What is a Disability?
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, a person with a disability is one who:
- has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits a major life activity;
- has a record or history of such an impairment; or
- is regarded as having such an impairment.
Major life activities include, but are not limited to, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, working, caring for oneself, and performing manual tasks. These impairments may be present among people with learning disabilities, emotional disturbances, chronic health impairments, attention deficit disorder, diabetes, asthma, physical disabilities, vision, speech, or hearing impairments, or other conditions.
When does an illness or temporary physical problem become a disability?
Each case is considered individually, but generally, a chronic health condition that fits the above definition would be considered for disability status. Physical problems expected to last more than five weeks may be considered disabilities. Regardless, it must create a substantial limitation in ability to function as a student to qualify as a disability.
How Can I Teach To Meet the Needs of a Student With a Disability?
In the first meeting of the class, ask students with disabilities to make an appointment with you to discuss accommodations. This ensures privacy while making students aware that you are eager to help. Include a similar statement in your syllabus.
Suggested Statement for Syllabi:
Messiah College welcomes students with disabilities to participate in all of its courses, programs, services and activities. If you have a documented disability and are requesting accommodations, please:
- Contact the Director of Disability Services, Amy Slody, in Murray Library 115, by phone (796-5382) or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. If your documentation meets the college’s documentation guidelines, you will be given a letter from the Office of Disability Services for your professors and
- As early as possible in the semester, set up an appointment to meet with me, the instructor. During this meeting, we will discuss the academic adjustments specified in your accommodations letter as they pertain to my class. Please note accommodations are not granted in a retroactive fashion.
- The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guarantees the privacy of students with disabilities. Please keep this information private unless the student requests that others be made aware.
- Provide students with a detailed course syllabus available before registration if possible.
- If possible, select a text with an accompanying study guide for student use.
- Clearly express course requirements, due dates, and expectations at the first meeting of the class. Readings should be announced as early as possible to aid students who must use taped materials or other formats. Allow at least six weeks to have a book recorded.
- Begin each class period with an outline of material that will be covered in the class. Summarize key points at the end of class.
- Speak directly to students, using body language to help convey your meaning and looking at the class while speaking to allow a student to lipread, if necessary.
- Write new or technical vocabulary on the blackboard or use a handout or overhead. Use terms in context to help students understand their meaning.
- Give assignments both aloud and in writing to reinforce understanding and avoid confusion about expectations.
- Allow students to tape record lectures.
- Allow time for questions and answers. Include review sessions.
- Provide study questions for exams that demonstrate the format of the test, as well as study questions on content. Explain what constitutes a good answer and why.
- Be prepared to use alternate testing formats (such as extended time or individually proctored exams) to aid students with disabilities.
- Encourage students to use the services offered by Disability Services.
What is my Responsibility to Make Academic Accommodations?
The Americans with Disabilities Act, combined with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act prohibits discrimination against an individual with a qualifying disability. It assures equal access. Students who require accommodation have been certified as eligible for ADA accommodation and will have a letter from the Office of Disability Services (ODS) detailing the academic accommodations for which the student is eligible.
The purpose of the accommodation letter is to verify ADA eligibility, suggest possible accommodations that may be appropriate, and offer opportunity for dialogue with the student to determine how the accommodations can best be provided. You are under no obligation to offer accommodations to students who do not present a letter from ODS. Accommodations are not retroactive, and thus you are not obligated to modify grades or points earned prior to a student’s request for accommodation. We expect students to provide sufficient time for faculty to make needed adjustments. Students are encouraged to meet with faculty within the first two weeks of classes, but there is no time-limit on these requests.
To refuse a student’s request for a reasonable accommodation is a violation of the student’s civil rights and could subject the College to investigation by the Office for Civil Rights and/or lawsuit. Discussion is critical. Unless the requested accommodation can be shown to substantially alter the nature of a course, or does not match up well with the style of instruction, or somehow violates performance expectations in the class, you are obligated to comply with the request. In some cases, an alternative accommodation may be appropriate. When there are issues that cannot be resolved through discussion, instructors are encouraged to call ODS for clarification and/or intervention.
The links on the left side of the page will help you understand some of the accommodations you may be asked to make.
If you are planning a cross-cultural that might include a student with a disability, check out Mobility International USA for information about accommodating students with disabilities in international exchange programs. The Office of Disability Services works with the Epicenter to identify any potential problems a student with a disability who is studying abroad may encounter. They will meet with and advise the student prior to departure to be sure that any necessary supports are in place.
How Do I Interact with a Student with a Disability?
Treat a student with a disability with the same dignity and respect that you would treat any other student. Do not draw attention to the student's disability in front of the class. Handle accommodations in such a way that draws the least amount of attention to the fact that the student is receiving accommodation. Have an open mind about the student's ability to perform in the classroom, the major, and in their selected career. Be creative in finding ways to teach and assess a student with a disability.