Useful Principles: Disabilities and a Common-Sense Campus

By: CLC Staff

We’ve talked about the nature of disability, the documentation for disabilities, and the sources of guidance for accommodating these disabilities. Now, as an administrator, you finally have to take action. Even with all of this information at your fingertips, it can be difficult to decide how to put it into place. After all, every campus environment is different, and no two situations are the same.

Is it better to be a stickler for proper documentation? Or should you focus on ease of access? What about fairness and second chances? Knowing how to strike an effective balance on issues like these and keeping all parties satisfied is a tough job, but one that is absolutely crucial to the well-being of a postsecondary school. 

Let Common Sense Guide You

As we’ve discussed, having documentation for a disability is crucial to receiving the proper accommodation for it. In some cases, however, it’s better to let common sense guide your decision, and not worry too much about the fine print. For example, a student who tells their professor before the start of the term that they are hard of hearing and would like a front row seat in class should not be forced to produce official documents from an aural professional. This is a simple enough request that can be arranged between professor and student, and does not require the involvement of other parties.

If the same student makes their request several weeks into the term, forcing another student to move, this may require some more complicated exchanges – and for this reason, prepared professors often ask students to speak privately with them about any such requests before the term kicks off. Still, it isn’t hard to see a situation such as this one can be handled with good communication and common sense.

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Giving Second Chances

Common sense also plays a role in an institution’s decision whether or not to grant second chances to its students. Imagine a student is dismissed from school for poor academic performance. If the student has a documented disability, but did not make that disability known to the administration, the school is not required to allow that student a second chance. This requirement of making a disability known is good policy, as it protects the school from potential lawsuits where a plaintiff would accuse the institution of failure to provide accommodation when they had no idea the accommodation was necessary.

Despite this, it’s worth the effort on an administrator’s part to look into the details of such a case before wholly dismissing it. The timing of the student’s evaluation for a disability is important – if they had been living with an undiagnosed disability until very recently, it seems harsh to levy such a penalty against them, since they were also unable to “make it known” at the start of their studies.

Postsecondary schooling is also a much tougher place to succeed than at previous levels, and this student might not have realized they needed accommodation until it was too late. If the details of a particular case suggest the student is not being purposely deceptive, why not offer a second chance? It is certainly less of a cost to the school than permanent dismissal is to the student.

The Importance of Clear Communication

As with so many situations on campus, clear and effective communication can go a long way towards making the accommodation process a smooth one. Drafting and publishing a clear set of documentation requirements for incoming students is a great start. Thorough pre-year preparation with your professors is also essential; not all professors use pop quizzes or weekly in-class tests, but those who do need to be prepared with alternative methods for the students who are allowed exemption from these.

A variable such as time limits on exams can be a much more significant performance factor in some courses over others. It’s crucial to identify the areas of your school that are more likely to see requests for accommodation, and to prepare the staff in those areas for their responsibilities in keeping a level playing field.

At the end of the day, combining the resources at your disposal with the knowledge of your own campus and simple common sense is the best formula for good decisions, in these matters just as much as any. Our goal is a fair shot at success for every student, and it’s in our power to ensure this occurs.

Do you have anything to add to the discussion? How much of a say should professors have in the accommodation provided in their courses? Share in the comments below.   

Source: Documentation of Disability: What is Good Practice and What Can Be Legally Required? – Laura Rothstein

Posted in Student Rights

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