DS Tip of the Block
Welcome to the DS Tip of the Block. Our goal is to provide faculty with resources on best practices for promoting accessibility and inclusion in the classroom. A new topic related to disability and higher education will be added each block. Some topics will focus on legal requirements concerning disability. Others will address aspects of cultivating an academic community where there is an appreciation of equity and inclusion. We hope the information provided will enhance knowledge and understanding of relevant disability issues and encourage discussion and collaboration.
If you have questions, concerns, or suggestions for topics for the DS Tip of the Block, please get in touch with Jan Edwards, Director of Disability Services:
Learning Commons at Tutt Library, Room 152
The DS staff looks forward to hearing from you!
Block Eight Tip:
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for all that you do for our students with disabilities. Students consistently tell me how much they appreciate your understanding of their learning and accommodation needs. Many of you include a statement on your syllabi inviting students to talk with you about accommodations they may need for your classes. Not only does this break the ice for what can be a sensitive conversation, but it reinforces the college’s commitment to access and inclusion.
As you prepare syllabi for next year, please consider including a statement similar to the following if this isn’t something you already include:
If you have a disability and require accommodations for this course, please speak with me privately as soon as possible so that your needs may be appropriately met. If you have not already done so, you will need to register with Disability Services (Learning Commons at Tutt Library, Room 152, 227-8285), the office responsible for coordinating accommodations and services for students with disabilities.
Again, many thanks for your support. I hope you’re looking forward to wonderful summer!
Block Seven Tip:
How Should Essential Requirements of
Academic Courses Be Determined?
The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) requires that colleges and universities use a deliberative process to determine essential requirements for academic courses and programs. The following case involving the University of Central Florida (UCF) reveals the consequences of the university's failure to provide reasonable academic accommodations to a student with a disability based on one professor's determination of essential requirements for his courses. (Disability Compliance for Higher Education; Legal Roundup: College must reconsider whether requirement is essential; February 2013; Volume 18, Issue 7, p. 10. Note: You must be logged onto a CC computer to access this link.) A summary of the Disability Compliance for Higher Education article and additional comments follow.
In 2011, UCF entered into a resolution agreement with OCR to resolve concerns based on the university's failure to provide reasonable academic adjustments (i.e., accommodations) for a student with a disability. In this case, a professor at UCF told a student that quizzes and exams had to be taken without extended time—even though the student had provided a letter from the disability services office approving this accommodation—because he contended that the provision of extended time would compromise the quality of the testing and the assessment potential of his exams.
What are the issues in this scenario that led to the need for UCF to enter into an agreement with OCR? First, although the student was ultimately provided with accommodations, the student was at risk of failing the course due to lack of accommodations on the first quiz. Second, the professor unilaterally determined what the essential requirements were for his courses, which does not comply with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
OCR requires that colleges and universities use a deliberative process to determine essential requirements for academic courses and that this deliberative process should include the following elements:
- A decision regarding an essential requirement must be made by a group of people who are trained, knowledgeable, and experienced in the area.
- The decision makers must consider a series of alternatives as essential requirements.
- The decision must follow a careful, thoughtful, and rational review of the academic program and its requirements.
So, What Does This Mean?
A college or university must be able to establish that an academic requirement is essential and that students with disabilities have been given an equal and fair opportunity to meet the requirement. The goal is to offer students with disabilities the opportunity to fulfill educational requirements without lowering academic standards.
Salome Heyward, a nationally recognized attorney specializing in disability and higher education law, writes about the importance of recognizing the difference between determinations of essential requirements and decisions regarding the provision of accommodations: "Questions related to the cost, burden, and/or logistics of providing academic adjustments are not legitimate factors to consider with respect to determining whether a standard is essential. An institution must be able to establish the essential nature of the standard without regard to the manner in which specific accommodation requests are processed. Accommodation decisions are separate and distinct from determinations regarding the essential nature of standards/requirements." (Disability Direct Response Compliance Library. Note: Membership is required to access this article; please contact Jan Edwards for additional information.)
The Good News
If a college or university follows the appropriate process when determining essential requirements, OCR and the courts are likely to find in favor of the institution if a complaint is filed.
If you have concerns that a particular accommodation for a student might lower academic standards or fundamentally alter a course, please contact Jan Edwards. We can work together to establish a deliberative process that protects the integrity of academic requirements and the right of equal access for students with disabilities.