Working Together: Faculty and Students with Disabilities
The mission of the Disability Resource Center (DRC) is to unite the Montclair State University community in an effort to provide students with disabilities the excellence and equity in education to which they are legally entitled. Support from faculty is integral to the achievement of this mission.
It is our hope that sharing this information with you will promote collaboration between the DRC and faculty, as well as provide you with some strategies to see that all of our students are encouraged to meet their full potential.
Facts for Faculty
What is a Disability?
A person with a disability is any person who:
- has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more activities of dialing living, including learning;
- has a record of such an impairment;
- is regarded as having such an impairment.
It’s the Law!
Students with disabilities are protected by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. According to these laws, “no otherwise qualified person with a disability shall, solely by reason of disability, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity of any public entity.”
“Otherwise qualified,” with respect to post-secondary education, means “a person who meets the academic and technical standards requisite to admission.” Montclair State University does not have any special admission provisions for students with disabilities. Students with disabilities must meet all standard requirements.
Section 504 and the ADA are very specific regarding confidentiality issues. Students voluntarily affiliate themselves with the DRC, and we take our responsibility to protect their confidentiality seriously. The law permits dissemination of disability-related information on a “need-to-know” basis only. Therefore, when we alert faculty, we are permitted to disclose only the existence, not the nature, of a disability and what accommodations are necessary to equalize access to learning for that student. Asking intrusive questions of the student or discussing the student’s disability with others, no matter how well-intentioned, is a violation of federal law.
Students Come to Us!
It is the responsibility of the student to disclose a disability, document the disability and resulting limitations caused by the disability, and request accommodations to equalize meaningful access to learning. The DRC has very strict guidelines regarding disability documentation. It must come from a qualified professional and must contain all the data we need to determine appropriate academic accommodations.
What are Accommodations?
Academic accommodations must be requested by the student. Accommodations are modifications made to minimize the discriminatory effects on learning for students with disabilities. The request must be reasonable, appropriate, and timely. Such an accommodation is not meant to lower the standards for academic performance. Rather, the accommodation makes it possible for the student to learn the material and for the instructor to fairly assess the student’s mastery of the material.
Why Do We Need the DRC?
Although it may seem simpler to just accommodate students directly without the involvement of the DRC, that approach can be risky. The DRC has the expertise to ascertain whether a request is appropriate and reasonable. If you provide an accommodation without proper documentation, other students can challenge your treatment as preferential. Also, by providing an unsubstantiated accommodation, you may set a pattern under which a student can claim to be “considered as having a disability” under the law. Therefore, when students approach faculty about disability issues, we strongly recommend you refer them to our office.
DRC Advocates for Students and Supports Faculty
Although it may seem contradictory to some that DRC’s goal is to team with faculty to accommodate the student, that is our true mission. We do advocate for the students, but we are also available to consult with and assist faculty in meeting the University’s legal responsibilities to students with disabilities, so please call on us to:
- Answer any questions you may have about the accommodation process
- Mediate disagreements between students and faculty regarding disability accommodations
- Proctor your exams in our testing center
- Talk to your class(es) about disability-related issues
- Discuss new and different ways to accommodate students.
Why include a syllabus statement?
A syllabus statement provides students with information necessary to request accommodations due to their disability. Any student with a documented disability requiring accommodations should make arrangements through the Disability Resource Center. A sample statement is provided below:
Montclair State University is committed to assisting students with disabilities in receiving accommodations necessary to equalize access. Students who may need accommodations based on disability must self-disclose and initiate the request to the Disability Resource Center (DRC). The student is responsible for providing the DRC with documentation of their disability that meets our guidelines and it will be reviewed. An intake meeting will take place with the student and a DRC counselor to determine reasonable accommodations. Please know that accommodations require time to implement and are not set in place until we meet with a student. For more information, please contact the Disability Resource Center by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone (973) 655-5431.
The DRC offers faculty the option of having their exams proctored in our testing room. In that setting, we are able to provide a distraction-reduced environment, extended time, and/or the use of technology which may be necessary to accommodate the student. You must be notified by the student as to which accommodations are needed. We are always willing to assist you with test proctoring, or you may make your own arrangements, as long as the accommodation needs of the student are met. At no time can the DRC or the student dictate where an exam must be taken or under whose supervision. Individual instructors have the choice of providing necessary accommodations or referring the student to the DRC.
Faculty Guidelines for Alternative Exam Arrangements
The Disability Resource Center requires each student to present an Alternative Exam Request Form signed by you before we will administer a test. We hope the accommodation form is sufficiently self-explanatory. We absolutely need clear and accurate information from you in order to provide the accommodations in a manner that is in keeping with both your academic standards and the student’s civil rights to a level playing field. We offer these points of reminder to ensure the best results for you and your students who take exams with us:
- For exam arrangements through the DRC, students must bring us an Alternative Exam Request Form (PDF), signed by you.
- The form is YOUR control over your exam. Accommodations that the student requests should be in accordance with those recommended by the DRC. Students should provide you with an Accommodation Request Form at the beginning of each semester to verify the accommodations to which they are entitled.
- You should indicate if the exam is open note, open book, or requires some other, specific tools (e.g., calculator) to complete under the section for Special Testing Instructions.
- You should also indicate how you plan to deliver the exam to us and how you would like it returned. Instructors are responsible for the secure and timely submission of exam materials via the method of their choice; however, campus mail is not recommended. Faculty who decide to send tests with the student who will be taking them are strongly encouraged to seal materials in an envelope that you sign and date. Please note that the Disability Resource Center will not pick up exams.
- There must be one form completed for each exam arranged through the DRC. Students may not arrange more than one exam per form, or an entire semester’s exams at one time.
- Students must give us at least three working days’ notice of an exam. They should give you ample notice, as well.
- Students may ask anything they like, but that doesn’t always mean it is a reasonable accommodation. If you ever feel there is some question as to the validity of an accommodation request, contact the student’s DRC counselor.
Our job at the DRC, with respect to testing, is to provide the reasonable accommodations requested by a student with a disability, and to otherwise ensure the exam is conducted within the parameters prescribed by you. We hope that by administering exams at the DRC, we are effectively offering a service to both you and the student with a disability.
The Faculty Room
The Faculty Room is a space for faculty and administrators at postsecondary institutions to learn about how to create classroom environments and academic activities that maximize the learning of all students, including those with disabilities.
Heath Resource Center
Online clearinghouse on postsecondary education for individuals with disabilities. Training modules include “Students with Disabilities in the College Classroom.”