You may not legally ask students if they have a disability but you can make inquiries about the nature of their difficulties.  You may ask if they had difficulty before and how they were able to succeed in their classes.  The student may voluntarily disclose the disability.  At this point a referral to the Office of Academic Support and Advising is in order.  If he/she does not disclose, you may simply tell the student that you notice he/she is having academic difficulty and encourage him/her to talk with you about gaining assistance, just as you would with any student.

Do not provide additional accommodations for which you have not received documentation from the Office of Academic Support and Advising without talking with the Coordinator first.  You could be setting a dangerous precedent.

You will be emailed letter (Faculty Notification Letter) from the Coordinator of Academic Support and Advising, and the student is responsible for discussing each accommodation with you after the letter is received.  The letter lists the approved academic adjustments that are determined and authorized by qualified Disability Services staff. 

Completely! Instructors must maintain a policy of strict confidentiality about the identity of a student with a disability, the nature of their disability, and the disability–related accommodations they require.

Absolutely not. We understand that this may be difficult for some individuals who teach; however, requiring that a student disclose her or his disability to you puts the institution at great legal risk. Although you may be open to listening if a student chooses to explain her or his disability to you—without your actual or implied solicitation of information, it is very important that you communicate respect for the student’s privacy regarding the specific nature of her or his disability. If you ever suspect that a request for accommodation is not legitimate, contact the Coordinator of Academic Support and Advising.

Their disability, as they understand it, will be discussed with the Coordinator of Academic Support and Advising, as well as their history of accommodation, and possible reasonable accommodations given their stated disability. The student will be informed that to be granted accommodations, she or he will have to submit appropriate documentation of disability from a licensed diagnostician. Once received, the documentation will be reviewed for appropriateness based on guidelines recommended by the Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD). Upon review, the Coordinator of Academic Support and Advising will discuss reasonable accommodations based on the documentation available. Students without appropriate or current documentation will be given appropriate referral, if the student so desires.

A student who wishes to receive disability–related accommodations must register with the Office of Academic Support and Advising before services are rendered. Once a student is registered, faculty must provide the academic accommodations that the Office of Academic Support and Advising office determines reasonable. The student provides each of their instructors with a letter of notification within the first 3 days of class via email, which substantiates proof of the disability and identifies approved academic accommodations.

Announce at the beginning of the course that you are available to discuss instructional methods and appropriate course modifications with students who have disabilities. In addition, you should include a note to this effect on your course syllabus

A reasonable accommodation is a modification that allows the student equal access to the learning opportunity. Reasonable accommodations are determined after reviewing the student’s medical documentation related to her or his disability. The Coordinator of Academic Support and Advising determines which accommodations are reasonable based on the specific ways the student’s disability affects their ability to access buildings, information, or resources related to their academic experience. The student will provide you with a letter from the Office of Academic Support and Advising (usually through email), outlining appropriate accommodations. Academic accommodations include, but are not limited to: testing accommodations, adaptive technology services, and assistance in arranging other support services (e.g., interpreters, note–takers, scribes, and readers).

Any exceptions that a professor chooses to make in her or his instructional and/or testing procedures is not deemed an accommodation of a disability. We all know that most professors choose to make exceptions for particular students from time to time (e.g., allowing a student to take a make–up test in the event of a family member’s death). However, any exceptions made based on a students alleged, but undocumented disability, can put the university at legal risk. In these cases, always ask yourself:

“Since accommodations for appropriately documented disabilities are made in the Academic Support office, do I have some other legitimate reason besides the alleged disability for making an exception for this student?”

“Is it an exception that I would be willing to make for any other non–disabled student?”

Cornell College is required by federal regulation to establish formal grievance procedures for providing prompt and equitable resolution of disagreements. When a dispute involves the conduct of a course or academic program, those procedures provide for consultation between the faculty member responsible for the course, the student, and a representative from the Office of Academic Support and Advising. Contact the Coordinator to learn about the grievance procedure.

Because you are the person most intimately familiar with your own courses, you may provide very valuable input in the process of tailoring the specifics of several accommodations for a given student. Also, any prior experience that you have had with the student or in working with other students with disabilities may be very valuable.

The Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) states: “The results of an examination should accurately reflect an individual’s aptitude or achievement level or whatever the test purports to measure, rather than reflecting an individual’s impaired sensory, manual, or speaking skills.” The courts have held repeatedly that a lengthening of the standard examination period is an appropriate accommodation for some students with disabilities.

An instructor is required to allow a student to tape record the course if taping the class is determined to be an appropriate accommodation for a student’s disability. Tape recorders are specifically mentioned in Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act as a means of providing full participation in educational programs and activities. Students who are approved to have this accommodation must sign a Note–taking Support Agreement form at the Academic Support and Advising office. This form provides assurance that the student will protect the confidentiality of the recorded information. Contact the Academic Support and Advising office with specific questions or concerns about tape recording lectures.  If you are concerned about confidential matters being discussed in class discussion and you tell all students to put down their pens or close their laptops then it would be appropriate to ask the student to stop recording, however, if other students are still taking notes it would be inappropriate to ask the student with the accommodation to stop recording the class discussion.

Providing personal copies of professor’s outline, notes or presentations cannot be mandated as an academic accommodation. However, if it is a professor’s customary practice to make (her or his) personal outline, notes or presentations available to all students, it may be a reasonable accommodation for the Office of Academic Support and Advising to provide the student with the notes in an alternate format (e.g., enlarge the notes or record them in audio format—if appropriate to the disability). A student may, however, have as an accommodation "Access to presentations outside of class.” An example might be that a student with a visual impairment may need to have access to a PowerPoint presentation outside of class so that the contents of any text and graphics can be described orally to the student. The professor could choose to go over the presentation with the student, or a Teaching Assistant, another student in the class, or the staff member through Academic Support and Advising, might describe the contents of the presentation to the student. The presentation would remain the property of the faculty member and would not be given to the student to keep without the faculty members’ permission.

If you have questions about the validity of a letter presented by a student or sent to you via email, you are urged to contact the Academic Support and Advising office. Although we cannot disclose the specifics about a student’s disability without the student’s consent, the Coordinator can review the files and tell you if the forms you were presented were originated from our office and if the accommodations listed are in fact the accommodations granted. If discussions with the Coordinator indicate that the forms were not originated from our office, or the forms have been inappropriately altered, you are not obligated to accommodate the student at that time and a disciplinary referral may be made to the Dean of Students.

Also, the Coordinator may be able to discuss with you in general terms about the rationale behind certain accommodations without disclosing specifics about a particular student’s disability.

Determine to what extent class absences may fundamentally interfere with the student completing your course objectives and learning outcomes. Consult with the Office of Academic Support and Advising about note–taking services, exam accommodations, and any other support services that may be needed. It is important to note that you must not lower your academic expectations; ultimately, the student is responsible for gaining the knowledge and skills required in the class.

Accommodations mandated by the ADA include the following:

  • Extended time to complete tests (typically time and a half to double time).
  • A quiet, distraction-reduced testing environment.
  • Audio textbooks and/or readers for tests, for students with visual processing issues.
  • Visual accommodations, such as sitting upfront.
  • Note-taker in class to produce readable, well-organized notes of lectures.
  • Permission to audio tape class (must fill out audio recording agreement sheet).
  • Computer accommodation, the use of the word-processing function of a computer during tests for essays and short-answer questions.
  • Hearing accommodations, such as captioned videos and sound amplification systems.

Faculty are not required to make an accommodation that might cause an undue hardship “ action that requires significant difficulty or expense.”

"Undue Hardship" Explained:

This section of ADA addresses the common-sense notion that not all accommodations can be provided in all settings. Here, the law stipulates that universities are not required to provide an accommodation that will impose an "undue hardship" on the operation of the class, where "undue hardship" means significant difficulty or expense in, or resulting from, the provision of the accommodation. The following are used to help make this determination:

Financial resources

Cost of accommodation

Alteration or change in the course requirements

Disruption of other students: Note: instructors should only invoke this "undue hardship" clause after having attempted reasonable accommodations in the classroom, or in cases of extreme student behavior.   For example, a student with epilepsy cannot be automatically excluded from a class because the instructor fears that a disruption (e.g., a grand mal seizure) may occur during class.  However, if this student is enrolled in a class and does experience grand mal seizures in class on a regular basis, the instructor may have a case for claiming "undue hardship" on the basis of disruption.

Sources for this information include the following: