Thompson Rivers University
Thompson Rivers University

FAQs for Faculty

 A student in my class is having difficulty, and I suspect it might be disability related. What can I do?

Speak with the student privately about your observations about his/her performance in class. However, refrain from speculating about a disability. A discussion may allow the student to raise it him/herself or you can offer referrals to a range of campus resources: Writing Centre, Math Help Centre, Counselling for study strategies, Accessibility Services, etc.

 A student in my class has disclosed they have a disability. They haven’t been to the Accessibility Services office yet but they would like me to provide accommodations. What should I do?

We certainly encourage faculty to provide in-class accommodations for students however, we strongly encourage you to refer students to us first before doing that. Our role is to assist you in accommodating a student by verifying the nature of the disability, determining the functional limitations and what the reasonable accommodations would be prior to you having to accommodate. This way we can ensure that all students with disabilities have followed the same procedures and have been treated equitably. The risk faculty face is that by trying to assist the student you may actually provide more accommodation than would be reasonable or equitable considering the disability.

 Do I have the right to know the nature of a student’s disability?

All students have the right to keep their disability confidential, although some may chose to self-identify of their own accord. Accessibility Services does not disclose a student’s disability or any particular information about the impact of the disability without the student’s permission and only if we feel it is “need-to-know” for educational purposes or if there is a safety issue. AS Advisors encourage students to discuss their needs with their instructors and disclose as much as they feel comfortable disclosing particularly if doing so would assist you in some way. For example: if the student is deaf or hard of hearing, visually impaired, epileptic, etc.

 How do I know if a student is qualified to receive disability related accommodations?

All students requiring accommodations meet with an AS Advisor. They provide us with documentation from a registered health care professional. The Advisor, or the Accessibility Services Manager, if necessary, will review the documentation to verify the disability and discuss their needs to determine reasonable accommodations based on their disability.

The student will then provide you with a letter from our office confirming they are a student with a disability and outlining the required accommodations.

 How can I encourage a student to talk with me about their accommodations or needs in class?

Make an announcement at the beginning of your course indicating that you are available to discuss instructional methods and course accommodations with students with disabilities. We would also strongly encourage you to add a note, such as this to your course outline:
“If you are a student with a disability and require accommodation, please contact the Accessibility Services office (OM 1631) as soon as possible. If you are already registered with Accessibility Services and have an accommodation letter, please meet with me so we can discuss the accommodations you require in class.”

 A student has exam accommodations. What is my role in accommodated exams?
  • The student will provide you with an exam envelope. Please complete the “Instructor” section. Note that “duration” refers to how long the exam is designed to take – not how long you are giving the class to write. If you are including extra time as per universal design, please only indicate how long the exam is designed to take.
  • Deliver the exam in the envelope to Accessibility Services, Old Main room 1631 between 8 am and 4 pm Monday – Friday, or use the drop-box on the door. Exams can be e-mailed to dso@tru.ca a minimum of 24 hours prior to the scheduled exam date.
  • Please pick up the exam as soon as possible after it has been written. If you prefer to have Accessibility Services return exams via inter office mail, please email dso@tru.ca to make arrangements.
  • Please be flexible in allowing students to write at alternate times, when necessary (e.g. exam time falls outside of Accessibility Services’ regular hours).

Accessibility Services is not responsible for lost, stolen, or misplaced exams.

 A student in my class has been approved for an exam “cueing sheet accommodation.” What is my role in setting up this accommodation?

Please see Accessibility Services’ Cueing Sheet Accommodation Guide for Instructor review and approval procedures.

 What are reasonable accommodations?

“A reasonable accommodation is a modification or adjustment to a course, programme, service, job, facility or activity that enables a qualified person with a disability to have an equal opportunity. Institutions are obligated to make reasonable accommodations only to known limitations of an otherwise qualified individual. Reasonable accommodations should not alter a course’s essential components or in any way ‘water down the curriculum or standards of the institution.” From the University of Minnesota

 What if I do not agree with a recommended accommodation?

It is your right to voice your concerns if you disagree with an accommodation. Should you have concerns, a discussion should occur between you, the student and a representative from the AS office with the aim being to resolve the disagreement. If it is an issue of essential requirements, it will be incumbent on you to prove that components of your course are essential and therefore could not be accommodated as requested.

 How can I determine the essential requirements of my course?

Consider the following:

  • What is the purpose of your course?
  • What outcomes are absolutely required of all students in the course, with or without accommodations?
  • What instructional methods most effectively address the essential outcome?
  • What effective methods allow you to fairly evaluate all students

Adapted from the University of Minnesota

 I have a student with a disability in my class who is receiving accommodations but is doing poorly and, at this point, is not passing the class. Do I have the right to fail a student with a disability?

A student with a disability has the same right to fail as anyone else. Their work should be equivalent to that of their peers. They must attend class, meet all deadlines and complete the required course components unless otherwise specified in their Accommodation Letter prepared by AS and signed off by you. Discuss your concerns about the student’s performance with the student just as you would with anyone else in your class who is experiencing difficulty.

 I have a student in my class who has significant hearing loss. What can I do to assist the student in class?
  • Use Blackboard or PowerPoint to present new information in a visual way. New vocabulary should be presented in print as well as verbal form.
  • Identify speakers during group discussions to enable the student to follow and participate in discussions.
  • Minimize movements which distract or block the student’s view of you.
  • Provide the student with an outline of the class format so he/she can follow the process.
  • Address the student directly.
  • If the student works with an oral or sign language interpreter, look directly at the student not the interpreter when talking.
  • Speak at a normal rate. Do not exaggerate the movement of your mouth in an effort to clarify. This helps the interpreter and the student.
  • It may be necessary to recruit a hearing student to be a note-taker for the Deaf/hard of hearing student during class lectures. Accessibility Services may ask for your assistance in finding a peer volunteer.
 A student with hearing loss has asked me to help her find a Peer Note taker in my course. How can I help this student?
  • A peer note taker is a class mate who has agreed to share their notes
  • AS would provide the student with the hearing loss with NCR (carbonless) paper to give their class mate
  • Students are encouraged to find their own note taker by approaching a class mate but sometimes they need assistance if they do not know anyone
  • You can assist by making an announcement in class. Always ask the student first if he/she wants to remain anonymous in your announcement. The Peer note-taker can connect with you after class.

Here’s a sample announcement:
“A student in class requires the assistance of a peer note taker - someone who is willing to share their notes. If there is someone in class who would like to assist and has legible hand writing, takes detailed notes, attends regularly and would like free paper all semester, please see me after class.”

 So, what exactly is a learning disability?

Learning disabilities (LDs) refers to a wide variety of significant difficulties with information processing. Often called “invisible” disabilities, LDs are real, persist throughout the life span, and are permanent. LDs are not cognitive delays; individuals with learning disabilities are usually of at least average intelligence. A student with a learning disability may demonstrate difficulties with academic performance that seems at odds with the student’s intellect and ability level.

 What can I do for a student with LD?

In-class Strategies:

  • Provide course material (such as reading lists) well in advance of due dates and course start dates
  • Provide electronic access to lecture notes/PowerPoint presentation slides
  • Provide a study guide or outline for quizzes, tests, and exams
  • Provide outlines and organizational structure for class lectures
  • Use demonstrations, visuals and concrete examples to reinforce course material
  • Introduce key vocabulary and concepts prior to each unit of course material
  • Allow questions prior to the start of an assignment or task to allow for student clarification
  • Provide adequate time to review and clarify course material presented in class before student performance is expected
  • Provide timely feedback (e.g. error analysis of exams and tests)

You will probably notice that these strategies would help all students not just those with learning disabilities. This brings up the topic of Universal Instructional Design (UID) - the idea being that we can be rid of many accommodations simply by implementing strategies like the ones mentioned here. Often disability related accommodations will benefit all students without compromising academic integrity.
A good example of a strategy is one that many instructors already use which is to post their course notes and PowerPoint slides electronically - great for students with disabilities as well as those without.

 A student in my class has disclosed that they have an anxiety disorder. What would help this student?
  • Written assignments in lieu of oral presentations
  • Early availability of course outline and reading list so he/she can work ahead
  • Allowing extra time and/or a separate setting for tests and exams
  • Personal feedback on academic performance
 What should I take into consideration when I’m working with a student who uses a wheelchair?
  • When speaking with the student, try to speak with them at eye level as opposed to standing above them.
  • Watch your language. Using terms such as: “wheel-chair bound” or “confined to a wheelchair” are inappropriate because that is not how a wheelchair user sees him/herself. Their wheelchair is their source of freedom.
  • If the student has a communication impairment as well, take time to understand them: repeat what you understand and ask for clarification if you don’t.
  • Be sure not to lean on or touch the student’s wheelchair without permission as it is part of their personal space.
 Are there limitations to accommodations?

Yes there are:

  • The University has an obligation to make the necessary efforts to reasonably accommodate a student with a disability but, at times, due to the nature and degree of the disability, no reasonable accommodation would enable a student to fulfill the essential requirements and therefore, they cannot be accommodated. However, it doesn’t happen often that we cannot find some way to accommodate a student and ensure that essential requirements are met.
  • Accommodations are designed to level the playing field so a student can meet the essential requirements and succeed on their own merits. Accommodations do not guarantee success.
 A student in my distance course has disclosed they have a learning disability. They haven't contacted AS but they would like me to provide some concessions when it comes to marking their writing skills. What should I do?

We certainly encourage Open Learning Faculty Members to provide reasonable support to students; however, we strongly encourage you to refer students to AS first before doing that. Our role is to assist you in accommodating a student by verifying the nature of the disability, determining the functional limitations and what the reasonable accommodations would be prior to you having to accommodate. This way we can ensure that all students with disabilities have followed the same procedures and have been treated equitably. Otherwise, by trying to assist the student, an Open Learning Faculty Member may actually provide more accommodation than would be reasonable or equitable considering the disability.

 Do I have the right to know whether an Open Learning student is registered with Accessibility Services and what that disability is?

All students have the right to keep their disability confidential (although some may chose to self-identify of their own accord) and Accessibility Services does not disclose to Open Learning Faculty Members whether a student is registered with AS. Nor will we disclose the nature of a student's disability or any particular information about the impact of the disability without the student's permission. However, AS Advisors will encourage students to discuss their disability with their Open Learning Faculty Members and disclose as much as they feel comfortable disclosing, particularly if doing so would assist you or the student in some way. Many students with disabilities take Open Learning courses because of the anonymity it allows, as they do not necessarily want or need the Open Learning Faculty Member or classmates to know they have a disability. Unlike a student with "classroom" needs, the disabilities of students taking OL courses often do not impact the day to day coursework the same way that it might in a classroom setting. Most students only require exam accommodations in order to make the exam setting more accessible (e.g. extra time, use of a computer) or they require an alternative format for their course material, both of which we arrange. If a student requires a particular course related accommodation, Accessibility Services will often contact the course Open Learning Faculty Member; however, as with the above FAQ and example, if you have a student requesting concessions around grading and completion of work, you are encouraged to contact us first so that we can confirm that this is indeed a necessary and justified accommodation.

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