The Student Accessibility Services Office coordinates support services and programs that enable equal access to an education and campus life for students with disabilities. We also work closely with faculty and staff to promote and model best practices for full inclusion for students with disabilities.
In a supportive and engaging setting, we help students with disabilities to:
- Advocate for themselves and build self-confidence
- Receive appropriate accommodations
- Use campus-wide resources
- Embrace diversity and social responsibility
- Recognize individual strengths and challenges
Responsibilities of Faculty
It is the responsibility of the faculty members to collaborate with Student Accessibility Services to provide authorized accommodations and support services for students with disabilities in a fair and timely manner. It’s important to remember the following:
- A student with disabilities is a person first, not a disability.
- Students with disabilities are often more negatively impacted by other people’s attitudes than by their functional limitations.
- Maintain an open mind about what a student with a disability can and cannot do.
- Do not assume knowledge about a student’s capabilities; allow the student to determine his or her capabilities.
- Successful interactions with students with disabilities are a joint responsibility.
- Faculty members, our office, and students collaborate to assist in providing equal access.
When a student with disabilities provides you with an Accommodation Letter, you should meet with them to establish the means of providing the accommodation as early in the semester as possible. Students should initiate this meeting, but we encourage faculty to take the initiative when students are reluctant to self-advocate.
If a student requests that you provide accommodations for a disability and you have received no official notification of their need for accommodation, it is important that you help the student contact our office. If the disability is visible (use of wheelchair, hearing aids, etc.) and the requested accommodation is obviously appropriate, you must provide the accommodation while paperwork is being completed.
Communication with Students with Disabilities
We encourage you to use your course syllabus as a platform to begin a conversation with students with disabilities who may be taking your class. We recommend including the following statement in the syllabus:
If you anticipate issues related to the format or requirements of this course, please meet with me. I would like to discuss ways to ensure full participation in the course. If you determine that formal, disability-related accommodations are necessary, it is very important that you register with Student Accessibility Services and notify me of your eligibility for reasonable educational accommodations. We can then plan how to best coordinate your accommodations. Student Accessibility Services is located in the Shaughnessy Administration Building, Suite 131, and can be reached by phone at 508-929-8733 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- During the first class, announce that if anyone is in need of accommodations to see you during office hours.
- Be aware of services available on campus for students with disabilities.
- Give an outline of the course, explain course requirements clearly, be exact about necessary reading materials, and provide this early in the semester to allow for advance planning by students with disabilities.
- If a student requests an accommodation without an accommodation letter from our office, refer the student to us. You are not obligated to provide any unauthorized accommodation at a student’s request.
- Make lectures and notes easy to understand and make assignments clear.
- Allow preferred seating for students with disabilities.
- Be flexible with the content and format of arrangements and exams (ex: oral exam, Braille, audio taped, etc.). Give extra time if supported by documentation.
- Be supportive, but not overly solicitous.
- Do not accept work of a lower quality from students with disabilities. Remember that identical treatment is not “equal” treatment.
- Support students with disabilities interested in taking your course. If you foresee problems, discuss these, but let students make up their own mind.
Faculty Members' Rights and Responsibilities
- Notification: All students who receive accommodations are given Accommodation Letters prior to the start of each semester. Accommodations are not active until you receive the letter.
- Course Content: Faculty determine course content and general methods of teaching and assessment.
- Classroom Behavior: All WSU students must adhere to the Student Code of Conduct regardless of whether they have a disability.
- Challenge Accommodations: Reasonable educational accommodations are based upon the student’s documented disability, functional limitations caused by the disability, and individual circumstances. In some cases the requested accommodations may not be appropriate for a specific course. A faculty member has the right to challenge an accommodation request if they believe the student is not qualified or the accommodation would result in a fundamental alteration of the program. Faculty should contact SAS immediately if they have concern that an accommodation is not appropriate, and SAS will work with faculty to determine the situation and work toward a resolution.
- Shared responsibilities: As employees of the University who have compliance obligations under federal laws, it is the responsibility of faculty members to assume a shared responsibility in providing reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities registered with SAS.
- Referral: If a faculty member is notified by a student that they have a disability or if the student brings a medical statement to the instructor, it is the faculty member’s responsibility to refer that student to SAS. If an instructor notices that a student is not performing up to standards and suspects there might be a disability impacting learning, they may also refer the student. However, the instructor should not make any assumption whether a disability exists, and should not discriminate against the student on the basis of a perceived disability.
- Accommodation Letter: It is the student’s responsibility to share with faculty their Accommodation letter. This letter verifies the student is eligible for educational accommodations based upon a disability. Faculty should not provide academic adjustments unless they receive an Accommodation Letter from SAS which certifies the student is qualified to receive services and the specific accommodations. Students are strongly encouraged to share their Accommodation letters early in the semester; however, there is no time limit to do so during the semester. Any questions about accommodations should be directed to SAS.
- Exam Accommodations: Exam accommodations apply to timed exams, quizzes and tests that a faculty member chooses to give to their students. Exam accommodations are not limited to those listed on the course syllabus, but also include any assessments given spontaneously or planned but not announced to the class. Faculty should contact SAS for the best plan how to accommodate students during unplanned situations.
Frequently Asked Questions
- SAS provides students with a secure PDF version of their confidential Accommodation letters as early as possible in the semester. However, a student may share their letter at any point in the semester and accommodations are active from that point on; accommodations are not retroactive.
- Students may forward their Accommodation Letter electronically or print a “hard” copy.
- Students are encouraged to speak with faculty about their accommodations when present their Accommodation Letters. If they do not, you may want to engage in a conversation with them privately but are not required to.
- Please store all hard copies and e-copies of the Accommodation Letter in a manner that preserves confidentiality.
- If you have questions about implementing an accommodation, contact SAS for assistance.
No. Students with disabilities are strongly encouraged to make arrangements with SAS and provide their Accommodation Letters with their professors at the beginning of the semester. However, by law, the University must provide the accommodations as soon as reasonably possible after the student requests assistance. Educational accommodations are not retroactive to the period before a student has requested assistance. For example, if a student fails an exam before asking for assistance, the student cannot re-take the test with newly acquired accommodations.
Do not ask if they have a disability. Instead, approach the student as you would any other student, and inquire if they are having any difficulty, and what might be impacting their performance. If the student discloses that they have a documented disability or suspect that they have a disability, refer to them to SAS.
Any concern that an accommodation may fundamentally alter the academic program should be brought to the attention of SAS as soon as possible. All parties will engage in an interactive process to determine the reasonableness of the request and ensure equal access is maintained.
- If you disagree with the accommodation for other reasons, you should discuss your disagreement with SAS, but you should continue to provide the academic adjustments until the situation has been resolved.
- A faculty member may not forbid a student’s use of an auxiliary aid if that prohibition limits the student’s participation in the academic program. Section 504 explicitly states: “A recipient may not impose upon handicapped (sic) students other rules, such as the prohibition of tape recorders in classrooms or of dog guides in campus buildings that have the effect of limiting the participation of the handicapped (sic) students in the recipient’s education program or activity.”
- Under Section 504 and the ADA, if appropriate accommodations, adjustments, aids and/or services are not provided to a student, the faculty member as well as the University can be held liable for monetary damages.
If an instructor does not provide an accommodation as instructed by the University, via SAS, the student has several options.
- SAS has an obligation to inform the student of her or his rights to file an internal complaint and/or to file a complaint with OCR under Section 504, or with the DOJ under the ADA, or with MCAD if enrollment has been denied.
- Under the ADA and Chapter 151C, monetary damages may be enforced and the student may name both the University and faculty member as an individual in the complaint. Faculty member may be held personally liable for damages to the student.
- If you have refused to provide an accommodation as instructed by the University via SAS, the Commonwealth may elect not to provide you with legal representation and not to indemnify you should a finding of liability be made.
- Under Section 504, faculty members who refuse to provide an accommodation as instructed by the University, via SAS, also expose Worcester State University to the threat of loss of federal education funding, including federal research grants and student financial aid.
Consider the following:
- Attendance during scheduled class time is a necessary part of the learning process.
- An accommodation of flexible attendance is requested when the nature of the disability results in varying functioning levels.
- Flexibility is negotiable, contingent upon the student and the circumstances. Variables such as the course, the material, and the necessity of interaction in the classroom are all factors to be considered.
- In all cases, students should understand that there is no substitute for attendance and participation.
- A science lab course requires students to work, often together, to observe phenomena in experiments and record findings. In this situation, minimal leniency is appropriate.
- In a large lecture course, there may be room for flexibility in attendance. Discussion between the student, the faculty member, and Student Accessibility Services in such cases is essential.
No. A student does not have to inform a faculty member about her or his disability. Rather, the student need only inform the faculty member about her or his approved educational accommodations through the Accommodation Letter. If you have a question about an accommodation, please contact the Student Accessibility Services.
Our office cannot provide details about a student’s disability unless the student has signed a written consent form. We can inform you if the student has a documented disability and if the academic adjustments requested are appropriate.
If a student does disclose a disability to you, you are obligated to maintain confidentiality regarding the student’s disability.