Disability and Accessibility Tutorial

Accessibility Benefits All Students, Faculty and Staff

Students who have disabilities bring diversity to campus and raise issues of social consciousness, accessibility, and advocacy. The university’s response in welcoming their presence demonstrates a commitment to social justice and inclusion of all qualified individuals regardless of disability status.

The increased presence of students with disabilities also encourages greater attention to Universal Design. This philosophy promotes diversity by emphasizing that accessibility be considered at the inception of any construction, technology development, web design or purchase.

Universal Design of Learning applies to course design, classroom strategies and student support services’ practices. Additional information on these topics is presented later in the tutorial.

Challenges to Faculty and Staff

It is NIU’s commitment and obligation to comply with all applicable state and federally mandated responsibilities to students with disabilities. Visible disabilities, such as mobility impairments or amputations, are obvious, and reasonable and appropriate accommodations often seem to be “common sense.”

Many more students, however, have invisible conditions which may qualify as disabilities such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), chronic illness, learning disabilities and mental illness. Without visible “proof” (e.g., cane, service dog, wheelchair) of one’s disability, accommodations often seem less obvious. Regardless, students with invisible disabilities are entitled to appropriate reasonable accommodations.

Students who had disability-related services in high school often find post-secondary disability support services quite different. Public high schools are mandated to identify students with disabilities and implement services for success. In the college or university setting, however, the obligation is placed on students to disclose their disabilities to the institution and request accommodations. They must be able to talk about their disabilities and often must provide documentation of their disabilities.

Students must seek out services, typically through a Disability Resource Center staff member, and must then talk with faculty about approved, reasonable and appropriate accommodations. It is also essential for students to know what to do if a NIU faculty or staff member disagrees or refuses to provide an approved accommodation. In postsecondary settings, responsibility for initiating services is on the student, not the university.

Tutorial Structure

The tutorial consists of three sections, each followed by a brief review and quiz.

  • Disability Law - Disability rights legislation (e.g., Americans with Disabilities Act, as amended, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and Illinois State law) is public recognition that discrimination against persons with disabilities occurs and that it must not be permitted.
  • Accommodations - Disability-based accommodations have a purpose, processes and associated responsibilities. In addition, disclosure, confidentiality, eligibility and roles are addressed.
  • Recommended Practices - Negative attitudes from other people are often the biggest barriers students encounter. In response, NIU strongly encourages faculty and staff to create an inclusive learning environment through attention to person-first language, disability etiquette and incorporation of Universal Design principles.


Following completion of this tutorial, you should be able to:

  • Describe the rationale for accommodations and basic legal protections offered to students who have disabilities.
  • Explain the purpose, processes and implementation of accommodations.
  • Use disability etiquette and person-first language when interacting with, writing about or reporting on people who have disabilities.
  • Apply principles of Universal Design in your work with students and the larger university community.
  • Identify campus resources available for faculty, students and visitors with disabilities.