Students with Disabilities and the Role of Faculty
Brigham Young University is committed to compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which extends civil rights to people with disabilities and provides for reasonable accommodations. The university makes every effort to accommodate individuals with disabilities within the scope of existing laws, and this is a shared responsibility. The University Accessibility Center (UAC) recognizes that the role of faculty is critical to the university's mission, and we are committed to partnering with faculty to provide students with disabilities equal access to all opportunities at BYU and to create an environment that facilitates learning and assists students in reaching their full potential. We rely on faculty to assist our office in providing reasonable and appropriate accommodations, and we look forward to participating in an interactive process with both faculty and students.
A student who self-discloses to a faculty member that he/she has a disability and requests academic accommodations should have a letter from the UAC verifying that the student qualifies for academic accommodations. If the student does not have a letter, the instructor should refer him/her to the UAC to obtain such a letter.
Instructors who receive accommodation letters or other disability-related information from students are required to keep that information confidential from other class members and should refrain from revealing personally-identifiable information to other instructors. Also, instructors should allow the student to take the lead on the issue of disclosing personal information. Instead of asking, "Do you have a disability?" or "What is your disability?", ask questions such as "Is there any more I can know about your situation to help you?" or "What can you tell me about your learning style?"
The academic accommodations which the UAC recommends to faculty are based on the student’s documentation of disability (as provided by the student's healthcare professional) and the specific functional limitations as determined by this documentation. Faculty members should not deny an accommodation approved by the UAC without engaging with the UAC to discuss their concerns. If an instructor has questions or concerns about recommended accommodations, please contact the student's UAC coordinator at 801-422-2767.
Accommodations should be reasonable and should not alter the essential functions of a course or program. Faculty should hold accommodated students to the same academic standards as other students. No retaliation should occur for students who request and receive accommodations.
Instructors may receive accommodation letters throughout (rather than just at the beginning) of each semester, given that students may not be diagnosed with a disability, may not be able to obtain documentation paperwork, or may not realize that they need accommodations until part way through the semester.
It is not mandated that accommodations be implemented retroactively by instructors; for example, you are not required to accept late assignments when you did not know about the accommodation previously.
If you have concerns that a student is not using his/her accommodations appropriately, please let us know.
Electronic Accommodation Letters
In Fall semester 2016, the UAC began generating accommodation letters electronically. The UAC had discussed switching to electronic letters for some time before doing so and were aware that, despite the benefits (e.g., more efficient, timely receipt and tracking of letters; easier letter-delivery process for students who have disorders such as social anxiety), there would also be drawbacks, one of which would be that students might be less likely to approach their instructors individually.
In order to try to counteract this, the UAC strongly encourages students to make direct contact with their instructors to discuss their accommodations, particularly if those accommodations require coordination with the instructor (e.g., leniency with absences, reserved seating). In addition to sending their letters to their instructors electronically, students may also print out and hand a hard copy to their instructors.
Instructors may want to make an announcement in their classes that they would like students with accommodations to visit with them directly (e.g., before or after class, during office hours, etc.), and instructors may want to add such a request to their syllabus. Instructors are also welcome to reach out individually to the students who have sent them letters. (The "Email Student" button at the bottom of each electronic letter may help to facilitate this.)
Sometimes students who have sent electronic accommodation letters to their instructors may not follow up with a visit to the instructor, and possible legitimate reasons for this are as follows: 1) The student who sent the electronic letter may not actually need any/all of his/her accommodations in that particular class; 2) Although accommodations are specified in the letter, those particular accommodations may not require coordination with the instructor (e.g., note takers, alternative textbooks); and 3) The student may be waiting to see if he/she actually needs to utilize his/her accommodations in that particular class.
After students grant their instructors access to their electronic letters, instructors who use Learning Suite will be able to see which of their students are accommodated students by way of accessibility icons displayed next to their names on class lists. The primary instructor will receive the letters and will be able to view the icons on Learning Suite. (For more information on viewing the icons, visit http://lsinfo.byu.edu/uac-accommodation-letters.) If instructors need to pass along accommodation letters to TAs or course coordinators, they will need to download the letters and email them or print and hand them to those individuals who have a need to know.
Faculty Syllabus Statements
The UAC recommends that each member of the BYU faculty have a statement in their class syllabus which informs the students of options for students with disabilities. The following is an example of such a statement:
“Brigham Young University is committed to providing a working and learning atmosphere that reasonably accommodates qualified persons with disabilities. A disability is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Whether an impairment is substantially limiting depends on its nature and severity, its duration or expected duration, and its permanent or expected permanent or long-term impact. Examples include vision or hearing impairments, physical disabilities, chronic illnesses, emotional disorders (e.g., depression, anxiety), learning disorders, and attention disorders (e.g., ADHD). If you have a disability which impairs your ability to complete this course successfully, please contact the University Accessibility Center (UAC), 2170 WSC or 801-422-2767 to request a reasonable accommodation. The UAC can also assess students for learning, attention, and emotional concerns. If you feel you have been unlawfully discriminated against on the basis of disability, please contact the Equal Employment Office at 801-422-5895, D-285 ASB for help.”
Faculty may also include the following statement in their class syllabus with regard to animals in the classroom:
"Service animals are allowed in the classroom. Generally, animals that are strictly for emotional support or comfort are not allowed in the classroom. Questions may be directed to the University Accessibility Center (2170 WSC, 801-422-2767)."
Temporary medical conditions such as broken limbs, concussions, surgery, flu, pregnancy, etc. are not usually considered disabilities. It is appropriate for students with temporary medical conditions to work directly with their professors instead of going through the UAC. However, these students may visit with a UAC coordinator to brainstorm options for handling their situation. Volunteer services provided by the UAC (e.g., note taker, exam reader/scribe) may be considered. Documentation from the treating physician will be required.
Training for Faculty and Staff
The University Accessibility Center strives to serve as a resource to faculty and staff for training and information regarding Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and how best to work with students with disabilities who register with our office. We would be happy to meet with you individually or to present in your faculty or staff meetings. Simple question/answer periods can also be arranged. Please contact the UAC Director: GeriLynn Vorkink, Ph.D. / 801-422-8985 / firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tips for Accommodating Students with Disabilities at BYU (presentation handout)
Services Offered for Faculty and Staff
Faculty members who have disabilities and are in need of accommodations should contact Tom Patterson, Faculty Relations Manager (email@example.com). Staff members who have disabilities and are in need of accommodations should contact Collette Blackwelder, Equal Employment Opportunity Manager (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Tips for Communicating with Students with Physical Disabilities
- Speak directly to the person, not to a companion or interpreter.
- Always offer to shake hands when meeting someone.
- Identify yourself when meeting someone who is blind.
- If you offer assistance, wait until the offer is accepted, then ask how to assist.
- Treat adults as adults.
- Do not lean against or hang onto someone's wheelchair or scooter.
- Listen attentively when talking to people who have difficulty speaking, and do not interrupt.
- Place yourself at eye level when speaking to someone in a wheelchair.
- Pat a person who is deaf on the shoulder to get his or her attention.
- Don't be embarrassed if you use common expressions or phrases that seem to relate to a person's disability (e.g., saying "See you later!" to a person who is blind).
Faculty and Department Awards
Each year the University Accessibility Center (UAC) solicits feedback from our students and staff, asking them to nominate those faculty members who demonstrate the greatest levels of understanding and advocacy for students with disabilities. We receive a number of nominations, but Dr. Katharina Paxman and Dr. James Swensen were chosen as this year’s outstanding nominees, and they were recognized at the UAC's Eighteenth Annual Awards Banquet on March 6th, 2019.
In addition to being honored at the banquet, Dr. Katharina Paxman and Dr. James Swensen have also earned the Accessibility Center Good Samaritan Mentored Learning Award for their respective colleges. This award, established by our generous donors, Keith and Carol Jenkins, provides substantial funding to be used for mentored student learning within the colleges.
Dr. Katharina Paxman is an assistant professor of philosophy at BYU. She specializes in early modern philosophy, particularly David Hume’s theory of the passions. She received her PhD in 2010, jointly awarded by the University of Western Ontario and the University of Antwerp. She then completed a post-doctoral contract with the University of Antwerp’s Centre for Ethics. She has been published in Hume Studies, The Journal of Scottish Philosophy, Res Philosophica, and several anthologies on Hume’s philosophy of mind. Her hobbies include being involved in theater, making music, drawing/painting, and exploring the world with her three young sons and her husband, Andrew. Students with disabilities have expressed that Dr. Paxman has gone above and beyond in providing them with assistance and accommodations, often in innovative ways that involve a considerable amount of extra time on her part. Dr. Paxman believes strongly in their ability to excel and achieve their goals.
Dr. James Swensen is an associate professor of art history and the history of photography at BYU. His research interests include documentary photography and the art and photography of the American West. He is the author of Picturing Migrants: The Grapes of Wrath and New Deal Documentary Photography and In a Rugged Land: Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange and the Three Mormon Towns Collaboration, 1953-1954. He is the recipient of the 2016- 2019 Butler Young Scholar Award from the Charles Redd Center for Western American Studies and the LeRoy Axland Best Utah History Article Award in 2018. His hobbies include skiing, hiking, photography, and traveling. He and his wife, Katie, and their four children have participated together in five study abroad programs. Dr. Swensen loves assisting students with particular needs and challenges, and they have expressed profound gratitude for the support he has given them. His syllabus states, “If you are a student with disabilities, I strongly encourage you to take this course.”
How should I handle the situation where a student comes in with an accommodation letter and the letter is dated two or three weeks previously, and the student has already missed assignments?
- You are not required to accept the late assignments given that you did not know about the accommodation. Accommodations are not designed to be retroactive.
- Also, even if the student had provided you with an accommodation letter earlier, the student would still have needed to contact you in advance of each particular assignment for which he/she needed additional time, in order to negotiate a new due date. The typical extension for assignments is 3-4 days.
- This accommodation does not allow for an extension beyond the last day of class.
- However, disability law provides a floor vs. a ceiling. Thus, if you feel you can allow late work without compromising the essential functions of your course even though you just received the accommodation letter, or if you feel that you can extend the deadline a bit beyond the last day of class, you may choose to do so. In such cases, some professors may choose to accept the work but dock some points.
What should I do when a student who has only attended three class sessions over the entire semester brings me an accommodation letter at the end of the semester specifying leniency with absences?
- Accommodations are not retroactive, so you do not need to provide leniency with absences in this situation.
- Students with the accommodation of leniency with absences are instructed by the UAC to contact you as close to the beginning of the semester as possible to establish with you a reasonable absence limit for the course. The most typical absence accommodation is an additional 50% allowance.
- If students miss a class, they are still responsible for all material covered during the class period.
- If an instructor considers attendance to be an essential function of the class (typically as explicated in the course syllabus), the student can be held accountable for missed time.
Flexible Exam Dates
At the beginning of the semester, a student provided me with an accommodation letter that specified flexible exam dates. My first exam just closed yesterday, and now the student is asking me if he can take it next week. Do I have to allow him to do this?
- No, you don’t have to allow the student to take the exam late. Students with the accommodation of flexible exam dates are instructed to contact you prior to the examination deadline, as soon as the student believes an extension will be necessary.
- At that time, a new due date should be arranged that is satisfactory to both parties. The typical extension is 3-4 days. However, if the test has already been open for a week, then a 1-2 day extension may be more reasonable.
- This accommodation does not allow for an extension beyond the last day of finals.
Constant Use of Leniency-Related Accommodations
I have a student who has the leniency-related accommodations of additional time on assignments, flexible exam dates, and leniency with absences. She seems to use them constantly. Is this okay? I’m worried about her falling behind.
- For many accommodations, students need the modification every time (e.g., a deaf student needs every lecture interpreted; a student with anxiety or ADHD might need extra time on every exam).
- But for the leniency-related accommodations (e.g., additional time on assignments, flexible exam dates, leniency with absences), the intention is that students will invoke their need for the accommodation only on an as-needed basis related to their disability, and only by specific request.
- The UAC instructs students to use these accommodations sparingly so that they do not fall behind. However, if the student does need to use the accommodations more frequently, it is his/her responsibility to work to keep up in the class.
- If you feel that a student is using his/her accommodations inappropriately, please contact the UAC.
Distraction Reduced Testing in WSC 1111
I know that the UAC provides proctored testing through their Accessibility Lab in 1111 WSC, but when I sent a student over there to take a test, the student came back and told me that the Lab was not able to provide distraction reduced testing for him. Why might this be?
- In order for students to utilize the UAC Lab’s rooms for distraction reduced testing, they must already have met with a UAC coordinator and been granted the accommodation of distraction reduced testing specifically in that Lab.
- Students with this accommodation must schedule a testing room at least two school days in advance so that the Lab will have time to contact the professor and arrange to obtain the test.
- Testing room space in 1111 WSC is limited, so your student may ask if the two of you can make your own arrangements (e.g., having the test proctored by a TA in an empty classroom, etc.). It is the student’s responsibility to make a reasonably timely request before the day of the test.
- Students who have the accommodation of extra time on tests do not automatically have the accommodation of distraction reduced testing.
Academic Standards for Students with Depression
I have a student who let me know that he was just diagnosed with depression, and he is thinking about visiting the UAC to obtain accommodation letters. We meet weekly to discuss his progress in the class, but I have no idea how to assess his performance in my class. I really want to help him progress, but it’s as though my normal criteria for assessing students don’t apply in the same way. I’m afraid if I push too hard he’ll regress, but if I don’t push hard enough he won’t finish. Do you have any suggestions?
- Don’t adjust your academic standards. A student with a disability is still required to study and produce work consistent with other students in the same class. Also, consider the notion of equivalent educational experience. Lowering academic standards could be exposing the university to liability for not providing an equivalent educational experience.
- If a student discloses to you that he/she is depressed and cannot attend or keep up, consider:
- Suggesting campus resources (e.g., Counseling and Psychological Services, UAC)
- Giving an Incomplete
- Suggesting a Withdrawal
- Turning it into an independent reading class and discussing excerpts occasionally with the student in person, via email, etc. (not required!)
Similar-Looking Accommodation Letters
Many of the accommodation letters I receive seem quite similar. Are they genuinely individualized, reflecting the unique situation of each student?
- Although many letters may be similar, they are genuinely individualized in that they are very carefully and conscientiously derived from individual conditions.
- There are some accommodations that are more commonly given than others.
- As many of our students have similar disabilities (depression/anxiety and ADHD being the most common), the letters can be nearly identical.
Students Not Following Up with Instructors
Ever since the UAC switched to electronic accommodation letters, many students are sending me the letters but not following up with me personally. What is the UAC doing about this situation, and what can I do to encourage students to visit with me about their accommodations?
- In Fall 2016, the UAC began generating accommodation letters electronically. Despite the benefits (e.g., more efficient, timely receipt and tracking of letters; easier letter-delivery process for students with social anxiety), a significant drawback is that students might be less likely to approach their instructors individually. In order to try to counteract this, the UAC strongly encourages students to make direct contact with their instructors to discuss their accommodations, particularly if coordination with the instructor is required.
- In addition to sending their letters to their instructors electronically, students may also print out and hand a hard copy to their instructors.
- In order to encourage students with accommodations to visit with them, instructors can make announcements in class and add that request to their syllabus.
- Instructors are also welcome to reach out individually (e.g., via email) to the students who have sent them letters. In order to facilitate this, there is an “Email Student” button at the bottom of each electronic letter.
- If students don’t respond to your email, you can communicate this to the UAC. You can also follow up yourself by emailing a student your specific expectations for the implementation of the accommodations.
Reasons for Not Following Up
Quite a few of the students who send me electronic accommodation letters never follow up with me, even when I make announcements in class. Why might this be?
- The student may not need his/her accommodations in your particular class. (It’s so easy to send letters electronically that many students go ahead and send them to each and every one of their instructors regardless of their need in that class.)
- The student’s accommodations may not need coordination with the professor (e.g., note taker, alternative format textbooks).
- The student may be waiting to see if he/she actually needs to utilize accommodations in your particular class.
Late Letter Submission
I often receive a flood of accommodation letters toward the end of the semester, which can cause a host of problems. What can I do to encourage my students to send me their letters earlier?
- On the first day of class (and as students add), instructors can strongly encourage students with disabilities to send in their letters as soon as possible.
- Instructors can explain that doing so will help instructors be aware of the students’ situations and more able to help the students succeed. If the students end up not needing to utilize any accommodations in the class, that is fine. But if they do, a plan will already be in place for how to work together.
- Instructors can emphasize that they will not view students negatively based on their submission of a letter.
- Keep in mind that students may send accommodation letters at any time during the semester, as some students may not be diagnosed, may not be able to obtain documentation paperwork, or may not realize that they have a need for accommodations until part way through the semester.
Managing Accommodations in Large Classes
I have 700-800 students in some of my classes. How can I possibly keep track of all of the electronic accommodation letters I receive?
- Instructors can download electronic accommodation letters and file them together on their computer.
- Instructors can be aware of when it is appropriate to utilize TAs (e.g., for coordinating testing accommodations).
- If needed for the implementation of accommodations, instructors can download or print accommodation letters and hand or email them to their TAs.
- Primary instructors who use Learning Suite are able to see which of their students are accommodated students by way of disability indicators displayed next to their names on class lists.
Talking with Students About Disability
What should I say, or not say, to a student in regard to disabilities?
- Accommodation letters do not specify the student’s particular disability. If you receive an accommodation letter, do not ask the student what the disability is or presume to know what it is. For example, do not say, “You seem a lot like my brother who has ADHD; is that what you have?”
- If you have not received a letter but suspect that a student might have a disability, don’t ask, “Do you have a disability?”
- Better questions would be: “Is there any more I can know about your situation to help you?” or “Can you think of any other ways I can help you in this class?” or “What can you tell me about your learning style?”
- Guiding principles are to allow the student to take the lead on the issue of disclosing personal information; to be accessible to the student; to maintain the confidentiality of the student; and to contact the UAC with questions regarding how to work with a student.