Students with Disabilities, a Teaching Resource Guide

As a faculty or staff member at Texas State University, you may be asked to provide a student with a disability with classroom accommodations. This Teaching Resource Guide is designed to furnish information regarding federal law and university policies in providing academic accommodations as well as some guidelines for communicating with students with disabilities.

This guide is intended as an overview. Specific considerations for individual students must be made on a case-by-case basis by the Office of Disability Services in collaboration with the instructor of the course, chair of the students academic department and/or dean of the students college.



As a faculty or staff member at Texas State, you may be asked to provide a student with a disability with classroom accommodations. “Students with Disabilities, a Teaching Resource Guide” is designed to furnish information regarding federal law and university policies in providing academic accommodations as well as some guidelines for communicating with students with disabilities. This guide is intended as an overview. Specific considerations for individual students are made on a case-by-case basis by the ODS in collaboration with the instructor of the course, chair of the student’s academic department and/or dean of the student’s college.

Legal Mandates

What legal rights and responsibilities do postsecondary institutions have regarding qualified students with disabilities?

Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act

Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act states “No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States shall, solely by reasons of his or her 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.” Section 504 defines a person with a disability as someone who:

  • Has a disability
  • Has a history of a disability, or
  • Is perceived by other as having a disability

The Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA)

The Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 defines a qualified student as an individual who meets the essential eligibility requirements for admission and participation in the college or university's programs, with or without:

  • Reasonable modifications to rules, policies, or practices;
  • Removal of architectural, communication, or transportation barriers; or
  • Provision of auxiliary aids and services.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)

FERPA is a federal law that protects the privacy of a student's educational records, including disability documentation.  FERPA applies to all colleges and universities that receive funds from the U.S. Department of Education.

Examples of 504 and ADAAA

Both Section 504 and the ADAAA prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities.  To accomplish this goal, both physical and programmatic access must be provided.  This means more than the removal of architectural barriers and the provision of auxiliary aids and services.  It means that appropriate academic adjustments must be made in the instructional process to ensure full educational opportunity.  Following are examples of accommodation for each mandate:

  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act
    • All academic programs must be accessible to individuals with disabilities.
    • If a student with a disability enrolls in a class that is not accessible, the instructor of the course, in conjunction with the department head, will work with the student to make the class accessible. Options to achieve accessibility may include, but are not limited to, relocating the class or providing one-on-one assistance in an accessible location.
    • Students with disabilities may request “academic adjustments” including the length of time needed to complete papers, examinations and degree programs.  They may have permission to use a tape recorder in class.  These, or similar adjustments, must be considered and granted by the faculty member, unless the faculty member determines the accommodation would compromise “essential” elements in the curriculum.
    • Students with disabilities have the right to participate in required programs or internships co-sponsored by the university with outside groups.
    • Students with documented learning or psychological disabilities have the same legal rights as adults with physical disabilities.
  • Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008
    • Educators must operate their programs so that, when viewed in their entirety, the programs are accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities.
    • Educators should provide “reasonable accommodations,” that do not impose “undue hardship” on programs, for the known disabilities of a student.

University Policies and Procedures for Students with Disabilities

The university policy statement UPPS 07.11.01 Disability Services for Students, establishes policy and defines responsibility for the administration of services available to students with disabilities, and its primary service provider, the Office of Disability Services.

Academic Advantage

Are students with disabilities who use accommodations at an academic advantage over their peers?

No. Academic accommodations enable a student with a disability to compete with their peers without disabilities, and they are not intended to place a student with a disability at an advantage.  Academic accommodations also do not ensure a student’s academic success in a course.

Academic Freedom

When providing accommodations, a faculty member’s right of academic freedom in the classroom entails the right to:

  • Teach content they deem appropriate in the classroom,
  • Award grades based on a student's academic performance,
  • Fail a student who does not meet the standards for passing a course,
  • Question whether the prescribed accommodation is “reasonable” in the context of a course and its requirements,
  • Seek clarification and guidance from the Office of Disability Services on a student's requested accommodations,
  • Offer an alternate accommodation as long as it is equally effective to the requested accommodation and is agreed to by the student.

Eligibility and Accommodations

Admission Standards

Does Texas State University have special admission standards for students with disabilities? Can Texas State limit the number of students with disabilities admitted to the university?

No. Students with disabilities must meet the same admission standards as students without disabilities.  Texas State cannot legally limit the number of qualified students with disabilities who are admitted.

Documentation Guidelines

Sources of information used for determining a disability and/or accommodation may include a student’s self-report, direct observation and interaction with the student, and/or documentation from qualified evaluators or professionals.  For additional information, please review the Office of Disability Services' Documentation Guidelines webpage.

Determining Accommodations

The ODS staff review the need for accommodations and support services based on the individual’s disability documentation and disability-based need.  The ODS professional staff who understand the impact of the disability on the academic process determine appropriate accommodations in accordance with Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and Amendments Act of 2008, and university policy and procedure.

Faculty members do not have the right to challenge the legitimacy of a student's disability, request that a student provide a copy of their documentation for review, or deny a request for an approved accommodation based on a student's documented disability.

Disability Documentation

Who maintains disability documentation, and can this information be shared with a faculty member?

In accordance with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), the ODS maintains all individual disability documentation in a confidential student file.  The ODS professional staff will discuss a particular student’s accommodations with faculty, however they cannot share information about a student's disability without permission of the student.  Faculty members are encouraged to ask a student directly about his/her disability if there is a question about how the disability relates to the student’s accommodations.  Most students do not mind speaking openly about their disability; however, discussions should be confidential and the student’s privacy should be considered.

Types of Accommodations

The Office of Disability Services determines accommodations that ensure students with disabilities have equal access to all university programs and activities.  Types of accommodations include but are not limited to:

  • Extended time on examinations
  • Reduced distraction environment for testing
  • Volunteer note takers
  • Alternative text
  • Special Groups (Early) Registration for classes
  • Preferential seating in the classroom
  • Sign language interpreting services*
  • Captioning (speech-to-text) services*

*The criteria used by the ODS to determine if interpreting or real time captioning services is a reasonable accommodation for an individual student may include, but is not limited to:

  1. It is required to provide results of the student’s audiological evaluation documenting the nature and severity of the hearing loss in order to receive services,
  2. Age of onset of the student’s hearing loss and type of loss,
  3. The student’s ability to benefit from accommodations such as preferential seating and amplification with an FM system,
  4. The student’s previous experience using sign language or oral interpreters.
  5. The student’s English literacy skills. For captioning services, English proficiency should be sufficient to allow for reading and comprehension of the captioned text of the lecture.

Identifying Students with Disabilities in the Classroom

Determining that a student has a disability is not a simple process.  "Visible disabilities" may be signaled by the use of a cane, wheelchair, crutches, or other assistive technologies.  “Invisible disabilities” such as hearing impairments, legal blindness, psychological disorders, or chronic disorders may not be visibly apparent.  The Office of Disability Services encourages students with disabilities to identify and advocate for themselves to their instructors before, or early in the semester; however, students with “invisible disabilities” may not self-identify out of fear that others may challenge the legitimacy of their problem or need for accommodations.

Syllabus Statement

Students with disabilities are legally entitled to request accommodations at any time during the semester, faculty members are encouraged to help students identify their needs early by including an accommodation statement on their course syllabus.  According to the UPPS, the ODS requests that all university syllabi include the following language in order to communicate the university’s compliance with ADAAA regulations:

“It is the University’s goal that learning experiences be as accessible as possible. If you anticipate or experience physical or academic barriers based on disability or pregnancy, contact the Office of Disability Services as soon as possible at 512.245.3451 to establish reasonable accommodations. Please be aware that the accessible table and chairs in this room should remain available for students who find that standard classroom seating is not usable.”

Consideration for Accommodations

If a student with a disability does not make a request for an accommodation, the instructor of the course is under no obligation to provide an accommodation.  In addition, faculty members are not required to provide retroactive consideration for academic course work if a student provides documentation which verifies eligibility for accommodations after the work has been completed.

Review of Approved Accommodations

The ODS will review a student’s disability documentation within 30 business days of receipt.  After initial accommodations are identified, the student will be contacted for an appointment with an ODS specialist via Bobcat Mail.  At this appointment, the specialist will review and discuss a student's approved accommodations and the process for accessing each accommodation. The student will be asked to acknowledge their understanding of each accommodation by initialing, dating, and signing their Accommodation Approval Form. At the conclusion of the appointment, a copy of the Accommodation Approval Form will be placed in the student’s ODS confidential file.  Students are encouraged to contact their ODS specialist if the assigned accommodations are not meeting their disability-related needs.

Request Accommodation Letter

Students who are officially registered with the Office of Disability Services and have attended their Accommodation Review Meeting may request their accommodation letter. During the Accommodation Review Meeting, the ODS specialist will explain to the student how to request their accommodation letter for the current and following semesters. The student will be oriented with the steps and processes for receiving and forwarded their letter to each of their instructors teaching courses in which accommodations are necessary.

Accommodation Letter Review

If the Office of Disability Services does not receive any concerns from the instructor within seven (7) business days of receipt of the accommodation letter, the accommodations will be deemed appropriate and should be provided by the instructor.

When to Register and Request Accommodations

There is no set deadline for when a student should register and request for academic or other accommodations.

Referring Students to ODS

Faculty members play a key role in identifying students who have not been previously diagnosed.  The majority of referrals received by ODS are students who have been referred by a faculty member.  Faculty members may want to refer a student to ODS if after working closely with a student, identifies that a student’s academic performance on exams is inconsistent with their effort and apparent knowledge of the material as displayed during class discussions or on other assignments for the course.  Students who have an undiagnosed disability also present themselves as hard working and users of tutoring services without seeing positive academic results of their efforts. 

The Role of Faculty

In-Class Teaching Strategies

  • Post lecture notes/outlines on the web.
  • Provide a detailed syllabus prior to the first class.
  • Repeat crucial concepts several times in lectures.
  • Allow the use of a dictionary, computer spell check, or calculator on exams.
  • Read aloud material written on overhead or chalkboard.
  • Offer students extra credit to share copies of their notes with other students.
  • Offer an alternative space or quiet room to take exams, when possible.
  • Allow flexibility on assignment deadlines.
  • Design tests to take 60% of the class period so time is less of a factor.
  • Provide an outline of each lecture with space between sections for notes.
  • Allow students with test anxiety to start exams before the rest of the class.
  • Use visual aids, discussion, and hands-on examples wherever possible in lectures.
  • Provide multiple ways for students to demonstrate knowledge, such as oral response, demonstrations, portfolios or group work.

Other Teaching Resources

Types of Accommodations

Following are examples of the types of accommodations a faculty member may be asked to provide or coordinate for a student with a disability.

  • PowerPoints, notes, and handouts in advance when possible
    • A student with a disability may request copies of lecture notes or overhead materials.  If approved by the ODS, this accommodation will be noted on the Academic Accommodation Letter.
  • Alternate Format Textbooks
    • A student with a print-related disability may request that course materials be provided in alternate format (e.g., e-text, enlarged text, Braille, or on audio).  The ODS can assist faculty who may have difficulty meeting a student’s request.
  • Flexibility in application of attendance policy
    • Any class attendance policies should be clarified early in the semester.  A student who is a wheelchair user may encounter obstacles getting to class on time.  Other students may have periodic or irregular difficulties due to the nature of their disability. For example, depression is often episodic, not static.  Medication changes may also affect a student’s attendance and performance.  While flexibility in applying attendance policies may be warranted, in general, students with disabilities are expected to adhere to the same requirements as for all students.
  • Distance Learning (Online Courses, Correspondence Study, or Study Abroad) Services
    • Students enrolled in courses Distance Learning (Online Courses, Correspondence Study, or Study Abroad), or courses taught by Texas State faculty on-line, are entitled to accommodations if they meet Texas State criteria as a student with a disability.  Students with disabilities may require accommodations to access information or complete course requirements.  The ODS is available to assist faculty who have questions regarding the accommodation needs of individual students.
  • Volunteer Note Takers
    • Some students may have difficulty with note taking due to limited motor skills, a hearing impairment, a visual impairment or a processing disorder caused by a learning or psychological disability.  Faculty can assist students with disabilities in securing the services of a volunteer note taker by making an announcement in class.  The identity of the student with a disability should be kept confidential.
  • Preferential seating in the classroom
    • Some students with disabilities may require preferential seating in the classroom, which may include seating in the the front, side, or back of the classroom depending on the individual student's disability related needs.  If a seating chart is used in the class, a student may request a faculty member provide arrangements for special seating needs.
  • Permission to record class lectures
    • In addition to using a volunteer note taker, a student with a disability may request to tape record class lectures.  The ODS advises students to sign the ODS Audio Recording agreement, which states these tapes are intended only as study aides for individual use, and should not be shared with other students.  Faculty members may request that students turn off their tape recorders if an off-the-record remark needs to be made.
  • Extended time on ALL in-class and online exams
    (1.5 time) (2.0 time)
    • A student with a disability may require the oral administration of exams, use of readers and/or scribes, extensions of time for the duration of exams, a modification of the test format, or in some cases, make-up or take-home exams.
  • Providing testing accommodations
    • Testing accommodations can be provided for a student with disability by the instructor of a course, his/her designee, or, upon request by a faculty member or student, through the Academic Testing for Students with Disabilities office.  If a faculty member chooses to administer the exam, they are responsible for providing the student with the requested accommodations.