Last revision – August 2022
Thanks to The University of Texas at Austin for the use of its policy and procedure manual in designing SMU's policies and procedures.
Southern Methodist University (SMU) and the Disability Accommodations & Success Strategies (DASS) team are committed to providing a supportive and challenging environment for students with disabilities who choose to attend SMU. Additionally, federal law requires that all students with disabilities be provided with reasonable accommodations for their certified disabilities. SMU is proud to be an educational institution that welcomes and supports a diverse student body, and we hope to create a learning environment that encourages as well as challenges all students.
SMU provides a variety of services to assist students with disabilities in becoming active members of the University community. These services vary, on a case-by-case basis, according to the individual needs of each student. The majority of these services are coordinated by the Disability Accommodations & Success Strategies team. Supporting the academic efforts of students with disabilities is an important goal of DASS.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 help to protect individuals with disabilities from discrimination. The purpose of accommodations and modifications is to assure that students with disabilities have equal access to programs and services offered by SMU.
Disability Accommodations & Success Strategies is a part of the Provost's Office's Student Academic Support Programs (SASP). As such, it shares its mission to:
to support new students in their transition to the academic culture of the university;
to assist students in developing comprehensive, advanced reading and learning techniques and in applying these global skills to specific coursework challenges;
to offer services that encourage students to build confidence in their ability to learn and to overcome the challenges they may confront at SMU;
to offer services that strengthen—and where necessary develop—the foundational skills (mathematical literacy, reading, writing, computer literacy, critical thinking) that are central to every student's continued academic success;
to offer services that support students' pursuit of the institution's most challenging programs of study and mastery of their chosen curricula;
to ensure that the Center's administrative practices, operating principles, and staff development activities are designed to further the academic well-being of SMU's undergraduates.
The mission of DASS is carried out by:
Assisting students with disabilities in overcoming environmental barriers and by providing them with reasonable academic accommodations and support services that may reduce the impact of their disabilities on their experiences at SMU
Promoting community awareness of the needs and capabilities of students with disabilities
Serving as a resource for members of the University community, prospective students, parents, and members of the public who interact with the University community
Exploring, researching, and improving service options for students with disabilities in postsecondary education.
The rights of students with disabilities are protected by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), both of which are laws aimed at ending discrimination against persons with disabilities.
Section 504 reads as follows:
"No otherwise qualified individual with a [disability] in the United States shall, solely by reason of a [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."
Under the provisions of Section 504, SMU may not:
Limit the admission of otherwise qualified students with disabilities based upon their disabilities
Make pre-admission inquiries mandating an answer as to whether an applicant has a disability
Exclude an otherwise qualified student with a disability from any course of study
Provide less financial assistance to students with disabilities than is provided to other students
Counsel students with disabilities into more restrictive career paths than are recommended to non-disabled students
Students with disabilities are not required to identify themselves as having a disability; thus their use of the services provided by DASS is optional. Therefore, DASS staff attempts to ensure that students know of these services so they may avail themselves of the opportunities if they wish to do so. Also, DASS staff works with faculty, staff, and administrators to inform them of the services available so they may refer students to this office as appropriate. Outreach efforts include the following:
Information about services is included in admissions information and brochures for prospective students.
Requests for information about disability services are met by telephone or mail reply.
Open lines of communication are maintained for dialogue between DASS and academic advisers in the colleges, among faculty and residence assistants, with Health Center and Learning Enhancement Center personnel, and others, to enable them to refer students to the appropriate office on campus.
Presentations about available services and working with students with disabilities are made to departments, such as Residence Life and Student Housing and the Advising Center.
Fliers giving information on DASS are included in the orientation materials distributed on our website and in hardcopy to new students.
During summer orientation, DASS briefs students and parents about DASS and the accommodation process at SMU by: publicizing and leading on-site and/or virtual meetings and linking a 15-minute DASS Orientation video to the front page of the DASS website.
SMU course syllabi include a referral to DASS regarding accommodation needs.
When students initially contact DASS, they will be asked to describe the nature of their concerns in order to determine the most appropriate assistance to provide. Students will be informed at this initial contact that they will need to provide appropriate documentation (see Section 6) of their disabilities, suggested accommodations if applicable, and histories of the accommodations they have received in prior educational environments.
It is our policy that documentation must be kept on file with DASS in order to determine accommodations, as well as to justify approval or denial.
This section is primarily for office use. Our online interface and data management system, DASS Link, has been implemented to keep a student's data in their electronic file indefinitely. We are phasing out paper files and the associated system listed here. We expect to have no paper files by 2029 at the latest. The status options of paper files (before DASS Link) were Contact, Pending, Active, or Inactive.
Contact - Files are in Contact status after students have contacted the DASS office requesting information, but before the students have submitted documentation. An alphabetical listing of students in the Contact status will be maintained by DASS for one semester, indicating when they contacted DASS, what steps the students plan to take, and any recommendations or referrals made to the students.
Pending - Files are in Pending status once a student has submitted adequate documentation of a disability, but has not had an intake interview. All students in Pending status will have an individual student file created by the support staff. Files considered Pending for two full semesters will be shredded at the end of that time period.
Active - Student files will be considered Active when the appropriate documentation (see Section 6) has been received and approved by DASS, and after completion of an intake interview. Files are considered Active once DASS has completed the intake form. All files in Active status will be entered and will remain on the database. Such files will retain Active status as long as the student is enrolled in the University.
Inactive - Active files will be moved to Inactive status if a student is not enrolled for one long semester, but will be returned to Active status upon the student’s re-enrollment. Students who re-enroll after missing one full semester must notify DASS that they have returned in order to reactivate their files. The files of students who return to the University after one full semester will be reevaluated to determine if circumstances have changed necessitating the receipt of additional documentation. Effective June 1, 2015, all files will be shredded after five (5) years of Inactive status.
Students who provide DASS with an Accommodation Request Form (available online) and appropriate documentation of a disability will be asked to schedule an intake interview with DASS. DASS will discuss what services are available from DASS and other University offices, and what academic, programmatic, or physical accommodations might be appropriate for the student. The list below contains examples of the types of information that may be gathered. The interview will be tailored to meet the needs of each student based on the disability and the types of accommodations and services he/she might need.
Biographical information - student's name, Social Security Number, classification, intended major, campus and e-mail addresses
Referred by - who referred the student or how the student learned about the DASS office
Academic Background – high school attended, year graduated, previous colleges or universities attended, academic achievement as perceived by the student and/or academic records, length of time since last enrolled in an educational setting, brief description of the student’s perception of his/her educational experiences. The type and level of detail may vary depending upon the student's situation.
Pertinent History – information that would be relevant to making decisions about appropriate accommodations and modifications. Examples of such information include: etiology, age of onset, description of disability or the problems that the student has had or is currently experiencing, the depth of knowledge the student has regarding his/her disability, functional limitations, the student's method of handling his/her disability emotionally and in terms of his/her educational process. Identify what accommodations, if any, the student has been granted in the past. Identify what accommodations and/or services the student would like to receive and his/her expectations of the office. Indicate any current concerns that the student may have as well as any past experiences that may have an impact on his/her educational progress at this institution. If accommodations are suggested and the student indicates that he/she does not need the suggested accommodation, that decision should be documented.
Documentation -presented by the student, including the current diagnosis and diagnostician. Documentation is required before services and accommodations can be provided, except in cases where the impact of the disability is obvious and does not require any supporting evidence. DASS will explain to the student what documentary information is needed and the process that is used to determine eligibility for services and accommodations. This information should be noted as well. (See Policies and Procedures Section 6)
Action - Based upon the information obtained, this will indicate what the plan of action will be.
Accommodations - All accommodations or services that the student will receive from this office will be indicated in their electronic file and on their Accommodation Letters.
Since each student has different needs for accommodations, the University requires that each student provide documentation from an appropriate licensed professional detailing the student's disability, i.e., a mental or physical condition that substantially limits the student’s functioning in a major life activity. This documentation should preferably be from within the last three years in order to clarify the current impact of the disability on the person. The report must include a diagnosis of the student’s disability, define the functional limitations he/she will experience in an academic environment, and describe possible appropriate academic accommodations. (For more specific guidelines for documenting a disability, see our Documentation Guidelines.) Students are to be diagnosed at their own expense. All documentation will go through the same review process regardless of the testing or diagnostic source.
In all cases, certification that a student is a client of the Texas Rehabilitation Commission, the Texas Commission for the Blind, or the Texas Council for the Deaf or Hard of Hearing will make him/her eligible for services provided by DASS. However, in order for decisions to be made regarding the accommodations for each student, documentation by an appropriate licensed professional of the disabling condition and resulting functional limitations will be required in any case where the disability or appropriate accommodations are not readily apparent.
Non-SMU college students (transfer or visiting students, for example) should provide a letter to DASS from the disability office at their own institution. The letter (on letterhead) should include (a) the student's specific disability and (b) the accommodations that have been authorized by that institution.
It is the policy of DASS that documentation must be kept on file with DASS in order to determine accommodations, as well as to justify approval or denial. Students are expected to keep a copy of their own documentation, but should expect that DASS will require documentation of their disability to remain in the file, regardless of approval or denial of the accommodations requested.
SMU follows the "Guidelines for Documentation of a Learning Disability in Adolescents and Adults" developed by the Association of Higher Education and Disability. Students wanting accommodations must provide a diagnostic report that includes the information listed below. The psycho-educational evaluation should discuss the student's strengths and weaknesses and allows for more effective decisions regarding appropriate accommodations. Such evaluations should include these minimum requirements:
A clear statement of the diagnosis. If the report does not contain a line stating that the individual has a learning disability, then, without further clarification, there is not valid documentation to support the presence of a learning disability or the need for academic accommodation. (Statements that the student has a 'learning difficulty' or 'learns differently' are not sufficient.)
Scores from the tests administered and interpretation of them. The battery of tests used should contain widely accepted instruments, such as the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale-Revised, the Woodcock-Johnson Psycho-educational Battery-- Revised Tests of Achievement, etc.
Recommendations of appropriate academic accommodations. An explanation for recommending each accommodation should be provided, showing a clear relationship with the student's particular disability
Letters stating only that the student has a learning disability but which do not provide any diagnostic information or evidence of a history of accommodation are not acceptable. DASS reviews the documentation for diagnosis of a disability and the limitations experienced by the student. If the documentation is unclear, it may be referred to a psychiatrist for review, and those recommendations will be considered by DASS in the review process. DASS will make the final decision regarding the reasonable accommodations based on all of the relevant information, and in consultation with the student.
Students who are requesting a substitution of a degree or course requirement must provide documentation that the disability has a direct impact on their ability to fulfill the requirement and evidence of past attempts to do such work with academic accommodations. This documentation will be referred to the appropriate DASS staff member(s) to review and recommend particular accommodations to be communicated to the student through DASS. (See Section 10.6.)
Students who provide DASS with appropriate documentation from a professional trained to diagnose ADHD with either a medical degree or a doctorate in psychology, indicating a diagnosis of an attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, may be eligible for accommodations. For more specific guidelines for documenting ADHD, see our Guidelines for Documentation webpage.
Students whose disabilities are readily apparent are eligible for services. However, at times, documentation of the disability and the resulting functional limitations to the student may be required to assist DASS in determining reasonable accommodations. Such documentation must be prepared by an appropriate professional and should be current. In some circumstances, such as diagnosis of a disease with which DASS is unfamiliar, the documentation may be referred to a physician in the Memorial Health Center for review. Following review of the documentation, the physician will make recommendations for appropriate accommodations to DASS. DASS will make the final decision regarding reasonable accommodations based on all of the relevant information and in consultation with the student.
For students with some medical conditions, such as food allergies, it is expected that DASS will receive documentation to demonstrate how the condition reaches the level of a disability. If this is confirmed by DASS, the student will be referred to other campus entities, such as Dining Services and Residence Life and Student Housing, for consultation and implementation of accommodations.
Under FERPA, the University may not release information specifically identifiable to a student without the student's written permission, with some exceptions. This includes any currently enrolled student regardless of age. For parents to have access to student records, the student must have filled out a Declaration of Dependence with the Registrar or other acceptable form complying with FERPA’s consent requirements.
Generally, information about a student's disability will not be shared with anyone without the student’s written permission, and then only on a "need to know basis" as may be required to arrange reasonable accommodations for the student or some other legitimate educational reason, or as required by law. Forms for authorizing the release of information are available in Learning Enhancement Center. There may be times when it would be in the student's best interest to allow the release of selected information to University personnel attempting to help him/her, e.g., the Advising Center or a faculty member. If the student wishes his/her records or any information regarding the student to be shared with an individual outside the SMU community, the student must sign a Release of Information Form. However, if a DASS student requests a copy of his/her documentation to be sent to someone off campus, DASS will provide the documentation (one time) to the student themselves so he/she can share with others. Students should always keep a copy of their documentation before providing it to DASS for this exact purpose.
Using DASS Link, students upload their documentation to their electronic file, or if needed, DASS staff members will upload their documentation for them. Students will have direct access to their documentation and may copy and release it to whomever they wish, without DASS needing to be involved.
Early Enrollment is available in circumstances where the impact of a disability makes this accommodation advisable. For example, Early Enrollment would be appropriate to provide ample time to arrange interpreter services in class or to insure classroom accessibility for students with mobility impairments. Students must request Early Enrollment at the time of the intake interview. A student who is granted Early Enrollment must first meet with his/her academic advisor for academic planning prior to registration, as well as clear any holds or Service Indicators on his/her registration.
DASS will facilitate Early Enrollment for eligible students through communication with the Registrar's office. In general, early registration may enable students with documented disabilities to enroll as early as the first day of registration for their classification (i.e., senior, junior, sophomore, first-year). After registering, students who wish to change their schedules will do so during regular 'add/drop' times.
All students are responsible for completing the enrollment process during their appropriate time slot. Therefore, students who miss their enrollment time slots must wait until the next open enrollment period. Except in highly unusual circumstances, the DASS staff will not change the enrollment access time for students who fail to register on time.
The University provides services designed to make printed text material accessible when such an accommodation is appropriate. Students have access to Kurzweil e-text reading software at no charge. High-speed and topdown scanners are located in Fondren Library and other access points on campus. For students unable to use Kurzweil and/or the scanners and who are being supported by Vocational Rehabilitation agencies, but whose support does not meet all of their needs, DASS will aid in procuring or creating accessible print material.
Students who wish to use DASS reader services for exams should make their request as early in the semester as possible.
It may be a reasonable accommodation for a student to use special equipment in the classroom or in the preparation of class assignments. The University provides some adaptive equipment for general student use, and a list of such equipment is available in DASS. DASS staff will work with the student and faculty member to determine when it is reasonable for such equipment to be used in the completion of class assignments.
Students who believe they will benefit from using a personal FM System may make that request to DASS. Depending on the disability, DASS may refer the students to an audiologist who will make recommendations to DASS concerning whether the use of such equipment would be appropriate. DASS will make the final decision regarding this accommodation based on all of the relevant factors and in consultation with the student.
There are two main types of reasonable testing accommodations: (1) test-taking assistance and (2) extended test-taking time.
In all situations, the documentation submitted by the student must support the need for the accommodation requested. In such cases and upon student request, DASS will provide electronic letters for faculty via DASS Link establishing the student’s eligibility for services and enumerating the accommodations the student has requested and for which he/she is eligible. The student is expected to discuss their testing accommodations personally with his/her professor in a timely fashion, giving the faculty ample time to make arrangements for the testing accommodations. (See Section 10.3) At this meeting, the student should discuss with the instructor the type and method of accommodation he/she will need. The faculty member is under no obligation to provide testing accommodations to a student if that student has not requested that DASS send an Accommodation Letter to that instructor to verify the student's eligibility for such an accommodation.
If an instructor does not have the resources to administer a student's exam, the instructor may decide that the student should test at the University Testing Center (UTC). The UTC is located in the basement of Clements Hall and is not affiliated with the DASS office. Detailed steps for scheduling an exam at UTC can be found on their website: https://www.smu.edu/provost/provostoffice/saes/AcademicSupport/utc.
In rare cases, such as students who utilize a reader or a scribe for testing, a student may need to be proctored by the DASS staff. Students should consult with their DASS Coordinator or the UTC about the plan.
NOTE: Within the Dedman School of Law, individual professors do not administer tests, so testing accommodations must be made through the Law School's Associate Dean for Student Affairs. If the accommodation as arranged by the faculty member is not reasonable or if a faculty member refuses to make an approved accommodation, the student should notify DASS immediately.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a service animal means any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not service animals for the purposes of this definition. The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the individual's disability. The crime deterrent effects of an animal's presence and the provision of emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship do not constitute work or tasks for the purposes of this definition.
Students requesting an emotional support animal must use DASS’s established procedure for requesting this accommodation. Documentation presented for review must support the need for an emotional support animal and make a direct link between the impact of the disability on the student's functioning and the necessity of the animal. Residence Life and Student Housing must also approve in advance the allowance of a service animal or emotional support animal within student housing.
SMU Policy 1.17, Animals details limitations to animals on campus, including student housing, who is notified of the animal in student housing, procedures for faculty/staff living on campus, along with other relevant information about owner responsibility.
To determine if an animal is a service animal, a public entity or a private business may ask two questions:
1.)Is this animal required because of a disability?
2.)What work or task has this animal been trained to perform?
These questions may not be asked if the need for the service animal is obvious (e.g., the dog is guiding an individual who is blind or is pulling a person’s wheelchair). A public entity or private business may not ask about the nature or extent of an individual’s disability or require documentation, such as proof that the animal has been certified, trained or licensed as a service animal, or require the animal to wear an identifying vest.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has been asked to investigate websites that purport to provide documentation from a health care provider in support of requests for an ESA. The websites in question offer for sale documentation that is not reliable for purposes of determining whether an individual has a disability or disability-related need for an ESA because the website operators and health care professionals who consult with them lack the personal knowledge that is necessary to make such determinations.
The DASS staff provides academic assistance for SMU undergraduates with documented learning disabilities, ADD/ADHD, and students on the autism spectrum. This includes learning strategies instruction, self-advocacy skills, time management and organizational skill building, educational planning, and referring to appropriate resources (HDEV 1210: Academic Success and Personal Development, Students for New Learning student org., tutoring, professors, mentors, advisers, etc.).
Students should contact DASS to inquire about individual coaching, and the student and DASS Learning Specialist will work together to determine the goals of the sessions as well as frequency of sessions.
Last revision – August 2022
Thanks to The University of Texas at Austin for the use of its policy and procedure manual in designing SMU's policies and procedures.