What is a disability?

An individual with a disability is defined as any person who:

  • Has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities (including walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, working, caring for oneself, or performing manual tasks)
  • Has a record of such an impairment, or
  • Is regarded as having such an impairment.

What is meant by “is regarded as having such an impairment” in the definition of disability?

For example, a person with a facial disfigurement may not have an impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities, but others may regard him or her has having one due to how he or she appears.

Isn’t “disability” and “handicap” the same thing?

A “disability” is a condition caused by accident, trauma, genetics or disease that may limit a person’s mobility, hearing, vision, speech, or mental function. A person may have more than one disability.

A “handicap” is a physical or attitudinal constraint imposed upon a person; for example, stairs, narrow doorways, and curbs are handicaps imposed upon people with disabilities who use wheelchairs.

What is a reasonable accommodation?

A reasonable accommodation is a modification or adjustment to a course, program, service, job, activity, or facility that enables a qualified individual with a disability to have an equal opportunity to attain the same level of performance or to enjoy equal benefits and privileges as are available to an individual without a disability. Some common academic accommodations include extended time on tests, use of note takers, use of computer with spell check, and provision of sign language interpreters.

How does a student become eligible to receive accommodations?

To become eligible, a student must have a documented disability and inform the College that he or she is requesting accommodations based on that disability.

A student must:

  • Contact the ADA Coordinator,
  • Provide documentation of the disability that meets the College’s documentation criteria, and
  • Consult with the ADA Coordinator to determine appropriate accommodations.

Who determines the accommodation?

The ADA Coordinator determines the accommodations using:

  • Documentation of the disability from qualified professionals provided by the student,
  • Information gathered from a diagnostic student intake process, and
  • Information from appropriate College personnel regarding essential standards for courses, programs, services, jobs, activities, and facilities.

The determination of reasonable accommodations considers the following:

  • The barriers resulting from the interaction between the disability and the campus environment;
  • The array of accommodations that might remove the barriers;
  • Whether or not the student has access to the course, program, service, job, activity, or facility without accommodations; and
  • That essential elements of the course, program, service, job, activity, or facility are not compromised by the accommodations.

Won’t providing accommodations on examinations give an unfair advantage to a student with a disability?

“Accommodations don’t make things easier, just possible; in the same way eyeglasses do not improve the strength of the eyes, they just make it possible for the individual to see better. Accommodations are interventions that allow the learner to indicate what they know. Without the accommodations, the learner may not be able to overcome certain barriers.”(Samuels, M. 1992 – Asking the Right Questions. The Learning Centre. Calgary)

Accommodations are designed to lessen the effects of the disability and are required to provide fair and accurate testing to measure knowledge or expertise in the subject. Careful consideration must be given to requests for accommodations when the test is measuring a skill, particularly if that skill is an essential function or requirement of passing the course, such as typing at a certain speed or turning a patient for an x-ray. In such cases, please contact the ADA Coordinator for guidance.

The purpose of such academic accommodations is to adjust for the effect of the student’s disability, not to dilute academic requirements. The evaluation and assigning of grades should have the same standards for all students, including students with disabilities.

For many test takers, the most common accommodation is extended time. Double time is the maximum extension unless the ADA Coordinator gives prior approval. In specific circumstances, students may also require the use of readers and/or scribes, a modification of test format, the administration of examinations orally, or an alternative time for testing. For out-of-class assignments, the extension of deadlines may be justified, especially if the student is relying heavily on support services (readers for term papers, etc.).

If testing accommodations are necessary, students are responsible for discussing the arrangements with their instructors; instructors and students should then make arrangements with Student Support Services.

What do I do when a student discloses a disability?

Ask for the Faculty Accommodation Notice from the ADA Coordinator; this letter describes the accommodations that faculty are legally mandated to provide. During an office hour or at another convenient time, discuss the letter and the accommodations with the student. Students MUST present a Faculty Accommodation Notice to receive accommodations. If the student does not have a Faculty Accommodation Notice, he or she should be referred to the ADA Coordinator to provide documentation and request services. The ADA Coordinator will determine the appropriate accommodations after reviewing documentation of the disability provided by the student. Discuss any questions about recommended accommodations first with the student, then, if necessary, with the ADA Coordinator.

What if a student doesn’t tell me about a disability until late in the semester?

Students have a responsibility to give instructors and the ADA Office time to arrange accommodations. The ADA Office encourages students to identify early in the semester. Instructors can help by announcing in class and in the syllabus an invitation for students to identify themselves early in the semester: “Any student who may need an accommodation due to a disability, please make an appointment to see me during my office hours. A letter from the ADA Coordinator authorizing your accommodations will be needed.”

Once a student has identified to the instructor and requests authorized disability-related accommodations, the College has a legal responsibility to make reasonable attempts to accommodate the need, even late in the semester. There is no responsibility to provide accommodations prior to identification; for example, allowing the student to re-take exams with extended time.

Instructors should feel free to contact the ADA Coordinator for assistance on arrangements for last-minute requests.

Can I review the student’s documentation of the disability?

The ADA Coordinator is designated to receive and interpret documentation of the disability and certify eligibility for services and determine accommodations. Disability information is confidential and students are not required to disclose this information to instructors.

What if I suspect that a student has a disability?

Talk with the student about your concerns regarding his or her performance. If the concern seems disability-related, ask if he or she has ever received assistance for a disability. If it seems appropriate, refer the student to office of the ADA Coordinator (Zehmer 152) to apply for services. Whether to self-identify is the decision of the student; however, to receive accommodations, disclosure with proper documentation is required.

If the student has never been evaluated for a learning disability and/or Attention Deficit Disorder/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, the DSS office will provide a list of resources where the student may be screened or tested. Some of the resources offer a sliding fee schedule.

What if a student with a disability is failing?

Treat the student as you would any student who is not performing well in your class. Invite the student to your office hour to discuss reasons for the failing performance and what resources the student may use to improve. Encourage the student to visit Student Support Services to discuss some additional strategies to improve his or her grades. Contact the ADA Coordinator to discuss any additional concerns.

What if a student with a disability is often absent?

Talk with the student to discuss your concerns that absences are affecting class performance. Remind him or her of your policy on class absences. Determine with the student whether the missed work can be made up and make arrangements with the student to do so. Refer the student to the ADA Coordinator if too much class work has been missed.

What is a note taker?

A note taker is usually another student in class who agrees to provide copies of lecture notes taken during class. The note taker may make copies of notes in Student Support Services.

How can I assist a student with getting notes?

The Faculty Accommodation Notice will document the need for note takers. Students who cannot take notes or have difficulty taking notes adequately due to the effects of their disability can be accommodated in a number of ways, including: allowing them to tape record lectures, assisting them in obtaining an in-class note taker, and providing them with an outline of lecture materials and copies of overhead transparencies.

What should I do if a student who is deaf or hard of hearing shows up in my class without an interpreter?

In the unlikely event that a student shows up for the first day of class without an interpreter, the student should be referred to the ADA Office. The office will then attempt to schedule an interpreter.

Who is responsible for requesting an interpreter?

Students requiring an interpreter for class must make the request to the ADA Coordinator at least three weeks before the last day of regular registration. For outside class requirements, such as field trips or other assigned activities, as well as office hours, students should request the interpreter in writing to the ADA Coordinator at least two weeks ahead of time or more, depending on the event. For a College-related event, such as a meeting, workshop, or discussion group, the sponsoring department or organizer should request an interpreter from the ADA Office. We cannot guarantee an interpreter when requests are made less than two weeks before the event.

Do I need to alter my teaching style with an interpreter present?

Interpreters are professionals who facilitate communication between hearing individuals and people who are deaf or hard of hearing. The role of the interpreter is similar to that of a foreign language translator: to bridge the communication gap between two parties.

Some adaptations in presentation style may be helpful when using a sign language interpreter. The interpreter will let you know if you need to slow down your rate of speaking or if they need you to repeat any information. A desk copy of the book is especially helpful for the interpreter when the class is using examples or doing exercises from the text. Please realize that if students are looking at the interpreter, they cannot be reading a book, writing, or taking notes; a pause for the students to finish their task may be required before continuing the lecture.

What can I expect if there is an interpreter in my classroom?

Interpreters are bound by the code of ethics developed by the National Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, which specifies that interpreters are to serve as communication intermediaries who are not otherwise involved.

  • When an interpreter is present, speak directly to the deaf or hard-of-hearing person rather than to the interpreter, and avoid using phrases such as “tell him” or “ask her.”
  • Speak normally, noting that there may be a lag time between the spoken message and the interpretation.
  • When referring to objects or written information, allow time for the translation to take place. Replace terms such as “here” and “there” with more specific terms, such as “on the second line” and “in the left corner.”
  • In a conference room or class environment, the deaf student and interpreter will work out seating arrangements, with the interpreter usually located near the speaker.
  • Inform the interpreter in advance if there is an audiovisual element in a presentation, so arrangements can be made for lighting and positioning.
  • In sessions that extend longer than one hour, the interpreter may require a short break to maintain proficiency in interpreting.

What should I do if my class needs to evacuate the building due to an emergency?

Students should let you know at the beginning of the semester if they will need assistance during an emergency.

  • Students who are blind or have low vision may need a “buddy” to assist them in exiting the building.
  • Some students with head injuries or psychiatric disabilities may become confused or disoriented during an emergency and may also need a “buddy.”
  • Students who use wheelchairs should NOT use the elevator but should wait for Safety and Security to safely assist them to exit the building. Security has the schedules of students who will need emergency evacuation. To prevent injuries, instructors or other untrained personnel should NOT attempt to evacuate a student who uses a wheelchair. Please wait for trained emergency personnel.

What if a student has a seizure in my classroom?

The ADA Coordinator encourages students with seizure disorders to inform their instructors about what should be done if a seizure occurs during class time. Some students request that Safety and Security be called immediately, others request action as listed below.

Seizures happen when there is a sudden electrical discharge in the brain. Each individual has a unique reaction. A seizure can result in a relatively slight reaction, such as a short lapse in attention, or a more severe reaction known as a grand mal, which involves convulsions. Seizure disorders are generally controlled by medication, so the possibility of a seizure in the classroom is rare.

If one does occur, the following actions are suggested:

  • Keep calm. Ease the student to the floor and open the collar of the shirt. You cannot stop a seizure. Let it run its course and do not try to revive the student.
  • Remove hard, sharp, or hot objects that may injure the student, but do not interfere with his or her movements.
  • Do not force anything between the student’s teeth.
  • Turn the student’s head to one side for release of saliva, place something soft under the head.
  • Make sure that breathing is unobstructed, but do not be concerned if breathing is irregular.
  • When the student regains consciousness, let him or her rest as long as desired.
  • To help orient the student to time and space, suggest where he or she is and what happened.
  • Speak reassuringly to the student, especially as the seizure ends. The student may be agitated or confused for several minutes afterward.
  • Don’t leave the student alone until he or she is clearheaded. Ask whether you can call a friend or relative to help him or her get home.

If the seizure lasts beyond a few minutes, or if the student seems to pass from one seizure to another without regaining consciousness, contact the campus Safety and Security office. This rarely happens, but when it does, it should be treated immediately.

As a member of The University of Virginia’s College at Wise faculty, am I required to provide the accommodations listed on the Faculty Accommodation Notice?

Yes. The accommodations requested are based on professional evaluations and documentation of the specific disability. They provide each student the accommodations to which he or she is legally entitled and allow the student the opportunity to succeed in your class. The accommodations are no guarantee that a student will succeed nor are they intended to give the student with a disability an unfair advantage.

Am I required to provide accommodations to every student who tells me that he has a disability based on that student’s story?

No. To receive accommodation of any kind in your classroom, students need to identify themselves to the ADA Coordinator and supply appropriate documentation. The information provided will be reviewed and discussed with the student individually: only then will a request for services be initiated. Faculty should not provide accommodations to any students unless they have seen the ADA Coordinator first.

Do I need to ask the student for documentation?

No. Information that documents a disability is as confidential as a student’s medical record. If a student wants to submit documentation, he or she should present this directly to the ADA Coordinator.

What if I think a student may have a learning disability? Does The University of Virginia’s College at Wise provide testing for this?

No. The College does not have the resources on campus to provide a professional evaluation. There are, however, a number of qualified professionals in the area to whom students can be referred. In many cases the cost of this evaluation can be covered through the student’s health insurance. Please refer the student to the ADA Coordinator for a current list.

Must I make provisions for getting students special equipment, tape recorders, taped texts, or other items needed to provide accommodation?

Yes and no. While it is your responsibility to accommodate students, the ADA Coordinator, with the help of Student Support Services, works to help faculty accommodate students with disabilities. In most cases, arrangements will be made in advance, but you must help the student with the use of the equipment or other aids in your classroom.

As a faculty member, are there legal findings that I should be aware of regarding students with disabilities?

Yes. The Association for Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) has several publications detailing court cases which are included as part of the bibliography for this handbook. You may also access some very important court rulings via AHEAD’s Web site. In addition, the ADA Coordinator has additional information on these court cases. You may call and get copies regarding a specific subject (7-0265).