Faculty Resources for Working with Students with Disabilities

Faculty Frequently Asked Questions

The following frequently asked questions with answers and suggestions are based on relevant research, recommendations from your colleagues, and other institutions of higher education in Kentucky and are presented to assist you in working with students with disabilities in your classroom.

Yes! Here are several ideas:

  • Use positive language when referring to disabilities.  Substitute "student with a disability" for "disabled student"; The first term simply refers to one aspect of the person's capabilities, while the second suggests that the whole student is disabled! Switch from "handicap" to "accessible" (e.g., accessible parking, accessible entrance) because it has a more positive connotation as well. Replace the words "wheelchair bound" with "wheelchair user" to emphasize what the chair makes possible rather than what it hampers. Avoid saying a student "is ADHD"  or "suffers from a disability."  Instead, say, a student "has ADHD" or "has a disability."  With practice these new terms will feel natural.
  • Keep in mind that there is a range in how comfortable students feel about discussing their own disability status. Even someone with a very apparent physical disability (e.g., blind or a person who uses a wheelchair) may not appreciate being identified as an "expert" in a related discussion in an education or physiology class.  At the other extreme are those who would actually feel disrespected if not asked to personally comment. Solution? Wait to take your cue from the student's spontaneous contributions in class or privately inquire about his/her position before drawing into an open discussion.
  • Know the way to the Office of Disability Services so that you'll be prepared to direct someone: Located on the second floor of the Hill Student Center near the faculty and staff dining room. The entrance is labeled 220. The DRC telephone number is (502) 597-5076.
  • Be aware of additional resources available specifically for your students with disabilities. The Disability Resource Center offers academic support, counseling, and personal coaching, but these services are driven by student request. If you find that someone you are accommodating needs additional help, privately refer him/her back to the DRC.
  • Resist the (sometimes powerful) urge to interact with a student's service animal, and enforce this rule in your classroom. Privately the dog receives much affection from its owner and may be petted by anyone the owner permits, but in public, it is "on duty."
  • Use automatic door openers only when you need them. Advise students that they wear out with over-use, and some are battery powered with a limited number of operations being available before they stop working and need repair. Persons with mobility or health issues AND anyone with an armload of books or packages or pushing a hand truck or stroller absolutely should press the button. If you ever encounter an inoperable switch, please take the time to report it to the DRC office or to Facilities before it creates a barrier for someone with no other option for entering that building. The DRC office would also appreciate hearing about any other barriers or hazards you may notice on campus.
  • Understand that a set of accommodations may continue to evolve after the semester is underway. Despite efforts of the DRC, obstacles (and therefore student needs) may not be entirely predictable when the notice is first generated. The interaction of the demands of your course and a particular student's limitations means that minor adjustments will occasionally be necessary. You will receive an addendum to the original notice if the change is substantial, but you are free to fine-tune the accommodations directly with the student's input at any time. If you make any changes in the classroom, please notify the DRC and get the student's agreement in writing on the accommodation form.  Your flexibility is both needed and appreciated. Thank you!

This is a delicate subject. While the potential for discrimination is rarely an issue in this context, directly inquiring about the existence of a disability is not appropriate. A private academic conference may give you an opening to mention various explanations for poor performance without implying that any certain one applies.  You may also provide the student with information on the various campus resources available for assistance such as ACE, Student Support Services, and the Disability Resource Center.

If the student initiates the subject and is receptive, of course you are free to discuss the disability issue in detail. Alternatively, you could address learning disabilities in a general way with the whole class as a follow-up to an exam, and share the DRC contact information. The DRC will provide screening and testing services for students who cannot obtain the services through other agencies.

Kentucky residents can obtain assessment through the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation on a sliding scale basis.  Students can also obtain evaluations through the rehabilitation offices in their home states.  It is in their best interest to seek evaluations through these agencies because they offer additional services that the University cannot provide.  Some students are eligible to receive testing at no cost, depending on their financial situation.  The University does not provide (or cover costs) for outside diagnostic testing, but the DRC office can refer to an agency in the community.  On a limited basis, the DRC will provide screening services.  However, as noted earlier the Vocational Rehabilitation office provides more comprehensive services and would be a greater benefit to the student.

To maximize privacy, notices to professors will not routinely indicate the specific nature of a disability unless that information is essential to the delivery of an accommodation or for safety reasons. Students are encouraged to share this information with you if they are comfortable doing so and believe it would be in their interests, although it cannot be required. Accommodations being provided for your student by others (including by the DRC office) are also not disclosed in the notice.

Yes. Start by discussing your concerns with the DRC Coordinator. With further explanation, you may agree that the accommodations are both reasonable and doable, but if unique aspects of your course were not fully considered, then alterations may be needed. If you still feel the accommodations are inappropriate, please review your objections with your department Chair and forward any additional opinions to the DRC office.  The matter will be reviewed with appropriate administration.  Do not unilaterally discontinue or refuse accommodations without formal administrative consultation and legal review.

Yes. More self-assertion is required at the university level than in high school.  The DRC strives to inform students of this, and your reinforcement of that message would be helpful.  The student must make the first move by contacting the DRC office and submitting the requested documentation. At the intake session students review our policies and procedures, many of which rely upon the student’s own initiative. For example, in a test-related accommodation, the student must contact you by the week prior to each scheduled exam and ask when and where to report on the test date. Thus, it is the student who initiates each occurrence of this type of accommodation. In preparation for a semester-long working relationship with you, students are advised to introduce themselves during the first few days of class. To help launch this self-directed  process, the DRC Coordinator will have already “broken the ice” by consulting with the student and explaining their obligations.  The student must also regularly attend class, complete assignments, and meet the same academic requirements that other students must meet. Accommodations cannot help a student who does not put forth the necessary effort to succeed.

Yes, if appropriate academic accommodations were provided, and the student did not meet essential course requirements you may fail the student. You are not required to “water down” or fundamentally alter essential course content or the academic standards by which all students are graded. Laws exist to ensure equal access to education; not to guarantee a particular student’s success or to create an unfair advantage.  As a gesture of student support and a best practice, it is a good idea to periodically remind the class (in a general way) of support services available on campus if you notice that grades are sliding and to document the date and time you did so.
The interior door to the DRC office is identified only by its room number. Disability records are confidential and kept in a locked file cabinet in the DRC office. Receipt of accommodations is not noted on the academic transcript. Providers of accommodations are obligated to keep the identity of users confidential to the full extent possible. Please share this information with a cautious student.  While the university cannot force a student with a disability to accept accommodations, it is in everyone’s best interest to inform students of their rights and document the conversation.  It is not uncommon for students with disabilities to avoid services until after midterms or even the end of the semester and attempt to seek monetary reimbursement for tuition when they fail their courses.  This is why we emphasize the importance of including disability statements in the syllabus, announcing several times in the first few days of class (in a general way) that disability services are available and documenting the announcement in your lesson plan books.
Please refer him/her to the DRC Office first. Even though responding immediately may seem more efficient (or friendlier), acting on a student’s self-report is outside of established policy and problems can result (e.g., unwarranted or uneven treatment of students, unnecessary work for you, and it could establish an obligation for other faculty).
It is not in the typical nature of educators to mistreat, offend, or to exclude any student. Still, even the most naturally progressive among us are more mindful of disability issues because of those legal protections. From the other side, although informed about their legal rights, the typical student with a disability expects only what is reasonable and is not trying to catch you in a mistake. Accommodations should be provided in the manner indicated in the DRC notice, discussed with others strictly on a need-to-know basis, and consultation should be sought for any irregular situations. With advance planning and a willingness to fine-tune accommodations to fit the demands of a particular class, things tend to work smoothly.
Yes. Verification of accessibility features should occur prior to choosing technologies to use in online as well as face-to-face classes (there have been legal consequences for institutions that have by-passed this important phase). Consultation with Information Technology and/or Distance Learning and/or the Disability Resource Center, will help ensure that all your students will benefit from these new tools in an “equally effective and equally integrated manner” and will keep the University compliant with federal regulations.
Yes. You will learn of any specific accommodations that you need to provide via the usual DRC notification process.  However, the time to consider the overall accessibility of your course is before a demand is made on behalf of a particular student. Keep in mind that someone who is deaf or blind or has a learning disability in reading may enroll in your course at any time. Captioning audio content and verifying that posted files and linked-to sites are compatible with text screen readers is not something you’ll be able to rapidly address in order to meet the legal obligation. If you need assistance with ensuring your online course is accessible, contact the Office of Disability Service at (502) 597-6041. Distance Learning is also available to assist you with accommodations for an online class at (502) 597-6238.

Just as with your other students, you carry the ultimate responsibility for conveying the course content and assessing the learning of students with disabilities. If a student needs to be accommodated, the student will provide you with a copy of the accommodations notice to sign, typically a few days prior to the start of a semester or within the first few days of the semester. Included in the notice will be the student’s name, the course number and section, and a description of the approved accommodations that you need to provide.

Sometimes students may choose to attempt a course on their own (e.g., take a first exam) before requesting assistance through the DRC office.  The DRC does not recommend this, but students do have the right to make that decision.  If a student chooses to wait, you will be notified shortly after they request services. Professors are entitled to adequate time to make any changes in the course or tests, and students are informed that they cannot simply show up and expect to be accommodated on the spot.

Note: A student’s right to accommodations is not retroactive.  They are only guaranteed after the student provides documentation, eligibility is determined, and the student returns the accommodations form signed by the student and instructor to the DRC office.  In effort to assist students in a proactive way, the DRC will notify instructors via email that a student will be approaching them with an accommodation form to sign.  A copy of the form will be provided for the instructors’ informational purposes and record keeping.

If complex or time-consuming accommodations are involved (e.g., converting your instructional materials to a tactile form, enlarging handouts, etc.) the DRC office will try to notify you well in advance of the start of the semester, in addition to sending a reminder notice at the usual time right before classes begin.  The DRC staff will assist you in converting materials if needed. Note: this desirable practice is limited by the actions of students who may delay qualifying for disability services or alter their class schedules at the last minute, and when teaching assignments occur relatively late.

Accommodation notices and the student’s identity are to be treated confidentially and shared with other University instructors and academic support staff only to the extent necessary to provide the services mentioned. Under no circumstances should accommodations be arranged through an announcement in class that reveals a student’s name and/or disability. Even students whose accommodations take place inside the classroom (special seating, receipt of special materials, etc.) understandably must be addressed in  the most confidential manner possible.

The DRC strives to ensure that all accommodations are reasonable and within what is required by the ADA.  Accommodations are intended to “level the playing field” for students with disabilities.  They are not intended to give them an unfair advantage over other students.  We will not ask you to compromise the integrity of instruction or modify the curriculum.  If you believe an accommodation is not needed or appropriate, please contact the DRC to discuss it.  Do not refuse a student’s accommodation until after the student’s interests, your position, and the DRC’s documentation and recommendations have been appropriately reviewed by KSU’s administration and legal counsel, and a formal, written directive is issued indicating that the accommodation will not be provided.

The most commonly requested accommodations are listed below.   The list is not all-inclusive, as accommodations are always individually determined and based on individual needs.

  • Extended test-taking time
  • Peer note-takers
  • Readers for tests
  • Electronic textbooks – Electronic books require additional time for ordering.  For this reason, it is most important for professors to adopt textbooks well in advance of the beginning of the semester and (if possible) include the title, author, and ISBN number in the course description in the catalog.  Students are required to purchase books before they can receive electronic editions through the DRC because of copyright restrictions.  Once they provide documentation of the purchase, the DRC can order the electronic editions at no additional cost through AccessText.
  • Student’s personal attendant allowed in classroom (Personal attendants are not provided by the university.)
  • Enlarged print materials
  • Permission to record lectures
  • Hardcopy or online access to professors’ PowerPoint slides and lecture notes
  • Excused disability-related absences, tardiness, or breaks (with adequate documentation of the need and notification by the DRC.)
  • Assistive Technology
  • Use of SpellCheck or else no penalty for spelling errors on in-class writing assignments
  • Preferential seating
  • Reduced-distraction testing location
  • Course delivery alterations for students who are deaf or blind
  • Personal Coaching
  • Accessible parking, housing, and facilities.
No. Under federal law, students with disabilities are entitled to complete confidentiality.  Do not announce to the class that a note taker is present or that any student in the room has a disability or is receiving accommodations.  Failure to ensure a student’s confidentiality can expose you and the university to legal consequences.
It has been our experience that most students who wait to see if they need accommodations will fall behind.  Some are not able to catch up.  It is far better to start with accommodations and then stop them if they are not needed than it is for the student to fall behind.  Further, some accommodations take time to arrange, as in hiring a note taker or obtaining electronic books.  We firmly recommend that students contact us for assistance with accommodations as soon as they are accepted into the university.  In some cases, it is best for students to notify the DRC before they enroll.  For example, deaf students require highly trained professional interpreters which are not always readily available.  Early registration with the DRC will provide more time for the staff recruit a service provider.  Students must re-register with the DRC every semester they wish to receive accommodations, preferably as soon as they know what their class schedules will be.  This will help avoid delays in providing services.
Upon receipt of documentation from an appropriate professional, it is reviewed to ensure that it meets DRC criteria. Guidelines exist, but specific accommodations are always set on a case-by-case basis based on the current impact of the disability. While the student is an active participant in the determination, modifications must also be reasonable and appropriate from the University’s standpoint. Prior to granting an uncommon accommodation, the professor involved will be consulted as to whether it would compromise an essential element of the course.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

In compliance with the ADA, all students with a documented disability are entitled to reasonable accommodations and services to support their academic success and safety. Though a request for services may be made at any time, services are best applied when they are requested before the start of the semester. To receive accommodations and services the student should immediately contact The Office of Disability Services at: (502) 597-6041.

Campus Safety Statement

Emergency response information will be discussed in class. Students should familiarize themselves with the nearest exit routes in the event evacuation becomes necessary. You should notify your instructor at the beginning of the semester if you have special needs or will require assistance during an emergency evacuation.

Disability Consultation Services

The Office of Disability Services is available to discuss your referrals, to clarify how to provide a requested accommodation, and to assist you in finding solutions to related problems. Upon request, the Office of Disability Services provides information on disability-related topics to academic departments and campus organizations. To schedule, call (502) 597-6041.