Faculty Guide to Accommodations for Students with Disabilities

Bowdoin College is committed to providing reasonable accommodations for students with documented disabilities. Providing reasonable accommodations in the classroom is a shared responsibility between the Student Accessibility Office and the student’s instructors. Students bear the primary responsibility for identifying their disabilities to the College and for requesting the necessary adjustments to the learning environment. The Student Accessibility Office carefully reviews documentation of disabilities and all requests for accommodation. Upon request from the student, the Office communicates (by letter) the approved accommodation(s) to the appropriate instructors and other persons.

Faculty members play an important role in determining whether the approved accommodation(s) are appropriate in the context of their course design and evaluation. If a faculty member believes that the approved accommodation fundamentally alters an essential element of the course, they should contact the Director of Student Accessibility immediately. Changes or additions to the approved accommodations are sometimes made mid-semester because student needs may not be entirely understood or may change after the accommodations are first approved. Faculty will be notified of any changes or additions.

Faculty members are responsible for providing the accommodation(s) listed in the letter. Should a disagreement arise about accommodations or their implementation, or if there is a need for any changes in the accommodations, please contact the Student Accessibility Office as soon as possible.

It is important to note that there are three federal laws which prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities: Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and The ADA Amendments Act of 2008. 

Postsecondary schools are required to provide auxiliary aids and services to ensure that no individual is excluded or treated differently. Some examples of academic accommodations are:

  • Priority course registration
  • Reduced course load
  • Preferential seating
  • Closed-captioning
  • Sign language interpreters and/or FM system
  • Readers, audio texts, or alternate formats
  • Note taking assistants
  • Extended time on quizzes, tests and in-class assessments
  • Alternative test formats, such as orally
  • Reduced distraction testing space
  • Recording devices during lectures
  • Spelling aids and/or calculators
  • Assistive technology
  • Use of a laptop computer in class and/or for tests and in-class assignment

General Recommendations for Faculty regarding the implementation of Accommodations

O     Open the door for communication. Students who receive accommodations are asked to meet with their professors during the first week of each semester to discuss their individual needs and accommodations so you can take these into consideration. There are some ways in which faculty can help invite this important conversation.

  • Include a statement on your course syllabus. In addition to providing information for students who have not yet disclosed a disability, a statement indicates a faculty member’s willingness to provide reasonable accommodations to students with documented disabilities. Here is an example of a disability statement that can be used or adapted for course syllabi: Students seeking accommodations based on disabilities must provide documentation to the Office of Accommodations for Students with Disabilities. Students are encouraged to discuss any special needs or accommodations with me at the beginning of the semester or as soon as you become aware of your needs. Additional information regarding the accommodations process for students with disabilities can be found at: http://www.bowdoin.edu/studentaffairs/accommodations/apply-for-accommodations.shtml.
  • Encourage students to meet with you. Anything you can do to encourage students who receive accommodations to schedule a private meeting with you to discuss their individual circumstances is greatly appreciated by the students and the Office of Accommodations!

O     Maintain confidentiality. Discussions or meetings with students regarding a disability and/or accommodations should always occur in private. The nature of a student’s disability, the content of the supporting documentation, and other records on file with the Student Accessibility Office are confidential. Information will be released to others only as necessary to administer the College’s accommodation of the student’s disability. Students are encouraged to discuss their disability and learning styles with faculty along with how their approved accommodation(s) will be implemented. Students are free to disclose any information that they choose. However, students should not be compelled to disclose any information beyond what is written in the accommodation letter. Whatever information a student may choose to share, please ensure it is kept confidential.

O     Laptops are effective tools for students with disabilities. Some students are unable to take notes by hand and have accommodations which allow them to use a laptop in class. Please consider allowing the use of laptops with your permission. This will require any student who wishes to use a laptop in class (certainly those with an accommodation, but additionally other students without accommodations who may also have valid reasons) to discuss it with you and it protects the confidentiality of your students who have disability-related laptop accommodations.

O     Recognize reasonable timelines for student requests for accommodations. Students are expected to communicate with each faculty member at the beginning of the semester (or as soon as they are approved) about their accommodations and have been advised that they need to make requests for test accommodations (extended time, reduced distraction space, etc.) at least 4 days before each exam, otherwise you may not be able to implement their accommodation. Faculty should use their discretion, but understandably late requests for testing accommodations are often impossible to arrange due to space and logistical considerations. Late requests can be denied, even if the student’s letter states that they are eligible for test accommodations.

O     Evaluate potential barriers to access. When designing a course and syllabus, consider how you can make it most inclusive and universally accessible to ALL students, not just those with disabilities.

O     Students are the best expert in understanding their disability and the barriers they face. The individual student with a disability can provide direct testimony about their accommodation needs and what barriers may impede their learning. Additionally, the student likely has insight into the strategies and practices that are effective for them

O     Accommodations are not intended to limit faculty’s flexibility and must be reasonable. Accommodations are necessary for a student to have equal access to all aspects of Bowdoin’s learning environment. They must be reasonable and effective, and are ultimately about equity. By having a formal process, students only need to request accommodations from the Office of Accommodations once and faculty are not put in the position of determining disability status and whether an accommodation is necessary and reasonable.  Flexibility of faculty is an important part of recognizing challenges that may come up for any individual student, with or without a disability. It is the right of each faculty member to consider requests for flexibility for deadlines and attendance, and accommodations are not intended to limit that flexibility.

O     Seek guidance if you have concerns about a student who may be disabled but is not currently receiving accommodations. Do not make assumptions about students’ abilities or comment on students’ “presumed” disabilities. Legally, you cannot ask a student if they have a disability. Contact the Student Accessibility Office to ask for guidance. It can be helpful to explore with the student the resources at Bowdoin that may help support them (as you would with any student who is struggling in your class, regardless of disability.) These resources include the Center for Learning and Teaching, the Office of the Dean of Students, the Office of Accommodations, the Health Center, and the Counseling Center, among others.

O     Contact the Office of Accommodations and use the Office as a resource. If you encounter any difficulties implementing accommodations or if you believe an accommodation fundamentally alters an essential element of the course, please don’t hesitate to contact Lesley Levy, the Director of Student Accessibility (llevy@bowdoin.edu or 798-4187.)

Further information regarding the most common accommodations

O     Note taking assistants. It is NOT faculty responsibility to identify notetaking assistants. The Student Accessibility Office will coordinate all aspects of the notetaking assistant program.

O     Extended time on quizzes, tests and in-class assessments. The Student Accessibility Office does not currently have the resources or space to widely administer the hundreds of accommodated tests taken each semester by students at the College. We do have resources to help with students who have the most complex needs (scribes, double-time or longer, use of dictation software during exams, etc.) or when the professor and student are unable to make arrangements on their own.

O     Reduced-distraction testing spaces. The Student Accessibility Office has noise-cancelling headphones available for loan if students would like to try this option to reduce distraction rather than utilize a different testing location. For students with this accommodation who prefer to use a different testing location, we ask that you try to make the arrangements. If you are unable to, please contact Lesley Levy.

O     Extended Time during Final Exams. It is unreasonable for a student with an extended time accommodation to take two 4.5-hour (or 6-hour) exams on one day. Students who have extended time accommodations and two in-class final exams on the same day may request to reschedule one of those exams for a date mutually agreeable to the student and the instructor. The Student Accessibility Office will remind students before the last day of classes to check their exam schedules and to contact faculty in a timely manner if they plan to make this request.

O     Pop-Quizzes. Options vary depending on the course and the goals of the pop quiz. However, students do have a right to use their extended time accommodations on quizzes, including pop quizzes. Some suggestions include:

  • Evaluate the purpose of pop quizzes and possibly eliminate them. Consider other ways you might obtain the same information.
  • Offer a substitute, comparable assignment for students with extended time accommodations.
  • Use Blackboard for quizzes. Assign quizzes to be taken online during a specific window of time prior to class and for specific length of time (and allow extended time for students with that accommodations).
  • Allow students with extended time to take quiz with the class; stop when classmates stop, and then grade only on portion completed.
    Accommodation of 1.5x additional time = 66%
    Accommodation of 2.0x additional time = 50%
  • Base course grade on an average of other tests/assignments and don’t count pop quizzes.
  • Allow students with extended time accommodations to take the quiz with class and then allow extra time to complete quiz after class meeting is over (you will need to verify with student ahead of time that the students are available after class session and wouldn’t miss another class / commitment by staying.)
  • Give the quiz at the end of the class and allow students with extended time accommodations additional time after class to complete the quiz.
  • Give the quiz at the beginning of class and permit students with extended time accommodations to begin the quiz earlier than the rest of the class. Student would have to arrive early on a regular basis (or be emailed at a designated time prior to class) to learn if there will be a pop quiz on that day. This is not possible when a student has class immediately prior.
  • Give extended time to all students. Write a 5 minute quiz, but allow all students extended (7.5 minutes or 10 minutes if any students require double-time.) The quiz must actually take most students only 5 minutes to complete.
  • The best way to avoid difficult situations with pop quizzes is to communicate early in the semester with the student who needs extended time. Together you can develop a workable solution for everyone involved.