provides educational programs and services. Anyone who meets the admission requirements and maintains the appropriate GPA is allowed to take courses for which they have prerequisites and are otherwise qualified to enroll. Success in the work place is another concern, one that the student will deal with at a later date, armed with additional protection provided by the ADA. A professor’s primary responsibility is to provide an education, not discourage the student. Accordingly, as long as students meet the academic standards and course requirements for their field of study, faculty members should not discourage them from participating in a program.
Finally, problems arise when faculty members are reluctant to grant exceptions. Reluctance is usually based on the concern that making modifications to policies, such as giving extra time on exams to those qualified, is unfair to other students. Simpson College and its employees are required to abide by the requirements of the ADA. As long as the requested accommodations are appropriate, the college is required to provide whatever modifications and/or auxiliary aids will enable students to fully participate in programs and services.
Sometimes faculty suspect a student has a disability. Faculty should not voice their suspicion to the student. Such a suggestion can be very alarming to students and may prove false. Instead, faculty should focus on the problem behavior, discuss it with the student and inform him/her of services available which may help the student remedy the behavior.
Often, a question emerges about how to handle inappropriate behavior on the part of students with mental or emotional impairments. Students with mental or emotional impairments should be held to the same level of conduct as any other student.
Do not assume that all students with the same type of disability will require the same classroom accommodations, i.e., not all wheelchair users need notetakers: not all blind students read Braille, etc.
There are a number of disabilities which may necessitate acquiring a course description and syllabus prior to the start of the class, e.g., a student requiring textbooks on tape may need reading assignments as much as 12 weeks in advance of the course, deaf students may need to give interpreters specialized terminology in advance, etc.
The information provided through this manual is intended to provide faculty with a variety of suggestions for accommodating students with disabilities in the classroom. The accommodation suggestions provided under each disability heading are not all-inclusive lists, nor are all suggested strategies and accommodations needed for all students within the same disability group. The Hawley Academic Resource Center should be consulted by both students and faculty for more information, additional suggestions or further explanation.