One of the most crucial responsibilities for campus faculty and staff is the accommodation of students with disabilities. There has been an increasing focus on the organizational frameworks of post-secondary institutions and how these schools can adapt to fit the needs of those who have a disability.
Of course, the term, “disability” covers an incredibly broad spectrum of circumstances, and accommodations for one kind of disability may be completely useless or even harmful for another. With this in mind, it’s important to consider the definition of disability itself, as well as some different scenarios you may encounter on campus, and what type of accommodation those scenarios might fall under. Being well-informed about disabilities is the first step (and perhaps the most crucial) in accommodating those who live with them, and ensuring your campus is providing the study environments they deserve.
As everyone knows, the term “disability” takes many forms, in many different degrees of severity. As such, it can be difficult to pin down exactly what a disability is – a problem for those who must provide consistent accommodation for the disabled.
The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) came into being in 1990, and acts as the primary legislature for defining, understanding, and integrating disabilities into working and learning environments. Under the ADA, a protected individual can fall under one of three headings:
- someone who has a “substantial limitation to one or more life activities”;
- someone who has a record of such a limitation;
- or someone who is perceived to have such a limitation (even if they do not).
This definition is quite broad, and is meant to be, considering the spectrum that disabilities fall under.
Learn to distinguish between the two major types of accommodations, identify instances when documentation is required, and interpret the statutes and laws to guide decisions at your school in this on-demand seminar.
Understanding Disability Scenarios on Campus
A student’s experience at a post-secondary school involves much more than academics; living spaces, dietary restrictions, and ease of access are all situations that (along with academic study) need to be flexible enough to accommodate those with disabilities.
A common request from students with learning disabilities involves a private space for writing exams – something that schools of nearly any size can provide. But administrations must also consider cases that affect residence life. Some students see a marked improvement in their mental states when living with a pet; a small cat might be easy to deal with, but animals like snakes tend to elicit different kinds of reactions from other students. Individuals with significant food restrictions must also be accounted for when designing cafeteria plans – a reality that is more prevalent today than ever before.
Categories of Accommodation for Students with Disabilities
Despite the many scenarios to consider on campus, disability accommodations generally fall into two categories: auxiliary and modified.
Auxiliary accommodations are services that exist outside of the standard framework – features that stand independently, and can be used across a number of platforms. These include tools such as sign language interpreters, or note-takers; services that do not require an alteration of standard procedures for assisting students with disabilities.
Modified accommodations come into being when these standard procedures cannot be worked around through auxiliary means, and must be altered in some way. Examples included increased time and/or privacy for writing exams, reduced course loads, and multiple attempts for tests or other examinations.
The type of accommodation requested by a student with a disability plays a big factor in the burden that providing this accommodation places on the school, and therefore it also goes a long way towards deciding what kind of documentation this student might be asked to produce – a topic we’ll discuss next week.
It’s clear that disabilities on campus can take myriad forms, and being able to identify the basic requirements of living with each of these disabilities is absolutely essential to providing the accommodation these individuals need. Understanding the needs of your students and ensuring a positive and productive atmosphere for them is the primary goal of campus staff, and a particularly detailed depth of understanding is certainly required in cases involving disabilities.
What are some of the accommodations your school offers students with disabilities? Share in the comments below.
Source: Documentation of Disability: What Is Good Practice and What Can Be Legally Required? By Laura Rothstein