Faculty frequently have questions about the disability accommodation process at Samuel Merritt University. The following answers to Frequently Asked Questions may help. Please call 510.879.9233 or email DRC@samuelmerritt.edu with questions or concerns.
1. Who is responsible for providing access on campus?
The responsibility for disability access lies with everyone on campus. The Disability Resource Center collaborates with students, faculty, and staff to help create usable, equitable, inclusive, and sustainable learning environments. When this is accomplished, access for students with disabilities is seamless, and accommodations are not necessary. When necessary, the DRC works with students and faculty to create accommodations to provide equal access to University services and facilities. If you spot a physical barrier on campus, please report it to Facilities and/or the DRC. Questions about how to make courses more accessible to students with disabilities of all types should be discussed with the DRC. We want to collaborate.
2. If a student asks me to provide disability-related accommodation in my course, what should I do?
First, determine whether the student has an Accommodation Letter setting forth the accommodations approved by the DRC. If the student does not have such a letter, do not arrange disability accommodations with the student yourself; refer the student to the DRC.
3. What is an Accommodation Letter?
An Accommodation Letter is a letter from the DRC that lists the specific approved academic accommodations for an individual student, which is written to instructors so you know what accommodations to provide. It contains only accommodations that the instructor has a role in implementing, such as testing accommodations. Accommodations that the instructor does not need to help implement, such as a student getting class notes from a peer, are not necessarily included in the letter.
4. How do I know a student with an Accommodation Letter truly has a disability and needs accommodations?
A student who has an Accommodation Letter is currently registered with the DRC and has provided the DRC with medical documentation of his or her disability. The DRC reviews the documentation, talks with the student about how the disability affects them in educational environments, and discusses possible accommodation options with the student. Once the DRC and the student have determined the appropriate and reasonable accommodations that do not fundamentally alter an essential component of the course, those are put into a letter that details the required accommodations to which they are entitled. For reasons of confidentiality, the nature and specifics of the disability are not disclosed to faculty and teaching staff.
5. What does “reasonable accommodation” mean?
Accommodations are needed when there is an aspect of a course that is not accessible to a student for disability-related reasons. A reasonable accommodation is an adjustment designed to mitigate the impact of a student’s disability without compromising the integrity of an academic course or program. Accommodations may include:
extended time for taking written exams
auxiliary aids such as sign language interpreters
extended time to complete a degree, etc.
Students with disabilities are required to meet the same academic and technical standards as their non-disabled peers, but they may use accommodations to meet them.
6. When is a student required to notify me of a need for accommodations?
The DRC encourages (but cannot require) registered students to provide instructors with their Accommodation Letter at the beginning of each course. A student can register with the DRC or present an Accommodation Letter to you at any time during the quarter. Accommodations, however, are not retroactive. For example, a student is too late if they reveal a disability after the completion of a class or exam and requests a change in grading.
7. A student came to me well into the course requesting accommodations. I believe this is too late to ask for accommodations and arrangements should be made at the beginning of the course. Do I have to provide accommodations for someone this late?
In most instances, yes. There are numerous reasons why a student may make a late request. Perhaps there was trouble getting documentation of the disability any earlier and, therefore, accommodations could not be approved earlier. Some students try to take a class without accommodations but find that they aren't doing well and need the approved accommodations after all. Whatever the reason, students may make requests for accommodations any time during the course.
On the other hand, there may be some situations where students make a request for accommodations so late that appropriate arrangements cannot practicably or reasonably be made. If you are in doubt, contact the DRC to discuss the situation.
8. Should I provide accommodations to a student who does not present an Accommodation Letter?
If a student asks for accommodation but does not deliver an Accommodation Letter from the DRC verifying eligibility for academic adjustments, it is strongly recommended that you contact the DRC or direct the student to contact the DRC. Similarly, if a student asks you for an accommodation, and that specific accommodation is not listed in the letter from DRC, you are not obligated to provide it. Please do not arrange accommodations for a student yourself without the DRC’s input; refer the student instead to the DRC or contact the DRC yourself for more information.
9. Am I required to provide the accommodations in the Accommodation Letter?
Federal and state laws protect students with disabilities and require that qualified students with disabilities must have equal access to education. Disability accommodations are one way that is achieved. If you believe that the approved accommodations in the letter fundamentally alter an essential component of your course do not engage in a discussion with the student about this but contact the DRC, so that the issue can be addressed and, if necessary, the accommodations can be modified. It may be that a different accommodation would be better suited to your particular course and the DRC can help develop an alternative.
10. A student in my class who gave me an Accommodation Letter at the beginning of the course doesn’t always use the accommodations. Do I need to make sure students use their approved accommodations?
No. Students may choose not to use their accommodations for a variety of reasons. They may want to “test the waters” to see how they do without an accommodation. They may be embarrassed that peers view them negatively for using an accommodation. The accommodation may be overly difficult to implement, so they decide is “isn’t worth it.” Or they may just have procrastinated too long in requesting it.
Instructors may privately check with students who are not using an accommodation, to see if there is a barrier that can be remediated or to express concern that the student is potentially hurting their grade by choosing to forgo approved accommodations. But ultimately it is up to the student whether to use the approved accommodation.
11. Am I allowed to request disability documentation from the student?
No. Samuel Merritt has designated the DRC as the repository of all disability documentation for students with disabilities. Documentation stating and describing a student's disability is confidential information. Most students feel very vulnerable in disclosing their accommodation needs to faculty. While faculty may be able to surmise the condition on the basis of the accommodations, probing for disability information is inappropriate.
12. A student has told me about having a certain medical condition. How do I know if that’s a disability that qualifies for DRC support? What do I do with that knowledge?
Any time a student discloses any personal medical issue, the student should be referred to the DRC. The student may not believe academic accommodations are necessary and may not follow up on the referral, but it is very important when such a disclosure is made directly to you that the student is promptly informed that the DRC may provide supports or accommodations. Examples of conditions that should prompt you to refer a student to the DRC include, but are not limited to, a history of depression or other mental health issues; recent or impending surgery; cancer, diabetes, lupus, or other long-term illness; or a recent injury or other short-term disability. If a student offers you medical documentation relating to a disability, please politely refer them to the DRC to discuss potential accommodations.
13. What can I do to keep the student's disability information confidential?
For many students with disabilities, disclosure of a disability is a very personal and sensitive matter. Faculty should always keep disability-related information on a need-to-know basis, even from other faculty. Other practices to protect students’ private medical info include being careful to have conversations about accommodations away from where other students can overhear, adding “[encrypt]” to the subject line of emails that contain sensitive information, avoiding putting the name of a student with accommodations in the subject line of an email (the subject line is less secure than the body), and being cautious about the visibility of disability-related papers or screens when others visit your office.
14. What if I have a policy specifically banning the use of laptops, phones, etc. in my class?
There are instances when a student with a disability will need to use various technologies during your class as an accommodation. These will be outlined in the Accommodation Letter and may include, but are not limited to, a laptop to take notes, a cell phone or SmartPen to audio record class lectures, or other types of technology as needed. If using certain technologies in class is an approved accommodation, a policy modification for the student with a disability is reasonable. In order not to publicly identify the student with a disability the instructor is encouraged to state on the syllabus something like the following: "Exceptions for the use of a laptop may be granted for compelling reasons at the discretion of the instructor."
15. What if a student wants to audio record my lectures? Do I have to allow this?
Yes. The Faculty Handbook requires that every syllabus include the following statement:
E-Recording of Learning Activities. Audio recordings of class lectures are permitted in this course, with advance notice to the instructor. Recordings should not be posted online or otherwise disseminated outside the class. Recording small group or one-on-one conversations should not take place without the agreement of all parties being recorded. Recordings should be destroyed after the course is completed. —2016 Faculty Handbook, page 30
Because faculty may no longer prohibit students from making audio recordings of lectures, permission to make an audio recording is no longer a specific accommodation included in DRC letters (though it may still appear in letters drafted prior to fall 2016).
16. I have a student who is having difficulty in my class, and I wonder if a disability may be involved. What should I do to help?
It is not unusual for high ability students to be first identified with a learning disability (or other disability) at the undergraduate or graduate level. Often the compensatory strategies students used previously are no longer adequate in a demanding university setting. Talk privately with the struggling student to discuss your observations, and refer the student to all of the campus support resources available, including Academic Support Services, psychologists in the SHAC for counseling services, and the DRC.
Follow up with any referrals in writing to the student. Students may choose not to follow up on the referrals, but at least they know the campus resources exist and have the email to go back to later if they decide to reach out to resources at a later date.
17. Am I required to lower the standards of a required assignment because the student has a disability?
No. Standards are the same for all students. However, some students with disabilities may use accommodations to demonstrate their knowledge and ability to meet other course expectations differently than their peers. For example, a student with low vision may produce an essay exam by using a computer or scribe rather than writing out an answer. The quality of the work should be the same.
18. Do I have a right to fail a student with a disability?
A student with a disability has the same right to fail as anyone else. It is paramount to apply the same criteria to students with disabilities as you do to all other students. Their work should be equivalent to their peers, but you may not require extra assignments for just some students. You should address your concerns with this student, just as you would with anyone else in your class who is experiencing difficulty.
19. A student came to class with an animal. What should I do to address the situation?
The student should be referred to the DRC. Whether the animal may be permitted in the classroom depends on several factors. Pets are not permitted in campus buildings, but service dogs are allowed and certain other support animals may be permissible. The DRC should make this determination with the student.
20. How do students schedule exams in the Oakland DRC Testing Room and what should I do to facilitate the exams?
Students at the Oakland Campus who are approved to receive exam accommodations (extra time/reduced distraction environment) and would like to schedule an exam in the Disability Resource Center can submit a request online.
21. How do I provide extended time for a student in a Canvas-based exam?
It is very important that students who have disability accommodations experience the same exam as the rest of the class, whether you are administering a paper exam or an online exam. The DRC Testing Room computers have Respondus Lockdown browser installed for the administration of Canvas exams. It is fairly straightforward to set up a separate exam length within Canvas for students who get more time than the rest of the class. A tutorial is here: How do I assign a Quiz to an individual student or course section?
If you need to adjust the amount of time for a student after the exam has begun, there are two methods:
How to add time to the current attempt (if the student is still logged in)
How to add additional attempts (if they logged out already)
If you would like additional help, Ellie Hoffman in the Academic and Instructional Innovation office can be a Canvas resource. Ellie can be reached at email@example.com or 510.879.9239.
22. Is there a required syllabus statement about disability that I should include on my course syllabi?
Yes. The required syllabus statements for every program at Samuel Merritt are loaded in to Syllabot. These must be included on every syllabus. For help using SyllaBot, please contact A&II’s Christine Broz.
23. How do I make sure the videos I ask students to watch are captioned?
It's SMU's policy that all videos should be captioned to ensure disability access. You can now easily request closed captions for your Panopto videos, including YouTube videos. Before you publish your Canvas course, allow four business days to complete a captioning order. Visit A&II's Panopto page to see captioning instructions and other Panopto resources. For questions about using Panopto, contact A&II's Elba Rios.
I truly appreciate all our faculty do to ensure that students with disabilities get the same educational experience as their peers. Please contact me if I can be a resource for you.
Some FAQS adapted from the Stanford University Office of Accessible Education’s Faculty FAQs.