This guide for faculty and staff was compiled in conjunction with members of the Associated Colleges of the Twin Cities (ACTC) ADA Committee. The information has been presented as a resource to help faculty members understand their vital role in accommodating students with disabilities and to address common questions about working with these students.

Disability Defined

The ADA defines an individual with a disability as:

  • Any person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the person’s major life activities (such as caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working)
  • Any person who has a record of, a history of, or who has been classified as having a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits one or more of the person’s major life activities
  • Any person regarded or perceived as having such impairment. This may encompass:  (1) any person who is regarded as having such an impairment that may not substantially limit major life activities, but that is treated by others as constituting such a limitation, or (2) any person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits major life activities only as a result of the attitudes of others toward such an impairment.

Academic Accommodations

Macalester College is committed to providing inclusive learning environments. Equal access can often be achieved through course design. However, barriers to learning or assessment may still exist for a student with a disability in your course.  Academic accommodations make educational experiences accessible for students with disabilities when the course design poses barriers to a student’s ability to access or demonstrate mastery of course content. While universal design is one way of ensuring access, academic accommodations, provide another means of addressing structural barriers and increasing access. Any student requesting accommodations should be referred to the Director of Disability Services.

Following a review of the student’s documentation and a brief meeting, the Director of Disability Services will send the faculty member an email outlining any approved accommodations. Accommodations are not intended to constitute a fundamental change or alteration to any essential element or function of a course or program; if faculty are concerned that this is the case, or wish to discuss the provision of accommodations, they should contact the Director of Disability Services. Faculty members should not provide accommodations unless formally approved. Students are instructed to meet with each faculty member to discuss the details of the accommodation as appropriate. Upon getting an official notification, it is important that faculty act upon these required accommodations in a timely manner.

All disability-related information concerning a student should be treated and protected as confidential information. Although faculty will receive information about accommodations, they are not privy to the student’s diagnosis. However, faculty members can ask students how their disability affects their learning if it assists in making appropriate accommodations. Faculty or staff should direct any questions or concerns about the accommodations requested or of a particular student, to the Director of Disability Services.

Testing Accommodations

Alternative testing is a common accommodation made for students with a variety of cognitive and psychological learning disabilities. Most common of these are extended time and testing in an environment free from distractions. It is important for faculty members to discuss the details of this accommodation with the student in advance of the test. The best option would be for the student to take the test in a location that allows the student to have access to the faculty member during testing (e.g., a nearby classroom, department office or conference room). If this option is not possible, the student should contact Julie Lucking  in the MAX Center to schedule a testing time and location at least 1 week in advance. The student should then forward to the faculty member a testing accommodation form. The faculty member then sends (via e-mail if possible) the completed form and the test at least one day before the scheduled exam. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What, exactly, is an accommodation?   An academic accommodation is defined as any alteration in the usual manner of teaching, demonstrating, or evaluating a course objective, that enables a student with a disability to have an equal opportunity to participate in the educational experience.

Why do we offer accommodations? Educational environments are most often set up to privilege a particular kind of learner (i.e., one who can process information quickly, can write notes and listen simultaneously, can maintain concentration and focus for long periods of time without interruption). Learners who have conditions that make learning in classroom environments or academic semester timelines difficult are disadvantaged and this disadvantage is sometimes assumed to be related to intellectual ability or competence which would be inaccurate. Providing an accommodation does not give the student with a disability an unfair advantage. It simply alters the learning environment in such a manner that the student with a disability has the same opportunity to learn and demonstrate their learning as the student without a disability—in essence the accommodation levels the playing field.

How do you determine accommodations? The particular accommodations that a student utilizes will depend on their particular characteristics and needs and how they intersect with the chosen course structure and demands of the learning environment.  Appropriate accommodations are approved by the Director of Disability Services, based on the individual student’s documentation and expressed needs.  Two students with the same disability may qualify for and be eligible to receive different accommodations.

Am I being fair to other students by granting one student an accommodation? Appropriate accommodations do not compromise the essential elements of a course, nor do they weaken the academic standards or integrity of the course.  Accommodations simply provide an alternative way of accomplishing the course by limiting or reducing disability-related barriers.  The goal of accommodations is to provide a level playing field, not an unfair advantage. 

When do I have to comply with a student’s request for accommodations? The law provides a student with a disability the right to request accommodations from the college one the student has provided the college with appropriate documentation.  In some cases, Macalester College allows for temporary services while a student is in the process of obtaining documentation of a disability.  The documentation is kept in the Office of Student Affairs, and is held in a confidential manner.  The College asks that the student discuss the impact their disability may have on their courses with faculty directly, although the student is not required to disclose their particular disability.  When you receive the request for accommodations, you should honor it in a timely manner.

What happens if I do not provide the formally requested accommodation? The student can take legal action against you and/or the institution.   Denial of accommodations could be considered a violation of a student’s civil rights.  Colleges and universities cannot discriminated against qualified people with disabilities in recruitment, admission, or treatment after admission.  If you have concerns about a particular accommodation request, please contact Allie Quinn, Director of Disability Services.

How do I know if a student is “faking” a disability? The Office of Student Affairs has policies and procedures for the documentation needed for each disability.  It is the job of the Director of Disability Services to determine eligibility for accommodations.  Faculty members should not expect to see diagnostic information.

A student came to me in the middle of the semester to disclose a disability.  I did not know about it before; what do I do now?  In the college setting, the student with a disability is responsible for requesting and initiating all disability-related services and accommodations.  An instructor should immediately refer the student the the Director of Disability Services.  An instructor should not provide accommodations without approval.  Accommodations can be implemented as soon as a student has been approved by the Director of Disability Services.

How can I encourage the student to talk with me about the disability? Each student has the right to determine when and if they choose to disclose the nature of a disability to faculty.  We know that communication is important and we encourage students to discuss their learning needs, as well as their strengths and weaknesses.  Some students, especially those with hidden disabilities, may need time to feel comfortable discussing their disability.  Some students may never choose or need to discuss their disability.  Knowing a student’s particular diagnosis is less important than understanding how it interferes with the student’s learning.  Asking these questions may help facilitate a conversation:

  • What would you like me to know about how you learn best?
  • How might I assist you in being successful in this course?
  • What has helped you be academically successful in prior courses?
  • I want to respect your confidentiality, but perhaps you would be willing to share with me how your disability interferes with your learning so that we can develop some effective strategies for your academic success.

I have a student with a disability who is behind on the assignments.  This student has not done well on the exams.  May I fail the student for not earning the required points to pass the class?    A student with a disability should be held to the same standards as any other student in the class.  You may wish to contact the Office of Student Affairs, and particularly the Director of Disability Services to discuss your concerns, however, we encourage you to discuss your concerns with the student just as you would with any other student. 

Rights and Responsibilities of the College

Macalester College has the responsibility to:

  • uphold and maintain the academic standards set forth by the institution.
  • determine the appropriate standards in developing, constructing, remodeling, and maintaining facilities in accordance with the laws of the State of Minnesota.
  • evaluate students and applicants on their abilities and not on their disabilities.
  • provide reasonable and appropriate academic accommodations, academic adjustments, and/or services for students with disabilities in a timely manner.
  • maintain and uphold confidentiality of records and communication concerning individuals with disabilities, except where disclosure is required by law, authorized by the individual, or necessary in light of the accommodation required.
  • ensure that courses, programs, services, activities, and facilities, when viewed in their entirety, are available and usable in the most integrated and appropriate settings.

Macalester College has the right to:

  • identify and establish essential elements and technical standards, abilities, skills, knowledge, and standards for courses, programs, services, activities, and to evaluate individuals with disabilities on this basis.
  • request and receive recent and appropriate documentation from a qualified professional through the Disability Services Office, that verifies and supports requests for accommodations, academic adjustments, and/or auxiliary aids and services.
  • consult with the student in making the final determination regarding the selection of effective, appropriate, and reasonable academic accommodations, adjustments, and/or services. Macalester College reserves the right to make the final decision regarding which accommodations will be provided.
  • deny a request for accommodations if the documentation does not identify a disability according to Section 504/ADA, fails to verify the need for the requested services, or is not provided in a timely manner.
  • refuse to provide inappropriate or unreasonable accommodation, including any that:—
    1. pose a direct threat to the health and safety of the individual requesting the accommodation or of others;
    2. constitute a fundamental change or alteration of an essential element of a course or program; or
    3. pose undue financial or administrative burden on the institution.