Although enrollment rates of students with disabilities in higher education are increasing, some faculty and teaching staff may not be aware of the many services and supports available to students with disabilities. In particular, instructional staff members may not always be aware of the types of accommodations available or what steps are involved in the accommodations process. The following is a list of frequently asked questions regarding the roles and responsibilities of faculty and teaching associates in providing accessible learning for students with disabilities. Although these questions address the most common of concerns, the issue of faculty and TA responsibility is situation-specific and as such can be difficult to define. As you are confronted with some of your concerns, keep in mind that the Abilities Office is the office on campus that determines appropriate accommodations. We hope that you find the following questions to be a quick and useful resource guide, but we encourage you to contact the Abilities Office at (773) 995-2380, when you are in doubt about how best to meet the needs of a student with a disability.

Q: Who is responsible for determining appropriate accommodations?

A: The Abilities Office is the office on campus that determines appropriate accommodations. The office bases its decision upon documentation collected from a student with a disability and the student’s functional limitations. Accordingly, students may not select accommodations at will. Accommodations must be reasonable and must correspond to the individual student’s functional limitation.

Q: Are all students with disabilities registered with the Abilities Office?

A: No, it is likely that many students with disabilities have chosen not to be registered with the Abilities Office or they may not have met the eligibility criteria for services. In either instance, faculty does not need to provide these students with accommodations.

Q: What would be the best way to inform students in the class that I would like to help in facilitating exam accommodations or any classroom accommodations?

A: It is important that all faculty put a statement about accommodations in their syllabi. Following is a sample syllabus statement which you may use: “Students with a disability who require reasonable accommodations to fully participate in this course should notify the instructor within the first two weeks of the semester. Such students must be registered with the Abilities Office which is located in the Cordell Reed Student Union Building, Room 190. The telephone number is 773-995-2380.

Q: Am I required to provide exam accommodations to students with verified disabilities who request it?

A: Yes, you are required to provide exam accommodations if it has been determined by the Abilities Office coordinator to be a reasonable accommodation. Students with disabilities are protected by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 504. This law requires that qualified students with disabilities get equal access to an education, and this includes exam accommodations.

Q: A student has asked for accommodations. How do I know the student truly has a disability and needs accommodations?

A: Students who have registered with the Abilities Office and are eligible to receive accommodations will provide you with a letter verifying that she /he has a disability. The Abilities Office has on file for every student who is registered with the office and uses services, documentation of the disability.

Q: I have a student in class who told me that she /he has a disability, but since that time has never requested any accommodations. Am I still responsible for accommodations?

A: No, you are only responsible for reasonable accommodations if requested. In these types of situations, however, it would be appropriate to speak to the student privately to let the student know that you welcome the opportunity to discuss reasonable accommodations if the student is interested.

Q: What are some of the types of exam accommodations available to students with disabilities?

A:  First of all, the exam accommodations are based upon the student’s functional limitations and the documentation of disability that the student has provided the Abilities Office. Some of these accommodations include but are not limited to: extra time for exams (usually 50% extra time or as much as double time), a reader or scribe (a person who writes answers verbatim), a computer, a Braille exam, an enlarged exam, an exam scanned onto a disk and use of computer (student uses voice, enlargement options, or spelling /grammar check), a distraction-reduced space, image enhancements (converting graphs, charts, and other types of images converted into raised-line format), and use of a closed circuit TV to enlarge print.

Q: When I have a deaf student in class, is it a requirement that an interpreter is also present in the class?

My class is very crowded and also, the students sometimes watch the interpreter instead of me.

A: Yes, you are required by law to have what is essential for the student to have equal access to an education, and this may include a sign language interpreter. However, the Abilities Office assumes responsibility for acquiring interpreter services.

Q: A student with a disability has asked me for a copy of my notes and overheads. Do I have to give this to the student?

A: Some students with disabilities have difficulty taking notes. Sometimes faculty notes are only a brief outline of the actual lecture given. These notes may not be too helpful. Even though the Abilities Office assumes responsibility for providing note takers to students who require them, it is extremely helpful when you assist the student in getting access to class notes. You may want to help the student find a volunteer note taker in class by making an announcement in class without revealing the student's name. If you have a graduate student in class to assist you and if this person takes notes, these notes may be another option. If you feel your notes are good, sharing your notes would be a third option. Some faculty and departments have developed web site guided notes. This can be extremely helpful to many students who lack the ability to keep up the pace in taking thorough notes. It may also be appropriate for some students to tape a class.

Q: I have a student who is having difficulty in my class. I think this student may have a disability. What should I do to help the student?

A:Talk privately with the student to discuss your observations that the student is having difficulties in the class. The student may reveal she /he has a disability. If this is the case, suggest that the student talk to the Abilities Office coordinator. She /he may contact the Abilities Office at 773-995-2380 for further information.

Q: Am I required to lower the standards of a required assignment because the student has a disability?

A: No, the standards should be the same for all students; however, some students with disabilities may exhibit their knowledge, production, and other course expectations differently than their peers. For example, a student with a learning disability in writing may produce an essay exam by using a computer or scribe rather than writing out an answer without the use of accommodations. The quality of the work should be the same.

Q: I have a student with a disability getting behind in his /her schoolwork. This student is missing a number of classes and has not handed in several assignments. Although she /he has taken a midterm and used accommodations, the student ' s grade is about a D. At this point, the student is not passing the class. Do I have a right to fail a student with a disability?

A: The student with a disability has the same right to fail as anyone else. Their work should be equivalent to that of their peers. It may be a good idea to discuss your observations with this student just as you would with anyone else in your class who is experiencing difficulty.

Q: I have a student who is blind in my chemistry lab. How is she /he going to participate and be graded in his /her lab work?

A: If possible, assist the student in getting a lab partner or assign a student assistant to work with the student with a disability. In either situation, the student who is blind should direct the assistant to carry out the functions of the lab assignment. If a volunteer lab partner cannot be found, suggest to the student that she /he needs to contact the Abilities Office as soon as possible for assistance in getting a lab partner. The speed in making these arrangements is critical so that the student will not get behind.

Q: Do I have any recourse if I disagree about requested accommodations?

A: To clarify any disagreement about a requested accommodation, you can first contact the Abilities Office.

This Fact Sheet was adapted from content compiled by the Ohio State University Partnership Grant, "Improving the Quality of Education for Students with Disabilities" , funded by the U.S. Department of Education under grant #P333A990046.

Teaching for Inclusion: Inclusive Design

One of the common concerns instructors have about accommodations is whether they will change the nature of the course they are teaching. However, accommodations are designed to give all students equal access to learning in the classroom. When planning your course, consider the following questions (from Scott, 1998):

  • What is the purpose of the course?
  • What methods of instruction are absolutely necessary? Why?
  • What outcomes are absolutely required of all students? Why?
  • What methods of assessing student outcomes are absolutely necessary? Why?
  • What are acceptable levels of performance on these student outcome measures

Answering these questions can help you define essential requirements for you and your students. For instance, participation in lab settings is critical for many biology classes; however, is traditional class lecture the only means of delivering instruction in a humanities or social science course? Additionally, is an in-class written essay exam the only means of evaluating a student who has limited use of her hands? Could an in-person or taped oral exam accomplish the same goal? (Scott, 1998; Bourke, Strehorn, & Silver, 2000)

When teaching a student with any disability, it is important to remember that many of the principles for inclusive design could be considered beneficial to any student. The idea of “Universal Design” is a method of designing course materials, content, and instruction to benefit all learners. Instead of adapting or retrofitting a course to a specific audience, Universal Design emphasizes environments that are accessible to everyone regardless of ability. By focusing on these design principles when crafting a syllabus, you may find that most of your course easily accommodates all students. (Hodge & Preston-Sabin, 1997)

Many of Universal Design’s methods emphasize a deliberate type of teaching that clearly lays out the course’s goals for the semester and for the particular class period. For instance, a syllabus with clear course objectives, assignment details, and deadlines helps students plan their schedules accordingly. Additionally, providing an outline of the day’s topic at the beginning of a class period and summarizing key points at the end can help students understand the logic of your organization and give them more time to record the information.

Similarly, some instructional material may be difficult for students with certain disabilities. For instance, when showing a video in class you need to consider your audience. Students with visual disabilities may have difficulty seeing non-verbalized actions; while those with disorders like photosensitive epilepsy may experience seizures with flashing lights or images; and those students with hearing loss may not be able to hear the accompanying audio. Using closed-captioning, providing electronic transcripts, describing on-screen action, allowing students to check the video out on their own, and outlining the role the video plays in the day’s lesson helps reduce the access barrier for students with disabilities and allows them the ability to be an active member of the class. Additionally, it allows other students the opportunity to engage with the material in multiple ways as needed. (Burgstahler & Cory, 2010; Scott, McGuire & Shaw, 2003; Silver, Bourke & Strehorn, 1998)


The Association for Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) has a list of resources for implementing universal design principles in the classroom: