The legal definition of a disability from Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act as Amended (ADA) is a physical or mental condition 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 Conditions: A physical condition 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 Conditions: A mental condition includes any mental or psychological disorder such as developmental conditions, 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.
SMU's approved syllabus statements for Disability Accommodations are listed below. The first statement is for all faculty except Law School faculty; the Law School faculty syllabus statement is unique, and listed separately. Feel free to copy and paste the applicable statement directly into your syllabus. On the syllabus statement for all faculty except Law School faculty, we have chosen not to list a specific individual's name as a contact in order to keep syllabus information accurate and up to date.
Professors sometimes add requirements to the approved statement; some are appropriate, but some are not and should be avoided. An example of an acceptable addition is to encourage the student to meet with you in your office when submitting the DASS accommodation letter. Inappropriate additions include a firm deadline to deliver accommodation letters (such as in the first two weeks of school). If you are not sure whether the statement you wish to add is appropriate, we are here for any consultation. Please contact the DASS office at 214-768-1470, or by email at DASS@smu.edu.
*Syllabus statement for All Undergraduate and Graduate Faculty EXCEPT Law School:
Disability Accommodations: Students needing academic accommodations for a disability must first register with Disability Accommodations & Success Strategies (DASS). Students can call 214-768-1470 or visit http://www.smu.edu/Provost/SASP/DASS to begin the process. Once approved and registered, students will submit a DASS Accommodation Letter to faculty through the electronic portal DASS Link and then communicate directly with each instructor to make appropriate arrangements. Please note that accommodations are not retroactive and require advance notice to implement.
*Syllabus statement for Law School Faculty:
Disability Accommodations: Students needing academic accommodations for a disability must first register with Disability Accommodations & Success Strategies (DASS). Students can call 214-768-1470 or visit http://www.smu.edu/Provost/SASP/DASS to begin the process. Once approved and registered, the student's Letter of Accommodation will be provided to Assistant Dean Steve Yeager by DASS in order to put accommodations in place in the Law School.
Notification of Student Accommodations
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. Please avoid adding additional statements to the syllabus statement, such as "students must deliver their letter within the first two weeks of school". This is not realistic for some, and students do have a choice as to when they decide to self-identify. They should, however, give their professors reasonable notice of a request for accommodations.
It can be confounding to some instructors as to why a student would NOT deliver their DASS letter at the beginning of the semester, or at all. We do leave this up to the discretion of the student, and for some, they are either attempting to "go it alone" or hoping to "not need" the accommodations in the particular course. Some may be embarrassed to ask for accommodations, possibly after having a bad experience in the past. Some may simply forget. Some students will utilize accommodations in one course but not the other. Why is this? While the student's disability is present in every class, the course design may dictate what means of access, if any, the student may need. For example, if a student is deaf and taking a face-to-face course, ASL would be necessary to provide access. If that same student is taking an online course with no videos and all text provided electronically, that same student may not need any accommodation in that setting. Same student. Different courses. Different access outcomes. Disabilities and their impact can be complex and the ways students manage and cope with those conditions may lead to different approaches for different courses. We defer to the student to identify him or herself, and once that occurs, we are obligated to put reasonable accommodations in place from that point, moving forward.
If you believe an accommodation may fundamentally alter the essential elements of your course or the curriculum, contact the DASS Coordinator listed on the DASS Letter of Accommodation to discuss your concerns. After a discussion about the needs of the student, curriculum, and key components of your course, together we may determine that the accommodation is reasonable, its implementation altered slightly to be reasonable, or, in rare cases, an alternative accommodation may need to be considered.
DASS strongly recommends that instructors always consult with DASS before denying an accommodation.
In a vast majority of situations, SMU instructors and the University Testing Center (UTC) are responsible. In addition, the Dedman School of Law and the Cox School of Business administer accommodated exams to their students.
DASS staff members have been given the responsibility of determining appropriate exam accommodations based on documentation and individual situations. Students notify their instructors of accommodations using DASS Letters of Accommodation, which can be found on your faculty DASS Link account. Students are expected to work with instructors to implement their testing accommodations in each class. Faculty must comply with the law by either providing the appropriate testing accommodations themselves or utilizing the UTC for proctoring.
Note that if a student requires a reader or scribe for their exam, and you, a TA, or another representative from your department are unable to provide this service, then DASS will administer the exam with a reader or scribe in our offices, not at the UTC.
We expect students to meet with each of their instructors to discuss their testing accommodations well before the date of the test. We suggest they bring a copy of their current class schedule to this meeting so that the instructor and the student can more easily determine the best course of action. If faculty members determines that they, their TAs, or another departmental representative are not able to provide the testing accommodations, then the student should be referred to schedule the test at the University Testing Center (UTC).
Note that Dedman School of Law and Cox School of Business do not utilize the UTC, and instead proctor tests for students with testing accommodations in-house.
Putting easily distracted students (e.g., those with ADHD or anxiety disorders) in a controlled, small-group testing environment lessens distractions and lowers anxiety. We have such a testing environment in the University Testing Center (UTC), but you can create one as well. A closed space without foot traffic is ideal, such as an office, carrel, conference room, or small classroom. Phones, printers, copiers, computers, and the like should be turned off. Placing a sign on the testing room door asking people to keep voices down and not to knock helps considerably. The accommodation does not require the student to test alone (separately), but do keep the group testing numbers small and ensure that students have plenty of space between them. Avoid interrupting the test to move a student to another testing space; such a disruption runs counter to the idea of a reduced distraction environment. Note that a reduced distraction testing space does not mean distraction-free; no such place exists on SMU’s campus, nor is such a strict level of control required.
If you use Canvas or ExamSoft, students with this accommodation still need a reduced distraction location to take the test. Contact OIT (firstname.lastname@example.org) for instructions on how to import/export a test in Canvas and ExamSoft, or review the OIT website for help with Canvas at https://www.smu.edu/OIT/Services/Canvas.
It is not appropriate to ask a student to miss, arrive late to, or leave early from another class in order to take an assessment with extended time.
When you initially discuss testing and testing accommodations with students, they should discuss any potential time conflicts with you. DASS advises students to share their class schedules with you during these meetings. Please inform students if you have scheduling conflicts, as well. Once all scheduling conflicts are identified, you and the student can address them and create a plan to implement testing accommodations, ideally well in advance of testing days.
The most common resolution is to have the student start the test early, so that they finish the extended time exam before their next class begins. If a student has a class before and after the exam, then the exam will need to be administered at a different time, allowing the student to utilize their full extended time. Some faculty allow students to take their tests with other sections of the same class or make arrangements within the department for testing on a different day or at a different time. When all options have been exhausted, faculty may consider having the student test at the University Testing Center (UTC), with appropriate notice.
Students with extended time for tests and quizzes should still be afforded the extra time for pop quizzes, as long as it does not fundamental alter the essential elements of the curriculum. Consider these options: give the DASS student warning of the quiz so he can take the quiz in your office before or after the class or start early or stay late in the classroom. Or, with advance notice, the student could schedule to take it at the University Testing Center (UTC). If you are not comfortable giving advance notice, take on the responsibility of scheduling the space and proctor for the student and direct him to that location on the day of the pop quiz. Examine the purpose of the pop quiz - is it to show mastery or is it an attendance tracking technique? Is there an alternative assignment the student could do to meet the objective?
Contact DASS for more discussion on solutions, given your particular circumstances and challenges and your student's accommodations.
The legal term "reasonable accommodation" is key in this case and grants each instructor the freedom to determine how much time they need to implement testing accommodations. When given short notice, faculty members are not obligated to provide testing accommodations; however, they are obligated to first carefully consider each request on a case-by-case basis in light of their resources (e.g., the test format, a quiet testing space, their availability, an Office Assistant, a TA or student employee, etc.). Due to the need for a deliberative process, we encourage faculty members to avoid setting arbitrary deadlines for notification of accommodations.
We at DASS encourage students to give instructors at least a week's notice before needing any accommodation. Unfortunately, this timeframe isn't always possible. If a student comes to you at any point before a test and requests accommodations by presenting a current accommodation letter, please review the need(s) and how you might be able to provide it or not. Take into account that some accommodations may require significantly more advance notice and resources than others to implement (a reader or scribe vs. just extended time). If you have the resources or the ability to find the resources to put the accommodation in place, we encourage you to do so. If it is not possible, say so, but we strongly advise you to consult with your department chair and with us at DASS if you are considering a denial of any accommodation. This ensures an "interactive process" has taken place. Be prepared to answer the question, "why was the accommodation not put in place?"— inconvenience is different than a true administrative burden. Agencies that monitor compliance, such as the Department of Justice and the Office for Civil Rights, do not support denying an accommodation simply to teach a student a lesson. DASS is available to help you through the problem-solving, if needed.
The note taking assistance accommodation can take multiple forms, depending on the student’s needs and class format. The options for note taking accommodations include:
- Ability to audio record class and review sessions - Recording of lectures can be accomplished by a digital recording device, laptop, or LiveScribe pen. DASS has not approved video recording for any student, due to their disability, so note the specifics in the accommodation letters. Students may find they need to sit up front to improve the recording quality.
- Ability to use a laptop for note taking - The student may use a laptop to take notes during lectures. DASS recommends that faculty use laptop contracts if classroom policies prohibit laptops.
- Access to Peer Notes - If audio recording and/or the use of a laptop for note taking are not sufficient due to the student’s disability or the course content (math, for example), a copy of peer notes may be necessary. Peer notes are taken by a volunteer note taker in the class. Faculty solicit these note takers by making an announcement in class, on the course's Canvas page, and/or by email. A suggested script is included in the accommodation letter to assist faculty with locating peer note takers. Faculty may also be asked to facilitate the transfer of notes to the DASS student; however, in most cases, the DASS student sets up an anonymous e-mail account, and the peer note taker scans and sends the notes to the DASS student each day. If the DASS student does not wish to remain anonymous, the note taker and DASS student coordinate the transfer of notes. DASS recommends identifying at least two volunteer note takers early in the semester for each class where they are needed.
For DASS students who need note taking assistance, laptops and audio recordings are more independent options; in addition, these methods are not prone to logistical delays that can be created by peer notes. For this reason, you may receive accommodation letters which list more than one option in order to ensure the DASS student is receiving equal access to class information in case peer notes are not forthcoming. When notes are not forthcoming from a peer note taker, DASS students are instructed to inform their faculty first to ask for assistance. If the gap in access is not easily and quickly fixed, we suggest DASS students and instructors reach out to our office for assistance in brainstorming solutions.
Students acknowledge in their intake appointments that any notes obtained by peers or recordings are not to be shared with others or online, and that notes are not available for classes they do not attend.
Please note, the delivery of notes or outlines before a class meets is not generally considered a reasonable accommodation.
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 (i.e., use only for class related purposes, wireless internet will be turned off, and will sit on an aisle or front row in order to be less distracting to other students). She could 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 further details given.
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 show video, it may need to be captioned so a student who is deaf or hard of hearing can understand the auditory component, or have descriptive audio added so that a student who is blind or visually impaired can understand all of the unspoken elements.
We recommend reading this article from Inside Higher Education, as well as visiting the "Using Technology to Enhance teaching and Learning" webpage of SMU's Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE).
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.
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 attaches Student Responsibilities, the Guidelines for Implementing Flexible Attendance Accommodations, and a Flexible Attendance Agreement to the students' electronic letter of accommodation, which will be available for you to view in your DASS Link account. We advise students to print these documents and bring them to a meeting with you where you'll discuss this and any other accommodations. These documents guide professors and students on establishing clear expectations surrounding this 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. For additional information and copied of the Flexible Attendance documents, please visit the Flexible Attendance section of our Type of Accommodations page.
Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
People with ASD (formerly known as Autism and Asperger's Disorder) often lack the social understanding that comes more intuitively to the neurotypical person. They may have difficulty interpreting social cues from others, such as facial expressions and tone of voice, and can be absolutely 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 are often highly intelligent, and may have an intense interest in a particular subject. Structure and routine have been found to be helpful to individuals with ASD.
A few informative links for faculty are:
Also, The Yale School of Medicine video below, "College Students on the Autism Spectrum," is quite informative.
Students who are Deaf, Deafened, or Hard of Hearing
Blind and Visually Impaired Students
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.
Students with VI and blindness should still be able to access Powerpoint slides and excel tables, but will have to learn how to maneuver through these programs with their screen reader. For PPT's it is best to avoid shapes and SmartArt. Typically screen readers read things in the order they were placed on the slide, so adding a new column of text but putting it on the far left will not necessarily mean the student using a screen reader will hear it first. Also, all images in a PowerPoint presentation that convey meaning need to be accompanied by alternate text, so that their purpose is communicated to people using assistive technology. Using color can be effective if the contrast between colors is high, and you aren't using color to convey meaning. Microsoft has a full tutorial about making PPT's accessible.
Be sure to offer your syllabus and other documents in a Word document, which is easy for screen readers to read out loud. Before distributing pdf files to the class, review OIT's new video on making PDF's accessible to screen and e-text-reading software.
In digital media required for your class, like your Canvas syllabus, all images should be tagged with a descriptor called "alt text." A screenreader will read the alt text descriptor, making that image accessible to those who are blind or visually impaired.
SMU's OIT has an excellent article about image accessibility, alt text, and how to use it in their Summer 2023 newsletter. You can go straight to the article here: https://blog.smu.edu/itconnect/2023/05/16/alt-name-image-examples-accessibility-awareness/?utm_source=lyris&utm_medium=email&utm_term=newsletter&utm_content=smuoit&utm_campaign=OIT-Newsletter-2023-05
Epilepsy and Seizure Disorders
If the student wishes to discuss seizure protocol with you, please do so. SMU does not expect or recommend professors determine the severity of seizure or provide medical care.
Some seizures will present as trembling, rapid blinking, and/or unresponsiveness for a minute or two. This would not likely require you to call the SMU Police Department or 911.
Please contact SMU PD or 911.We also suggest that you:
- Remain calm
- Look at a clock to note the approximate time of onset; EMS professionals may need this information.
- Manage the class by clearing the area around the student or dismissing the class.
Note that some seizures will present as trembling, rapid blinking, and/or unresponsiveness for a minute or two. This would not likely require you to call SMU PD or 911.