Disability Services (DS) recently requested input from faculty regarding electronic student Accommodation Letters during the transition to online and hybrid teaching and learning environments that resulted from the pandemic. Thank you to the 63 faculty members who provided useful feedback.
More than 60% of respondents strongly agree or agree that the signature piece of the Accommodation Letter process is beneficial for faculty and students. Nearly 75% of faculty who completed the survey indicated support for a simpler, smoother electronic form with the capacity to process both student and faculty signatures.
Technology Services is developing an OnBase form that will improve the confidential distribution of Accommodation Letters and facilitate a more seamless, straightforward signature process. We hope to implement the form for the summer 2021 term.
The Counseling Center/Disability Services team continues to appreciate the hard work faculty do among students with disabilities and all Meredith students. Thank you for your time and effort making course content accessible, providing accommodations, and promoting student success and achievement.
We were pleased that many faculty members used the survey as an opportunity to ask questions and provide constructive feedback. Many of these comments raised issues and concerns that may interest others.
Are students required to meet with faculty to discuss their accommodations?
No. There are a number of circumstances in which a meeting may not be necessary and in which faculty may use their judgment. A student may have been in a class with a particular faculty member previously, so a conversation might be redundant. The accommodations may be basic, so an email exchange could be sufficient. However, some students benefit from connecting with their faculty. Many need to practice self-advocacy skills, and others may feel more comfortable engaging in class after talking with the professor in a one-on-one setting.
As noted on the survey, “Many other colleges and universities do not require signatures on Accommodation Letters. Even without signatures, faculty are responsible for providing the accommodations outlined in students’ Accommodation Letters.” If this is the case, why bother with signatures at all?
Nearly all survey respondents identified specific benefits of meeting with students to discuss Accommodation Letters and specific accommodations. The culture at Meredith, compared with that at other colleges and universities, is one in which faculty are highly engaged with students and provide support and counsel. DS encourages these one-on-one interactions to help students develop self-advocacy and social skills crucial to success after college. Students (70%) and faculty (52%) agree that these appointments would be less likely to occur without the signature element. While the meetings and signatures are not legally mandated, provision of the approved accommodations is required by law. Any deviation from the accommodations as listed must be discussed with the student and DS.
Can DS require students to notify faculty of their accommodation needs early in the semester? Can DS ensure that faculty receive Accommodation Letters during the first week of class?
No. DS encourages students to request accommodations at the beginning of the semester, but many choose to wait. Some forget, even though we send multiple reminders. Others may not be certified until midway through the semester. Accommodations are not retroactive and begin once faculty receive the Accommodation Letter. Students have the legal right to notify faculty of their accommodations at any point during the semester.
What about students who provide their Accommodation Letter the day before a quiz or test?
Best practice is, if possible, to provide the approved accommodations and accommodate the student. However, when requesting their Accommodation Letters from DS, all students sign a document that states, “Students with disabilities at Meredith College have the responsibility to … Arrange testing accommodations with each faculty member a minimum of FIVE (5) business days prior to each test/exam.” Do students read everything they sign? We know they do not. And students with reading disabilities or attention deficits are even less likely to read carefully. The DS and Testing Center teams will help faculty provide last minute accommodations if at all possible. The meeting with students to discuss Accommodation Letters is a good time to remind them of the five-day testing accommodation request stipulation.
Why have Accommodation Letters become less descriptive and informative regarding students’ specific conditions and diagnoses?
Again, best practice is the exclusion of specific diagnostic details in Accommodation Letters. Faculty must provide the approved accommodations regardless of a student’s particular disability. Please refrain from asking a student what their diagnosis is. When you meet with a student, ask about the learning and study strategies that are most effective for them. Ask if they would like to tell you more about specific accommodations. Ask what aspects of the course they think might be challenging. If you still have questions about supporting and accommodating an individual student, please consult with the DS team who is always available.
Why does the note taking accommodation seem so complicated?
Many different disability diagnoses interfere with students’ ability to listen attentively and take useful notes simultaneously. Therefore, the note taking accommodation on the letter provides the student and faculty with options intended to accommodate a student’s specific deficit. Some students will need to record classes using their phone, a digital recording device, a SmartPen, or via Zoom. Many students need access to PowerPoint slides prior to the lecture so they can take notes directly on printed hardcopies of the slides and to familiarize themselves with the content before class. We are working with students to help them become more independent and personally responsible for their learning by relying less on volunteer note takers. However, many students struggle with new technology and may still require volunteer note takers for equal access to course content. Please consult with the DS team for guidance related to the confidential recruitment and management of volunteer note takers.
All DS students have priority registration, right?
No. Accommodations are approved individually, based on a student’s specific disability and the information provided in the documentation. Thank you for avoiding comments and discussions with students about specific accommodations. It’s always disappointing for a student when requesting a particular accommodation because a faculty member suggested it would be helpful, but the student’s documentation doesn’t support that particular accommodation. Please refer students to DS for general assistance, and reasonable and appropriate accommodations will be determined by disability documentation and the interactive certification process.
If you have questions about accommodations, the DS certification process, or anything related to support services for students with disabilities, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Again, we are grateful for your work among students with disabilities at Meredith.