Quick Reference Guide: Faculty Responsibilities to Students with Disabilities

This page provides a quick rundown of the basic information faculty need to understand in regard to working with students who experience disability.

Basic Process

  1. Include a syllabus statement that directs students who need accommodation to DS
  2. Check email for formal notification of Approved Academic Adjustments
  3. Complete testing contract if you need the testing centers to proctor accommodated exams on your behalf
  4. Communicate with students and Disability Services to resolve questions or concerns quickly

This page also provides greater detail on:

  • Demographics - how disability is represented in the population
  • Understanding Disability - through a cultural rather than medical lens
  • Documentation - who should review it, and what purpose it serves
  • Accommodation - how the process works
  • Confidentiality - is essential
  • Harassment - is absolutely not tolerated
  • Working with Students - is vital to inclusive learning environments that work for our diverse population
  • Syllabus Statements - are often the first way students learn of the accommodation process
  • Timelines - accommodation is not retroactive but should always be put in place once the need is known
  • Common Accommodations - the most frequently requested accommodation approaches are detailed here, but faculty should always keep in mind that the process is highly individualized. DS is available to help as needed.
  • Liaison Services - are used to ensure faculty can use discretion and give full consideration to requests that fall outside the scope of what can be addressed through accommodation alone

Demographics

Most of the time, disability is hidden. As many as 1 in 5 Americans experience disability and about 1 in 10 formally disclose at colleges and universities nationally. Review our page devoted to helping our community understand disability statistics.

Understanding Disability

The way we understand and talk about disability is important. We are in the midst of social change. The impact of disability studies on academic discourse is exciting. The disability rights movement has impacted both the legal mandates that exist, and the proactive approaches that can help to improve the experiences of individuals who might face barriers. See our handout on models of disability

Documentation of Disability

The changes to the ADA within the Reauthorization of 2008 are reflective of a shift from demanding medical documentation, to working on an individualized basis to understand the impact of disability on educational engagement. PCC Disability Counselors use a combination of approaches to ensure they have a solid understanding of how a student is impacted prior to establishing eligibility for any particular adjustments.

Portland Community College instructors should never accept or review medical or psychological reports if offered by a student to support a request for accommodation.  Students should always be referred to meet with a disability services counselor who will review documentation and determine eligibility for accommodations and services. We have counselors on all campuses and students can schedule appointments with any of our office assistants.

Reasonable Accommodations

At PCC the Accommodation Process consists of the following steps:

  1. Students or prospective students attend a group orientation session to learn how the accommodation process works - no confidential issues are discussed in these sessions. They are informational in nature.
  2. A student provides information and engages in an individualized conversation with Disability Services. The impact of disability as well as tools or techniques that could help improve access are identified.
  3. If a student is eligible for specific adjustments that need to be implemented in a class or lab setting, the student will be responsible for providing formal notification to instructors. The student is responsible for communicating with instructors throughout the process. Disability Services is available to serve in a liaison capacity as needed.
  4. If there are questions, or if additional support is needed, it is important for early communication so solutions can be found expeditiously.

Reasonable accommodation of disability is typically an adjustment to the learning environment that eliminates, or reduces, physical or instructional barriers to learning encountered by the student.  The adjustment must be based on the individual student’s documented need and tailored to the specific student’s disability.  Both the student’s physical accessibility to the classroom as well as the ability to fully participate in all course activities are considered in the process of providing reasonable accommodation.

An accommodation is unreasonable when it creates a change in requirements that are essential to the program of instruction or to meet licensing prerequisites; fundamentally alters the nature of the program; imposes an undue financial or administrative burden; or poses an appreciable threat to personal or public safety.  If you feel a request is unreasonable, discuss your concerns with a DS Counselor on your campus, or with the Disability Services Director. If there is a difference of opinion, the college will consult with appropriate department administrators and make a determination about the appropriateness of the accommodation.

Confidentiality

PCC has designated Disability Services (DS) to be the office to hold documentation and handle information about a student’s disability.  DS staff and disability services counselors cannot share information about a student’s disability with PCC staff unless the student has granted permission to share this information or there is a demonstrated institutional need to know. With the student’s permission, designated faculty and staff will be advised only of the information they need to know to accommodate the student or to protect the safety and health of the student or others.  Consider any communication regarding a student’s disability or special needs to be confidential. 

Harassment

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act define disability harassment as,

“…intimidation or abusive behavior toward a student based on disability that creates a hostile environment by interfering with or denying a student’s participation in or receipt of benefits, services, or opportunities in the institution’s program.  Harassing conduct may take many forms, including verbal acts and name-calling, as well as non-verbal behavior, such as graphic and written statements, or conduct that is physically threatening, harmful, or humiliating.”

PCC takes this issue extremely seriously, and will not tolerate any behavior of this type. Please see the PCC handout on harassment and discrimination.

Working with the Student

Disability Services works with students and faculty to understand the barriers faced by students that could impede equal access to the educational environment.  These accommodations are communicated to PCC instructors via formal notification.

The students may initiate delivery via email, or may bring it in hard copy. If you wish to receive it in an alternate format DS can accommodate your preference. Either way, if your student provides you with an “Approved Academic Accommodations” letter, the two of you will need to privately review the accommodations as they relate to your class.  Ideally this meeting would happen in person, but it could also occur via email or chat. As long as it is effective it can be constructed however you and the student desire. Within the conversation you may ask if adjustments might be needed for specific tasks required in your class, but never ask what is “wrong” or ask for details about the disability.
 
If your student does not present you with a letter and requests accommodations, explain that you must have one before any modifications can be made.  Refer your student to disability services on your campus.

See our handout with tips, and remember the following when you interact with your student:

  • Always put the person first when describing individuals with disabilities. First and foremost, people are people; secondly, they may happen to experience one or more functional limitations.  Hence, they should be referred to as “students with disabilities,” rather than “disabled students.”  Avoid terms such as “handicapped,” “victim,” “special needs,” and “wheelchair student.” See our handouts page for some great resources on language choice.
  • Be aware that many students are extremely uncomfortable approaching instructors to discuss their accommodation needs.
  • Treat everyone as adults.
  • Always use a normal tone of voice when extending a verbal welcome. Don’t raise your voice unless requested.
  • Always speak directly to the student, not to an interpreter or an aide. Never turn to the others and ask, “What does he want?”
  • Be sure that discussions with students about their particular needs are done in private or are discrete.
  • Always treat the information you discussed in your meetings as confidential.

Your Responsibilities

Class Syllabus

The college recommends that you include a statement on your syllabus like one of the following:

"PCC is committed to supporting all students. If you plan to use academic accommodations for this course, please contact your instructor as soon as possible to discuss your needs. Accommodations are not retroactive; they begin when the instructor receives the “Approved Academic Accommodations” letter from you (submitted in person or via email). To request academic accommodations for a disability, please contact a disability services counselor on any PCC campus. Office locations, phone numbers, and additional information is located at www.pcc.edu/disability."

or

"Students who have a documented disability and require a classroom adjustment or accommodation should contact Disability Services www.pcc.edu/disability and provide the Approved Academic Accommodations letter to the Instructor.

Statements like these preserve the student’s privacy and also indicate your willingness to provide assistance. Bring this statement to the attention of your class at the first class meeting.

Accommodation Request Timelines

Student Requests of Instructors:
Requested accommodations are not retroactive; that is, you are not required to re-administer tests or make adjustments to course activities that have already occurred if the student makes a request late in the term. However, from the date of receipt on you must make the necessary adjustments. Disability Services can provide guidance and technical support as needed.
Instructor and Student Requests of DS:
Disability Services will always work diligently to meet needs in a timely manner. Different projects require different approaches so it is important to communicate early.
Common Accommodations

The following are common classroom accommodations listed on “Approved Academic Accommodations” letters:

Alternate Media Formats:
Students who benefit from alternate formats will work with Disability Services to identify accessible formats for textbooks but faculty assistance is required for ensuring accessibility of online assignment or assessment interfaces, handouts, overheads, and other materials. We work to ensure materials are available in accessible formats before the class session in which they are to be used.
 
Media Captioning:
DS will email instructors as early as possible when a student who has previously needed captioned media registers for a course. When the student makes his or her individual request, and the need for this accommodation is confirmed, all multimedia content including online video clips, narrated presentations, videotapes, and DVDs used in class must be captioned or subtitled in advance of the class session in which they are used. If your material is not already captioned, please work with DS or DL as appropriate.
 
Sign Language Interpreters and Transcribers:
Sign language interpreters and transcribers provide communication access services for students. The student will make these requests with DS. You may request a consultation to better understand the role of an interpreter or transcriber in your class, and how best to interact to facilitate student learning.
 
Assistive Technology in the Classroom:
There are amplification and magnification technologies that may be needed by students. Instructor assistance may be needed. Please note, that when communication access services are being provided remotely, or when students just need amplification, you may be asked to wear a microphone while lecturing, and to repeat questions before answering them.
 
 
Notetaking Assistance:

If this accommodation is indicated on the “Approved Academic Accommodations” letter, you may be asked to assist by recruiting a volunteer notetaker or allowing a student to use technology to aid notetaking efforts. Faculty assistance is often needed to ensure equal access. Providing appropriate notetaking support is a cooperative effort between facility and Disability Services.

Peer Notetaker Recruitment

When requested, please make the following announcement to your class until a volunteer has been secured. Never identify the DS student to the class in any way.

"Disability Services is recruiting a volunteer notetaker for this class. This opportunity is for students who are already taking good notes and want to help a fellow student. You will be provided with notetaking paper that automatically makes a copy if you take notes by hand, and will be provided with an upload link if you type your  notes. By sharing your notes you will also become eligible for a thank-you gift from Disability Services. Choices of thank you gifts include PCC Tuition Bucks or a Bookstore gift certificate. If you're interested, please speak with me after class." 


When a peer notetaker has been identified, he or she should be directed to our online registration form at http://tinyurl.com/pccnotetaker. Only one volunteer will be selected for each class.

 

Please also note that Disability Services has an open invitation to faculty who want to opt into Universal Design pilot projects related to notetaking.

 
 
Recording Lectures:
Reviewing material presented orally in class may be a vital study aid for some students. If a request is made, and approved by DS, the student should be permitted to audio record class lectures. Instructors may ask that a student sign a statement promising that recordings will only be used for their personal study and not shared. DS has such agreements and can customize language to address individual faculty concerns. Note that use of LiveScribe pens follows the same guidance as use of tape recorders or digital recorders. Note also, that requests to video record class lectures would require additional conversation, and may or may not be reasonable, depending on the issues at play. Note too, that in all cases, students are expected to be in attendance within courses that are being recorded. In other words, recording lectures is not to be used as a substitute for attending lectures, rather, it is meant to supplement the live participatory experience and give students the chance to review as appropriate for their learning needs.
 
 
Test Accommodations:
Students may need test accommodations such as extra time, a reduced-distraction environment, a test reader and/or scribe, or a raised workspace, or access to adaptive software. Ensuring testing accommodations are implemented properly requires collaboration:
  • Disability Services - will determine appropriate testing accommodations and give students tools to notify faculty (most often an email)
  • Faculty - will determine how to implement the necessary adjustments (on their own or with proctoring through testing center - which requires completion of a brief online testing contract)
  • Testing Centers - will provide test proctoring services for accommodated exams that are scheduled in advance with completed testing contracts in place.
 
Faculty should work with students to confirm arrangements. If Instructors intend to proctor their own exams there is no need to complete the contract, however, if the testing center will be asked to proctor, it is imperative that faculty complete the testing contract (brief online form).

Liaison Services

There are issues that may arise for students that warrant liaison services. These situations arise when students have demonstrated that they experience functional limitations that could impact their experiences within courses in terms of participation, attendance, or alignment with timelines. Because adjustments to these aspects of a course can potentially fundamentally alter offerings, or lower standards, it is not appropriate for Disability Services to treat them as approved academic adjustments. Rather, DS can confirm that the request is backed up by documentation, and encourage the faculty member to give full consideration to the request being made by the student.