Understanding a student's specific disability is often the first step to properly supporting them in the classroom, residence hall, or on the playing field. Below are definitions of psychiatric and physical disabilities commonly found among the college-age population.
Students must provide documentation from a professional with appropriate qualifications for treating their disability; the nature of their disability, however, is not disclosed to faculty unless the student chooses to disclose this information or gives written permission to the Associate Director of Student Disability Services to share this information.
The ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act both use the same definition of disability, and neither law outlines a list of conditions that are considered to be disabilities. Students are considered to have a disability if they have either a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such impairment, or are regarded as having such impairment (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 1992). Therefore, some students with mental health impairments will have a disability covered under the ADA and some will not, depending on how each individual's disability impacts his or her situation.
Important Changes Regarding Professor Accomodation Letters for the Disability Services Office
Letters will be sent electronically to professors. Please either save them electronically or print copies for your records, as they apply to accommodations throughout the entire semester
Details Regarding the new Policies:
- The professor notification letters are being sent electronically in an effort to save paper. The accommodations listed in the letters will apply to students throughout the entire semester, so that it will be important for faculty to retain either an electronic or hard copy for your records on each student who receives accommodations.
- Students will be encouraged to meet with each of their professors to explain and answer any questions regarding the requested accommodations.
- Students will arrange their tests with the Connors Family Learning Center.
Professors should follow instructions sent by the Connors Family Learning Center to provide them with a copy of testing materials.
Below is a list of academic accommodations that students with disabilities qualify for in the classroom and the policies that guide them. If you have any questions about the accommodations below, please either email the Disability Service Office at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 617-552-3434 to speak to a member of our staff.
Absent Due to Medical Condition:
Student has a medical condition that may flare up from time to time, and may require a few more absences beyond what is permitted according to the attendance policy in your course syllabus. The student is expected to attend class regularly and is responsible for making up all outstanding work including any in-class assignments.
The DSO will provide an alternative version of the student’s textbooks based on their needs. Professors may be asked to send a list of course readings and the syllabus of the class to the DSO prior to the start of the semester so that DSO staff can convert texts to an accessible format. We encourage professors to create their supplemental readings as editable PDFs, rather than scanned copies of print materials. Scanned print materials are not accessible to students with visual impairments.
Captioning Services: If you plan to show a video or video clip in class, please email Rory Stein, Associate Director for Students with Disabilities, at email@example.com who will coordinate the captioning and have it embedded to your course website.
CART (communication access real-time translation) is an accommodation for students who are D/deaf or hard of hearing, and consists of a high-level typist who will attend classes in person with the student or join the class virtually if it meets online. If the CART reporter is in class, the student will sit next to them and read off of the reporter's laptop while they type. You will not be responsible for any aspect of implementing this accommodation.
Double Time on Exams and In-class Assessments:
Student will require a double-time extension on timed in-class or online exams, quizzes or any timed assessment (for instance, if an exam is two hours long, the student should receive four hours to take it). Students will schedule in-class, in-person exams with the Connors Family Learning Center. The CFLC will contact you for a copy of the exam. You are also free to administer it if you have a separate, distraction-reduced space and a proctor. If you plan on giving an online exam or quiz, you will need to add the extra time to the student’s test via CANVAS. Please consult with the Center for Teaching Excellence if you require assistance providing extended time for an online exam.
Students who are D/deaf or hard or hearing may use a device called an FM system to enhance their hearing during lectures. The student may ask you to wear a small microphone in order to improve sound quality in course meetings.
Make-up Exams Due to Illness:
Student may need to be administered a make-up exam due to a flare-up of their medical condition. Faculty members and students should work together to coordinate a time for the make-up exam. Students will need to notify their faculty member in advance of the missed exam.
Negotiated Extensions on Papers and Assignments:
Student may need an extension(s) to complete papers, assignments and/or projects due to a flare-up of one’s condition leading up to a deadline. They are required to notify you before the assignment deadline to request an extension of a reasonable length (a few days to a week, though the two of you will need to negotiate the revised deadline).
Student requires a peer note-taker. Professors will be emailed further instructions on how to recruit a paid note-taker from your class, if a student is requesting a note-taker in your class. Students approved for this accommodation do not use a peer note-taker in every course.
Note-taking Assistance Software: Student is approved to use a note-taking assistance software program called Glean to assist with note-taking. Student will need to record your lecture (with your permission) to implement this accommodation.
Permission to Check Blood Sugar During Exams:
Due to a medical condition, the student will need to use a device to monitor their blood sugar during exams.
Permission to Eat and/or Drink During Class:
Due to a medical condition, the student will need to bring food and/or drink during class.
Permission to Leave Class Briefly Due to a Medical Condition:
Due to a student’s disability, they may need to leave class briefly to address a medical concern.
Student may need the assistance of a reader during exams, in which the DSO will proctor the exam and provide the reader.
Record Class (with permission):
The DSO has given permission to the student to record class to assist with note-taking.
Reduced Distraction Testing Area:
Students will take tests and quizzes administered by the Connors Family Learning Center, and they will provide the student with a reduced distraction testing area. You are also free to administer the exam as well if you have a separate, distraction-reduced testing space.
Scribe for exams:
Student will complete exams at the Disability Services Office while using a scribe to write the student’s answer. This is necessary due to the functional limitations of the student’s condition. The scribe will only write what the student says during the exam. The DSO will provide the scribe. The DSO will contact you for a copy of the exam and ask about any relevant exam details.
Per Massachusetts law, student qualifies for use of a service animal, and is permitted to bring the animal (typically a dog) to class. The animal should not cause a disturbance or pose a threat or exhibit aggression to any other students. You may ask a student with a service animal to leave the classroom if the animal exhibits aggression or is disruptive to class proceedings. Students who experience allergic reactions should sit as far away from service animals as possible. The animal should not be removed from class due to allergies of other students.
Time and a Half on Exams and In-class Assessments:
Student will require a time and a half extension on timed in-class or online exams, quizzes or any timed assessment (for instance, if an exam is two hours long, the student should receive three hours to take it). Students will schedule in-class, in-person exams with the Connors Family Learning Center. The CFLC will reach out to you for a copy of the exam. You are also free to administer it if you have a separate, distraction-reduced space and a proctor. If you plan on giving an online exam, you will need to add the extra time to the student’s test or quiz via CANVAS. Please consult with the Center for Teaching Excellence if you require assistance providing extended time for an online exam or quiz.
Use of Computer during Class:
Student requires use of a computer to take notes during class, and should be permitted despite course policies that prohibit computer use. Student will use their laptop for note-taking; you will not be required to provide hardware of any kind.
Other: Academic accommodations are determined on a case by case basis dependent on the student’s disability and needs. There may be additional accommodations that are particular to a student which should be explained in the accommodation letter.
Again, we thank you for your support in implementing students’ required accommodations. If you have any questions, please either email the Disability Service Office at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 617-552-3434 to speak to a member of our staff.
Individuals with a psychiatric disability have a diagnosable mental health issue which causes disturbances in thinking, feeling, relating, and/or functional behaviors that may result in a diminished capacity to cope with daily life demands. A psychiatric disability is a hidden disability; it is rarely apparent to others. However, students with a psychiatric disability may experience symptoms that interfere with their educational goals (American Psychiatric Association, 1994).
Psychiatric disabilities frequently seen in the college population include:
Bipolar Affective Disorder (Formerly called Manic Depressive Disorder)
Students with bipolar disorder experience episodes of mania and depression. Students with bipolar disorder are frequently able to succeed in an academic program if they receive appropriate medical and psychological care and medication management (APA, 1994).
Depression is a mood disorder that can begin at any age. Major depression may be characterized by a depressed mood most of the day, a lack of pleasure in previously enjoyed activities, thoughts of suicide, insomnia, and consistent feelings of worthlessness or guilt. In a documented depressive episode, a student may have difficulty eating or sleeping and may be unable to attend to daily activities (APA, 1994).
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Students with generalized anxiety disorder find that they constantly feel worried and anxious, and that it is not easy for them to relax. Students with an anxiety disorder have felt this way for a period of six months or longer (APA, 1994).
"People with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) experience recurrent unwanted thoughts (obsessions) or rituals (compulsions), which they feel they cannot control. Rituals such as hand washing, counting, checking, or cleaning are often performed in hope of preventing obsessive thoughts or making them go away. Performing these rituals, however, provides only temporary relief, and not performing them can increase anxiety. Left untreated, obsessions and the need to perform rituals can take over a person's life. OCD may be considered a chronic illness for some students" (APA, 1994).
Students with panic disorder experience unexpected situations in which they feel quite fearful, in addition to experiencing shortness of breath, palpitations, chest pain, and dizziness. These symptoms seem very similar to what an individual might experience in a medical emergency. Students will often leave the classroom if they experience a panic attack during a class session, and it is helpful for them to know that they will not be penalized if there is a need for them to leave a class (APA, 1994).
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Students with PTSD have experienced some type of situation which was very threatening, where they suffered either real or threatened physical harm. Individuals often relive these experiences through nightmares, flashbacks or terrifying thoughts if something reminds them of the initial trauma, or around the anniversary of the event. Additional manifestations of PTSD may include anxiety, difficulty concentrating, guilt, angry outbursts, depression, and difficulty sleeping (APA, 1994).
"Schizophrenia is a severe and chronic brain disorder that impairs a person's ability to think clearly, manage emotions, make decisions, and relate to others. People with schizophrenia experience terrifying symptoms (such as delusions, hallucinations, and broken speech patterns) that often leave them fearful and withdrawn. Schizophrenia is highly treatable, and new discoveries and treatments are continually improving the outlook for people with this disorder" (APA, 1994).
Additional Types of Disabilities
Additional types of disabilities frequently seen in the college population include, but are not limited to the following:
Students may experience several types of visual impairments: partial sight, low vision, legal blindness, and total blindness. In addition to the services provided at the Vision Resource Center in O'Neill Library, students may digitally download recording from Learning Ally, electronic texts, scanned textbooks, tape class lectures, or work with readers and scribes to assist them in their academic program.
Chronic health-related illnesses affect an individual for at least three months and are likely to continue in the future. Chronic illnesses include cystic fibrosis, Chron's disease, cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, and lupus. These illnesses are typically invisible, so students rarely self-report even though the effects of their illness pose challenges to the activities of daily living. Students may experience pain or fatigue, or accumulate absences due to hospitalizations, therapies, and adjustments in medication.
Functional hearing loss ranges from mild to profound. People who have very little or no functional hearing often refer to themselves as "deaf." Those with milder hearing loss may label themselves as "hard of hearing." When these two groups are combined, they are often referred to as individuals with "hearing impairments," with "hearing loss," or who are "hearing impaired." When referring to the Deaf culture, "Deaf" is capitalized.
Accommodations for students who are deaf or hard of hearing can be classified as "visual" and "aural." Visual accommodations rely on a person's sight; aural accommodations rely on a person's hearing abilities. Visual accommodations include sign language interpreters, lip reading, and captioning. Aural accommodations include amplification devices such as FM systems.
Hard of Hearing: Some students who are hard of hearing may hear only specific frequencies or sounds within a certain volume range. They may rely heavily upon hearing aids and lip reading. Some students who are hard of hearing may never learn, or only occasionally use, sign language. Students who are hard of hearing may have speech impairments as a result of their inability to hear their own voices clearly.
Being deaf or hard of hearing can affect students in several ways. They may have difficulty following lectures in large halls, particularly if the acoustics cause echoes or if the speaker talks quietly, rapidly, or unclearly. People who have hearing impairments may find it difficult to simultaneously watch demonstrations and follow verbal descriptions, particularly if they are watching a sign language interpreter, a captioning screen, or a speaker's lips. In-class discussions may also be difficult to follow or participate in, particularly if the discussion is fast-paced and is not moderated, since there is often lag time between a speaker's comments and interpretation.
Students who are hard of hearing may use hearing aids. Students who use hearing aids will likely benefit from amplification in other forms such as assistive listening devices (ALDs) like hearing aid compatible telephones, personal neck loops, and audio induction loop assistive listening systems. Some students use FM amplification systems which require the instructor to wear a small microphone to transmit amplified sound to the student.
Deafness: Students who are deaf may have little or no speech depending on the severity of the hearing loss and the age of onset. They will often communicate through a sign language interpreter. American Sign Language (ASL) is widely used and has its own grammar and word order. Other students may use manual English (or signed English), which is sign language in English word order. A certified interpreter is used for translation into either language. Students who are deaf may also benefit from real-time captioning, where spoken text is typed and projected onto a screen.
It is important to remember that a student who is using an interpreter, who is lip reading, or who is reading real-time captioning cannot simultaneously look down at written materials or take notes. Describing written or projected text is therefore helpful to this student. Handouts that can be read before or after class are also useful.
Accommodations for Hard of Hearing and Deaf Students:
There are also several ways you can direct your speaking style and adjust the "pace" of instruction to make information more accessible to a student with a hearing impairment.
Examples of accommodations for students who have hearing impairments include:
- Sound amplification systems
- Note takers
- Real-time captioning (CART) - Information on CART Services can be found on the Resources Page
- Electronic mail for faculty-student meetings and class discussions
- Visual warning systems for lab emergencies
- Changing computer auditory signals to flash changes
- When speaking, make sure the student can see your face. Avoid unnecessary pacing and moving.
- When speaking, avoid obscuring your lips or face with hands, books, or other materials.
- Repeat discussion questions and statements made by other students.
- Write discussion questions/answers on a whiteboard or overhead projector.
- Speak clearly and at a normal rate.
- Use visual aids with few words and large images and fonts.
- Provide written lecture outlines, class assignments, lab instructions, and demonstration summaries and distribute them before class when possible.
Physical disabilities involve the partial or total loss of function of one or more parts of the body. They can be either neurological or orthopedic in nature and include but are not limited to arthritis, Muscular Dystrophy, Multiple Sclerosis, cerebral palsy, head trauma, and spinal cord injury. Limitations these students may experience that could impact class work are fatigue, pain, poor muscle strength, slow typing skills, paralysis, inability to sit in one position for an extended length of time, and negative side effects of medication. Some physical impairments are not visible but nevertheless may affect the student's academic experience.
The most common form of discrimination for people with physical disabilities is the assumption that they also have a cognitive disability. Be aware of how you speak with students with physical disabilities, and take care to ask them what their needs are before making modifications.
A seizure involves a sudden disruption of the brain's normal electrical activity. When individuals experience a seizure their consciousness is altered, in addition to other neurological and behavioral manifestations. Since there are more than 20 seizure disorders, accommodations for students are based on their documentation, and an individual response plan is coordinated among appropriate university departments.
Traumatic Brain Injury
There can be significant variation in the impact of a traumatic brain injury (TBI) from student to student. Each section of the brain is responsible for an area of functioning, so it is possible that each area of functioning can be affected by a brain injury. These areas may include cognitive impairments such as comprehension, attention span, and processing; physical impairments such as fatigue, blindness, and impaired motor skills; and psychosocial impairments such as disconnection from peers, depression, and frustration. The number of occurrences of TBI has increased in recent years due to soldiers returning from war and athletes suffering from head injuries due to their sports activities (American Council on Education).
Disability Services Office Learning Outcomes for faculty and staff:
Faculty/staff who interact with the Disability Services Office will:
- Know that the DSO is a resource and what services and accommodations are available for students.
- Know how to advise students on how to register for services.