Frequently Asked Questions - Health and Wellness Center - Penn State Altoona

Disability Services

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do I have to provide academic accommodations?

Since the passage of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), individuals with disabilities are attending colleges and universities in increasing numbers. The Rehabilitation Act states that "No otherwise qualified handicapped individual ... shall, solely by means of handicap be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance."

With the passage of the ADA, this mandate was expanded to any public or private institution. Subpart E of the Rehabilitation Act requires an institution be prepared to make reasonable academic adjustments and accommodations to allow students with disabilities full participation in the same programs and activities available to students without disabilities.

What if I cannot implement an accommodation recommended on the Accommodation Letter?

If you have a question, or think you will have difficulty providing an accommodation requested, again, the first step is to call the staff person from the Office for Disability Services (ODS) who wrote the Accommodation Letter you received from the student. The staff person will be able to clarify any information, as well as assist you with the resources you need to provide the accommodation. In some cases, clarification involves working with the student and the ODS staff person to adjust the recommendations for your particular academic situation.

Most of the Accommodation Letters I receive recommend extended test time. Why is this?

Students attending the University have a variety of learning and physical disabilities. Extended test time is the accommodation most commonly provided for students to assist them with their classes. For example, a student with a learning disability cannot process information in the same manner as a typical student. Therefore, they need additional time to rephrase the questions in a way they can understand and answer. A student with a disability affecting motor control of his or her extremities may need additional time to write the answers.

The results of three studies done on the range of instructional accommodations considered at two and four-year universities found the accommodation that is most widely accepted and easiest to provide is testing under modified conditions. Faculty and administrators agree that tests need to reflect students' course mastery, rather than their disability.

What if a test I am giving is required to be timed, and timing is part of the grade?

If an otherwise reasonable accommodation infringes on the course's fundamental goals, then the student may not be entitled to the accommodation in such a situation. A guideline would be to determine if it is speed or knowledge that is being tested.

Again, if you have a question, or think you will have difficulty providing an accommodation requested; the first step is to call the staff person from the Office for Disability Services (ODS) who wrote the Accommodation Letter you received from the student. The staff person will be able to clarify any information, as well as assist you with the resources you need to provide the accommodation. In some cases, clarification involves working with the student and the ODS staff person to adjust the recommendations for your particular academic situation.

What do I do if a student approaches me in class requesting accommodations and I have not received an Accommodation letter from the Office for Disability Services?

Simply, ask the student if he/she is working with the Office for Disability Services. If he or she is, suggest the student contact the staff person they have been working with to inform them they must have an Accommodation Letter outlining the accommodations needed. It is the student's responsibility to provide documentation of his or her disability to receive accommodations. If a student is asking for accommodations and is not working with ODS, suggest they call the office to arrange for an appointment. Accommodations should not be given if you have not received an official accommodation letter from ODS.

What if a student with a disability is disruptive in class?

A student with a disability should be treated as you would any student who is disruptive in class. All students must adhere to the student conduct code. However, if you sense there is a medical reason for the student's action, the ODS staff person working with that student should be consulted to determine if there is a solution to the problem.

Note takers are often asked for as an accommodation. How do I approach this?

One way to approach this is to assign a student in class to serve as an official note taker for the whole class. This procedure can be done by asking for a volunteer at the beginning of the semester. If there is a student that you know in the class, you may ask him or her to take notes for the class and be willing to have copies made of those notes. Photocopying or carbonless note taking paper is available through ODS for a student to take notes for a student to take notes for a student with a disability.

What if I suspect a student in my class has a disability and would benefit from accommodations, however, I do not think they are working with the Office for Disability Services?

Many referrals to ODS are from faculty who has noticed a student having difficulty in their class. If you see a student struggling and suspect a disability, you are encouraged to talk privately with that student after class or during office hours about the difficulty they are having. Another approach would be, at the beginning of each semester, announce to the class that if a student has any special circumstances for which he or she needs assistance, to speak with you after class or during office hours.