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    Manage Higher Ed Faculty Who Resist Disability Accommodations Requests

    How to ensure faculty comply with, and implement, approved accommodations.

    When faculty members refuse or fail to implement approved accommodations for students with disabilities, it could lead to claims being filed against your institution. Refusals to accommodate may happen more often for students who have an “invisible” disability, most often mental health related, because faculty may believe they aren’t “real” disabilities needing accommodation. During the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, many students with disabilities might seek updated or new accommodations such as extended test time or technological modifications as they learn remotely.  When student accommodations are approved by the college or university, it’s crucial to remind your faculty how to properly react and respond.

    According to the Department of Education, 19% of undergraduate stu-dents have disabilities ─ most often, learning disabilities, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or psychiatric disorders. These students are legally entitled to receive accommodations in their education pro-gram but must affirmatively seek accommodation through their institu-tion’s disability services office. Once granted, faculty members must implement the approved accommodations. To ensure your institution avoids claims for failing to provide approved accommodations, take the following steps to combat faculty misperceptions and refusals to comply.

    Train Your Faculty

    Educate faculty, including adjunct and occasional faculty, on:

    • Disability law
    • Role of the disability services office
    • Types of disabilities, including “invisible” disabilities that are not known through simple observation, though they still limit a person’s daily activities
    • Types of available accommodations
    • How to provide the approved accommodations for students in class while maintaining confidentiality

    Create a video series or faculty guide on the disability accommodation process and the faculty member’s obligations under both the law and the school’s policy. Post these to your disability services webpage.

    Provide Ways for Faculty to Raise Concerns

    Faculty members may object to providing an approved accommodation because they don’t agree with or fully understand the student’s need. Frequently, faculty are concerned that the accommodation will disrupt class or alter the course or program requirements. Accommodations should not alter the academic or technical standards of a course.

    Develop a process to handle these concerns.

    1. Allow the faculty member to object to an accommodation.

    • Require faculty to contact disability services with questions or concerns about the approved accommodation. The faculty member may be concerned about the accommodation being “necessary.” Or the faculty member may think the accommodation alters the academic rigor of the class. Be willing to engage in a conversation to listen to and address concerns. Faculty should not make changes until a final decision is reached.
    • Identify the final decision-maker in advance if the accommodation is disputed and there is no agreement.

    2. Look for a solution.

    • Once you understand the concern, consider whether modifications can make the accommodation more acceptable to the faculty member. For example, if privacy is a concern, a notetaker may be more acceptable than allowing the student to record class discussion. Any solution should provide the same level of accommodation to the student.
    • Be creative and flexible. Consider whether a different accommodation will work as well for the student and allay the faculty member’s concern. As in the example above, instead of a recording, could the faculty member provide lecture notes or an annotated slide deck? Any adjustment may be situation-dependent, but look for opportunities to think beyond a set list of accommodations. Ask the faculty member for ideas; be willing to consider them.

    More From UE

    Understanding Your Institution’s Duty to Make Technology Accessible
    Accommodating Students with Disabilities in Clinical Programs

    Additional Resources

    MidMichigan College: Faculty Guide to Classroom Accommodations for Students With Disabilities
    University of Texas at Austin: Disability Services Online Trainings

    Alyssa Keehan, JD, Director of Risk Research. Alyssa oversees the development of UE’s risk management content, ensuring reliable and trustworthy guidance for our members. She previously handled liability claims in UE’s resolutions department and, prior to that, held positions in the fields of education and insurance. Her areas of expertise include campus sexual misconduct, Title IX, threat assessment, campus security, contracts and risk transfer.

    April 2020, Updated August 2020