What are reasonable accommodations?
A frequent term you will hear when you work with Student Disability Resources staff is "reasonable accommodations." The definition of reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act is: "any modification or adjustment to any activity to allow equal participation in the activity by a person who has a disability." Equal participation means an opportunity to attain the same level of performance or to enjoy equal benefits and privileges as are available to a similarly situated student without a disability. The University is obligated to make a reasonable accommodation only to the known limitations of an otherwise qualified student with a disability. To determine reasonable accommodations, the Student Disability Resources staff may seek information from appropriate University personnel regarding essential standards for courses, programs, services, activities, and facilities.
Not all students require the same accommodations, even if they have the same disability.
Determining reasonable accommodations is done on a case-by-case basis to address the individual needs of the student. Accommodations are determined by the functional limitations as noted in your documentation. Once you have provided documentation of your disability to the Student Disability Resources staff person, he/she will review the documentation and recommendations that have been made by the medical professional that provided the documentation. In review of your documentation, the staff member will work with you to help you understand your academic strengths and areas in which you will need assistance due to your disability. You play an active role in determining what reasonable academic accommodations are effective for you. These do not remain static throughout your career at Penn State. You may find that in certain classes you do not need accommodations and in others you need additional accommodations than originally planned. The important thing to remember is that the accommodation requested and/or received should not fundamentally alter the nature or essential requirements of the class.
The Accommodation Letter
At the beginning of the semester you may be approached by a student with a disability, who has a letter written by staff at the Office for Student Disability Resources (SDR). This letter will provide an explanation of how the student's disability impacts his/her learning. The letter will also contain suggested classroom accommodations for the student based on his/her disability. It is the student's responsibility to present this to you early in the semester so that accommodation procedures are clear from the start. It is best to meet with the student individually to discuss the accommodations and how they will be carried out. If you have any questions or need clarification regarding the suggested accommodations, you may contact the staff that has signed the letter.
NOTE: University faculty and staff do not have the right or a need to access diagnostic or other information regarding a student's disability; they only need to know that accommodations are necessary or appropriate to meet the student's disability-related needs. If a student has requested an accommodation, the student will be informed as to what information is being provided to the faculty or staff regarding the request. To protect confidentiality by assuring limited access, all disability-related information must be filed with Student Disability Resources.
Guidelines for Approaching Instructors
Before Talking With Your Instructor:
- Know what you need
Meet with Student Disability Resources staff to discuss the types of classroom and testing accommodations you may need. After careful review of diagnostic reports a staff member will prepare a memo for your instructors outlining your disability and make recommendations for special testing accommodations and/or in-class assistance. If you are given a faculty memo with recommendations, be sure you have read it and understand the recommendations given. Each accommodation form is only applicable to one semester. You must report to Student Disability Resources each semester to update your file.
- Know how to say it
Sometimes it is difficult to discuss a disability with others. It is completely up to you if you choose to disclose the nature of your disability or specific diagnosis. You need to remember that your instructor may not know much about disabilities in general, and may feel uncomfortable at first. Along with discussing your particular needs, it is a good opportunity for you to educate the instructor about your disability and to set him/her at ease. You also need to communicate to the instructor that special classroom accommodations will give you the opportunity to succeed in the class.
Contact the Faculty Member:
Schedule an appointment with your professor to discuss your disability. Introduce yourself and tell the instructor a bit about yourself, your major and why you are taking the course.
Describe the Classroom Accommodations You May Need:
For example, if you have a learning disability, it may be recommended that you have extended time when testing. You should clearly explain how special testing can be arranged. Another example would be if you need a sign/oral interpreter. Explain where you and the interpreter will sit and what will take place. Faculty may contact Student Disability Resources for further clarification or additional questions.
All evaluation materials kept in Student Disability Resources are confidential; however, you may wish to share information with an instructor. We will not release any information to others without your permission.
Know How You Will Be Evaluated:
Ask what will be required of you in terms of exams, in-class projects, out-of-class projects, research papers, classroom presentations, etc. If these are areas in which you need accommodations, address them to the instructor. If you and the instructor are not sure about the best and most reasonable accommodations, consult with the counselor in Student Disability Resources.
Discuss with your instructor how your work will be evaluated. Will you be graded on oral work or written work if you have a hearing/speech impairment? Be sure both you and the instructor understand grading criteria and the type of exams you will take (i.e., oral, written). Also, special testing techniques, such as overheads, slides or films, are sometimes used during test periods. If you have arranged with Student Disability Resources to take your exam outside of your classroom, other arrangements should be made with your instructor to compensate for that part of the exam.
If you will be taking accommodated exams through Student Disability Resources, give the instructor an information sheet on testing (available in Student Disability Resources). Be sure that both of you agree on the responsibilities involved in arranging for and taking accommodated exams.
Come To A Clear Agreement:
You and your instructor should have a clear understanding of the accommodations you will need. You may want to schedule future meetings with the instructor to discuss any concerns you have regarding the course. Thank the instructor for his/her time and help.