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Accessibility @ Boston College

Information for Faculty

Syllabus Statement

Faculty members may choose to include a statement on their syllabus regarding disabilty services. Suggested syllabi statement.

Learning Disabilities

Support and services for all BC faculty and teaching fellows who teach and/or advise students with learning disabilities

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV), “the essential feature of ADD/ADHD is a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that is more frequent and severe than is typically observed in individuals at a comparable level of development” (p.78).  ADD/ADHD are neurobiological disabilities with characteristics of inattention, impulsivity, or hyperactivity that appear in early childhood, are relatively chronic in nature, and are not due to other physical, mental or emotional causes.

Suggested modifications and Accommodations

Provide a syllabus with clear explanations of tasks and specific due dates

Provide preferential seating near the front of the class and away from possible sources of distraction

Provide materials in a variety of formats to reinforce information presented

Provide test sites that have reduced distractions and allow extended time

Whenever possible, start each lecture with a summary of the material to be covered, or provide a written outline.  At the conclusion of each lecture, review major points.

Students with ADHD may tend to drift off during class, especially during long lectures.  They are better able to maintain attention when the material is stimulating and the format varied (for example, lecture alternating with presentations and class discussions). If the class is lengthy, please be sure to permit several breaks.

As the semester progresses, please remind students of impending deadlines.

Avoid making assignments orally, since students with ADHD may miss them.  Always write assignments on the board or in written form.

Provide prompt, explicit feedback, both written and oral.

Learning Disabilities

A Learning Disability is a neurological disorder which results in a difference in the way an individual’s brain is “wired”.  Students with learning disabilities may have difficulty with reading, writing, spelling, reasoning, recalling and/or organizing information.  There are five common types of learning disabilities:

Dyslexia – a language based disability where the student will have trouble understanding written words/numbers.  This is often referred to as a reading disability.

Dyscalculia – a math based disability where individuals have difficulty solving arithmetic problems and grasping mathematical concepts.

Dysgraphia – A writing disability where students find it difficult to form letters or write within a defined space.

Auditory and Visual Processing Disorder – A sensory disability where students have difficulty understanding written or spoken language.

Suggested Modifications and Accommodations

Whenever possible, start each lecture with a summary of the material to be covered, or provide a written outline.  At the conclusion of each lecture, review major points.

Avoid making assignments orally, since students with LD may miss them.  Always write assignments on the board or better yet, post them electronically.

Provide prompt, explicit feedback, both written and oral.

Provide test sites that have reduced distractions; and when students are taking tests with extended time, do not ask them to move from one test site to another.

Whenever possible, allow students ample processing time to formulate a question or response.

It the use of a calculator or word processor does not take away from the material being taught, these technologies should be available for students.

Incorporate components of Universal Design for Instruction into your teaching.

Procedures your students should follow:

All other disabilities

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Notification Letters

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 Assistant Dean for Students with Disabilities 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.

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.


  • 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


  1. 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.
  2. Students will be encouraged to meet with each of their professors to explain and answer any questions regarding the requested accommodations.
  3. Students will continue to be responsible for reminding professors of their need for accommodations for quizzes and exams in order to make arrangements for test-taking in an alternate location.  Students are asked to speak to their professors to request alternate testing accommodations at least three days prior to the exam date.

The benefit of providing an alternate testing location is significantly diminished when issues with the test's format arise; thus delivering a copy of the exam or emailing it to and providing the appropriate recording material to the Office of the Dean of Students in exactly the same way it is administered to other class members will be very helpful to faculty, the Disability Services Office, and to the student in ensuring consistent and secure test-taking arrangements.

Psychiatric Disabilities

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).

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

"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).

Panic Disorder

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: Examples of accommodations for students who have hearing impairments include:

  • Interpreters
  • 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

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.

  • 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.


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).