Resources for Disabled Students

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are questions commonly asked by faculty regarding working with students with disabilities.

Q:  How can I encourage students with disabilities to talk to me about accommodations?

A:  Let all students, whether they have a disability or not, know that you are willing and open to discussing any potential concerns they may have.  You are encouraged to use a statement on your syllabus and to include it during the first class session announcements.  Including a link or URL address to the RDS webpage is also helpful.

A statement example:  If you experience a disability or chronic illness and would like information about support services, please contact Resources for Disabled Students, located in 100 General Services, 491-6385 or visit http:///

You may also want to include on your syllabus a statement that invites students to talk to you if they have a need for an accommodation due to a disability or other situation. Students are sometimes intimidated with the act of speaking to instructors because of negative experiences they have encountered in the past concerning their needs. Your demonstrated willingness to work with a student can often make it easier for a student to approach you early in the semester rather than in the middle of a crisis. Again, if a student has not yet had contact with RDS, this may be a good time to inform them of university procedures for obtaining accommodations.

Sample Statement:  If you are a student who will need accommodations in this class, please make an appointment to see me to discuss your individual needs. Any accommodation must be discussed in a timely manner prior to implementation.   A verifying letter from Resources for Disabled Students may be required before any accommodation is provided.

Q:  Is the student disability information and need for accommodation confidential?

A:  Yes! Instructors and teaching assistants must maintain a policy of confidentiality about the identity of a student, the nature of disability and the accommodations required.

Q:  What should I do if a student comes up to me right before, during, or after class and hands me an accommodation letter?

A:  Tell the student in respect for her/his confidentiality you would like to meet during office hours during which the two of you can discuss the request further.  Tell the student this will give you both an opportunity to review the letter and complete any RDS Exam Scheduling/Conditions forms as necessary. During the visit, if needed, you can call RDS at (970) 491-6385 for clarification.

Q:  What do I do if a student requests an accommodation that is not on the accommodation letter?

A:  Do not provide additional accommodations for which you have not received documentation from RDS without talking with the Director, Assistant Director or an Accommodation Specialist first.  You could be setting a dangerous precedent.  

Q:  What if a student's behavior is disruptive to the class? (includes behavior of service dogs)

A:  While some students with disabilities may need to occasionally leave the room or stand instead of sit, they are expected to be as unobtrusive as possible.  Any behavior that is unacceptable for students in general, is unacceptable for students with disabilities as well.  All students are held to the same code of conduct and are subject to the same disciplinary procedures. However, some students may exhibit behaviors that are not typical, e.g., asking many questions, that may appear problematic.  This behavior may be a manifestation of a particular type of disability.  It is suggested that you meet with the student privately first to discuss the behavior and suggest alternative action before taking the case to student conduct.

Some student may be accompanied by a service dog.  These dogs are legally permitted to accompany the person on campus, including classrooms.  Service dogs are not required to have any outward signs of their purpose so the best indicator is based on the dog's behavior.  Service dogs should be trained to be inconspicuous in the class and quiet.  If the behavior of the dog is disruptive to the class (e.g., dog is not quiet and inconspicuous), you have the same options to respond to the behavior as you would the student's behavior.  The student is responsible for the behavior of the service dog.

Not all dogs, however, may be classified as service dogs.  If a student brings a dog to class, to determine whether it is a service dog or not, you may ask the student "What service has the dog been trained to do for you?"  If the student is not able to tell you the specific task(s) or if the student says it is an emotional support dog (ESA), the dog is not legally allowed in the class.  You have the right to ask the student to remove the dog even if the dog is inconspicuous.  ESA dogs are not specifically trained to be in all public places and are not protected under the ADA.  Refusal to remove an ESA from class can be consider a violation of student conduct. 

Q:  What if a student in my class is missing sessions or needs extension on assignments?

A:  We urge all instructors to be clear in their attendance policy.  Students with disabilities are held to the same standards as other students in the class. However, due to the nature of the student’s disability/illness, an accommodation may be recommended for flexibility in attendance requirements.  Students are encouraged to discuss possible means and/or opportunities to make-up missed work with instructors with an understanding that the accommodation is an exception to a stated attendance policy and may or may not be compatible with the course learning objectives.  You are encouraged to discuss this accommodation with RDS staff to determine if the absence of a student appears to be excessive and/or would otherwise impact the student's ability to achieve the stated learning outcomes of the class.

There are some students who cannot predict with the effects of their disability/condition will impact them.  This could cause a delay in their ability to complete assignments as well as attend class. Flexibility may be required in holding students to a strict deadline of completion of assignments.  When flexibility is recommended as an accommodation, extensions on completion of assignments are not to be with penalties.  Again, if completion of assignments within a specific timeline is essential to a student's ability to master material, you are encouraged to discus this acommodation with RDS staff to determine if the extension would otherwise impact the student's ability to achieve the stated learning outcomes of the class. 

Q:  Do I have to give make-up exams to a student who misses the test?

A:  If the course syllabus mandates that students who miss a test cannot receive a make-up then that is the policy to which all students can be held but consideration may be needed to determine whether the missed exam was due to the manifestations of the student's disability/illness.  If it is, then it may require consideration of a make-up exam or another method to demonstrate the student is achieving the learning outcomes of the course.  Discussion with an RDS specialist may be helpful in determining whether or not a make up exam is warranted.

In addition, if a student requires testing accommodations that prevent him or her from testing at the same time and place as the rest of the class, they cannot be penalized for this alone.  Changes in test date or time must be approved by you.  However, if they miss the alternate date and time that has been established, then they are liable for the same repercussions as a student who missed the in-class exam.

Q:  How do I approach a student who is having difficulty in the class and I suspect he/she may have a disability?

A:  You may not legally ask students if they have a disability but you can make inquiries about the nature of their difficulties.  You may ask if they had difficulty before and how they were able to succeed in their classes.  The student may voluntarily disclose the disability.  At this point a referral to RDS might be in order.  If he/she does not disclose, you may simply tell the student that you notice he/she is having academic difficulty and encourage him/her to talk with you about gaining assistance, just as you would with any student.

Q:  What if a student with a disability is failing my class?

A:  It is important for instructors to remember that providing reasonable accommodations to a student with a disability does not guarantee success in the course. Students with disabilities may not master the course material, just like any other student. Students with disabilities have the same right as other students to fail as part of their educational experience.

Q.  What if I have a question that is not here?

A:  If you have further questions that are not address here, please contact RDS at More Questions.  The link goes directly to the RDS director.

The following questions may also be informative.

Q:  What else can I do to help students with disabilities in my class?

A: The following are offered as suggestions when you have a student with a disability in your class. Remember, a student with a disability is first a STUDENT and will have the same motivations and desires as any other student to learn and to be successful.  Each student with a disability is an unique individual. A student may approach you appropriately or he/she may not be very adept at self-advocacy. Your understanding of this and your willingness to give appropriate feedback as to the student's interaction with you may help her/him with future encounters with faculty and other representatives of the university.

  • For All Students

The guiding concepts of Universal Design are helpful for any student and are highly recommended they be considered in your teaching. Please see Universal Design in Instruction for more information.

Courses taught from a universal design framework encompass the following ideas:

1) to support recognition learning by providing multiple, flexible methods of presentation;
2) to support strategic learning by providing multiple, flexible methods of expression and apprenticeship; and
3) to support affective learning by providing multiple, flexible options for engagement. 

These three concepts share one common recommendation: provide students with a variety of options for accessing, using, and engaging with learning material. While helpful for students with additional learning needs, these principles enhance opportunities for learning for every student. For more information about designing your instruction under universal design concepts, please go to Universal Design in Instruction. Another resource on campus is the Access Project.

  • For Students with Learning Disabilities

A: Some students with learning disabilities may not realize they are experiencing trouble in a class until they take an exam. The following are tips that may help them be more successful.

  • More frequent testing throughout the semester or other measures of performance in addition to exams only is often helpful for these students.
  • Study guides can also be helpful for students who have difficulty differentiating the minutia from what is important.
  • Students may also have difficulty with specific types of exams. Often an alternative format will prove to be a better indicator of the student's mastery of the material.
  • Your assistance in identifying potential tutoring support may also benefit students who are struggling with the compatibility of their learning disability and your teaching style.

For more information about learning disabilities, go to What is a Learning Disability?

  • For Students with Mental Health Conditions and Neurological Conditions

A: Since mental health and neurological conditions vary widely in how they affect a student, your understanding and willingness to work with a student is likely the best approach.  Some may need flexibility with assignment deadlines; others may need to have exams adjusted to help minimize the stress and/or maximize their abilities.  Often things that assist students with other disabilities  (e.g., students with learning disabilities) may be helpful as well.

Some conditions may affect how a student behaves in class.  One condition that characteristically manifests in unexpected behavior may result from conditions considered on the Autism Spectrum.  These conditions are neurological and often results in difficulty for the student in terms of interpreting social cues.  For more information about the Autism Spectrum, go to Asperger Syndrome/Autism Spectrum Disorder.

  • For Students with Mobility Limitations

A: Students with mobility limitations may be those who use mobility aids such as walkers, canes, and wheelchairs.  They may also have 'mobility limitations' that impact the use of any of their four limbs, including hands and arms.  Students who have other skeletal limitations from injuries are also included in this category, including those students who experience temporary limitations from surgery or accidents.

Reasonable accommodations involve providing physical access to a particular class location and adjusting the interior of a room to accommodate the presence of a wheelchair or other mobility device.  Because the campus is not 100% physically accessible, moving classrooms is often the only way to ensure access.

Other considerations may involve the activities required in a particular class.  A common accommodation in a lab might be to provide an assistant for a student who is not able to manipulate equipment or to have the student complete an assignment in another way.

For those students who acquire temporary mobility limitations, an extension for completion of assignments or other adjustment might be appropriate, including referring the student to RDS for test taking accommodations.

Some students with mobility limitations (as well as students with mental health conditions and with hearing and visual limitations) may use a service dog.  These dogs are legally allowed access to public buildings because they provide a specific service to the student as an accommodation.  You can expect that the student will have the dog under control so that the animal does not cause a disruption to the class.  For more information about service animals, go to Service Animals.

  • For Students who are Blind/Sight Impaired

A: If you plan to use videos, slides, or other visual media, it might be helpful to have someone in class describe the material orally to students who are blind. Written material may need to be converted to alternative formats and your cooperation in this process is vital.  Early book orders are essential for these students so they are able to have their texts converted to an alternative format (process takes about two to three weeks).  Providing RDS with copies of printed handouts prior to distribution to the class is also essential so that the alternative format (i.e., audio or Braille) is available to the student in a timely manner.

If you post via the Internet (e.g., notes, bulletin boards, assignments, etc.), be sure it is accessible for students who use adaptive devices. Students with visual impairments often use screen readers. These devices DO NOT read pictures; they only read text. An alternative format or adaptive aid may be necessary for a student to have access to your material and information.

For more information on how to make your WebPages and other materials more accessible to students with visual limitations, or other disabilities, contact the Assistive Technology Resource Center (ATRC), 491-6258.

  • For Students who are Deaf/Hard of Hearing

A: If a student is hard of hearing, facing the class while lecturing will be helpful for those students who lip-read.  Students who lip-read (speech read) use the formation of the words on your mouth.  Since many different sounds look alike on the lips, a student will be trying to piece together the content and still miss important information. Therefore, another type of accommodation may be needed. 

  • If meeting one on one with a student, please be sure you do not obscure your mouth and offer to repeat information and/or write it down.
  • Some students who have hearing loss between mild and moderate may need only a note taker.  If a volunteer in-class note taker is identified, RDS will supply NCR paper so that each page of notes is duplicated and then given to the student or the note taker can have notes copied in the RDS office.  A paid note taker may also be provided as an accommodation for a student depending upon the specific need and nature of the course.  Instructors may be asked to help identify potential in-class (volunteer and paid) note takers as well as any former students who may be willing to be act as a  paid note taker.
  • You may also be asked to wear a microphone that is programmed to work with an individual listening system. This system focuses your voice directly and allows the student to use his/her hearing aid more effectively.

(Note: this system has also been used by students with specific types of learning disabilities such as central auditory processing deficit or attention deficit disorder (ADD) to minimize distractions.)

If a student is deaf, he/she will be accompanied by a sign language/oral interpreter. An oral interpreter is one who 'mouths' what is being said. Students who rely on speech (lip) reading often need this type of accommodation.

Students who have more profound hearing losses or who are more proficient in sign language will require an interpreter who not only 'mouths' what is being said but can also translate into pictorial gestures (American Sign Language). Both types of interpreters will situate themselves in the front of the class as close to the student as required in order to hear you and translate the information to the student.  Two sign language interpreters are assigned to each class, switching after approximately 15-20 minutes.

The interpreter is also available to reverse interpret - or voice what the student wants to say. It is important to remember to speak to the student and not the interpreter when conversing with the student since the interpreter is there to simply translate words into and from signed gestures. If your pace of lecturing is too fast for the interpreter to follow you may be asked to repeat or to slow down so that the student does not lose important information. Remember, too, whatever the interpreter voices will be the words of the student and not the interpreter.

An accommodation that is helpful for students who do not know sign language and/or are hard of hearing is an in-class transcriber.  An employee of RDS attends class with a laptop and tape recorder.  The laptop is used to take extensive notes for the student in question and the tape recorder is used by the transcriber to ensure the notes are as complete and accurate as possible.  These notes are only shared with the student in question and are not available to any other person.

Another effective accommodation is real-time captioning (RTC). When resources are available, RDS may provide RTC for a student, especially those who severely haring impaired and are not proficient in sign language.  RTC is similar to a court recording in that a transcriber translate what is being said in "real time" to the student via a computer screen.  This accommodation may be provided remotely and your cooperation in the process may be needed.

DVD's and videos often have sub-titles (or open captioning).  Showing these during viewing can be helpful for students who may have difficulty hearing.  If a particular DVD or video is closed-captioned, please check with Instruction Services to see if your equipment can access the closed captioning option.  If a DVD or video is not captioned (open or closed), you might need to provide a copy of the text. If a student uses an interpreter, proper lighting may need to be provided for the interpreter if the lighting in class is altered for visual displays. A student who cannot access an in-class DVD or video may need to view it outside of class with appropriate accommodations either in advance or afterwards.

For more suggestions as to how to help a specific student with a disability be more successful in your class, please contact RDS, 491-6385.

Q:  What is a "Learning Disability"?

A:  As "invisible" disabilities, learning disabilities are one of the most challenging for an academic environment. A "learning disability" can manifest itself in a variety of ways. However, it does not mean a student with one has a lower intelligence (mental retardation) nor does it mean a student cannot learn. In fact, CSU students with diagnosed learning disabilities have at least average, and some above average, intelligence. There are various causes attributed to learning disabilities, many of which are considered genetic. What is recognized about them is that they are neurologically based and are related to how the brain deals with the activity of learning.

A student who has been diagnosed as having a learning disability experiences difficulty in one or several processes associated with learning. These processes often involve encoding and decoding information. In other words, a student may have difficulty taking in information (e.g. in reading or in hearing correct words), in processing information (e.g. understanding the meaning of a question), and/or in showing what they know and understand (e.g. through written work, through speaking, etc.). These processes can also affect a student's ability to perform common behavioral tasks such as focusing and filtering out distractions, understanding abstract concepts, spelling, listening and taking notes, manipulating numbers and symbols, or interpreting body language and other social cues correctly.

The educational system has been designed for the "average" student with the expectations he/she can and will learn through a standard process. Therefore, students with learning disabilities can find it very FRUSTRATING in such an environment. They often know and understand material but are unable to demonstrate their knowledge through methods that are considered "ordinary" means of measuring mastery. Sometimes they may have difficulty knowing what to study, whether to focus on details or general concepts, or how to apply theory. While these difficulties may be experienced by any student occasionally, a student with a learning disability experiences these difficulties as part of daily life, sometimes not realizing when something is amiss until given feedback (i.e. a failing grade on an exam).

Q:  What is Asperger Syndrome/Autism Spectrum Disorder?

A: Asperger Syndrome (AS) is a neurobiological disorder named for a Viennese physician, Hans Asperger, who identified a pattern of behaviors in boys with normal intelligence and language development.  This pattern of behaviors exhibited marked deficiencies in social and communication skills (autistic-like behavior).  Although first noticed by Asperger in 1944, this diagnosis did not have much recognition until 1994 when it was added to the DSM IV.  AS is now included in the general category of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) according to the DSM V.

Individuals on the autism spectrum can present a variety of characteristics that range from mild to severe.  In particular, they show deficiencies in social skills, have problems with transitions or changes with a strong preference for sameness.  They may have obsessive routines and be preoccupied with a particular subject of interest.  Many have difficulty reading nonverbal cues (body language) and often may find it hard to determine proper body space.  A person on the spectrum may prefer things such as soft clothing, certain food, or be bothered by sounds or lights that others may not hear or see since over-sensitivity to sounds, tastes, smells, and sights may be one of the manifestations of the conditions considered on the spectrum.

Students considered to be on the spectrum have gained admittance to CSU based on the same credentials as other students.  They usually have a high degree of functionality and may exhibit exceptional skill or talent in an area.  But they may also appear to be very naive.  Often they are viewed as eccentric or odd and therefore, become victims of teasing and bullying.  Language development may seem normal but many students may have deficits in pragmatics and prosody.  While a student's vocabulary may be rich, some may interpret words literally and have problems using language in a social context.

It is important to remember that a student on the spectrum perceives the world differently.  Many of the behaviors that seem odd or unusual are the manifestations of neurological differences and not the result of intentional rudeness, bad behavior, or poor upbringing.   A student exhibiting behavior that seems out of place may need to be given explicit parameters and directions in order to modify that behavior.  Talking one on one with the student and explaining expectations of behavior can help the student adjust accordingly.

Q: What about Chronic Health Conditions or Illness?

A: Chronic health conditions or illnesses can affect a student physically or mentally and can impact a student's ability to participate fully in class activities in the same way other students are able to participate.  These conditions/illnesses are not usually apparent but can limit the ability of a student in many daily activities, including academic activities.  

Students may be impacted by mental health conditions/illnesses that manifest in a variety of ways.  For example, a student who has depression may not be able to get up in the morning for class, attend to homework on a regular basis, or simply appears sad.  A student who is bipolar may exhibit the same symptoms or may be so energetic to the point of taking on more than the student can reasonable handle.  A student on the autism spectrum may react to certain social cues in unexpected ways and could be that student who is constantly asking or answering questions in class.  

Physical chronic conditions include, but are not limited to, sickle cell, diabetes, epilepsy, narcolepsy, chronic pain, migraines, and specific food intolerances (e.g. gluten, peanuts, etc.).  The impact of these conditions can range from dealing with the effects of medications to having to miss class for a day due to an episode of the condition or hospitalization due to a severe reaction.  Any student with a chronic health/illness can be considered to be in a process of learning how to manage the effects of their condition which means there will be times when their efforts are unsuccessful.  Your consideration of this learning process is appreciated.

Each student could be impacted in different ways, regardless of having the same condition.  As a result, it may be important to discuss with each student to determine if the chronic condition will interfere with the practices of the course.  The types of interference could be as minimal as determining what food should be considered for class gatherings (for food intolerances) to what to do if a student has an exacerbation that requires an extension for an assignment or reconsideration of attendance practices/policies due to a brief hospitalization.  Accommodations that might be needed will be dependent upon how a particular condition limits the student in participating in your course and their ability to meet the expected learning outcomes.

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