American Association of Blind Teachers

Telephone: (865) 692-4888

Home  |   Join Us  |   Subjects Our Members Teach  |   Contact Us  

The following material is excerpted from
Teaching Chemistry to Students with Disabilities: A Manual for High Schools, Colleges, and Graduate Programs.Awareness of the Disabled Student Services Office and how it functions is important for the large majority of blind and visually impaired students attending college. Although written for the student studying chemistry, this material is, nonetheless, useful for any one pursuing a post-secondary degree.

Dorothy L. Miner, Ron Nieman, Anne B. Swanson, and Michael Woods

Disability services for students

Postsecondary institutions have staff who are knowledgeable about these responsibilities and laws and assure that the institution meets its obligations to students with disabilities. They can be valuable resources for students with disabilities and their instructors. Some campuses have a specific disability compliance support program, which may be called Disability Support Services for Students, Disabled Student Services, Disability Resource Center, or some similar title. It may be part of another office, such as Student Affairs. All campuses must at least have an ADA compliance coordinator. For simplicity, this book will refer to this resource as the DSS office.

A DSS office has overall responsibility to verify student eligibility for disability accommodations; work with students in recommending accommodations; and provide certain accommodations, such as interpreters for students who are deaf and recorded textbooks for students who are blind.

The DSS office provides students with a uniform way to request disability services and accommodations without divulging personal medical information to faculty. Students requesting accommodations, however, must document existence of a qualifying disability to the DSS office. The documentation establishes eligibility for accommodations and services.

The DSS staff assists students and faculty in the disability accommodation process. It ensures that accommodation recommendations are effective for the student while being reasonable for the institution and faculty. Some DSS offices may have detailed suggestion sheets available on accommodations and teachingstrategies for students with various disabilities. An accommodation should not compromise an institution’s academic standards or the content of a specific course.

. . . accommodations may include accessible classrooms and laboratories, special testing situations, assistants or interpreters, special adaptive equipment, and multimodal teaching strategies.

Ultimately, the responsibility for learning class material rests with the student. The purpose of accommodations is to provide equity of access and a level playing field for each student, regardless of his or her disability.

The DSS office provides other support services for students. The specifics vary from school to school. For example, the DSS staff often provide campus and community training; participate on campus, community, state, and national committees; and provide students with advocacy training.

Many students with disabilities receive financial assistance from their state Department of Vocational Rehabilitation Services (DVR). DSS counselors often work with students and DVR staff to arrange accommodations and other support services that may be funded through DVR.

The typical DSS office does not directly provide all support services for students with disabilities. The DSS staff, however, are generally very knowledgeable about campus, community, and national support programs. Counselors usually can assist students in obtaining almost any needed service from these and other sources.

The most successful outcomes usually occur with an approach that has been termed the “magic triangle.” It involves faculty working closely with the student and the DSS office. This interaction usually results in selection of the most appropriate accommodations for each individual student. In each instance, there may be several effective alternatives for accommodations that fall within the definition of “reasonable and appropriate.” All three parties can play an important role in selecting the right accommodation.

Faculty responsibilities

The phrase “Teachers must provide accommodations...” can cause concern among faculty, especially those teaching their first students with disabilities. For example, teachers may mistakenly think that they personally must obtain assistive devices and provide them for the student. Instructors have the personal responsibility for providing some accommodations that make course content accessible to the student, such as advance copies of written instructional material that can be converted into alternative formats. In most instances, however, “provide” means that the instructor must permit or make possible use of assistive devices and other accommodations provided by the student, the DSS office, or an outside agency.

In addition, it is very important for faculty to clearly define the essential requirements for each course and make the information available to students and the DSS office in advance. What text-books will be used? What supplemental reading will be assigned to the class? What are the dates for tests?

Laws that protect the rights of individuals with disabilities also protect the standards of the institutions being attended. Having a disability does not preclude a student from meeting the essential course requirements or from following the established policies and procedures of the institution.

What is the DSS office?

The Disability Services for Students Office works with students and faculty to provide accommodations such as transcribers, signers, Braille texts, transportation, and alternative testing situations needed by students. It is an important resource for helping faculty meet their obligations to students with disabilities. DSS offices can provide the following services, or referrals for these services, for students with disabilities:
* academic and career advising;
* campus and community referrals;
* individualized recommendations regarding appropriate accommodations;
* registration and advisement referrals, early (priority) preregistration;
* on-campus parking privileges;
* adaptive technology centers;
* audio books and e-texts, in coordination with DSS offices and services such as Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic and NLBPH, and the Texas Text Exchange;
* in-class note-taking programs;
* nonstandard academic testing accommodations;
* specialized equipment for specific disabilities, such as assistive listening devices;
* educational materials and lab equipment adaptations;
* alternative print formats, such as Braille, large print, computer-based files, and taped text;
* tactile visual aids, such as raised line charts and graphs;
* on-campus accessible transportation; and
* information dissemination to teaching and lab assistants.

Often the faculty member is notified about the student and his or her accommodations but neglects to inform the lab and teaching assistants or other faculty and staff who will interact with the student. Both faculty and students should develop rapport with DSS staff and use the DSS office as a resource for answering questions, clarifying issues, and assisting with accommodations.

Student responsibilities

* Students with disabilities who seek accommodations should identify themselves as needing disability accommodations.
* Students with disabilities should register with the DSS office in order to have their requests for disability accommodations verified.
* If possible, students with disabilities should preregister at the earliest opportunity to be sure their class schedule meets logistic requirements, such as allowing enough time to travel between classes or to schedule interpreters or laboratory assistants.
* In addition, students with disabilities should provide requested documentation of their disability and participate in developing recommendations for their accommodations.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights(OCR) and the ADA recognize that students with disabilities may need to seek outside redress when reasonable accommodations are not provided. Students can file complaints with the OCR. They can file lawsuits under the ADA for financial reimbursement if reasonable accommodations are not provided.

. . . most disagreements over accommodations can be resolved when the student, teacher, and DSS office work together in a collegial manner. Legal action is rarely needed when this spirit of cooperation exists. Some states recognize the obligation to make all hardware and software used in higher education accessible for students with disabilities. Consult your state guidelines for implementation of Section 508 and the ADA.

Among the sources for keeping current with the changing legal and regulatory environment is the
U.S. Department of Justice Guide to Disability Rights Laws.
It includes down-loadable technical assistance manuals and a great deal of other information.

Top of Page