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.
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 an 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.
The tutorial consists of three sections, each followed by a brief review and quiz.
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.
By law, a student who meets a college or university's essential admissions requirements cannot be denied admission on the basis of disability. Admissions criteria are the same for students with and without disabilities.
Federal laws protect the rights of all students to an equal opportunity to participate in and benefit from all school programs and activities, including academic instruction, research, occupational training, housing, health insurance, counseling, financial aid, physical education, athletics, recreation, campus events, transportation and campus-based employment.
Students must be able to meet the essential academic standards of the school if they are provided reasonable accommodations. Knowledge and application of disability law ensures students' access to the curriculum as well as maintaining the university's academic integrity and standards.
"We know that equality of individual ability has never existed and never will, but we do insist that equality of opportunity still must be sought."
- Franklin D. Roosevelt
“No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States, as defined in section 705(20) of this title, shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance or under any program or activity conducted by any Executive agency or by the United States Postal Service.”
Under Title II of the ADA, however, public colleges and universities are required to provide auxiliary aids and services to qualified students with disabilities. To comply with this mandate, NIU must provide alternative methods of communication and/or alternative methods of meeting course requirements to students with documented disabilities.
A student with a disability, as defined by the ADA, has either a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity such as hearing, seeing, speaking, learning, walking, breathing or performing manual tasks. Every student must also be able to perform the essential functions of the course with or without reasonable accommodations.
A disability alone does not qualify a student for an academic accommodation. The student must demonstrate to the Disability Resource Center (DRC) that the disability impacts the student's ability to access and participate in the curriculum.
To receive approved accommodations, students must disclose and may need to document their disability with a DRC staff member to receive approved accommodations. Documentation requirements vary based on the type of disability.
Students must document their disabilities that are not readily apparent. If documentation is needed, the student is responsible for providing it. Documentation typically includes the following information:
Based on the student's interview and disability documentation, the DRC staff member, in collaboration with the student, determines the most effective and timely accommodation(s). An interactive process between the institution and the student must occur as consideration of reasonable accommodations are considered by the university. After determining appropriate accommodations the DRC gives the student a "Letter of Accommodations"
The majority of NIU students who are disabled have hidden or "invisible" disabilities. Depending on the circumstances, these may include, but are not limited to, mental illness, autism spectrum disorder, learning disabilities, traumatic brain injuries and chronic illness, e.g., Crohns Disease. These students do not look any different than their classmates who do not have disabilities. Despite being invisible, these types of disabilities impact students' ability to learn and perform.
To maintain consistency and fairness, only students who have gone through the DRC are eligible for approved disability-related accommodations.
Academic accommodations should not compromise essential elements of academic courses. Instead, they are intended to provide equal access to the curricula and full opportunity for participation by students who have disabilities. Students with disabilities should be held to the same academic standards as their classmates. Accommodations are designed to promote access; however, they do not promise success.
"Accommodations are regulated by the Disability Resource Center. If one of your students has been approved for accommodations by the DRC, you must comply with them, whether or not you agree with them. This is not optional and it is not an infringement on your academic freedom. It's the law. Further, common decency and the law, FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act), both require that you protect a student's confidentiality regarding these accommodations, meaning that you may not disclose them or discuss them in public (e.g., not in class, in front of other students or faculty, in the hallway, etc.)."
Professor Alan Rosenbaum
President of the Faculty Senate and Executive Secretary of the University Council
Faculty Matters newsletter—May 2012
Yes and no. Students' disability information is confidential. The student's right to privacy is protected by law. It is their choice to disclose their disabilities. Disclosure is necessary only when requesting an accommodation with the DRC.
Students will notify faculty about approved accommodations by discussing the accommodations listed on their letter. Students are not required to show individual faculty members their disability or other medical documentation. In fact, many prefer to keep the specific nature of their disability private.
As a general suggestion, follow the student's lead. Some may openly discuss their disability during class while others prefer confidentiality. It is always the student's choice to decide how much information to share publicly. Students are, however, encouraged to discuss the educational impact of their disability with their instructors. Anything beyond that is the student's decision to share. Therefore, it is imperative to also understand that students have a civil right to expect that university officials, faculty and staff will not publicly identify them as receiving disability-related support services. It means that you cannot ask students the nature of their disabilities. If faculty received a DRC created letter of accommodation the identified student has already been affirmed as a student with a disability through the DRC. The students' documentation is considered confidential information. It is protected under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and its regulations from disclosure to third parties and those University employees who do not need to know such information about the student in order to do their respective jobs.
It also means that you cannot publicly question the student's right to an accommodation. As required by federal law, faculty are expected to provide approved requested accommodations. If you have questions and/or disagreements about the accommodation request(s) please contact both the student and his or her DRC staff member privately.
In the classroom, do not discuss, treat differently, or otherwise acknowledge that a student has a disability without prior consent. Disclosing a student's disability status may create a hostile classroom environment because it is uncivil and often stigmatizing. In most cases, it is also illegal. If the instructor knows about the student's disability via DRC, that information is protected from public disclosure under FERPA regulations.
That decision is within the instructor's discretion. NIU encourages students to contact the Disability Resource Center (DRC) regarding accommodations prior to the start of the semester. However, students may request accommodations through DRC at any point in the semester. Some students may prefer not to disclose their disabilities unless necessary. If they do poorly on the first exam, for example, they may be inclined to seek assistance through DRC. Any approved accommodations a student receives at that point are not required to be retroactively applied. Students may ask, for example, to use their accommodations and re-take an exam given earlier in the semester; however, instructors are not obligated to agree to do so.
Disability-based accommodations have a purpose, processes and associated responsibilities. In addition, disclosure, confidentiality, eligibility and roles are addressed.
"Independence is measured not by the tasks one can perform without assistance but by the quality of one's life with help."
- Ed Roberts, founder of Independent Living Movement
No. Academic accommodations provide accessible opportunities for students with disabilities to demonstrate their knowledge, skills and capabilities so that they have an equal opportunity to participate in, and benefit from, the programs and activities of the university. Academic accommodations also allow students to demonstrate what they know rather than being academically limited by the effects of their disability. Providing auxiliary aids and services is not considered special treatment.
NIU is committed to providing inclusive learning environments. Equal access can often be achieved through course design; however, barriers to learning may still exist for students with disabilities. Members of the NIU community are expected to provide reasonable and appropriate accommodations and related resources to decrease those barriers.
Accommodations are not required if they are seen as:
To make sure that students know about the availability of accommodations, put the NIU accessibility statement on the course syllabus. Using this statement also creates a more welcoming environment and encourages students who have disabilities to meet with you.
The Disability Resource Center (DRC) and NIU's Presidential Commission on Persons with Disabilities have both reviewed and endorsed the use of the statement and strongly recommend that you use it in all of your course syllabi.
"Disability is not a brave struggle or ‘courage in the face of adversity.' Disability is an art. It's an ingenious way to live." - Neil Marcus, playwright
You do not need to create accommodations on your own; that is the area of expertise of the DRC. As such, direct students to the DRC to obtain approved accommodations. The DRC can collaborate with you and other departments and faculty across campus to implement accommodations as well as create a more universally designed learning environment.
Auxiliary aids may include the use of an adaptive computer and/or alternate format of materials (e.g., Braille, enlarged print). Assistance may include priority registration, route-training, note-takers, interpreters, service animals, human guides, personal care attendants and real-time captionists. Please note: NIU is not responsible for providing personal care attendants.
The reasonable modification of policies and procedures can also be an example of a reasonable accommodation to a disability. Please remember that a modification to a policy or procedure is not considered reasonable if it would fundamentally alter the underlying program.
The Office of Civil Rights has determined that, under certain circumstances, it may be appropriate to modify course attendance policies. When attendance policies are in place, the faculty or staff member should be able to justify why attendance is an "essential function" in the class. Faculty are encouraged to consult with the DRC on the question of attendance policies.
Exam accommodations for students with disabilities minimize the impact of the disability by affording students an equal opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge and ability. Eligibility for exam accommodations is determined by DRC staff on the basis of the student's disability documentation and informational interview. Some of the most typical accommodations include an alternate format such as an auditory version, large print or Braille version of the exam; a low distraction room; extended time; and scribe assistance.
NIU Residence Halls have rooms and facilities that are accessible to students with disabilities.
Arrangements for parking permits are made through NIU Campus Parking Services.
The Huskie Bus Line runs throughout campus and some areas of the DeKalb community. The Freedom Mobile offers an accessible paratransit system that runs during the same hours as the Huskie buses and provides on-call door-to-door service throughout the DeKalb community.
Everyone has a role to play in making sure that students' accommodation needs are being met at NIU. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and its amendments requires students, faculty, administrators and the DRC to each fulfill certain responsibilities to ensure that courses are accessible.
Note: Students are not required to pay for academic accommodations.
Faculty may have multiple roles including employee, classroom instructor, employer and web/technology developer. Accessibility must be a consideration across all professional activities.
NIU encourages its administrators to work with the DRC and Human Resources to meet the university's legal obligations as well as create a welcoming and accessible environment for students who have disabilities.
The university has designated the DRC as the entity to verify, determine and provide appropriate accommodations for qualified students.
In addition, the role of the DRC is to:
Faculty members may have legitimate questions or concerns about a student's specific accommodation. Concerns should be shared with the DRC and student jointly. While the dispute is being resolved, the student maintains the right to the original accommodation. When disagreements arise, the university and student should engage in a conversation regarding the student's request for accommodations in an effort to identify reasonable accommodations that the university can provide. Students should not be put in the position of "negotiating" his or her accommodations by themselves.
If a student has a disability-related academic grievance or concern about a department, faculty or staff member at the university, they can:
Non-academic grievances or concerns may be addressed through the Office of Student Conduct as described in NIU's Student Code of Conduct. Students file an incident report. If they are not satisfied with the resolution, they my appeal to an administrative hearing or conduct board. Disagreements with the board's decisions may be appealed to the vice president for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management whose decision is final. Students may also contact the Office of Affirmative Action and Diversity Resources as an additional option for complaints based on discrimination and/or harassment.
The mission of the Disability Resource Center is to create an accessible, inclusive, sustainable learning environment, where disability is recognized as an aspect of diversity that is integral to the campus community and to society. The center is in the Peters Campus Life Building, suite 180 and can be reached at 815-753-1303 (V/TTY) or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The NIU homepage has a link that provides additional information, resources and websites to supplement material in this tutorial. The Division of Information Technology provides assistive technology in computer labs in multiple locations across campus. All assistive technology stations have screen reading software, screen enlargement software, text-to-speech software and scanners.
The library system offers specialized library-use assistance to any person with a disability. Assistance will be specifically tailored to the needs of the individual. Assistive equipment is available in a specialized study room. The coordinator of library services for individuals with disabilities is available to discuss paper topics, library assignments, etc.
The commission serves as a university-wide advocate promoting awareness, educating the university community and assisting individuals on disability-related issues. The PCPD's vision is to have a university community characterized by dignity, respect and equal access where all individuals are valued members of NIU's living, learning and working environment.
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.
The following recommended practices create and maintain a welcoming, accessible and diverse university community. Small changes may make big differences in students’ ability to access information, demonstrate their knowledge and participate fully.
People who have disabilities report that other people's attitudes are far more disabling then their own impairments. Public opinion polls identify "admiration, pity, and embarrassment" as typical attitudes held by the public toward people with disabilities.
It is common for people to feel uncertain about what to do or say when interacting with someone who has a disability.
You do not. The vast majority of disabilities are invisible (e.g., disabilities based upon mental illness, deafness, learning disabilities, chronic illness).
No. Wait until you get to know them first. The only exception is if you need to ask about a potential accommodation.
Yes. Do not tell the person that they are inspirational or that you have sympathy for them. Also, don't tell them about all the other people with disabilities you know.
Ask. Do not assume that help is needed. Offer the assistance then wait until the person accepts. Then listen to or ask for instructions.
Offer to shake hands. People with limited hand use or who wear an artificial limb can usually shake hands. Shaking hands with the left hand is acceptable.
Just ask for clarification.
Speak directly to the person with a disability.
Position yourself at eye level with the individual. Do not touch the wheelchair without asking. It is part of the individual's personal space, much like eye glasses.
Don't disturb the dog because it is working.
It is a common expression. There is no offense.
No, be patient and continue to look at the person.
"If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought." - George Orwell
Language has power and impacts attitudes. How we say things makes a difference. Certain words express bias, like cripple or afflicted. Person-first language provides a structure and philosophy for writing, reporting and talking about people who have disabilities.
Consider your emotional response to the following:
Person-first language is endorsed by multiple professional and consumer groups including the American Psychological Association; World Organization on Disability; and the National Center on Disability and Journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Arizona State University.
Universal design for learning acknowledges that not all students learn and demonstrate content mastery in the same way.
You are encouraged to go beyond compliance and adopt practices that create a welcoming and accessible environment.
Following completion of this tutorial, you should be able to: