Discussing Accommodations

Students and instructors are always encouraged to discuss the implementation accommodations. Students are encouraged to connect with their instructors, but instructors are also encouraged to reach out to students for a meeting as well. This meeting or meetings should focus on how accommodations will be implemented and how to ensure effective communication in the future.  The goal of this page is to help ensure the conversation about accommodations is appropriate and productive.

Key Things to Keep in Mind

One important thing to keep in mind is that your goals and the student’s goals are ultimately very similar. Both individuals want to make sure that:

  • The student has the opportunity to succeed in the course.
  • The student can meet the learning objectives.
  • Accommodations are implemented effectively.
  • There is a clear plan in place.

While instructors and students may express that goal differently, in the end the goals are very similar. 

It is important to recognize that a meeting about accommodations can be challenging. This can be challenging because of:

  • The inherent power dynamic – It is important to recognize that there is an inherent power imbalance between the student and the instructor.
  • Importance of the meeting – While it might be a meeting you have with many students through the semester, the importance of this meeting to each individual should be recognized. Students are meeting with you to ensure they have effective access to their learning. The stakes of this meeting are very high for students.
  • Perceived supports within the course - Students often pay close attention to how disability, accessibility, inclusion, and accommodations are not only discussed, but also incorporated into the course itself.
  • The impacts of the student’s condition – Simply put, individuals vary. There may be students who are very open about the impacts of their conditions and others who may not want to share more than the minimum. There may be students who can articulate their needs in your course very clearly, while others who are not exactly sure what to ask for. It is important to keep in mind that there is variability in how students approach the conversation.
  • Past experiences in similar conversations – Whether you are supportive and understanding, it is important to understand that students come into the conversation with past experiences. This could lead to them being very optimistic about the conversation or it could lead to them being guarded.

Self-advocacy is challenging and understanding that it can be a difficult conversation can help ensure supports are provided and a collaborative tone can be set. 

When students report concerns or issues to SAS about meetings with instructors, the student issue is often not the exact words stated, but the way in which it was said. Students are not simply meeting to understand the logistics of how accommodations will be implemented (though that is very important), but also to understand how the instructor will be able to support them within the course. It is establishing what they hope is a supportive collaboration throughout the semester.

The right tone for this type of meeting is:

  • Supportive and understanding
  • Honest and authentic
  • Collaborative and productive

Faculty and students can meet at any time and students can complete their semester request at any time. However, it is recommended that before a meeting to discuss accommodations students share their accommodation letters. These letters have the university approved accommodations so can help guide the parameters of the conversation.

Prior to the meeting the instructor should check Accommodate to see if the student has shared their accommodation letter. If the student has not shared their letter, they should be encouraged to complete their “semester request” as soon as possible.

What to Address in Your Meeting

Course Details

Each course is different in terms of what is required and how the course will be run. It is important to share more about the syllabus, essential course requirements, relevant course policies (e.g., attendance, deadlines), and inclusive supports already built into the course. Some questions you could ask students include: 

  • What are some of your key goals for this course? What do you hope to learn or be able to do?
  • Do you have any questions about:
    • The syllabus?
    • The overall course timeline?
    • Assignments or due dates?
    • The attendance policy?
  • Are there course supports that you plan to utilize (study groups, office hours, study sessions, etc.)?

Accommodation Implementation

The key thing when discussing accommodations is to focus the conversation on how the approved accommodations will be implemented in your course. Implementation can look different across courses because the essential requirements of each course is different. When talking about accommodations with a student the focus should be on what those accommodations will look like in the course. Some questions you could ask students include: 

  • I have read through your accommodations letter and I was wondering what accommodations do you plan to utilize in my course?
    • Are there accommodations on your letter that you would like to specifically discuss? 
  • How have your accommodations been successfully implemented for you in the past?
  • Are there any questions that you already have about how these could be implemented?

Communication Preferences

Communication can be critical to ensuring accommodations are effectively implemented. Communication is a two-way street and involves both instructor and student engagement. It is important to establish how communication will ideally go in the future. Some questions you could ask students include: 

  • How do you prefer to communicate about accommodations?
    • Email?
    • Office hours?
    • Scheduled meetings?
  • Are there any points where you want to check-in about your accommodations?
  • How should I get in touch if there are accommodation concerns?

What to Avoid in Your Meeting

Avoid Discussing Disability Specific Information

Instructors should not ask a student what their disability is or request documentation from a student related to their condition. This information has already been shared with SAS during the interactive accommodation process. Of course, there may be students who choose to share their disability. However, students are not required to and should not be encouraged to self-identify.

If a student does self-identify or disclose their condition:

  • Listen empathetically
  • Avoid minimizing or attempting to compare experiences
  • Keep the information private
  • As needed, direct the student to the appropriate resources and SAS 

Avoid Questioning Student Qualification or Need

Students who have been approved for accommodations have already worked through an interactive accommodation process with SAS. This process includes registering with SAS, submitting documentation, and meeting with SAS. Accommodation approval only occurs for qualified students. Instructors should not question whether the student should receive their approved accommodations (the accommodations listed on their accommodation letter in Accommodate) or whether they should have accommodations at all. Students with accommodations have already demonstrated their need to SAS.

Avoid Questioning the Reasonableness of an Accommodation

Instructors should not talk with a student about whether they feel an accommodation is reasonable for a particular course. Accommodations are approved after an interactive process with SAS, and they are only approved if a student is already qualified to receive the accommodation.  Additionally, questioning a student’s accommodation can make a student feel invalidated and unsupported. This is not a way to build trust or a good way to pave the way for future collaboration.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that an instructor cannot raise questions about how an accommodation could be implemented in their course. Importantly, these conversations should occur with SAS as opposed to the student.

Avoid “Adding” Accommodations

Students may ask for things that are not included on their accommodation letter shared through Accommodate. Instructors are required to implement the approved accommodations, but are not obligated to implement additional accommodations. While instructors can always provide additional supports, it is important to be clear that the student has not been officially approved for the supports you are providing. This avoids confusion from students who may think that supports available in one course are available across all courses.

A good rule of thumb is: if you would provide the support to anyone in a similar circumstance, then it is ok to provide. If you normally wouldn’t provide the support, then the student should follow-up with SAS about additional accommodations.