FAQ

DASS FAQ for Faculty

I know I must include a statement in my syllabus about accommodations. What should I include?
What is a disability?
What are some typical accommodations for students with disabilities?
Why are college instructors required to either allow or provide exam accommodations to students with disabilities?
Why am I notified about some students at the beginning of the semester, and others at the middle or end of the semester? Wouldn't it be better if I knew what their needs were before they started having problems?
What do I need to know about confidentiality, when working with students with disabilities and accommodations?
Once I am notified of a student's disability, with whom can I share this information?
I am considering prohibiting laptops in my classroom. How will this affect students with disabilities?
Is providing exam accommodations to students with disabilities fair to other students?
What do I tell other students regarding the exam accommodations for students with disabilities?
Who is responsible for actually making exam accommodations, faculty or DASS?
What is the process for the DASS exam proctoring service? 
Do exams have to be taken in the DASS facility?
What is the faculty's responsibility in providing accommodations to a student who approaches the professor immediately before an exam?
What types of accommodations are available to blind and visually impaired students?
What is a "reader"or a "scribe" ?
What should I take into consideration when teaching a blind or visually impaired student?
Do I need to do anything special for a visually impaired student if I use a lot of handouts or put a lot of material online?
What are some helpful strategies for working with blind and visually impaired students?
What should I do if I suspect a student has a disability but I have not been notified?
A student has no letter of accommodation from DASS, but is requesting an accommodation from me. What do I do?
How does the accommodation of "flexible attendance due to a disability" work and what should I expect from students? 
I have a student with a disability who must take the exam at a different day and/or time than the rest of the class. Can I give that student a different exam? 
I understand that there are a growing number of students with Asperger's Syndrome who attend college. What are the main features of this condition?
I have an online component to my course. How do I make it accessible to all students?
What do SMU students want faculty to know?

 

I know I must include a statement in my syllabus about accommodations. What should I include?

Disability Accommodations: Students needing academic accommodations for a disability must first be registered with Disability Accommodations & Success Strategies (DASS) to verify the disability and to establish eligibility for accommodations. Students may call 214-768-1470 or visit http://www.smu.edu/ALEC/DASS to begin the process. Once registered, students should then schedule an appointment with the professor to make appropriate arrangements.

For Law School Faculty:
Disability Accommodations: Students needing academic accommodations for a disability must first be registered with Disability Accommodations & Success Strategies (DASS) to verify the disability and to establish eligibility for accommodations. Students may call 214-768-1470 or visit http://www.smu.edu/ALEC/DASS to begin the process. Once registered, students should then provide the letter of accommodation to Dean Martin Camp to put accommodations in place in the law school.

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What is a disability?
A disability is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of the individual.

  • Major Life Activities The phrase major life activities refers to normal functions such as caring for one's self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working.

  • Physical Impairment: A physical impairment includes any physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss affecting one or more of the following bodily systems: neurological, musculoskeletal, special sense organs, respiratory and speech organs, cardiovascular, reproductive, digestive, genitourinary, hemic and lymphatic, skin and endocrine.

  • Mental Impairment: A mental impairment includes any mental or psychological disorder such as mental retardation, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness, and specific learning disabilities.

  • Learning Disabilities: A learning disability is a generic term that refers to a heterogeneous group of disorders manifested by significant difficulties in the acquisition and use of listening, speaking, reading, writing, reasoning, or mathematical abilities. These disorders occur in persons of average to very superior intelligence. Basically, someone with a learning disability will exhibit a significant difference between their intellectual capabilities and what they can produce.

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What are some typical accommodations for students with disabilities?
The accommodations depend on the nature of the disability. Based on the specific diagnosis and the student’s strengths and weaknesses, an individualized educational plan is developed, outlining the most appropriate accommodations. Although extended time on tests is the most common accommodation due to difficulty processing information, it is not the only option. Other accommodations may include: audio version of textbooks, readers, note taking assistance, recording lectures, use of laptop computers, use of word processors or spell-checker, or sign language interpreters. Test modifications may include: extended time, alternate test format, or oral exams. Faculty consultation is an essential part of this process. Creative and cooperative efforts are required to provide students with an equitable education while maintaining academic integrity.

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Why are college instructors required to either allow or provide exam accommodations to students with disabilities?
Federal law (Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973) mandates that both the university and individual faculty members must provide appropriate exam accommodations to students with disabilities.

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Why am I notified about some students at the beginning of the semester, and others at the middle or end of the semester? Wouldn’t it be better if I knew what their needs were before they started having problems?
Students who have disclosed their disability are encouraged to notify their professors during the first two weeks of classes. Some students may want to begin their education at SMU without the stigma or label of having a disability; therefore they may try to forego requesting accommodations until the last possible moment. Some students who are newly diagnosed may present their documentation to us during the semester. The student must advocate for himself or herself, thus timing may vary. We strongly recommend that faculty members require students to give them seven (7) days notification for any accommodation in order for you to make appropriate arrangements.

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What do I need to know about confidentiality, when working with students with disabilities and accommodations?
This is an issue that unnerves many faculty members. What can I say, and to whom? We've put together some tips as well as what not to do, in the hopes of clearing up any confusion.

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Once I am notified of a student’s disability, with whom can I share this information?
The confidential nature of disability-related information has been an over-arching principle of nondiscrimination since the establishment of Section 503 and 504. Disability-related information is considered to be medical information and to be treated in the same confidential manner, with the same need-to-know restrictions. This means you must avoid discussing this information with anyone unless it is absolutely necessary. 

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I am considering prohibiting laptops in my classroom. How will this affect students with disabilities?
The current trend of faculty members limiting or prohibiting electronic devices in the classroom is understandable, given the increasingly disruptive habits of students accessing non-class related material during class. However, for students who need to take notes on their laptops as a disability-related accommodation, the issue becomes sticky. We recommend against professors making a statement such as “No one may use laptops except those with disabilities.” This essentially requires a student with a disability to identify himself to others just by using his laptop. You want to avoid putting students in this position. If you are considering prohibiting laptops, one professor used the following wording in her syllabus: 

"The use of Laptops/Netbooks/iPads, etc. is strictly prohibited for use during all 
class sessions...Failure to follow this technology policy without prior approval of 
the Instructor can result in dismissal from that class session."

This professor then met with students individually and discussed their issue. If there was a documented need for laptop usage, she allowed it and had them sign an agreement that laid out the expected behavior (use only for class related purposes, wireless internet will be turned off, will sit on an aisle or front row in order to be less distracting to other students). She can then enforce her classroom policy, while still providing the appropriate accommodation. If someone asks why others are allowed to use laptops, she simply says that they made special arrangements with her, with no details given.

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Is providing exam accommodations to students with disabilities fair to other students?
Determination of exam accommodations is made after carefully reviewing documentation of a disability and the effects of the disability in a test taking situation. Accommodations are determined so as to minimize the disability and “level the playing field,” not to give the student with a disability an advantage. Faculty should express any concerns regarding exam accommodations to a DASS staff member who can verify the appropriateness of the requested accommodation and provide assistance to both the student and faculty.

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What do I tell other students regarding the exam accommodations for students with disabilities?
Nothing! As a matter of fact, confidentiality is of extreme importance, so you should refrain from discussing any information regarding a student's disability in the presence of other students and/or faculty without the students consent.

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Who is responsible for actually making exam accommodations, faculty or DASS?
Both. The DASS staff has been given the responsibility of determining appropriate exam accommodations (based on documentation and individual situations), but both DASS and faculty jointly provide the accommodations. Faculty can verify student requests through DASS. Faculty must comply with the law by either providing the appropriate accommodations themselves, or if this is not possible, utilizing DASS as a back-up for proctoring. 

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What is the process for the DASS exam proctoring service? 
The student should initiate a discussion with their professor to arrange accommodated testing, specifically when and where the accommodated exam will take place. Ideally, students should take their exams with their professors in a setting that is appropriate to the student's listed accommodations. 

If all options have been considered and the student and professor cannot come to an arrangement for testing, DASS proctors are available for administering most exams. Do note, it is an added cost to the university every time DASS must hire a proctor. It is the student's responsibility to contact DASS at least 7 days prior to the exam and arrange test proctoring with us; DASS must have sufficient time to schedule the proctor and set up the testing room. 

We ask the professor to submit the exam to us electronically or in person, at least 1-2 working days prior to the exam.  We ask professors to arrange for the return of completed tests, as well. The most common options include: having DASS return the exam by fax or scan/email; picking up the test in person; and providing clear instructions to DASS for having the student return the test in a sealed and stamped envelope. Because of the labor involved in scanning long exams, we prefer professors to drop off and pick up the hard copy exam.

DASS does have limitations. We only test M-F, 9-5, and do not provide proctored testing for tests that are administered on a computer (e.g., Blackboard, Excel, etc.) unless it is part of the student's disability accommodation, such as needing a word-processor for a writing-intensive exam.  We do offer test proctoring during finals, but require students to schedule with DASS by an advertised deadline earlier than the standard 7 days, usually 2 weeks before finals begin. 

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Do exams have to be taken in the DASS facility?
NO. Faculty may choose to accommodate the student within their facility. In fact, we encourage students to attempt to take the test with the professor so that they may ask questions that may arise during the test and get appropriate answers. It is the student's responsibility to make arrangements with the faculty member prior to the exam date. As long as the student's required accommodations are met, it is not necessary for the student to take the exam at DASS. DASS will work with the student and faculty member to accommodate students within the DASS facility when necessary.

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What is the faculty's responsibility in providing accommodations to a student who approaches the professor immediately before an exam?
The term "reasonable" is important in this situation. Students are aware of the appropriate procedures for obtaining classroom accommodations. Faculty are not obliged to provide accommodations in such a situation.


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What types of accommodations are available to blind and visually impaired students?
Unless they are newly blind, most college students will already have developed a range of techniques for accessing visual materials. Increasingly, blind and visually impaired people are making use of adaptive technology. They make use of devices such as talking calculators, computer programs with speech-output such as JAWS or Kurzweil, and adapted electronic writing tablets with speech-output which make taking notes easier. Some students may also use a note-taker in class, usually a fellow student who takes particularly detailed notes or types their notes on a laptop. In same cases, a reader may retype or scan handwritten notes so the student can utilize screen-reading software and listen to the notes through a computer.


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What is a "reader" or a "scribe"?
A reader is a staff member, faculty member or proctor who reads tests aloud to students with visual impairments or possibly learning disabilities. A scribe is a proctor who types or writes exactly what the student says as responses to test questions. Reader or Scribe is an infrequently approved or used accommodation, but can be appropriate for students who have significant learning disabilities or visual impairments, or even mobility issues. We strongly encourage the student to have his or her professor read or scribe as the course content/vocabulary may be difficult for a proctor to read or spell correctly.


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What should I take into consideration when teaching a blind or visually impaired student?
Each student is different and there is a wide variety of accommodations that may need to be arranged; one individual may use a cane or a guide dog, while another may need enlarged-print copies of course materials and have to sit at the front of the classroom in order to see the professor. For this reason, blind and visually impaired students are encouraged to submit medical documentation to DASS as early as possible and to remain in close contact with the office so that their individual needs can be assessed. Once this has occurred, the appropriate reasonable accommodations will be made and notification will be provided to you by the student.


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Do I need to do anything special for a visually impaired student if I use a lot of handouts or put a lot of material online?
If you utilize many handouts in your class, it would be extremely helpful to keep in touch with the student about getting the materials in advance so they can use technology to adapt the handouts. Keep in mind that if a blind student comes to class and the instructor has decided spontaneously to give a handout, that student will not have access to the information during class. When dealing with posting materials on websites, it would be best to have multiple versions of the files that are being used to ensure the highest level of accessibility. Blind students will most likely be using screen reading software that can access the website, but the program might not be able to read the material posted depending on the file type. If the student couldn't access the file, emailing a MS Word file to the student could help.

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What are some helpful strategies for working with blind and visually impaired students?
Most blind and visually impaired students have their own strategies for learning, but professors can help in many ways. It is extremely helpful if the professor provides a reading list and course packet several weeks before the semester begins in order for them to convert the readings into an accessible form. Similarly, if there are going to be any classroom handouts or last minute additions to the coursework, a student who relies on technology will need some time to prepare. For situations such as tests, field trips, and study abroad, the student and professor may need to make special arrangements and these should be discussed with the DASS on a case-by-case basis. Courses with an extremely visual component, such as film studies or art history, are not immediately out of the question for a student with a visual impairment, as there are many ways to appreciate the visual arts and to learn about their history. In fact, a blind or visually impaired student may open up our perspective on subjects such as art appreciation, film-making, etc. Additionally, instructors who have blind or visually impaired students in their classes are encouraged to consult with DASS regarding implementation of accommodations whenever there is uncertainty about an accommodation, or other more general questions. Students can also be very helpful in determining how best to make something accessible because frequently, they have a high level of knowledge about their condition. Accommodations typically work best when DASS, students, and faculty work in concert to ensure access to all academic materials.

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What should I do if I suspect a student has a disability but I have not been notified?
If you suspect that a student has a disability, talk with the student about your observations. Since this is an extremely sensitive topic to some students, it is best to speak to the student in a private setting. Focus on the student’s performance and why you are concerned. Describe the behavior or evidence you have seen, rather than labeling it or classifying it as a disability. Ask the student if she has ever received support services in high school and then recommend that she meet with a DASS staff member to help her identify the problem areas and recommend strategies for success.

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A student has no letter of accommodation from DASS, but is requesting an accommodation from me. What do I do?
Sometimes students circumvent the DASS system and, therfore, have not been verified by our office. Faculty are free to work with their students in any way they see fit, but are not under any obligation to provide disability accommodations without a letter of accommodation from DASS. Students may provide their professor with a report from their doctor stating a diagnosis, but faculty should not feel compelled to review this documentation and make a decision on what accommodations would be appropriate. Professionals in the the DASS office are the most appropriate people to review documentation and determine the current educational impact. Approving informal accommodations can also set a precedence that the student may come to expect with other professors. Please refer the student to DASS to properly request accommodations.

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How does the accommodation of "flexible attendance due to a disability" work and what should I expect from students? 
Infrequently, students with a disability may have a condition that could intermittently affect their ability to attend class. After careful deliberation and discussion, DASS may approve the accommodation which encourages faculty to be flexible in their attendance policy, when possible. However, students are given very explicit instruction on how to discuss this type of accommodation BEFORE any absences take place. DASS includes an addendum to the students' letter of accommodation which gives guidance to the professors and students on negotiating this type of accommodation. This includes determining what is a reasonable absence due to a disability, how the students will communicate with the professors, how the students will make up the work, etc. Faculty members should expect students to review this addendum with their professors when the letter of accommodation is delivered and discussed. 

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I have a student with a disability who must take the exam at a different day and/or time than the rest of the class. Can I give that student a different exam? 
Yes, it is appropriate to alter the content as needed, if you have legitimate concerns about the security of the exam (such as the answers have already been shared with the class). A more accurate description of the school's obligation when, for reasons unrelated to a student's disability, it cannot give the same exam as a late exam is that the school must give an exam of no greater difficulty in a format that is no more difficult than the earlier exam, and the professor must not apply a more demanding grading system to that exam. However, DASS would recommend you do not routinely give different exams to students with disabilities, as a rule. Giving different exams simply because the student happens to have sought and received an accommodation is inappropriate because that would be treating the student differently simply because they have a disability. 

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I understand that there are a growing number of students with Asperger's Syndrome who attend college. What are the main features of this condition? 
People with Asperger's lack the social understanding that comes more intuitively to the average person. They have difficulty interpreting social cues from others, such as facial expressions and tone of voice, and can be unusually literal in the way they interpret communications. Engaging in a reciprocal conversation can be challenging for them, as they find it hard to start and maintain a two-way conversation; they may unintentionally monopolize discussions. They often are highly intelligent, and may have an unusually intense interest in a particular subject. Structure and routine are found to be helpful to individuals with Asperger's. A couple of informative links for faculty are: http://www.researchautism.org/resources/AspergerDVDSeries.asp and http://www.universityaffairs.ca/confronting-aspergers-in-the-classroom.aspx . 

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I have an online component to my course. How do I make it accessible to all students?
We encourage faculty to think through each assignment/course activity and ask themselves, what is the purpose,  what information do the students need to get from this, how will it be conducted,  is communication with others required,  does the student have to go anywhere - either physically or virtually (other websites, etc)? Which senses do the students need to use - sight, hearing, touch, etc? What are the possible barriers?  How could it be modified, if needed? For students with visual impairments (and sometimes other disabilities), all online material needs to be compatible with common screen readers, such as JAWS.  If you have a video, it may need to be captioned so a student who is blind understands all unspoken communication in the video. 

Please contact our office for additional support as it is our University's responsibility to make all of our programs accessible to students with disabilities. 

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What do SMU students want faculty to know?
Over the years DASS staff have compiled some tips from students which we thought would be helpful for faculty. To read these tips in pdf format please click here.

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