Faculty members are usually the first to know that a student with a disability is in class. Students with disabilities are not required to register with any agency on campus, unless they request specific classroom accommodations as a result of their disability. At that point they are required to register with Disabled Student Services.
When a student requests that a faculty member make accommodations to match the student's disability, the faculty member should refer the student to the DSS office. The DSS encourages all faculty to work with any student, whatever the situation. However, it is ultimately better for all parties that a student with a disability be referred to the proper agency for support. Once referred, the process of determining whether the student meets state and federal guidelines for a specific disability can begin. That determination is made only by the DSS, which is the only agency at MTSU designated to keep records of a student's disability. Once documentation is provided, the student is officially registered with DSS as having a disability and accommodation letters can then be distributed to faculty by the student. The letter of accommodation is the letter of record verifying that the student is registered as a student with a disability.
Upon receipt of the letter, each faculty member is responsible for reviewing the information in the letter. Should faculty members have questions or concerns about the information contained in the letter, they should immediately contact the Director of Disabled Student Services . All questions are to be directed to the Director and not to the student. Until the director is contacted, DSS can only assume that there are no questions with any particular student's accommodation package.
Reasonable accommodations in the classroom is an individual civil rights guaranteed by federal legislations (ADA and Section 504). Once the accommodations are identified, the accommodations must be provided. The only option is how the accommodations will be provided. Most classroom accommodations are easy to arrange and will not take much time to administer. If, however, assistance is needed, faculty members should contact DSS. The DSS office will make every effort to make the accommodation process simple and effective for both the student and the faculty.
The issue of fairness and classroom accommodation is often raised. Classroom accommodations provide an opportunity for students with disabilities to compete on equal term with other students in class. Individual accommodations are a civil right guaranteed under federal law. The accommodations prescribed through the Director of Disabled Student Services are not frivolous or arbitrary. They are individually designed for each student based on appropriate documentation on file in the DSS. Although accommodations may appear similar for many students, they are based on individualized need and disability documentation.
Accommodations necessary for ensuring complete access to and full participation in the educational process do not require the instructor to adjust evaluations of academic performance. Rather, the accommodations make it possible for a student with a disability to receive the material presented and for an instructor to fairly evaluate the student's understanding of the material. Examples of some accommodations are:
Special Procedures for Specific Accommodations
Examinations or other procedures for evaluating students' academic achievement must be adapted, when necessary, to permit fair evaluation of students with disabilities. DSS determines appropriate testing accommodations based on its review of the student's disability documentation in accordance with its usual procedures for determining appropriate accommodations. Special adaptations might include allowing additional time for testing, providing a proctor to monitor, read and/or scribe a test, or allowing the use of special adaptive equipment. Although testing generally takes place under DSS supervision, DSS strongly encourage faculty to administer tests in faculty offices whenever test-taking modifications call for simple accommodations, such as additional time. While every possible precaution is taken to ensure security and integrity in the testing process, faculty participation in the administration of testing operates to ensure even greater efficiency in the process. Students should notify DSS or the faculty member at least 48 hours prior to testing, in order to allow sufficient time to make arrangements for the particular accommodation.
Priority Registration is offered for students with disabilities. This allows students with disabilities the opportunity to have first choice in the selection of courses and sections and the ability to schedule classes in accessible locations, and or at times of the day that are required in order to accommodate a type of specific disability.
Program Accessibility - Relocation of Classrooms, Meeting Places
All events that are part of structured class activities should be planned in accessible places. Workshops, labs, off-campus events, meeting, trips, conferences and any other program, service or activity must be open and accessible to all students. From time to time courses are offered in buildings or classrooms that are inaccessible. In these rare cases, department chairs in the departments housing those courses will be asked to work with DSS in relocating the class to an accessible location. Every effort is made to have these decisions made prior to the beginning of classes for that semester. If a faculty member's office is not accessible, alternate arrangements should be made to meet with the student with a disability in an accessible location.
Failure to Accommodate
Though rare, there have been incidents in which faculty refuse to provide the accommodations outlined in the letter of accommodation. The accommodations outlined by the director of Disabled Student Services are not optional and must be provided under two federal pieces of legislation (Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 504; and the ADA). When questions arise as to specific accommodations, it is the responsibility of the faculty member to contact DSS to discuss the questions in an informal review. The instructor must provide the accommodation until it is either set aside or modified by DSS or the Provost. Every effort should be made to resolve the matter as expeditiously as possible. Due to the number of students receiving accommodations and the number of faculty receiving accommodations letters, it is impossible for the director to speak to each faculty member prior to sending out the accommodation letters.
The similarities of students with disabilities and other students are much more significant than their differences. Students with disabilities come to college for the same reasons others do and bring with them the same range of backgrounds, intelligence and scholastic skills. Revising our perceptions and attitudes is the first step in accommodating student with disabilities. It is vital to remember that students with disabilities are first and foremost, students.
How and When to Discuss Disabilities
Sometimes we are unaware of the biases or negative attitudes expressed in the words we use. The following Guidelines for Sensitive Use of Language is based in part on "Guidelines for Reporting and Writing about People with Disabilities," a pamphlet published by the Research and Training Center on Independent Living, University of Kansas, 1984.