Frequently Asked Questions

What constitutes a disability?


What does substantially limiting mean?


What is a major life activity?


What does otherwise qualified mean?


Do students with disabilities receive special consideration during the admissions process?


Is it appropriate for an instructor to ask a student what type of disability she has?


Can the instructor share information regarding a student's disability with anyone else?


What should a student do if he suspects that he has a disability and wants to receive accommodations?


Does an instructor need to alter the course or evaluation criteria for a student with a disability?


What if an instructor disagrees with the accommodations identified by the disability services office?


What if a student with a disability is failing?


When should an instructor provide accommodations?


What constitutes a disability?

As defined in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a disability is a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. If there exists a mental or physical condition, a history of such a condition, or a condition that may be considered by others as substantially limiting, then the student may have a legally defined disability.


What does substantially limiting mean?

According to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, substantially limiting is defined as being unable to perform a major life activity, or being significantly restricted as to the condition, manner, or duration under which a major life activity can be performed, in comparison to the average person or to most people.

What is a major life activity?

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 refers to major life activities as breathing, walking, talking, seeing, hearing, using ones hands, taking care of oneself, working, and learning.


What does otherwise qualified mean?

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 clarifies the term otherwise qualified by stating that a student with a disability must meet the essential eligibility requirements for admission and participation with or without reasonable modifications.


Do students with disabilities receive special consideration during the admissions process?

No. Students with disabilities must meet the same standards of admission that all students are subjected to, and they are expected to meet the same standards of performance as all other students if admitted.


Is it appropriate for an instructor to ask a student what type of disability she has?

If a student does not disclose a disability to the instructor, it usually is not appropriate for an instructor to inquire about the student's disability. If the student requests an accommodation, the instructor should ask the student to provide the appropriate documentation from the disability services office.


Can the instructor share information regarding a student's disability with anyone else?

Instructors are obligated to keep all information regarding a student's disability confidential, even if the student has shared that information with the instructor.


What should a student do if he suspects that he has a disability and wants to receive accommodations?

If a student suspects that he has a disability that is impacting his academic performance, he needs to provide the disability services office with the appropriate documentation of that disability from a qualified professional. The qualified professional must be licensed or certified to diagnose the disability in question. Documentation is required in order to determine and provide requested accommodations.


Does an instructor need to alter the course or evaluation criteria for a student with a disability?

According to federal law, the instructor is not required to provide an accommodation that fundamentally alters the course itself, nor is the instructor expected to alter the grading scale or evaluation criteria of the course. Although students with disabilities may receive accommodations, they should be expected to perform at a level commensurate with their peers.


What if an instructor disagrees with the accommodations identified by the disability services office?

If an instructor disagrees with the accommodations or is aware of course-specific factors that have bearing on the accommodation, the instructor should immediately consult with the disability services office. Faculty members do not have the right to contest the existence of disabilities that have been properly verified, nor do they have the right to refuse to provide reasonable accommodations. Instructors do have the right and responsibility, however, to participate in the decision-making regarding the type and range of accommodation that will be provided as it relates to course instruction.
What if a student with a disability is failing?

It is important for instructors to remember that providing reasonable accommodations to a student with a disability does not guarantee success in the course. Students with disabilities may not master the course material, just like any other student. Students with disabilities have the same right as other students to fail as part of their educational experience.


When should an instructor provide accommodations?

Instructors are required to provide accommodations after the student has provided the appropriate documentation from the disability services office. Students have the responsibility for making their accommodation needs known to the instructor in a timely fashion. Typically, students are encouraged to provide instructors with written verification from the disability services office detailing their identified accommodations. They are also encouraged to discuss privately with the instructor their accommodation needs. They are not, however, required to discuss their disabilities.