Disability Law & Higher Education
The Americans with Disabilities Act
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and now the 2008 ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) provide the civil rights guarantee for persons with disabilities in the United States. The ADAAA provides protection from discrimination for individuals on the basis of disability. It is not intended to afford anyone special privileges. The ADAAA upholds and extends the standards of compliance set forth in Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to employment practices, communications, and all policies, procedures and practices that impact on the treatment of students with disabilities.
The ADAAA defines a disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; has a record of a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity, or is regarded as having such an impairment.
Not everyone with an "impairment" is disabled; only those whose impairments rise to the level of "substantial limitation" are qualified as disabled.
- How does a student access accommodations?
- Do faculty need to adjust their academic standards?
- How can faculty encourage students to self-identify their learning needs?
- What are the faculty member's responsibilities in the accommodation process?
- What are examples of academic accommodations?
- How can faculty advisors assist their advisees with learning issues?
In compliance with the ADA, students must self-identify, provide documentation of their disability to Learning Support Services, and request accommodations. Specific procedures and documentation requirements are in place, but we are still dependent on the student coming forward. Accommodations requested after the fact are not appropriate and generally need not be provided.
Each semester students must complete a signed Request for Accommodations Form in order to receive accommodations for that term.
Letters will then be written to each of the student’s professors and advisor. Letters identify the student as registered with acceptable documentation and list accommodations that would be appropriate. Depending on the nature of the disability and the accommodations requested, the amount of advance notice provided may impact the University’s ability to provide accommodations.
Copies of the documentation and faculty letters are kept on file in the Office of Learning Support Services. Confidentiality is emphasized.
Students are expected to personally deliver their letters to faculty. This would be an ideal opportunity to meet privately and discuss specific accommodations relative to course procedures and expectations.
Each letter sent to professors includes the following statement: "It is the student's responsibility to meet with you, as early as possible, to discuss his/her needs and course requirements, and to arrange for specific accommodations." This is essential to establish communication with professors at the start of the semester. Arrangements need to be made in advance for all accommodations, but especially for extended-time testing. Whenever a test is announced, the student must meet with the professor to determine arrangements for extended time. This cannot wait until the day before the test.
With few exceptions, students are expected to take a test on the assigned date. The accommodation of extended test time does not mean extended preparation time.
Faculty members do not retroactively provide academic accommodations for course requirements for students who have not previously presented a letter from the Learning Support Office supporting such requests.
Academic accommodation, as required by law, is not meant to compromise academic standards. It is intended to create an opportunity for students with disabilities to learn and for professors to evaluate fairly. Students with disabilities expect access and opportunities, not alterations in academic expectations. Your academic requirements and course objectives should remain unchanged. Modifications may need to be made in the way a student receives information or demonstrates knowledge, but not in the academic proficiency standards.
The best way to encourage students to discuss disability-related accommodations with you is to include a statement in your course syllabus. Because each disability may require a different approach in providing appropriate academic accommodations the following is a suggested statement that you could reinforce with an announcement at the start of the semester:
"Students with disabilities who require reasonable academic accommodations should schedule an appointment to discuss specifics with me. It is the policy of Villanova to make reasonable academic accommodations for qualified individuals with disabilities. You must present verification and register with the Learning Support Office by contacting 610-519-5176 or at email@example.com or for physical access or temporary disabling conditions, please contact the Office of Disability Services at 610-519-4095 or email Stephen.firstname.lastname@example.org Registration is needed in order to receive accommodations."
An announcement of this type will help preserve the student’s privacy, demonstrate your willingness to provide assistance, and encourage an early identification for accommodations. When a student with a disability does request an accommodation, please feel free to consult with Learning Support Services for assistance in providing the services.
Upon written notification from the Office of Learning Support Services, the faculty member is responsible for making the recommended appropriate accommodations or arranging for reasonable alternatives.
Follow-up meetings and discussion between students and faculty are helpful and recommended. Professors are encouraged to include a statement in course syllabi inviting students to discuss their individual learning needs with them as soon as possible and to register with the Learning Support Office. Students should take advantage of this invitation.
Faculty are expected to keep all shared disability information confidential.
Students with disabilities may not require the same accommodations throughout their college courses and will vary according to how she/he is functioning at that time. Student needs are assessed on an individual basis and requests for accommodation are made accordingly. Accommodating students with disabilities does not mean setting different standards for them. It may mean allowing students to demonstrate what they know in a mode that fits their needs; adapting classroom presentations, assignments, activities and administrative procedures to ensure an accessible educational environment; or allowing the use of adaptive equipment such as tape recorders, voice amplifiers, or print enlargers. For students with disabilities, these accommodations are critical to success in school.
There is no one list of reasonable academic accommodations that will serve the needs of all students with disabilities. The following are some basic examples:
- Extended time on examinations (This does not mean extended preparation time, except in rare instances)
- Provide exams in alternate format (if appropriate to subject matter)
- Allow a reader or recorded version of an exam
- Assist students in locating a notetaker in class
- Provide lecture notes, if available
- Allow students to take exams in a distraction-reduced setting
- Allow oral, recorded or typed exams
- Provide alternatives to computer-scored answer sheets
- Provide an early syllabus for students needing books in an alternate format
- Arrange for students with a hearing loss to have sound amplified - this may require wearing a voice amplifying microphone
The above examples would only be considered appropriate for specific individuals with documentation to substantiate the need.
In the role of academic advisor or professor, faculty can be very helpful by being available to discuss a student's learning problems in a forthright manner. A recently diagnosed student with a disability may feel tremendous relief when learning a reason for their difficulties. Even those students who have been previously identified often do not have a clear understanding of how their disabilities affect them in college.
Students who were identified in elementary and secondary school will often have a difficult time with the stigma associated with programs that removed them from the regular classroom. Later, students will often deny the persistence of a learning disability because of that painful experience. Many of these "cured" students may react defensively about difficulties in class due to concern about returning to the special education room of long ago.
Students can use help in learning to become their own advocates in positive ways. They need to learn to accept their disabilities as relatively normal problems or variations in order to be able to reach their potential. Students with learning disabilities need to take into account the difficulties they have in performing certain tasks on a daily basis.
As an advisor:
- Be supportive of a student needing to learn in different ways
- Keep discussions confidential
- Demonstrate interest in working with the student's learning needs
- Make it clear that they will be held to the same standards of excellence as other students
When advising students for the next semester, please consider the description of their disability and the accommodations listed in the letter from the LSS. Faculty/Advisor awareness of a specific student's learning difficulties may assist in suggesting certain course combinations or recommendations for specific preparations. Please keep in mind that students with the same diagnosed disability may still have very different needs.