Effective Classroom Accommodations: Faculty Responsibility
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 the Disability and Access Center.
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 Disability and Access Center (DAC). The DAC 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 DAC, 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 the DAC 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 the Disability and Access Center. All questions are to be directed to the Director and not to the student. Until the Director is contacted, the DAC 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 legislation (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 the DAC. The DAC 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 Disability and Access Center are not frivolous or arbitrary. They are individually designed for each student based on appropriate documentation on file in the DAC. 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:
- Priority seating in the classroom
- Change of classroom
- Faculty member standing facing the class when speaking
- Assistance in identifying a note-taker
- Tape recording of lectures
- Use of scribes
- Use of sign language interpreters
- Providing copies of overhead demonstrations and lecture notes
- Reduced course load
- Captioning or transcription work
- Enlarged print on exam questions or class materials
- Use of computers in taking tests
- Alternative test formats
- Alternative access to material if covered in a field trip
- Advanced copy of syllabus, textbook, & course materials
- Extra time on tests, exams, and quizzes
- Flexible attendance policies
- Tape-recording exam questions
- Tape-recording exam answers
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. DAC 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 DAC supervision, the DAC strongly encourages 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 the DAC or the faculty member at least 72 business hours, or 3 business days, 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 the DAC 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 Disability and Access Center 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 the DAC to discuss the questions in an informal review. The instructor must provide the accommodation until it is either set aside or modified by the DAC 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.
- Do not refer to a disability unless it is relevant
- Do not sensationalize a disability by saying "a victim of," "afflicted with," etc. Instead say "person who has multiple sclerosis" or "people who have had polio."
- Avoid emotional description. Say, "uses a wheelchair," rather than "confined to a wheelchair" and "walks with crutches," rather than "is crippled."
- Avoid labeling and grouping people, as in "the disabled," "the deaf" "a paraplegic." Instead say "people with disabilities," "people who are deaf," "a person who has paraplegia."
- Avoid portraying successful people with disabilities as remarkable, superhuman, or inspirational. This implies that it is unusual for people with disabilities to have talents or skills.
- Avoid using the word "special" in regard to a disability, as in "special entrance" or "special transportation." Instead say "accessible entrance" and "lift equipped buses." The word "special" serves to segregate rather than integrate people with disabilities.
- Do not assume that a person with a speech impediment or mobility impairment has some form of mental limitation.
- Avoid using an over familiar tone in referring to people with disabilities. A person
with a disability deserves the same courtesy of address and reference as a non-disabled
person. A person with a disability, for example, is often referred to or addressed
on a first name basis when their non-disabled peers in similar contexts would not
If you wish to speak to a person with a disability, address him or her directly, rather than addressing someone who is with that person.