ADA Accommodations in Teaching

Today I attended a workshop on the ADA. A prominent higher education consultant on ADA compliance had been brought in. The key players from our administration were also present.

I asked about what faculty are expected to do by way of providing notes and other forms of accommodation for learning disabled students. I indicated that several faculty had expressed concern that they are expected to identify, on a mutually confidential basis, note-takers who can share their notes with disabled students and that faculty are not sure of the exact extent of their obligations.

The following points emerged:

* An instructor who teaches from detailed notes should certainly be willing to share the notes, but an instructor who teaches from cryptic notes of meaning only to him/herself or from no notes is not obliged to create the equivalent of notes. The disabled student is supposed to be able to have equal access to what everyone else could have, but nothing more is required.

* When requested, instructors should certainly attempt to identify volunteer note-takers. In a very high percentage of cases someone will step forward who already takes good notes and is happy to share. This student simply takes his/her notes to an office where they are copied for the disabled student. In theory, the two students need never even know of one another's identity. See below for more on confidentiality.

* If the disabled student skips class (other than for reasons related to the disability), s/he doesn't get the notes. Otherwise there would be more than equal access.

* If no volunteer steps forward, the instructor has discharged his/her obligation and the Dean of Students Office will contrive a strategy to cope. This may involve recording and transcribing or other alternatives. This will be at their expense.

* In short, the instructor is involved in the process and has certain obligations. The instructor is note solely accountable for a successful outcome.

Confidentiality is important. Studies have shown that many disabled people are under-employed due to misperceptions and fears. Some individuals with disabilities chose not to declare them or ask for help. They are to be treated as if not disabled. Others reveal disabilities selectively as they encounter situations in which they cannot cope without accommodation, and their right to do this should be respected. In short, disability information should be treated the same way as private medical information.

The constraints of confidentiality apply very much to letters of recommendation. You should speak only to the extent that the student is "otherwise qualified," i.e. qualified without reference to the disability. If the student is unmotivated or untalented, you are certainly free to report this. But you should not indicate in a letter that the student will perform well if given a specified set of accommodations. The employer will have the same obligations to extend accommodations that the university had, and you may put them in an awkward situation if you share with them information they should not have and may well prefer not to have at this point. If your feel you cannot write an accurate letter without qualifying your recommendation in terms of the accommodations required by the student's disability, it is better to decline to write.

Paul Metz, Principal Bibliographer
Virginia Tech University Libraries
President of Virginia Tech Faculty Senate, 1996-97
P.O. Box 90001
Blacksburg VA / 24062-9001
Phone: (540) 231-5663
FAX: (540) 231-3694

Last updated 99/11/18

J.A.N. Lee.

Bobby Approved (v 3.1)