Legal Provisions, Guidelines and Issues in Higher Education

Marianne R. Savino

Director of Disability Services

Buffalo State College


Biographical Information:[su_expand]

In 1986, after serving as an English faculty member, developmental specialist in writing and study skills, and assistant to the Coordinator of Disability Services at Erie Community College, she came to Buffalo State College to work with students in the Academic Skills Center, with funding from a federal TRIO grant.  Seventeen years later, she has been the Director of Disability Services for one of the largest populations in the SUNY four year colleges and university centers, the president of the SUNY Disability Service Council, and co-Director of a U.S. Department of Education Model Demonstration Project to Ensure Quality Higher Education for Students with Disabilities.  She has also served as a grant officer and partner with numerous New York State Department of Education transition projects for preparing students to transition from high school to college.



College administrators, faculty and staff face challenges in meeting the needs of their diverse community of learners: legal issues, access to programs and the campus facilities, maintaining standards, and dealing with services that are expensive and sometimes requiring expertise not readily available on the campus.  The numbers of students with disabilities at campuses across the country are increasing exponentially.  The causes:  1) successful implementation of the IDEA legislation that brought students through elementary and secondary school to college; 2) medical expertise which permits rehabilitation and plans to return to the workforce after retraining;  better treatment and accommodations which permit individuals who could not have competed in college to fully participate.  Many faculty and staff have no previous training in working with students who have disabilities.  The final and most difficult task is interpreting the ever-changing interpretation of the two civil rights laws that guide campus’ response: Section 504 and the ADA.  This chapter will draw on the experiences gleaned from training faculty and staff at colleges across New York as well as provide duplicable models to set procedures in place at any campus so that the means of providing support is fair, reasonable, ethical and welcoming.[/su_expand]

Chapter Content


The purpose of this chapter is to examine the procedures and policies as originally stated and recently clarified in tests of the ADA and Section 504 in court decisions.   In addition, there will be case studies to help us look at the applications of the law to commonplace situations that may occur at any time on our campuses.  Finally, there will be suggested actions to take to bring campuses closer to compliance.  The laws keep evolving and so do our responses.  How we change and what we do in response to the changes can save us expensive, needless court battles. No matter how much funding we have, and how dedicated we are to meeting the letter of the law, it likely will be ongoing.[/su_expand]

  1.  Pre-Assessment

[su_expand]It took several years after both Section 504 and the ADA were passed to examine the intent of the law and to see if the statutes meant what they originally were intended to do.  Campuses have to evaluate their missions and set standards so they do not put their programs and services through needless legal wrangling.  When charges have been brought against campuses who appeared not to be in compliance with the Section 504/ADA statutes, the first questions all lawyers ask are, “What is your policy in regard to this?”  “Show us the procedures you have set up to handle this situation.”  It is so much better to do an evaluation of the policies and to write down the procedures, review and revise them periodically so that they are truly responsive to the needs of the campus community than to face the legal team unprepared.[/su_expand]

  1.  Introduction Section


Most responses to coping with the needs of a population which is emerging on campus stem from an event.  One of the students I first met when I began to work with students with disabilities reminded me that the procedures we had in place should first be designed to make them feel welcome and wanted at the institution.  At that time, we still had a long way to go to be fully accessible.  It is an ongoing process.  We need to take ownership for the experiences all of the visitors to our campus have, whether they are faculty, students, alumni, or the public attending a lecture, a concert, or going to a museum opening.  Can they get into the building?  If they need to use a restroom, make a phone call, have a drink of water, or find convenient parking, is that possible?  Is it still possible if they are using a wheelchair, or visually impaired, or deaf?  Do they have to ask for help, or is it obvious that these commonplace activities are planned out with anyone who needs to access them in mind?   We concentrate most on the education – in-class and course evaluation procedures – when we think of the students we face on campus.  Do we need to hire note-takers? Interpreters? Should we let them tape our lectures?  Is it fair to give them extra time on an exam?  Should they have an extension for their papers?  They won’t have any extensions in the workplace. Deans and faculty anguish over these issues.

Classes and programs that lead to careers are set up for the “paying customers” – our students – but so should the activities which make recollections of the college experience fond ones.  Sports, whether NCAA championship teams or a pick-up basketball game among friends, may exclude students who have a physical disability.  Are the athletic facilities planned for access?  Are the athletic staff trained to help students with disabilities who want to participate?  Clubs and other campus organizations are preparations for the social interactions that make life fun.  They may relate to careers or be a way to practice networking.  Do the student leaders know how to make their meetings, events, and materials in use for activities accessible?  This is not the Disability Services’ exclusive purview:  the students with disabilities may have a need to work with the Disability Services staff, but they are our students – they belong to the whole campus.  It is an incredible experience for their peers to learn how to be more welcoming.  Many state public affairs offices have materials designed to make meetings and conferences more accessible.  Having a large-print version of a graduation program for a student or a grandparent who is visually impaired, or hiring a sign language interpreter for an event that will be attended by someone who needs to use ASL to be aware of what is being said is a good investment in public relations as well as meeting the letter of the law.

Students with disabilities have faced isolation and separation if they had a disability when they were children in school.  The “least restrictive environment” has evolved from a separate school setting to classrooms where there is true inclusion: full participation in class activities.  As time passes, they are seen by their peers as less disabled, and the stigma of having a disability is diminished.  Some students still try to deny their disability when they enter college, as if they could hide it from their new peer group.  Planning full access into every facet of the campus experience makes the stigma truly disappear.  Many students without disabilities opt for the ramps and elevators, prefer the automatic doors when they have arms full of packages and briefcases, and look for the accessible entry to buildings because it often is the closest to the parking lots or paths.  Class notes put online let everyone pay full attention to the professor in class, and the students who need more time to copy notes down can participate and listen rather than worry if they missed a point.  Architects gave us a term for this phenomenon: universal design – plan for access by all instead of separate, handicapped-only use.


  1.  Content

Legal Statutes, Precedents, and Solutions

  1.  Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States … shall, solely by reason of his or her disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance….

This law prohibits discrimination on the basis of physical or mental disability and the Office of Civil Rights in the U. S. Department of Education enforces regulations with respect to programs and activities which receive funding from the department.  Financial aid, research grants, subsidies, ROTC – all are federally funded activities commonly found on campuses across the country, no matter the size, population served, whether public or private.  It applies to colleges, universities, postsecondary vocational educational programs and adult education programs. (Auxiliary Aids and Services for Postsecondary Students with Disabilities: Higher Education’s Obligations Under Section 504 and Title II of the ADA, U. S. Dept. of Education, OCR, Washington, D.C. – Revised September 1998)

  1. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA)


The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 in terms of postsecondary education reinforces the requirements of Section 504.  Title II prohibits discrimination by entities funded by state and local governments, while Title III extends the requirements of equal program access to private colleges and universities that might have previously been exempt from the Section 504 mandate.  Access standards were established by the ADA and preempted the policies set by Section 504 and state mandates.

An individual can be recognized as a person with a disability under the Section 504 Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (the ADA) if they are:

  • Anyone who has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limitsone or more major life activity
  • Anyone who has a history of such an impairment OR
  • Anyone who is regarded as having such an impairment.

Examples of disabilities include, but are not limited to:

Chronic illnesses such as: Conditions such as:

AIDS Blindness/visual impairment

Asthma Cerebral palsy

Cancer Deafness/hard of hearing

Diabetes Epilepsy or seizure disorder

Heart disease Orthopedic/mobility impairment

Multiple sclerosis Specific learning disability

Muscular dystrophy Speech and language disorder

Bipolar disorder Spinal cord injury

Major depression Tourette’s syndrome

Post-traumatic stress disorder Traumatic brain injury

“Substantially limits” means that the individual’s manner, rate, or duration of performing a life function is significantly different than that of most people.  For example, most individuals who have asthma have acute asthma – periodically they have periods of impaired respiratory function, but most of the time their breathing is within normal range.  Chronic asthma becomes a disability when, even with medication and treatment, the individual’s breathing severely limits the ability to perform everyday functions that other people can perform with no respiratory distress.


Qualified person with a disability…

[su_expand]Another important phrase is “a qualified person with a disability” which has been defined as one “who meets the academic and technical standards requisite to admission or participation in the education program or activity.”  The OCR does not intend that colleges admit students who do not meet their entrance criteria nor do specific programs and academic departments have to admit less qualified individuals.  The technical standards – the criteria which should be set and in place for all applicants – MUST be well-designed and appropriate for the skill expected of someone entering the program.  Using exit criteria as entrance criteria is a sure way to get into legal difficulty.[/su_expand]

Disclosure of a Disability:

[su_expand]To ensure that services are in place and support is provided at the time the student begins his/her college experience, students are encouraged to inform the Disability Services office as soon as possible after admission.  Self-disclosure of a disability and a request for services are mandatory. No accommodations can be determined or given without having these records in place.  Examples of appropriate documentation or the use of standard documentation using guidelines from organizations such as the Association of Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) will help students to provide the best and most complete view of their needs as possible.  It must be done by a qualified professional able to establish that in the postsecondary education setting, the disability is significant and likely to cause lack of access without appropriate accommodations.  It is the student’s responsibility to provide this information.  It must be recent enough to measure the current functioning of the student.   An IEP from high school is not adequate documentation – according to the brochure published by the OCR, (Students with Disabilities Preparing for Postsecondary Education:  Know Your Rights and Responsibilities”, July 2002:  the IEP of Section 504 plan from high school “may help to identify services that have been effective…but it generally is not sufficient documentation. “  This article also recognizes that the demands of the college setting may present differences in how the needs can be met and also sees that the nature of the disability may change in the college setting.  A more formal diagnosis may be needed, and the article asks that postsecondary officials inform students in a timely fashion if their documentation does not meet the standards of the institution so that new information is provided as soon as possible.[/su_expand]

Where to Send Documentation:

Documentation of a disability should be sent to Disability Services, not to the admissions office.  This information is confidential and must be maintained like any other medical records. The Health Information Portability and Privacy Act (HIPPA) requires heightened standards for confidentiality of all medical records, and it is wise to contact the state agency that provides guidance to campuses   so that there is no security breach.

Section 508 of the ADA:

Web Construction and Electronic Media

[su_expand]There needs to be a serious commitment to meeting the guidelines for accessibility on the World Wide Web and in the use of electronic media and their applications to all facets of education.  Online courses, wired classrooms, Blackboard classes, and distance learning are terms we are fluent in using – concepts completely out of the experience of faculty and students 15 years ago.   Want to test what you have written on the software the students use? Faculty who are preparing materials for use online are encouraged to test the materials they have prepared on some of the adaptive systems and software housed on campus.   In the years to come, new technology will be available for students and faculty use.   Many campuses already have talking scanners that can make copies of text materials, voice-input and voice-output computer software, and devices that enlarge print, show work in 3 dimensions and in color-format changes to help students with processing disorders and vision impairments.  High speed scanners can be used to make a vocal reproduction of a text if a student needs a book on tape or on CD or in e-text and it is not available any other way.   The CAST Center – The Center for Applied Special Technology – was founded in 1984 at Harvard, with the intent to provide assistive technology to individuals with disabilities who needed adaptations in their learning environments and in their daily living experiences.  In 1994, a paradigm shift was made to the theory of Universal Design – an architectural term that referred to curb cuts, lever-style handles on doors and faucets, etc. that could be used by anyone, with or without a disability.  Using that concept in education at the college/university level takes some planning, and for nearly 10 years, CAST has been in the business of Universal Design.  CAST has been part of many federal government research initiatives and its research base and board of directors provide a wealth of information for those willing to research or do special projects on designing courses for college students with disabilities as model courses.  This is the organization that also brought us the “Bobby-approved” symbol of accessible online web sites.  [/su_expand]

Confidentiality and Disability – Guidelines for Faculty

[su_expand]This information is taken from a brochure prepared by the Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD), the international professional organization that serves as a resource for colleges and universities to assist them in providing support for students with disabilities.   Students with disabilities are protected from discrimination under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.   Recognizing that discrimination often occurs as a result of attitudinal barriers and misconceptions regarding the potential of persons with disabilities, these mandates presume the U.S. Constitutional right to privacy, whether articulated in the form of guidance or specific regulations as applied to the treatment of disability related information.   Best Practices Regarding Confidentiality: Treat disability-related information the same way as medical information – with the new HIPPA Law requirements this has specific meanings and serious legal and financial penalties for not following the provisions of the law which was designed specifically to protect the privacy of medical records and the patients they pertain to.  The information includes documentation required to provide proof of disability and to request accommodations. Disability-related information should be collected and maintained on separate forms from other forms at the college/university.  It should be kept in secure files with limited access.  Thus, faculty have no right to demand access  to the actual documentation , test scores, counseling records, dates, or the names of the professionals who provided such information. The disclosure of unnecessary, specific disability-related information to those without a legal right to know may have the unintended consequence of increasing the institution’s and/or individual faculty member’s  or administrator’s vulnerability to charges of retaliation, harassment, or animus (hostility). If data are being collected such as how many students are being served, types of disabilities and accommodations used, etc., personally identifying information on the students does not need to be included with the data. Be careful that listings of students with disabilities are not circulated throughout the institution. Related to computer records, information regarding the disability needs of a student should be managed carefully: shared files need to have password protection. Do not send out memos to students with disabilities via a multiple address listing:  it could lead to a violation of confidentiality by revealing the names of students to each other. Regarding FERPA (the Buckley Amendment), faculty may have access to students’ educational records, but treatment and disability records are exempt from that requirement.   What if there is a real need to know about a disability?   The need and the extent of the disclosure of the disability may need to be evaluated when issues related to safety of the student or the impact of the disability on others’ safety is at issue.  If a student has a need for accommodation in on-campus housing, information about that need may be shared with those who need to know there is a valid request being made.  The director of the health center and the person in residence life who place students in medical single rooms, for example, need to have this information.  Does the student assistant on the floor or in the suite need to know all of the details? Absolutely not.  The student with a disability has a right to privacy as well as to having support for the housing needs.   In a classroom setting, a student may request additional time to take an exam or to have a test read or to have it scribed or to use a computer to write an essay exam.  The professor does not need to see the documentation related to the disability or the test scores or medical reports that were used as documentation for the testing accommodations.  If the student discloses the type of disability he or she has and its impact on how he/she learns best, that is fine and helpful for the professor.  However, if the student does not wish to do this, it is not necessary that the faculty know specifically what the student’s disability is to provide assistance.   Some students have disabilities that are life-threatening or potentially fatal, such as AIDS or Hepatitis C.  The concept of “universal precautions” means that we treat all students, not just those with disabilities, as if they had these diseases.  We would require safety precautions in labs and classes where cuts and infections would possibly impact others’ health. Laws protect these students’ confidentiality to such an extreme that record-keeping is very carefully proscribed.  The health center staff have the expertise to provide faculty with assistance in devising universal precaution guidelines if they are not in place.   This is a very confusing area that makes many faculty nervous about how and what they can do to provide assistance safely and impartially.  Access, not necessarily guaranteed success academically, is the heart of the student with a disability’s needs.  Respecting that personal privacy and working with the staff in the disability services office who have obtained the documentation and signed releases to discuss student requests on a need to know basis foster a collaborative spirit that can only be helpful.  Communication and support are useful tools we all can use.  [/su_expand]

Syllabus Statements

[su_expand]Often, it is helpful for faculty to “welcome” students and to set the stage by dialogue from the outset of the semester by including information in the course syllabus.  Here are some sample statements that have been well-received and been accepted by the faculty on a nearly universal basis on many campuses.   Syllabus Statement re Students with Disabilities:   Any student who requires accommodations to complete the requirements and expectations of this course because of a disability is invited to make his or her needs known to the instructor and to the Disability Services office.   Syllabus Statement on Disruptive Behavior:   Disruptive behavior by students will not be tolerated.  If a student behaves in a disruptive or threatening manner, I will exercise my right to ask that individual to leave the classroom.  If refused, I will exercise my right to notify the University Police.  The responding officer will determine whether an arrest should be made or whether a referral to medical or counseling staff is appropriate.  If a student is perceived as a danger to him/herself or others, the Dean of Students may propose an interim suspension until a hearing is held.  Any student removed from class will have a right to a hearing.  [/su_expand]

Reasonable Accommodations by Disability

Strategies in working with students who have …

Learning Disability

What is a learning disability?

[su_expand]It is a neurologically-based disability which impacts cognitive functioning and processing.  This can include oral and written expression, basic reading skills and comprehension, listening skills, mathematics, or problem-solving.  Not all students with learning disabilities have deficits in these areas.  Some are gifted in a given area.  At the college level, those who have a learning disability are average to above-average intelligence.  Some students may also have an attention disorder with or without hyperactivity.  It is a life-long disability which can be less of an impairment if the person learns accommodations that can be used in daily living as well as in working.   The following are some suggestions that have been found to be helpful by other faculty: In designing lectures, build multiple sensory information into the presentation when possible: visual (outlines on the board, slides, overheads, Power Point, video, etc.) auditory (repetition of key ideas, audiotapes that might augment the lecture, sequencing and transition verbal cues) tactile/hands-on ( presentations or demonstrations by groups of students, labs, studio format) Syllabuswith due dates, reading assignments, additional AV or supplemental materials in the library collection, descriptions of projects and papers, grading & attendance policies or rubrics.  Put online as well as in print, if there is a class web site. For each class, start with an outline – what is to be covered – and end with a brief summary. Guided notes, Power Point, or notes put online at the end of classhave improved the performance of all students, as seen by the electronic support courses offered in the most recent semesters.  If students know the note framework will be available before class, they can download and print it out and use it as an outline.  If the notes are online after the lecture, they can spend their time listening and responding to questions in class, knowing that the notes will be available later. If preparing a study guide for the course (often done with electronic course formats), use a similar format for what constitutes a complete or ideal answer for an exam. To reduce the intrusion of too many questions in class, encourage students to ask questions online or to hand them in on 3X5 cards at the end of a class. Some faculty already have found this a successful way to structure lectures. Asking the whole class to form study groups can alleviate notetaking requests – the group shares notes, and different perspectives emerge in these discussion groups.  It is a model used in many graduate programs (med and law school, some education programs), and team-building is an additional outcome.  If someone cannot be part of a group because of work or other issues, that’s okay. When selecting a new text for the class, check with the Disability Services office to see if the text is available on tape or CD or e-text. If it isn’t and time permits, it may be recorded by one of the agencies that provides taped books for students.  This will save the college and the student who needs audio texts significant time and money.  Since New York and California have requirements that all textbooks must be available in e-text, there may be e-text for the new book a faculty member wants to adopt for the next semester.  Ask the publishers whether the text being purchased for use is available in e-text format. Spellcheckers and calculators are used by many students, not just students with disabilities.Unless using them is a breach of test security, this is a good modeling tactic – it’s the equipment we use in our work. Tape recordersare one way of giving students access to class notes – some students learn best by hearing what is said.  If this is an issue, please discuss other options with the Disability Services Coordinator. Research projectscan be daunting for students with learning disabilities. Give assignments early, with instructions about how it is to be completed or asking for it to be turned in by sections.  These strategies can improve the quality of the work.  Some feedback may be needed to assist students who require help with the process  [/su_expand]



  • Much of what was suggested for students with learning disabilities is also useful for students with attention disorders. Time management and completion of projects and papers are persistent problems for this group of students.
  • Clear, firm deadlines and models of what is needed as well as referrals to the writing and study skill specialists on campus can decrease the burden on faculty.


Deafness and Hard of Hearing


  • Students who are deaf or hard of hearing often read lips, so it is important to face the class when speaking.If you need to write on the board, write, then turn and face the class so they can see you as you explain what was written.
  • Using a set of guided notes, Power Point, or other information that will be presented during the lecturehelps the student keep track of what is taking place in the class.
  • Some students may request a professor to wear a microphone connected to an FM amplification systemtuned to a receiver or to their hearing aids. These microphones are wireless so the professor can move freely about the classroom.
  • If showing videos or DVD’s, be certain that they are close-  All of the campus’ TV’s and “smart” classrooms should have closed-captioning output capabilities.  Ask the instructional resource staff to show you how it works for the set you are using.
  • If a student needs an interpreter, the interpreter may ask questions for the student who is deaf.  Respond to the student, facing the student, not the interpreter.You may be asked by the interpreter to spell a word if it is jargon for the field.  Disability Services staff will provide the interpreters with textbooks and other materials needed to properly present the material, but sometimes there are no simple signs for specialized vocabularies.
  • Email has become the preferred way to communicate with students who are deaf.
  • Students who are deaf and who use American Sign Language (ASL) may have significant problems with writing.ASL does not have the articles, tense, voice, or standard syntax of Standard English.  However, when students write papers or essay exams, they are expected to use a standard format.
  • If you are planning out-of-classroom experiences (field trips, museum tours, etc.) please alert the Disability Services staff so an interpreter can accompany the student.The interpreter is hired to be there with the student in all aspects of the class.


Blindness and Visual Impairments


Blindness is not necessarily being totally without sight.  People are considered to be blind who have vision at the 20-200 level in their best-corrected lenses.  They see at 20 feet what someone with perfect sight sees at a 200 foot distance.  They may see outlines, colors, have tunnel vision, or absolutely no sight at all.  Always ask the students what they CAN see, and note their response.

  • All of the web pages and websites that are used at the college must meet the technology guidelines of the ADA, Section 508.
  • Online classes must also provide access.All of the campus web pages should have ADA access.  Blackboard now has accessibility features built into the format.
  • The college is committed to giving access to all who need to use voice input and output software as well as assistive technology and software that can be helpful for students who are blind, visually impaired or who have difficulty processing written materials.Therefore, information that is in print can be assumed to be accessible if it is in Word. Assistive software and adaptive equipment may be available in the campus libraries and in the Disability Services Office.
  • To enlarge font size to make print more accessible, use the “Format” button on the task bar at the top of the screen.  On the internet, use the “View button”, go to “Text size” and increase the size to “larger.”
  • Many of the measures used for students with learning disabilities also work for students who are blind or visually impaired:Taped textbooks, reading tests aloud and recording answers, taped lectures, study partners, and group work with carefully assigned roles give both access and control to the students. Many students have been using their own assistive technology and software for years and may not ever use the campus’ equipment except as a backup system.
  • Sensory words are not taboo:it is all right to use “see”, “appear”, “look”, and other vision terms.  Students still perceive, and often the best word for the process is a sight-sense word.
  • Not all students who are blind know Braille.Some were never taught, some didn’t want to or couldn’t learn it, and there are not always instructors for Braille available.
  • If you need to walk with a student in an emergency, such as a fire or an evacuation drill, DO NOT lead the student – offer your elbow so that they can keep up and walk along at a normal gait.  Offer verbal cues on turning left or right or where there are curbs or other obstacles.


Psychological Disorders


People can develop emotional or psychological disorders as a result of severe emotional trauma, traumatic brain injury, untreated depression, or as a result of an organic brain dysfunction or disease.  With modern psychotropic medications and counseling techniques, it is possible for individuals with an emotional or mental illness to live productive and rewarding lives, and to pursue an education so they can achieve success in a career.

  • Reduced course loads are a good solution for some students with psychological disorders.  Being overwhelmed by deadlines, papers, commuting, social isolation – all can become more manageable for a student who has emotional needs if there is a reduced course load. Often funding can be an issue, but the college may have policies in place to cope with these issues.  Going to classes year round also encourages the student by keeping an acceptable and consistent approach to daily living.
  • Students who have emotional or significant psychological disorders must meet the same code of conduct as any other student.  They cannot abuse the right of access to the classroom instruction nor can they intimidate or otherwise put others at risk including the faculty.  It is likely that the student with the true psychological disability is quite well-behaved and reticent in class.  As long as the student takes the medication prescribed for the illness, meets with his counselor and/or psychiatrist on a regular basis, we may not be aware a student has an emotional disorder.
  • Teamwork – support coordination – has proven very helpful for students with severe emotional needs.It prevents minor events from turning into calamities, controls time and mood issues, and establishes roles and acknowledges skills held by each of the student’s campus support system members.  A team which meets every two weeks with the student could be: disability services staff, several faculty that teach the student that semester, academic advisor, residence director, if necessary, tutors, and a member of the counseling center staff.  Not all of the participants have to be present at each meeting, a confidentiality agreement and the right to share ideas and work together have to meet with the approval of the student.  Triage by the counseling center staff gives control to the meeting and leaves the professionals in charge.  Often students with emotional needs are diffident, and the sheer act of telling one’s story or explanation to five different people at different times can set off waves of panic. Saying the same information just once, in a meeting, with some of the material presented by the counselor is a huge relief.
  • Despite all of the best planning, sometimes a student needs to take a leave or go to the hospital for a brief stay.  New medication may make a student groggy or unable to overcome some difficult side effects.  Schedules may need to be adjusted.  Medication may need to be changed mid-semester as a new scrip may be medically necessary. An incomplete or an extension for a deadline might be needed.
  • It is always a good idea to work with the Disability Services staff if there is a situation where a student’s behavior is questionable.  The advice and intervention as well as appropriate referrals can be made by this staff, and faculty can do the work of teaching and working with the student on class work.
  • Keep emails, notes, and other records from students if there is a pattern of behavior that may need to be reviewed.  Keep records of phone calls and conversations, and discuss incidents with the department chair for further advice.  If the faculty feel there is a sense of threatening behavior, ask to meet with the student with the chair or another faculty member present.


Mobility and Access


Most students with mobility access needs have obvious difficulties with maneuvering in the physical environment.  However, some appear as if they have no disability at all.  They may be limited by how long they can stand, the type of chair and table needed for lectures, an inability to climb stairs, or other problem.

  • Students need to have physical access to programs, services, events, activities, and all other types of experiences as their peers who do not have a disability do.All academic buildings should be accessible.  Additional sites for off-campus experiences and internship-type placements may need to be developed by some departments, but solutions can be found.  There needs to be a choice of sites and a variety of programs offered in those sites.
  • The Disability Services staff ask students to look at the surroundings, classrooms, sites for practica, etc. long in advance of the start of the semester.It is rare that a student discovers they are attending college or participating in a class at the last minute.  Classes can be moved to accessible locations, but the best option is to stay and make the site meet the access needs.


Manual Dexterity/Mobility/Other Physical Access


  • Students with reduced manual dexterity or other physical access needs may need to partner with a student in classes where for safety reasons a task may be impossible for that student to do alone.Faculty in these situations need to determine if the task HAS to be done alone as an essential function of that class.  The ADA’s key phrase of “with or without accommodation” is very important here.  Here’s an example: In an anatomy lab, does the student need to know where a body part is and how it functions, or must excising it from adjacent tissue be done by each student? If location and function are the key goals of a task, a partner is fine.  If the student expects to be a surgeon upon completing the degree, then the accommodation is inappropriate and the student is not “otherwise qualified” to participate in that class.  Faculty consultation with peers, the department chair, Disability Services staff, and professionals in the field may yield solutions that are not apparent at first. Of course, confidentiality relating to the student must be maintained at all times.[/su_expand]

Chronic Medical Disorders

Some student have disabilities which affect their health – compromised immune systems, reduced breathing capacity or endurance, seizure disorders, cancer, heart or other circulatory problems, chronic fatigue syndrome – the list is varied and covers all ages of our student population.  On occasion, the student may need to miss class for what would normally be an unacceptable amount of time.  The student should not be so sick that they cannot attend on a regular basis

Speech Disorders

Let the student who has the speech impairment speak at his own pace.  Making the student feel welcome for office hours or “safe” in speaking in the classroom also can reduce the tension that could make the impact worse.  In some cases, it may be acceptable for the student and faculty to communicate via writing rather than in speech.  Ask the student first and respond accordingly.

The Language of Disability


Our language evolves with increased awareness, sensitivity to the impact that words can have on attitudes, and the impact of the media on our self-esteem.  The language or choice of words has evolved in relation to the awareness we have that individuals who have disabilities are equal contributors and partners in our society as anyone without a disability.  Some disability advocates point out that some individuals are born with a disability, others acquire a disability in accidents or work or war or other trauma.  Some disabilities come just because we are living longer and growing older than previous generations.  Whatever the case, we want to be treated and referred to with dignity.

Avoid using the word “handicapped”.  It refers to the stereotype of a person who had no other means of support than to take off his hat or cap and beg – cap in hand became handicapped.

Avoid putting the word “the” before the term for the disability:  the blind, the deaf, the crippled, the disabled.  Categorizing individuals and putting them into subgroups takes away the individuality and the dignity of the person who is blind, the person who is deaf or hard of hearing, etc.

Put the accent on the person first :

The person who is blind (or visually impaired)

The person who is deaf (or hearing-impaired)

The person who uses a cane, or a wheelchair, or a scooter, or crutches, or has a mobility impairment (note that the person uses the item.)

Student with a disability

Student who cannot speak or is mute (not student who is dumb)


A person who has a muscular or neurological or medical condition which has caused the disability can be used as description:  a person who has muscular dystrophy, a person who has had a stroke, an individual with epilepsy.

Avoid using “victim” or “sufferer “ – it presumes the person is in agony or perpetually helpless.


Areas of Concern

Course Substitution vs. Modification vs. Waiver


In previous educational settings, usually secondary school, some students with disabilities are and have always been exempt from taking courses because to attempt these classes is so challenging and the likelihood of passing them is so minimal that it would be a waste of the students’ and teachers’ time and energy.

What happens when these students are accepted to college?  Are they “otherwise qualified”?  Do they get the waiver – or a substitution of courses?  Can they be taught with accommodations and perhaps some modifications in the methods of teaching or in the competencies required by their peers with no disability?

This is one of the “hot buttons” for campuses nationally, and it became more of a concern with the landmark Guckenberger vs. Boston University case and decision.  The university was “found guilty of failing to conduct a proper individualized inquiry [the Supreme Court mandated method of for analyzing requests for modifications to determine if the institution has an obligation to provide meaningful access] as well as being motivated by ‘discriminatory stereotypes’ (a belief that the students with learning disabilities who had requested substitutions had been misdiagnosed or had exaggerated their needs to get out of the course requirements).  In the final decision, BU was asked to provide ways in which students could be accommodated and meet the foreign language competencies.  After reviewing each student’s request individually and verifying that the documentation was indeed appropriate, BU came back to the court with strategies to take the language requirement that have been generally successful.   For those students who could not truly meet the competencies with accommodations, they received either the right to substitutions or were determined to be unable to earn a degree and thus not “otherwise qualified” (Salome Heyward, Esq., Disability and Higher Education: Guidance for Section 504 and ADA Compliance.Horsham.PA: LRP Publications 1998. p. 2:19-20.

Some students who have a likelihood of being unable to complete a foreign language sequence due to a learning disability or other processing disorder CAN be taught a foreign language with the modification of teaching strategies.  These students may have:  a history of learning difficulties, poor performance in high school, acceptable college performance skills, and evidence of the specific difficulties often seen by students with dyslexia as well as other at-risk behaviors in foreign language classes.


Dr. Lynn Snyder, of the University of Colorado, Boulder, has led a collaborative effort between speech/language faculty and foreign language faculty to design courses that met the criteria to be equivalent in posttest standards but which were modified to meet the needs of the students with learning disabilities or similar speech/language processing needs.  In the   journal, which was dedicated to working with students with learning disabilities, Dr. Snyder compiled indicators in the documentation, strategies for teaching and evaluation that has helped hundreds of students meet U. of Colorado’s requirements.  Her work is duplicable at the high school level as well as at the college level.

What does the LD documentation indicate?


  • Some aptitude noted – average to above-average intelligence but with a significant variation between verbal and performance skills
  • Measure of student functioning under timed conditions (can do work under timed or extended time limits)
  • Full written report – assessment of test scores tied to behavior observed and other tests/functioning capabilities
  • Identification of processing deficit and the impact of this deficit on functioning
  • Clear statement that there IS a learning disability


Speech Intervention / Evaluation Testing


  • The key to the success of this approach is not only a valid evaluation of a learning disability but also several types of test score results that show intellectual ability and also the lack of ability in learning a second language.
  • Scores no lower than the 20-30%ile on the Modern Language Aptitude Test (MLAT)
  • Test scores on MLAT and other tests that relate to poor decoding, comprehension, reading rate, spelling, writing skills, and phonological processing (auditory processing)


The Modified College Foreign Language Course Sequence


  • Languages currently taught as modified foreign languages:  Spanish, Latin, and Italian  (others are in process stage, but outcomes not evaluated as long-term yet)
  • Class maximum: 15
  • NOT open placement: all students are tested to place in the course
  • Mandatory, free tutoring
  • Agreement for enrollment and other rules for the courses signed by the student
  • Specialized teaching strategies
  • 3 courses in the sequences (oral component not as successful to teach in a modified class, thus not currently a component and so no fourth course offered)
  • Multi-sensory teaching approach: videos, role-playing, hands-on, music and slide shows used in the 3 courses
  • High degree of structure in each class with a set type of activity used at approximately the same time each day
  • Explicit instruction, with indication of what is to be covered, instruction in strategies to improve learning as well as presentation of the content
  • Adjusted content pace – slower and work toward mastery before covering new material
  • Representative structure of material – e.g., not all verbs covered, but models for those which are typical as well as irregular forms
  • Frequent repetition and review reinforce the material for students who need to feel mastery of the material.
  • Attention to the affective behavior of the students – feedback, concerns
  • Use a pretest model of the exam to gauge the progress and refer to areas that are weak a few classes before the exam.
  • Use the same person to teach all three segments of the course (101, 102, 201) to build a team approach with the faculty and the class
  • Students need to go from thinking they can’t learn a language to knowing they CAN.  (Remember, many have been “exempt” from language instruction their whole lives because they have been viewed as unable to learn it.)
  • Respond to all questions asked. Anticipate problems and build up the curriculum to compensate for it if there seems to be a block in the learning process.
  • Assign homework for every class and go over it or grade it for each one.
  • Students must sign an agreement to study two hours for every class hour and more before exams.
  • Do not call on students unless they raise their hand or volunteer.
  • Course length can be adjusted if necessary – do 1½  semesters’ time to do what would be 1 semester’s work.  The next semester would start with the second ½  and continue through the following semester if the group really needs more time.


Instructional Strategies

Of the students who have been part of the research and who have completed the three courses, an average of 12 out of 15 pass.  Those who did not pass often had MLAT test scores that were less than the 10th percentile.  They were given the opportunity to substitute cultural content courses for the sequence.

Reduced content volume, mastery of material at a slower pace, testing accommodations, and in some cases, use of assistive technology may make foreign language study possible without intruding on the rights of those who do not have a disability.

Teaching Math to Students with Disabilities

Math is the other area that often is waived or just not offered in high school to students with disabilities.  Too often, students who “cannot do” math have not mastered the skills needed to be competent in math and to be able to keep up in a normal class setting with the presentation of information at the same rate as their peers.  Tutoring is not an accommodation – it is a personal service and not an efficient way to present math to the hundreds of students who are certainly weak and phobic in their reaction to taking math courses.  Some students need to have inventive strategies in learning math similar to what is being done with foreign languages.  Small-group instruction by math faculty who understand development of skills and the psychological process involved in learning math can be models for modification courses.  It is not that the students cannot learn math – most can, but not in the regular classroom settings.

Advising Students with Disabilities


Dr. Richard Vallandingham, Vice President of Student Services at Coastal Georgia Community College, and co-editor with Buddy Ramos of the NACADA Monograph on Advising Students with Disabilities, has given great advice to advisors for students with disabilities who are in need of classroom and internship accommodations:

Once a student with a disability discloses that he has a disability to his or her academic advisor, the student needs to request accommodations based on documentation of the disability by working with the Disability Services staff.  The accommodations change and are adjusted during the time the student is in college, and there needs to be careful attention to the changes in the student’s performance as the mastery of skills for the workplace evolve.

Faculty and advisors need to be aware of the impact of the disability on the student in classes, field/internship/practicum placements, and in the career path the student has selected.  Access may need to be given with accommodations.

There are several provisions of the ADA that specifically apply here:

  • These accommodations cannot fundamentally alter the nature of the program.
  • These accommodations cannot lower or substantially modify academic or program standards.
  • Safety of the student and others in the vicinity cannot be compromised by the accommodation.

Technical Standards & Essential Functions:

  • Faculty and academic departments have an obligation to set technical standardsfor admission that fairly evaluate all of the students who are entering their department or program.  These standards for admission cannot be confused with the skills the student will develop during the preparation for the career that will begin upon graduation.
  • Training and mastery are key components of any curriculum and no one can be presumed to be able to master these components with their current skills at the point they are admitted to the program.
  • The essential functions of a career are the skills needed to perform the work of that career, and they may be tested or evaluated at the end of the degree via participation in a field placement, practicum or internship.  Students must be prepared to meet these essential functions and if necessary, given options of related career paths if the disability’s impact cannot be accommodated.
  • A student’s disability and information is confidential.  NO ONE without a need to know about the impact of a disability should know about it.  Medical records, documentation, counseling reports, etc. are never to be shared with faculty or off-campus site coordinators and staff.
  • Faculty and staff advisors need to be aware of and utilize resources available when planning to advise students.
  • Developing advisement teams for students with disabilities gives different perspectives and a more complete view of the support that can be given to both the student and faculty.  The team could include the advisor, career development staff, and the placement coordinator for the department.
  • Mentoring and using examples of coping strategies as well as creative accommodation suggestions by successful employees in the same field may be available through professional organizations.
  • Evaluate the site where advisement takes place:  is it accessible? If computer work stations are used, do they have adjustable-height tables? Large monitor to take efficiently enlarge print? Can screen-reading software be used with this program?
  • Encourage decision-making based on interest, aptitude, and ability with a focus on abilities, not disabilities.


Testing and Quiz Accommodations


Disability Services staff spend many hours each week providing testing accommodations to students.  Changes in how these accommodations are met have evolved in the past ten years with the increase in students and the improvement in assistive technology and electronic, online course options.  Some classes have all of the exams given online with time adjustments built into the packaging by the publishers of the texts used for the course.  Other faculty use email systems to give exams, and screen reading software may make readers unnecessary.  Whether a campus is using low-tech (readers, pen and pencil and paper exams) or high tech and electronic, we need to provide the option of testing adjustments to qualified students with disabilities no matter where they are in their education.  Accommodations need to be re-evaluated each semester, for each course and for each student.  Remember that all accommodations need to be planned on a case-by-case, course-by-course basis.

A note about time extensions:

Students seem to ask for extended time as if it is a security blanket for every test and quiz.  To see if a student really needs to have more time to complete an exam or quiz, permit them to have the time extension but after the rest of the students have finished and left the room, see how many of the questions have been done and how many are complete.  Often the student with the learning disability has done a much smaller number of the questions posed, but what has been done is usually accurate or may have only minor errors.  Maybe the student needs just a few more minutes to do the whole exam.  There is NO SUCH THING AS UNLIMITED TIME.  “Reasonable accommodation” in this instance refers to a manageable amount of extra time that a student would need to finish the test.  Some standardized tests such as the GRE permit up to twice as much time as the average student with no disability takes.  That could be used as a marker.  With some students, the time varies from test to test, course to course.

  • Some students may need a private, quiet test area.  Others may be fine in the classroom using foam earplugs and turning their desk away from the others to block out those leaving early.
  • For security reasons, those who talk their way through a test cannot be in the same room as other students!
  • Use of a talking calculator or spellchecker – with headphones – may be an accommodation that is useful.  Please examine the calculator before the exam to be sure there are no formulas stored in the memory.
  • Some students may need to have enlarged print on their exams – use the font-size increase features available on all Word products.
  • For those who are unable to memorize but who can follow and apply formulas, use of a formula sheet or key word list enclosed with the exam is helpful.  What is being evaluated – problem-solving or memorization?  Problem-solving is a higher-order thought process.




Alicia is a freshman with a diagnosed learning disability who is taking SOC 100, Introduction to Sociology.  In her sociology class, she needs to have a reader for her exams because she processes ideas better when she hears them.  She tapes her notes from class lectures, her text comes in a taped version, and these strategies have been very effective for her since she was a child and first diagnosed in elementary school.  Dr. Brutus, her professor, wants to see a copy of the testing and the recommendation of the psychologist who evaluated her LD.  If he believes that she needs a reader after seeing the evaluation, then she can have the accommodation.  He will read the test, if his schedule permits.  If not, he will permit her to take the test in the Office of Disability Services.  Alicia is very uncomfortable about Dr. Brutus reading her evaluation.  She wants and needs the testing support.  She likes him and thinks that sociology is fascinating.  What should she do? 

  1. Alicia should NOT give Dr. Brutus her documentation!  It is considered to be a medical record and has to be treated as such, housed separately from other, academic records, and shared only on a need-to-know basis with those who have a reason to have access to the records.  On campus, those records can be housed in three places: the medical services or health center, the counseling center, and the office of disability services.  What Alicia needs to do is to discuss the situation with the appropriate staff at the disability services office; they can discuss her needs with the professor and give a written verification of accommodation needs to her to share with Dr. Brutus. Of course, she has to give written permission for them to communicate.  Once he has had that conversation, he will be willing to provide her the support she needs.  Testing accommodations as determined on a case-by-case, course-by-course basis by the disability services staff so designated are one of the legal provisions of both the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (often called 504).


Case Study #2


Q. All through his life, Mark has struggled with math and math-related work.  Finally, he was diagnosed with a very rare learning disability, dyscalculia.  He has had private tutors since first grade just to meet the minimum requirements for his local high school diploma.  He has had math waived in his first year at the local community college where he was pursuing a degree in liberal arts/humanities.  He is now entering State College.  There is a graduation requirement of a credit-bearing course in math that assumes a student can do math at the pre-calculus level, statistical analysis, and other math concepts that are foreign to Mark.  Will he be exempt from the math requirement in college?

  1.  When a college establishes standards that everyone must meet for graduation, they must be met.   With or without accommodation for someone who has been diagnosed with a disability in a related area, they still must be met.  The coursework to prepare Mark may require him to have extensive tutoring, and it might be better for him to take remedial coursework at the community college if it is needed.  There are two non-credit courses taught at his college, but they may be too advanced for him, and the pace may be too rapid if he takes them.  Since they are non-credit, they will not count toward his degree at either college.  If he cannot pass the math, he does not meet the standards of the college for graduation with a degree.  If a student cannot meet the competencies needed to complete a program, with or without accommodations, then the student could be considered to be not “otherwise qualified” and is not exempt from that requirement.  Section 504 and the ADA both have statements protecting and guaranteeing the rights of qualified individuals who have a disability.  Those standards do not guarantee success; they protect access.


Case Study # 3


  1. Joanna has a significant speech impairment which caused her to require speech therapy through most of her pre-collegiate schooling.   She wants to be a geologist.  Her grades in high school science were outstanding: final state exams were all in the high 90’s, with a perfect 100 on her earth science  test.  Her grades are also excellent in math, and at least mid-80’s in English and history.  She had very little difficulty being accepted to college.  However, Joanna had such a difficult time with her oral speaking skills that she could not do the oral part of the foreign language requirement in high school.  Her high school guidance officer worked to have her waived from that part of the state diploma requirement so she has no foreign language experience.  Her department grants a bachelor of science degree.  Is a second language needed?


  1. A. It may be at some colleges.  Students with disabilities are not exempt from this requirement even if they have a significant disability.  Bachelor of Arts candidates may have to meet four semesters of college or four years of high school credit for a foreign language.  Bachelor of Science students may have to meet two semesters or two years of a language sequence.  Joanna still has two options, possibly three: 1) she has the right to substitute two semesters of American Sign Language because it is considered to be a foreign language by the state education department and by a court decision made last year after the general education requirement was enacted. 2) she can take two semesters of a language with intense tutoring and accommodations and, after she has achieved sophomore status with certain gpa requirements, take it on a pass-fail basis.  If she passes, Joanna will have met the language requirement.  3) The third option is also a possibility on many campuses if the campus elected to do so: the option of course substitution coursework has also been approved.  If it is determined by an academic standards appeal, Joanna may substitute two (for a B.S.) or four (for a B.A.) other courses as determined by an academic standards committee and the deans of the college.  There are some restrictions, however.  If she is ever planning to teach and the certification standards so state, she must have the appropriate foreign language classes for her education certification. Each student who asks for accommodations in this area must be evaluated as carefully as possible: documentation must specifically state why a student cannot take or do the work required for language study.  There are many students who do meet the foreign language standards, and some whom we would not expect to be able to take a class in another language have earned very successful grades or majored/minored in a language.


Case Study # 4


  1. David has a diagnosed mental illness, schizophrenia.  When he takes his medication, he manages to cope with it quite well, sees his counselor on a regular basis, and is quite a good student.  He is a history major with an interest in the wars of the twentieth century, especially World War II, Korea, and Viet Nam.  His health has not been good recently, however.  His psychiatrist has wanted him to try a new medication, his counselor is on vacation and he had a misunderstanding with her stand-by counselor, and he and his roommate had a falling-out.  Dr. Wong, his history professor, has called the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities because David stood up in class, called him Dr. Wrong and began shouting when the professor was trying to explain American and Asian foreign policies during the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s.  Dr. Wong is concerned about David’s behavior and about the safety of not only his students in the class but also his own safety.  What should he do?


  1. Calling the Disability Services Office (DSO) is one of the steps that can start solving this problem before it is worse.  The counseling center, DSO , College Health Center, and the Dean of Students have worked on the issue of student misconduct when students are acting out in class and it is in relationship to an illness such as schizophrenia.  The college’s Student Code of Conduct explicitly prohibits a student from interfering in the presentation of information in class, from harassment of anyone on campus, and from threatening behavior.  David has had numerous “triggers” for his misbehavior, but there is still time to correct the situation if intervention is swift.  He is NOT excused from meeting the code of conduct even though he has a diagnosis and documentation of that diagnosis on file in any of the three offices mentioned above.  To set the necessary intervention in motion, it is very important that David is called immediately by the office that received the complaint from Dr. Wong.  There should be a brief but clearly urgent request placed that he come to that office.  Then, if the student consents, a meeting between the counseling center staff, the disability staff member, and if possible, the off-campus counselor takes place.  The situation is explained to David, support for his counseling needs are offered, the outcome options presented, and hopefully there will be a resolution so that judicial charges or dismissal won’t be necessary.  The medication change may require hospitalization because it may have a temporary adverse effect before it starts to be effective.  The counselor and the professional counseling staff have the mandate to protect the student’s confidentiality so that no communication may be made between them and others without the students’ express written consent.  The professor has every right to protect himself and his students.


Case Study #5


  1. Barbara has a learning disability which affects her ability to read and to spell.  She is very outgoing, creative, and poised.  Her experiences from high school and summer jobs included babysitting, working with elementary school children in art and craft classes and in Sunday school.  With accommodations for her reading (taped textbooks, notetakers) and spelling (a Franklin speller and a spellcheck software package on her computer, as well as voice output software), Barbara earned good grades in high school and was admitted to college in an undeclared major.  She wants to be an elementary school teacher.  As Barbara’s advisor, what do you do?


  1.  If ever there was a time to tread softly and speak the truth, this is it.  Barbara needs to have some choices, but she also needs to face reality.  Some of the courses needed for elementary education seem quite straightforward and are easy for someone who is used to working with children and managing them when they are in less structured situations like a camp or even Sunday school.  Being responsible for their reading, writing, spelling, math, and other reading-related academic preparation for life is a far different matter.  She must be prepared to be nearly perfect in all of her work if she is to realize her goal of teaching in an elementary education classroom.  Tasks must be analyzed and broken down so they can be presented in developmentally appropriate format for young children.  She has to master her reading and spelling demons and find ways to compensate for her own needs, recognizing that it may be impossible for her to do so.  Her disability is significant.  If she can do it, will “good” be good enough?  It is important at the outset of her education to help her make choices of courses that can serve two uses: maybe she can take an art elective that could be used for a degree in art or design.  If she can master her writing and spelling skills to an acceptable level, she might try art education instead of elementary education.  She also might be a social work major who works with young children.  True, she will have extensive reading and writing to do for both majors, but most of it can be done using a computer and the methods she is used to doing.  Sometimes it works out; sometimes not.  There is always that concept of “otherwise qualified” and the fact that if someone is bright, likes children, and can do most things well, there will be a career option open to them.  Self-appraisal and acceptance are very important factors.  Tact and honesty are so vital for the advisor.  She will have to find a concentration area in elementary education, and it is like a major-within-a-major. Perhaps that will be another career path. Watch her progress in classes where she has to do extensive reading and have her take a writing-intensive course to see how she copes.  If she gets only C’s and struggles, that’s a sign that there may be trouble ahead.  She will need to be an independent, nearly perfect reader, writer, and speller if she is to succeed as a teacher.


Case Study # 6


  1. Rolf is planning to enter his junior year at the college with the intention to be a research chemist and earn a Ph.D. in organometallics.  It is a bittersweet entrance.  Two years ago, he had a terrible car accident on his way home from his second year in college.  He fell asleep driving, hit a bridge abutment, and had a spinal cord injury that affected his ability to walk.  He can stand with support, but he has really no other use of his legs.   He called the department in the spring after his doctor has cleared him for returning to campus.  To be a chemist, he must do the lab work, and the lab’s work stations are not wheelchair accessible.  What should the department do about his request for access?


  1. Give it.  The Americans with Disabilities Act set, for the first time, uniform national architectural guidelines that are clear and easy to follow.  Yes, it will cost money to remodel a section of lab bench for Rolf, but once it is done, it will be useful for other students who might need access.  Rolf’s legs do not work, but he can still be a chemist!  Locating the chair in the same lab area as the other students in his class – not his own “special” lab, keeps him part of the interaction of the class.  Designing the area so that he can access the sink, gas, electric and hood areas as his peers can, but at a height and depth that are safe for him will keep the others safe.  If there are questions about how to do this, there are staff at the state vocational rehab office who can give advice.  There are so many types of specialized adaptive equipment that can be used, some no more expensive than regular-use equipment.  The American Chemical Society (ACS) has an excellent resource that really can be a model for other sciences as well: a free publication, Working Chemists with Disabilities: Expanding Opportunities in Scienceis available on request from the ACS.  Published in 1996, its case studies deal with every possible disability and its creative solutions are often very inexpensive and low-tech.  Any lab bench modifications can still be used by other students.  They might be a perfect height for someone who is petite.


Case Study # 7


  1. Bill is legally blind but he wants to take an art studio class.  Blindness as a label can have many degrees.  Bill’s sight permits him to see shapes and colors, and large print at a normal arm’s length.  Still, there are several issues to consider: What can he do safely?  Does he have a partner in class?  Should an aide be hired to watch over him to keep him from being hurt or causing an unsafe situation?  When does the support interfere with his work – if he has assistance, is it still his own work?


  1. Before Bill enrolls in class, discussion must take place to decide not only what he would like to do but more importantly, what can he do? There are four points that must be examined here in relation to the planned accommodations: 1) Making the accommodation or having the individual involved in the activity cannot pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others. 2) Making the accommodation cannot cause a substantial change in an essential element of the curriculum.  3) The accommodation cannot require a substantial alteration in the manner in which educational opportunities are provided. and,  4) Making the accommodation cannot impose an undue financial or administrative burden.  Some courses would be out of the question because of danger involved: use of tools which would be hazardous, such as saws or sharp cutting instruments; materials that would be very hot such as molten steel, other molten metals or hot wax or plastic; etching chemicals or chemicals, when mixed, that could cause reactions that would be dangerous.  Excusing Bill from participation in integral parts of the curriculum or course activities because of his disability would be a substantial change.  If giving him an excused absence deprives him of the chance to interact with his peers from class, that also would be unacceptable.  In current  university policy, it is not legal for the college to hire an aide to assist in doing the work of guiding or protecting the student.  Unlike high school, an aide’s presence in college is not an entitlement; “otherwise qualified” issues are involved.  If a student has an aide, the person may have them for personal care, for maneuvering in the environment of the campus, but they are not there to protect or to be that involved in the class as an aide would be in elementary or secondary school.  The college cannot hire personal care aides.  To determine what courses could be done, the decision must be made based on the skills and abilities and interest of the student, safety, participation, and ways to include the student in all of the course activities.  Each situation and each course is unique; one blind student is not like the next, and how they adapt is also unique.


Case Study #8


  1. Rodney wants to be a graphic artist.  He is quite talented, had extensive art, photography, and computer coursework in high school, and is doing well in his first courses.  The second semester begins, and his professor calls the disability services office in a panic.  Rodney is colorblind!  Is he disabled?  What should they do?  Rodney is very upset that someone could think he cannot remain in this major.  What should be done?


  1. Colorblindness is not usually considered a substantial disability, though it seems like it could be significant in this situation.  Just like driving a car and recognizing which light is lit for “stop” and ”go” can be overcome for someone with red/green colorblindness, there are some fine ways of coping with this situation.  Computer programs have color “swatch” features which can be used to change colors – and they also can be used for color identification.  Learning that Chinese red is a clear red and that fuschia has purple and pink overtones is a name/description memory technique used by several professional graphic designers who are colorblind.  There are so many possible shades used that most designers these days refer to numbers where the average person would see just red or orange or pinkish red.  It would be a more dangerous problem when a person had to work with electrical wiring and match green with green and blue with blue!


Case Study # 9


  1. Marta is very interested in a career in business, but she has a very difficult time with math.  She has been diagnosed recently with a mild learning disability and attention deficit disorder without hyperactivity.  The math problems and LD/ADD are related, according to the psychologist’s report.  Her verbal skills, oral communication, and artistic creativity are excellent.  Marketing might be a good fit, but she needs to pass two accounting courses, several courses in economics and finance, and statistics.  She would like to have those courses waived.  Is that possible?


Case Study # 9


  1.  Marta is very interested in a career in business, but she has a very difficult time with math.  She has been diagnosed recently with a mild learning disability and attention deficit disorder without hyperactivity.  The math problems and LD/ADD are related, according to the psychologist’s report.  Her verbal skills, oral communication, and artistic creativity are excellent.  Marketing might be a good fit, but she needs to pass two accounting courses, several courses in economics and finance, and statistics.  She would like to have those courses waived.  Is that possible?


  1. No.  Giving her a waiver from courses that are required for a given curriculum would be a fundamental alteration of elements traditionally essential to business.  A person who conducts business must have a solid understanding of profit and loss, of how interest rates affect the economy and corporate borrowing, of how growth is measured, etc. Even if Marta were only in a small business with just a few employees, there are so many times that one needs to be able to compile accurate data.  With her verbal and oral communication skills, though, she might be a good candidate in a related field such as advertising.  Much of the math needed for graphics can be done on a computer program exactly designed for that work, so she could learn to cope.  Accommodations can be given for required math courses for all students who have a diagnosed disability related to math, and tutoring is available as well, though it is not considered to be an accommodation.


Case Study # 10


  1.  Daphne comes to your class with a very vague, poorly written note that bears a diagnosis of her chronic fatigue syndrome.  It was written by hand on a prescription pad and is nearly illegible.  She also says she has allergies that can bring on asthma attacks, has severe chemical sensitivity, and that she may need to be excused from class if she is having difficulty with the effects of her multiple disabilities.  As her professor, you are suspicious she is a malingerer.  What should you do?


A.  Legally, it is dangerous for you to get into a discussion of her disability.  You want to be helpful, but you also want the reassurance that this is a bona fide diagnosis and that the services she may need are reasonable accommodations that would give her proper education support.  Call the campus’ Coordinator of Services for Students with Disabilities for some help with this one.  You will not be lying when you say that Daphne could benefit from going there with her letter, and that there are significant benefits for her that she may not be aware of as a student with a disability.  Situations such as these are why policies and procedures for dealing with a student who has a documented disability are so vital.  Documentation standards require students to provide complete and appropriate and well-written statements of the disability by someone who is competent to conduct an evaluation.  It must include the functional limitations of the disability, any medications the student is taking to ameliorate the disability, and the symptoms which the medications may cause.  Restrictions on attendance for the student’s health and progress may be indicated, and recommendations about support that should be given are also expected.  There is no way all of that would fit on a prescription pad note!  Documentation should not be given to a professor; it is confidential medical information and considered to be medical records.  To most faculty, it would be “more information than they would want to know” and even if they do understand the medical jargon, it might have information that is very personal and private that could have an impact on how the student is perceived.  The part about other services is also true.  Often a student may be unaware of educational expense benefits that might be available from the State Education Department’s Vocational Rehabilitation Program.  This could be several thousand dollars a year for tuition, fees, books, transportation, and other expenses.  Attendance is an issue that must be looked at carefully; class participation, sequence of information presented, policies that require interaction with other students on projects may make the traditional college with its 10AM, MWF course sequence unmanageable for someone who truly has chronic fatigue syndrome.  If a reduced course load with little travel between buildings is planned into the schedule, the student may be able to cope with very little lost time