College is usually the first time young people are away from home. All young people want to build a sense of autonomy and independence; students with disabilities are no exception. In fact, these students usually have a stronger sense of these feelings. They feel they need to prove that they are just as capable as any other student. Services provided by the university assist them in the classroom and in other aspects of college life. It is our job as educators to understand these accommodations to best serve all students.
In a nutshell:
Disability accommodations are organized and regulated through the university Disability Services office. The mission of these offices is to ensure equal access to the learning environment for students with documented disabilities and to provide students with disabilities a safe space to discuss their disabilities and to express concerns regarding their education and the transition to college life. There are a multitude of services provided to assist students to give them equal opportunities to succeed in and out of the classroom.2
These accommodations provide students with assistance to be able to perform at a level equal to their peers. Understanding them can also be helpful to educators. It allows educators to adapt and learn new teaching styles to deliver the best quality of education to all students. Educators need to understand that not all disabilities are visible and need to respect that all disabilities are valid.4
I have used accommodations throughout my undergraduate and graduate career for a hearing impairment and test anxiety. Refusing to accommodate a student with disabilities is not only a violation of most university policies; it negatively affects the student’s ability to perform in the class and may lead to them withdrawing from these services.3
The how-to guide:
Some of the disability services work better in some classroom environments compared to others.
For example, in my undergraduate courses, I used a note-taker to assist me with supplementing missing information in my notes. In large lecture classes, the professor wore a microphone that transmitted straight to a device connected to my headphones, which was helpful in large lectures, as it helped me to focus on the professor. I was not distracted by other noises and I was able to filter through and could hear the professor clearly.
It is important for educators, students, and disability services to work in tandem to find the best accommodation for that particular student and classroom setting.
The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in the U.S. Department of Education enforces laws that protect students with disabilities of discriminatory practices. The two government acts that the OCR enforces are Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. These acts prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability. Nearly every postsecondary institution is subject to the requirements of one or both of these laws. 1
More recently, the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 was a significant change to the law in that it defines who would be considered a person with a disability and specifically identifies additional life activities that are to be considered when determining disability eligibility.
The bottom line:
Disability accommodations bridge the gap for equal opportunity in the classroom. They allow students with disabilities the opportunity to perform at their best possible standard and have a higher chance of success.
They are also helpful to educators by teaching tolerance and acceptance. It is important for educators to be able to grow and adapt in their teaching style to best serve all students.
- Duncan, A., & Ali, R. (2011, September). Students with Disabilities Preparing for Postsecondary Education. Retrieved from https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/transition.html
- NDSU Disability Services. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.ndsu.edu/disabilityservices/
- Nelson, J. R., Dodd, J. M., & Smith, D. J. (1990). Faculty willingness to accommodate students with learning disabilities: A comparison among academic divisions. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 23(3), 185-189.
- Wolf, L. E. (2001). College students with ADHD and other hidden disabilities: Outcomes and interventions. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 931(1), 385-395.
Want more info?
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): https://www.ada.gov/
- Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD): https://www.ahead.org/home
- Barnar-Brak, L., Lectenberger, D., & Lan, W. Y. (2010). Accommodation strategies of college students with disabilities. The Qualitative Report, 15(2), 411-429.
- Konur, O. (2006). Teaching disabled students in higher education. Teaching in Higher Education, 11(3), 351-363.
- NDSU Disability Services: https://www.ndsu.edu/disabilityservices/
About the author:
Petrusic is a graduate-level student with disabilities but has not allowed those aspects of her life hold her back from her goal of a career in academia. She hopes to inspire all students to push themselves to be the best they can be and not allow hurdles to discourage them. Overcoming barriers has made her a better student and she believes those challenges will make her a better educator in the future.