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Faculty Guide to the Americans with Disabilities Act

What Faculty Members Should Know About the Americans with Disabilities Act

A Guide for Working Effectively with Students who Have Disabilities 

What is the ADA?

The Americans with Disabilities Act is a federal law intended to stop discrimination against people with disabilities. It applies to employers, state and local government agencies, places of public accommodation, transportation facilities, telephone companies, and the U.S. Congress. Under Title II of the ADA, public colleges and universities are required to provide auxiliary aids and services to qualified students with disabilities. Providing auxiliary aids and services is not considered special treatment, but rather an equal opportunity to participate in the services, programs, or activities offered by the institution.

What are my responsibilities as a faculty member?

Campus compliance with the ADA is a shared responsibility, and faculty members play an important role in an institution’s efforts. The ADA is a civil rights statute, ensuring that students with disabilities will have the opportunity to participate in postsecondary education without discrimination. For faculty members, providing reasonable accommodations or auxiliary aids and services is one way to prevent discrimination.

What is the purpose of the academic accommodations?

Students who have disabilities are capable individuals who experience some limitations that may require adaptation of materials, methods, or environments to facilitate learning. Accommodations may also ensure that when students are evaluated, they are able to demonstrate what they learned rather than the effects of their disability.

How do I decide which accommodations are appropriate for a particular student? 

Because appropriate documentation is usually provided by the student to staff within the Disability Support Services office, faculty members are not responsible for making decisions about accommodations. Disability service professionals recommend the accommodations which will be most effective in assuring the student’s access to academic programs. Students have the responsibility for requesting accommodations and services, and must provide documentation of conditions that may warrant academic accommodations. Before providing particular accommodations for a specific course, the disability specialist carefully considers the nature of the student’s disability and how this disability may affect the student’s ability to learn, and to demonstrate achievement, in the course.

How will I know that a student in my class is supposed to have an accommodation?

The Disability Support Services office will notify faculty members of the type of accommodations that will be provided each semester. Many of these accommodations, such as sign language interpreters, will be provided by the Disability Support Services office, while other accommodations, such as extended time for exams, will require the cooperation of the faculty member. Not every student needs every accommodation, and the Disability Support Services office is the best campus resource for working with each student to determine the accommodations that are needed for each individual student.

Occasionally a student may ask you to provide accommodations, but you never received notification from the Disability Support Services office. To protect yourself, the student, and your institution, you should recommend that the student channel any requests through the Disability Support Services office.

Students have a right to privacy in disability matters, and their confidentiality must be maintained. Please file notices of accommodation in a secure place and refrain from discussing their disabilities and necessary accommodations in the presence of fellow students or others who have no educational need to know.

Will accommodations compromise the integrity of my class or academic program? 

No. When providing accommodation for disabilities, institutions of higher education are not required to lower academic standards or compromise the integrity of the school or program. Essentially, accommodations and auxiliary aids and services are provided to “level the playing field” for the student who has a disability, enabling the student to compete with their non-disabled peers. Once you have provided accommodations, you should grade the work of a student who has a disability as you would grade the work of any other student. There is no need to give them a break by being unduly lenient. To grade students more harshly because they have had the opportunity for additional time for exams or other instructional modifications would nullify the effect of the accommodations.

What else can I do?

Don’t be afraid to ask a student to describe how he or she learns best. You can also make your course more disability-friendly by including information on your course syllabus that encourages students with disabilities to contact the Disabilities Support Services office for assistance in receiving accommodations. If you need additional information or specific resources, please contact your campus Disability Support Services office.

References:

  • Americans with Disabilities Act: Responsibilities for Postsecondary Institutions Serving Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students - Questions and Answers Jeanne M Kincaid, Esq. & Sharaine J. Rawlinson, M.S.W., 1999
  • Don’t Cry For Me: I’m in Compliance Jeanne M. Kincaid, Esq., 1997
  • Disability Compliance for Higher Education - 2000 Year Book LRP Publications, 2000
  • ADA Questions and Answers for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Individuals National Center for Law and Deafness
  • Community Colleges and the ADA: How to Make Sure OCR Doesn’t Come Knocking on Your Door LRP Publications, 1999
  • Nondiscrimination in Higher Education - What’s the Law? NETAC Teacher Tipsheet, 1999