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Disability Resources Basics for Faculty

Working Together for an Accessible Campus

Faculty Guide to Disability Access

The Basics

Nationally, 10-12% of college students have some type of disability. At UMD, 4-5% of our students have disclosed a disability to Disability Resources. So if you think you're getting more accommodation requests, you are right. 5% of BOH 90 or CHEM 200 is a lot of students! Most of these requests are legitimate and reasonable, but others may leave you wondering how to respond. This guide is designed to help with those decisions.

Disability legislation (Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and its updates, the ADA Amendments Acts of 2008 and 2010) is civil rights legislation that prohibits discrimination against students with disabilities. In this context, discrimination refers to the any University course, program, service, or employment that is inaccessible to any qualified student, including disabled students. Examples of this discrimination include a textbook that the student can't read because of a disability, a lecture that the student can't hear because of a disability, a test that can't be completed in the allotted time because of a disability, a restroom that can't be used because of a disability. The purpose of accommodations is to provide access in these and other situations. The other key word here is "qualified". In the context of disability law, qualified means that the student has met the admission standards of the University, with or without accommodations. To remain qualified, students with disabilities must meet all relevant academic and conduct standards as other students.

Reasonable accommodations do not fundamentally alter a course or reduce the academic standards of a course or program. Disability Resources (DR) specialists consider this when writing accommodation letters. However, if we suggest an accommodation that you think will fundamentally alter your course, please let us know immediately

The following will help us:

  1. Please do not provide disability accommodation to students not registered with DR. This may set a precedent for accommmodations that are not warranted and opens both the faculty and the University to possible lawsuits if denied at a later time. Refer these students to Disability Resources.
  2. Students registered with DR are required to provide documentation of their disability. Based on that documentation and discussion with the student, DR specialists authorize accommodations designed to mitigate the impact of that student's disability (often different than what the student used in high school).
  3. Please read the forms students ask you to sign.
  4. If you have questions about the accommodation, ask the student or call the DRspecialist who signed the request form. DR is happy to involve you in the accommodation process. You are the expert on what is essential in your classes.
  5. Students are instructed to go to your office hours, but we know this doesn't always happen. If you prefer students to bring these forms to you during your office hours (rather than before or after class) to give you time to discuss the requested accommodations, please tell them.
  6. Please drop off your exams to Disability Resources at least one day before the scheduled exam time. This is especially important when the student needs to begin early to use their extended time.
  7. Students need note taking services for several kinds of disability limitations. Your help in identifying note takers is invaluable. Please continue to make the announcements and encourage volunteers.
  8. If you have a sign language interpreter assigned to your class, please include them on the class alias so they may be informed and prepared for each class.

Disability Resources supports faculty as well as students. Please call us with your questions and concerns. We are your partners in education.


Where do I refer this student?

College students experience academic problems for a variety of reasons; some disability related, many are not. Deciding if a referral to DR is appropriate can be complex. The following may help sort out the issues.

Refer to Disability Resources when:

  • The student discloses a disability.
  • The student discloses a disability-related reason for missing classes.
  • The student does the readings, but doesn't understand the content.
  • The student is a very slow reader and unable to complete the readings.
  • The student has difficulty understanding lectures or taking usable lecture notes.
  • The student consistently has exam challenges such as running out of time, lack of focus, or mis-reading test questions.
Refer to Counseling Services when:
  • The student reports test anxiety.
  • The student reports "blanking-out" and unable to remember content during an exam.
Refer to Health Services when:
  • You suspect the student is using excessive amounts of caffiene or alcohol or other substances.
  • The student is falling asleep in classes or reports not getting enough sleep.
  • Other health-related issues are interfering with attendance, concentration, and learning.

Other referrals for the student who is having trouble understanding the course content:

  • You may be the best resource. Teach the student learning strategies that are pertinent to your discipline. Teach them how to assess their progress and set goals for improvement.
  • Refer the student to the Tutoring Center if the course is supported there.
  • Refer the student to Supportive Services Program if study skills training is needed, for example:
    • The student doesn't know how to study.
    • The student doesn't know strategies for reading the textbook.
    • The student is unable to manage time.
    • The student is unable to strategically take an exam.

Disability accommodations, including test accommodations, are not provided to referred students until the need for them is documented by an appropriate professional.

Letters of Accommodation

The Letter of Accommodation (LOA) is written to help students develop self-determination skills and to help faculty ensure access to their classes. The LOA will verify that the student has a documented disability and qualifies for the listed accommodations. If a student asks for accommodations, but has no LOA, please refer him/her to Disability Resources. if you have questions or concerns about the accommodations, please call the specialist who wrote the letter.

DR's Learning Outcome
Disability Resources has identified self-determination, the ability to manage one's life by making thoughtful choices and to be able to advocate for oneself, as our primary student outcome. Students are learning and practicing these skills when meeting with faculty to request accommodations.

The Student's Role
The student will bring you a copy of the LOA with any needed request forms. They are to initiate the discussion and return all completed forms to DR. Students are instructed to go to office hours or to make an appointment for this discussion. As required by law, all information in the LOA is confidential. Please maintain that confidentiality when meeting with the student.

Students Needing Test Accommodations
Whenever possible, we encourage students and ifaculty to arrange accommodated testing in the department, to allow students access to the instructor during the test. For students who take exams in the Disability Resources Test Center:

  • Please fill in the dates, class exam time, length of exam, and all materials allowed.
  • Indicate test delivery/pick-up methods.
  • Sign and date the accommodation form.
  • Please do not sign incomplete forms.
  • Keep the back page for your records.

Students are responsible for getting the forms back to Disability Resources at least three business days before the first exam. Please contact Disability Resources ASAP if there are changes or issues with the exam.

Students Needing Note-Taking Assistance
Students will bring a note taker announcement with the LOA. Please read or e-mail the announcement to your class and identify a reliable note taker. Direct the volunteer note taker to Disability Resources at 258 Kirby Student Center to complete paper work and get additional instructions. Please keep the requesting student's name confidential.


Designing Courses for Universal Access

The most recent figures indicate that 11% of American college students have disabilities and may be requesting accommodations from their professors. With some thought and planning, you can design cources to be more accessible and eliminate accommodation needs for many students.

The principles of Universal design can be used as a guide to thinking about accessibility. This means that instead of designing your courses for the "average" learner, you design them for the broad range of learners at UMD. Consider these aspects of diversity: a wide range of abilities, ages, reading levels, learning styles, native languages and cultures, disabilities. Additionally, students of any culture or learning style can have impairments to their vision, hearing, mobility, reading, or ability to concentrate. Building in flexibility in how students can accomplish the learning tasks required in your courses will make them both more accessible and welcoming.

Beyond learning outcomes
Many of us at UMD are currently defining learning outcomes and measures for our students. Our process looks something like this:

1. Write goals for the course.
2. Define learning objectives.
3. Design the means of assessment: learning activities, projects, papers, exams, etc.

A "Fourth Step"
DR suggests a fourth step: Identify and provide solutions for any learning barriers that might prevent students from succeeding in your course. These questions can guide your analysis:

1. Considering the essential, non-negotiable knowledge, skills, and/or values you have determined students must master in your course, what learning activities will you use to teach and assess them?

2. What abilities do the students have and/or need in order to do the planned learning projects and activities? For example, you may discover that a learning activity requires substantial physical movement, use of both auditory and visual information, access to visual print format, English language proficiency, and/or sustained concentration.

3. What barriers may potentially block student accomplishment?

Can students with mobility, vision, and hearing impairments function in the physical environment?
Will lighting or background noise be an issue?
Can a language difference (such as ability to fluently understand and speak, take notes, read and write) limit the students' inclusion in an activity?
Can personal differences such as culture, age, gender, preparedness,or learning differences prevent inclusion in an activity?
Can the activity induce anxiety?

4. If you do identify a barrier, you have some choices:

Can you change or delete the learning activity?
Can you provide individual adjustments or accommodation?
Is there Universal Design solution?

Universal Design solutions generally benefit more than one group of users (think curb cuts and captioning) and provide choices in how students complete the activity. UD solutions, when fully integrated into the design, are invisible. To help you get started, below are a few examples of Universal Design solutions:

+ Use a variety of instructural methods and materials.
+ Create and post notes on an accessible web sites.
+ Describe slides orally. Use at least 18 point font, and allow adequate time to read each slide.
+ Provide clear expectations and feedback.
+ Use simple, intuitive language.
+ Ensure videos are captioned.
+ Use innovative ways to assign small groups to promote inclusiveness.
+ Practice variations of the activity to evaluate its inclusiveness.

Sample Syllabus Statement

Students with disabilities:
It is the policy and practice of the University of Minnesota Duluth to create inclusive learning environments for all students, including students with disabilities. If there are aspects of this course that result in barriers to your inclusion or your ability to meet course requirements – such as time limited exams, inaccessible web content, or the use of non-captioned videos – please notify the instructor as soon as possible. You are also encouraged to contact the Office of Disability Resources to discuss and arrange reasonable accommodations. Please call 218-726-6130 or visit the DR website at for more information.

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The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer.
Last modified on 05/04/15 09:36 AM
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