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Accommodating Students’ Disabilities

The university where I work at has a Resource Center for Students with a Disability (RCSD). I am usually in contact with the RCSD several times a term and I have had ample opportunity to get to know some of the staff there well. I jokingly referred to the RCSD as an “academic first responders” and a colleague at the office appreciated my acknowledgement of the office’s work. I think it fits, as for some of my students the RCSD is really the first place they need to go to get help with their education. I have students who test out for various reasons: require a distraction free environment, need 1.5 more time for the exam due to dyslexia,  might need access to voice activated software or might have recently been in a car accident and might need more time for their back and or neck comfort.

As long as the student is registered and completes the proper paper work, this is never a problem. What becomes tricky for me as someone without any training in learning disability assessment, is when students do not make use of the RCSD, but can or should be based on their own admission. As faculty, I can encourage student learning in many ways. I use different types of technology for the different learners. I have also suggested the RCSD to some students.

My suggestion of the RCSD to students has been more problematic. There is still a stigma with the term “disability” and some students have taken umbrage with my suggestion. This school year, I had a student leave my office angry with my suggestion that he get assessed at the RCSD, even though he shared how his learning disability was a problem. He did not want to be labelled and I understand this, but I was sad to see him later drop the course.

The policy on campus is that students who have registered and been assessed have access to the RCSD policies and protected rights. A student who is not registered will not be able to have the same accommodations. For instance, some students might have an open-ended note on their assessment letter that is sent to faculty: student might require leniency with due dates. In these situations, we negotiate deadlines. However, without registration at the RCSD deadlines and late penalty assessments are a completely different story.

My point is that I wish students did not feel embarrassed about a learning disability and that more would use the services on campus available to them. Until more do so, their complete needs will not be met on campus and more importantly their grades will reflect this. Ultimately, the forms and grading of an additional exam or two the next day is worth it to accommodate my students and help them be successful in my courses.

I have also had to accommodate students who cannot regularly come to class and this requires more patience, but again the goal is to help a student complete her/his coursework. In these situations, more communication is necessary.

This post originally ran on Equality 101, which is now defunct. It’s an oldie, but a goodie!

2 thoughts on “Accommodating Students’ Disabilities

  1. An example I sometimes use when someone is reluctant to be labled disabled is this: Do you think less of someone who needs to wear glasses to read, or see the board, or whatever? If they didn’t have their glasses, they wouldn’t be able to perform at a level that accurately reflects their abilities. Their learning would be “disabled”. Glasses are an easy correction.

    Then you can say something like, The RCSD offers similar, usually simple, corrections that enable you to do your best.

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