Portland Community College | Portland, Oregon Portland Community College

Quick reference guide

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 statement in your syllabus that directs students who need accommodation to Accessible Ed & Disability Resources.
  2. Check your email for formal notifications of Approved Academic Adjustments and log in to view active requests.
  3. Implement accommodation upon receipt of formal notification. Communicate with students and Accessible Ed & Disability Resources to resolve questions or concerns quickly.

Common topics of interest

Demographics and understanding disability

Most of the time, disability is hidden. At least 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.

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

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 better understand the impact of disability on educational engagement. Accessible Ed & Disability Resources uses a combination of approaches to ensure we have a solid understanding of how a student is impacted prior to establishing eligibility for any particular adjustments.

PCC 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 Accessible Ed & Disability Resources. We will review documentation and determine eligibility for accommodations and services. We have practitioners on all campuses, and students can schedule appointments with any of our office assistants.

Accommodation process

Our accommodation process consists of the following steps:

  1. Students self-identify. This usually means filling out our “getting started” form, but sometimes means calling us, emailing us, or coming into one of our offices. The getting started process is what establishes the initial connection.
  2. Once connected, students provide information and engage in an individualized conversation with Accessible Ed & Disability Resources. 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.
  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
  • It fundamentally alters the nature of the program
  • It imposes an undue financial or administrative burden
  • It poses an appreciable threat to personal or public safety.

If you feel a request is unreasonable, discuss your concerns with an Accessible Ed & Disability Resources counselor on your campus, or with the Accessible Ed & Disability Resources 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.


PCC has designated Accessible Ed & Disability Resources to be the office that holds documentation and handles information about a student’s disability. Accessible Ed & Disability Resources staff and counselors cannot share information about a student’s disability with other 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 if they need the information 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.


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 nondiscrimination and non-harassment policy.

Working with the student

Accessible Ed & Disability Resources 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.

Students typically initiate delivery via email, but may bring it in hard copy. If you wish to receive it in an alternate format, Accessible Ed & Disability Resources can accommodate your preference. Either way, if your student provides you with an Approved Academic Accommodations letter, you will need to review the accommodations as they relate to your class. If you have questions, 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 but requests accommodations, you may explain that you must have one before any modifications can be made and refer your student to Accessible Ed & Disability Resources.

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.
Class syllabus

The college recommends that you include a disability statement on your syllabus. For example:

“PCC is committed to ensuring that classes are accessible. Accessible Ed & Disability Resources [www.pcc.edu/disability] works with students and faculty to minimize barriers. If students elect to use approved academic accommodations, they must provide in advance formal notification from Accessible Ed & Disability Resources 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.

Please also use the syllabus upload link on any accommodation notices you receive.

Accommodation request timelines
  • Student requests of instructors:
    • Requested accommodations are not retroactive – 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. Accessible Ed & Disability Resources can provide guidance and technical support as needed.
  • Instructor and student requests of Accessible Ed & Disability Resources:
    • Accessible Ed & Disability Resources 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 Accessible Ed & Disability Resources to identify accessible formats for textbooks. 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. Learn more about alternate media formats »

Media captioning

Accessible Ed & Disability Resources will email instructors as early as possible when a student who has previously needed captioned media registers for a course. When the student makes their 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 Accessible Ed & Disability Resources or Distance Education as appropriate. Learn more about media captioning »

Sign language interpreters and transcribers

Sign language interpreters and transcribers provide communication access services for students. The student will make these requests with Accessible Ed & Disability Resources. 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. Learn more about interpreters and transcribers »

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. Learn more about adaptive equipment loans »

Notetaking assistance

If this accommodation is indicated on the Approved Academic Accommodations letter, you may be asked to assist. Providing appropriate notetaking support is a cooperative effort between facility and Accessible Ed & Disability Resources. Learn more about notetaking support options »

Please also note that Accessible Ed & Disability Resources 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 Accessible Ed & Disability Resources, 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. Accessible Ed & Disability Resources has such agreements and can customize language to address individual faculty concerns.

Note that use of Livescribe pens or notetaking apps follow the same guidance as use of tape recorders or digital recorders. Also note that requests to video record class lectures may require additional conversation, depending on the issues at play.

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.

Accommodated exams

Students may need exam accommodations for timed assessments such as extra time, a reduced-distraction environment, a test reader or scribe, a raised workspace, or access to adaptive software. Ensuring testing accommodations are implemented properly requires collaboration:

  • Accessible Ed & Disability Resources will determine appropriate exam accommodations and provide students with a mechanism to notify faculty.
  • Faculty will determine how to implement the necessary adjustments, on their own or with proctoring through testing center (requires completion of a brief online testing agreement form).
  • Testing Centers may be able to provide exam proctoring services for accommodated exams that are scheduled in advance with completed testing agreement forms in place.

Faculty should work with students to confirm arrangements. If instructors intend to proctor their own exams, or if there are no timed assessments, faculty can indicate this is so rather than completing the agreement form. However,  if the testing center will be asked to proctor, it is imperative that faculty complete the testing agreement form as early in the term as possible. Faculty can always review or edit these agreements by logging into the online accommodation management system to access the instructor dashboard.

Learn more about accommodated exams » and consult the PCC Accommodated Testing Handbook.  See this handout on uploading exams.

Liaison services

Some students experience chronic fluctuating functional limitations that can flare up unexpectedly, impacting participation, attendance, or alignment with timelines. These are situations in which students may make requests for flexibility. Instructors need to consider these requests on an individualized basis.

Accessible Ed & Disability Resources facilitates this process to ensure the request does not pose a fundamental alteration or lower standards. Please note that any adjustments to course policies, rules, or deadlines are to be identified and agreed upon in advance and do not serve as a blanket waiver, nor do they allow deadlines to extend beyond the published end of course.

  • AEDR provides student-instructor agreement forms for liaison services. These brief forms are housed within the online accommodation system, and are meant to document the ways in which flexibility is being considered and put in place within individual courses. Typically, the student will complete the agreement form after talking with their instructors, but AEDR can also complete the form on behalf of instructors and students. View the questions used in the form. Once a form has been completed or modified, both the instructor and student will receive an email confirmation.
  • See our handout on liaison services and the interactive practice. AEDR practitioners are available to consult at any time, and we can provide a form to help guide the process on a course by course basis.
  • For additional context, please see this e-form signed by students who are eligible for liaison services. This e-form is signed each term before notification is sent to faculty.
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