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Disability Services | Accessibility Letters

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Accessibility Letters

All students requesting services and accommodations are required to obtain signed Accessibility Letters from Disability Support Services (DSS) at the start of each semester and share it with each instructor from they would like to receive classroom accommodations. The letter lists the approved services and accommodations that DSS is responsible for providing (i.e., sign language interpreters, text-to-speech software) as well as a list of approved classroom accommodations (i.e., class notes, extended exam time) that are provided by their instructor.

Students must discuss the classroom accommodations in the letter with their instructors (preferably before the 2nd week of classes) and obtain that instructors signature before those accommodations can begin. At that time, the student will also sign the letter. This is necessary so that all three parties (DSS + student + instructor), can be documented as being aware of and in agreement with the approved accommodations. Please repeat this process even if you have had the student in a previous course as there may have been changes to the letter or accommodation procedures. You will keep one copy of the letter and the other will be returned to DSS by the student. Please provide the classroom accommodations as agreed and contact DSS immediately if you anticipate any difficulties.

Below are answers to common questions from faculty regarding the Accessibility Letter. For more information on specific accommodations and their policies, go to the Support Services Policies page. For specific information on how to increase the access of students with disabilities in the classroom, go to Tips & Suggestions.

“I HAVE A LETTER” Q&A

For instructors who do NOT have an Accessibility Letter from a student. Also see, “I DON’T HAVE A LETTER” Q&A

»How were the accommodations listed in the Accessibility Letter determined? Can someone contact me or review my syllabus before the letter is created next time?«

The accommodations listed in the Accessibility Letter are developed and approved by Disability Support Services (DSS) after thoughtful review of the student’s disability documentation combined with information on universal design principles, legal statutes, empirical research on accommodations, best field practices, and the University’s academic standards. Still, there may be an accommodation listed that appears to substantially alter your courses curriculum or pose an excessive administrative burden. DSS is unable to contact each instructor before the letters are created, so faculty should not hesitate to discuss these concerns with DSS before signing the letter with the student so that changes can be made if neccessary. After signing, changes can only be made with student, DSS and/or administrative involvement.

»What if an accommodation that does not apply to my course is listed on the Accessibility Letter; Should I still sign it?«

Support services and accommodations that do not apply to your particular course may be listed on the letter because the letter is generalized to the students total courseload that semester. For example, the student may be approved for double-time on exams but your course only requires writing assignments. Your signature on the letter only applies to your course that semester and does not imply that you are approving accommodations for any other course or activity not related to your course. It also does not imply that you are approving accommodations for future semesters of your course or for other students with disabilities enrolled in your course.

»What if I don’t agree with an accommodation listed in the Accessibility Letter? What if I assess that one or more of the accommodations may put other students at a disadvantage?«

If an accommodation listed in the letter does apply to your course, but you have concern that it may alter essential elements or academic standards, it is critical that you contact DSS, before signing letter. There are often other ways to accommodate a student for the same issue and with instructor input, it is likely that a viable alternative can be determined that will still meet the student’s needs.

With DSS involvement, accommodations listed on the Accessibility Letter can be “reworked” if needed, but instructors cannot simply deny a student any of the accommodations listed in the letter. Please discuss any reluctant feelings with DSS early on so that your concerns can be resolved as soon as possible.

»What if I know of an accommodation that could be added to the Accessibility Letter to increase the students access to the course material?«

With a rapidly growing study body and the expansion of academic programs, we want to ensure that the disability accommodations we provide at Trinity are relevant and universally applicable. If you have a suggestion for how to improve the application of accommodations in your field of expertise or have a suggestion for a particular kind of accommodation, DSS welcomes your input. If it is feasible for the student and in-line with DSS policies, it can be added to the letter and resigned by all three parties (DSS + student + instructor).

»What if the student and I have discussed and signed an Accessibility Letter, but the student is not actually requesting or using the accommodations in the letter?«

If a student has presented a letter, but never actually makes any requests or suddenly ceases to request accommodations from you, you are not obligated to continue providing them, but it is wise to ask the student about it to ensure that there have not been any misunderstandings. Many accommodation disputes can be resolved with proper communication before too many assumptions are made by the parties involved. Some students may have decided to opt out of accommodations because they don’t actually need them for your course. Though the student is primarily responsible, after you have signed the letter, you are also acknowledging your awareness that the accommodations are supposed to be in place. If you are concerned about your liability in such a situation, please contact DSS, to document the student’s non-usage of the accommodations in your course.

If the student is not using the accommodations and they are having academic difficulties in your class, you may engage in pointed discussion about their use of DSS services and classroom accommodations. The focus of the conversation should be the course requirements, the student’s actual performance and how you feel the accommodations will benefit them in your course. An important point to remember is that all students, including those with disabilities, must take responsibility for the educational process and meet the academic standards set by their institutions.

»What if the student has given me an Accessibility Letter in a previous course but not in this one? Should I resume providing the previous accommodations?«

An Accessibility Letter is only valid for the semester in which it was created (The semester is highlighted in bold at the top center of the letter.). Students are required to meet with Disability Student Services (DSS) at the start of each semester to get a new letter. Even though you have had the student previously, you want to ensure that there have not been changes and that you and the student are still “on the same page”, in terms of accommodations. Please sign the letter with them for each course every semester. Please let the student know that you need to sign a new letter each semester in order to continue providing the accommodations.

»Can the student and/or I change the contents of the Accessibility Letter? Can DSS change the contents of the letter after I’ve already signed it?«

Any alterations to the Accessibility Letter after it has been signed by DSS must be made through DSS and resigned by all parties. This is a requirement that will help to avoid misunderstandings, under-accommodating, and over-accommodating. At any time in the semester, circumstances may warrant a revisitation of the letter between faculty, DSS, and the student regarding alterations of the letter. Only unaltered letters with all three signatures are recognized as valid.

“I DON’T HAVE A LETTER” Q&A

For instructors who have NOT received an Accessibility Letter from a student. Also see, “I HAVE A LETTER” Q&A 

»Can the Accessibility Letter be sent to me by Disability Student Services (DSS)? Can DSS contact me ahead of time to let me know that I will have a student with disability in my class?«

Maintaining the confidentiality of students with disabilities is a legal requirement which means that it is the students choice as to whether they would like to disclose the presence of a disability with their instructors by sharing the Accessibility Letter.

It is made clear to students by DSS that it is their responsibility to share the letter and that instructors are not  responsible for providing accommodations if they did not receive and sign the letter. DSS is unable to initiate contact with the instructor about the student with a disability unless DSS has a particular question or concern.

Once you receive the letter from the student, you can contact DSS with your questions or concerns.

»What should I do if a student requests accommodations from me but has not presented an Accessibility Letter?«

Please gently inform the student that you would like to assist them but that you cannot begin providing any accommodations without a letter from Disability Student Services (DSS). Please give them the contact information listed at the bottom on this page and ask them if they would prefer to call, e-mail or stop by DSS. If possible, call DSS (202-884-9358) with the student present to initiate contact. You may contact DSS to discuss creative ways to get the student connected with support services, but DSS cannot initiate contact the student unless they have disclosed DSS.

If the student is especially apprehensive, they can complete and mail in a Self-Identification Form and DSS will contact them. It is preferable for them to make contact via phone, e-mail or in-person.

Accommodations should not be provided without DSS involvement. Your assistance is appreciated in maintaining this standard.

»What if the student has not actually disclosed a disability or presented an Accessibility Letter to me, but I suspect they have a disability and might benefit from services?«

The best course of action, for an instructor, is to proceed as they would with any other student having academic difficulties in their course, which should include encouraging the student to seek assistance from Academic Services. Academic Services houses DSS as well as the Writing Center, Career Services, Tutoring, and Study Skills assistance. The student will be able to benefit from these other services and their participation may lead to disclosure to DSS. Another step you can take would be to express your concern to the student’s advisor who will encourage the student to seek assistance from Academic Services.

It is important that you do not suggest the presence of a disability to a student who has not disclosed this to you, even if you feel strongly that they have a disability. Some students with disabilities do not want to disclose and do not want accommodations. They retain this legal right regardless of how much we may want them to take advantage of the support services available.

There are many possible reasons as to why a student you suspect to have a disability may not be requesting accommodations besides personal choice. The student may not actually have a diagnosed disability or perhaps their diagnosis does not meet with legal criteria for “disability”. Such determinations must be left to those designated to make them.

»What else can I do in the classroom to assist students with disabilities aside from honoring the Accessibility Letter?«

Instructors can be the greatest resource for creating an equitable learning environment for all students. From your attitudes toward disability to the built-in accessibility of your curriculum, there many ways in which you can contribute to the success of all students, but especially to the success of those with disabilities. See Tips & Suggestions for specific recommendations on classroom etiquette and accessibile curriculum design.

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For more information, contact Disability Student Services by phone at 202-884-9358 or visit us in the Academic Services Center, Library 1st floor.

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