Sample Accommodations Letters
A reasonable accommodation is a modification or adjustment to a course, program, service, activity or facility that enables a qualified student with a disability to have an equal opportunity to attain the same level of performance or enjoy equal benefits and privileges as are available to similarly situated students without disabilities. Post-secondary schools are obligated to provide accommodations only to the known limitations of an otherwise qualified student with a disability. To determine reasonable accommodations, DSS staff may seek information from appropriate college personnel regarding essential standards for courses, programs, services, activities, and facilities. DSS staff may also contact, with student permission, the professional who administered the evaluation, as well as former institutions attended by the student, for further information. Accommodations make it possible for a student with a disability to learn the material presented and for an instructor to fairly evaluate the student's understanding of the material without interference of the disability.
A student should have DSS authorization before receiving accommodations. The student is responsible for providing the DSS office with current documentation from a qualified professional regarding the nature of the disability. After talking with the student, and if necessary, the instructor, the DSS office determines appropriate accommodations based on the nature and extent of the disability described in the documentation. The DSS office then constructs an accommodations letter specifying authorized accommodations. The student is responsible for delivering the accommodation letters to instructors and talking with them about arrangements for academic accommodations based on the contents of the letter. Alternatively, the DSS office mails the accommodation letters directly to instructors. The process of requesting and receiving accommodations is interactive; all people involved - the student, the instructor and the DSS office - have a responsibility to make sure the process works.
Reasonable accommodations are determined by examining:
The language of Section 504 and the ADA gives DSS providers the needed flexibility to address each situation on a case-by-case basis. Moreover, an individual may not require the same accommodations in each course. The law guarantees access, not success, to qualified students with disabilities. It is important to have an accommodations process that can withstand the ebb and flow of complicated and sometimes changing psychological and medical conditions, academic freedoms, learning and teaching variables, yet maintain and uphold both content integrity and confidentiality.
It is important to note that neither DSS nor instructors are obligated to provide accommodations retroactively. A student's disclosure of a disability or the request for an accommodation made to an instructor or staff member other than the DSS office need not be treated as a request for an accommodation. The student should be notified that requests for accommodations to DSS should be made early (prior to the start of the semester or very early in the semester) to allow time to review requests and documentation and to make proper arrangements. Accommodation arrangements may be compromised or denied if a request is not made in a timely manner. Requests for accommodations should be renewed by the student each semester.
Examples of reasonable accommodations include:
Steps for Reviewing Accommodation Requests:
The following are some simple steps for reviewing accommodation requests:
Contact the student who has self-disclosed. Make an appointment with the student for an initial interview. Ideally, have the student supply a copy of his/her documentation in advance for the DSS provider's review before the appointment.
At the meeting, use the student's documentation as a starting point for discussion. All accommodations should "grow" out of the documentation that the student provides from a qualified professional. Some institutions have found it helpful to publish guidelines for documentation for specific disabilities. (See Guidelines for Documentation.)
Discuss with the student the nature of the agreed upon accommodations and to whom the accommodations letter or memo will be addressed. It is important to let the student know who at the disability support services office will assist him or her throughout the semester. This is also a good time to assess the student's self-advocacy skills and offer assistance as needed.
In reviewing accommodation requests, the following analysis can be used:
Note: If the answer is "yes" to questions 1-5 and "no" to 6-7, an accommodation should be provided. If this analysis results in a "no" to one of the questions 1-5 and/or "yes" to 6-7, then the accommodation should be denied.
(From the U.
of Wisconsin DSS Handbook: http://jumpgate.acadsvcs.wisc.edu/~mcburney/handbook/accomdt.htm)
The Accommodations Letter: Key Parts
(See also the Sample Accommodations Letters from Frederick Community College and Towson University)
There is no one ideal accommodation letter or memo format. Each institution must develop a form that reflects the entire accommodation process of that particular institution. The following are suggested parts for an accommodation letter or memo:
The Distribution of the Accommodations Letter or Memo:
Option One: Have the student take the accommodations letter directly to the instructor. Preferably, this should be done during the instructor's office hours to allow time and privacy for discussion. This option allows the student to be directly involved in the accommodations process.
Option Two: Send the accommodations letter in
a sealed envelope marked "confidential" to instructors who
the student has designated. This option increases the likelihood that
the instructor will receive
the letter in a timely manner. The student should follow-up with the
instructor to make the necessary accommodation arrangements.
The need for note-takers will be documented in the accommodations letter. Students who cannot take notes or who have difficulty taking adequate notes, can be accommodated in a number of ways, including: taping lectures, using an in-class volunteer note-taker, and/or providing an outline of lecture materials. The student may ask the instructor for assistance in finding a classmate who would volunteer to provide a copy of lecture notes. Instructors can also be of great assistance in quality assurance by occasionally reviewing copies of the notes, especially early in the term, and giving feedback to the note-taker. The note-taker may copy notes at DSS or use carbonless paper, available to the student with a disability at no cost from the DSS.
One way that institutions hire notetakers:
One way that institutions handle taped texts:
Students who have difficulty with printed material may receive their textbooks on tape through Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFB&D). In the event that the requested textbooks are not available through RFB&D, Disability Support Services will record the texts using qualified students. Arrangements for such accommodations must be made through DSS at the beginning of each semester. Eligibility for this service is determined on an individualized basis. Students must demonstrate a substantial visual or learning impairment to receive this supplemental material.
In order to assure textbook availability, students must fill out an application for the books on tape program. On this application, students will list the course(s) for which they are requesting texts on tape.
In general, four to six weeks notice is required to obtain taped textbooks. DSS will make every attempt to provide materials as promptly as possible. However, late requests will result in a delay in providing materials.
Once students are notified that their texts on tape
are available for pick up, they are expected to retrieve the material.
Students who do not
pick up their texts on tape from DSS in a timely matter may lose the
privilege of this service. Additionally, students who do not return
at the end of the semester may incur a $50 penalty. DSS will make every
effort to contact students about the need to return texts on tape before
a penalty is imposed.
Some Tips for Facilitating the Implementation of Accommodations
The accommodations letter should specify that the instructor and student immediately contact the DSS office with any questions or concerns regarding implementing the accommodations.
Many issues can be settled with a phone call from the DSS provider acting as an advocate for Section 504 and ADA and/or a three-way meeting with the student, instructor and DSS provider.
Have new students/instructors contact willing "older" students/instructors to learn from them how they have handled confusion or resistance to the accommodations process.
Some institutions provide instructors with faculty/staff guides and handouts designed to help them understand and provide accommodations for students with disabilities. For example, see Frequently Asked Questions Handout from the University of Wisconsin at: http://www.mcburney.wisc.edu/information/faq.php
The DSS office can coordinate a panel of students with disabilities and instructors to speak with other instructors at pre-semester meetings, highlighting how instructors at the institution have helped students with disabilities through the accommodations process, the balance between accommodations and content integrity, specific accommodations that have helped, etc.