What is a disability?

An individual with a disability is defined as any person who:

“has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities (including walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, working, caring for oneself, or performing manual tasks), has a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment.”

Isn’t “disability” and “handicap” the same thing?

A “disability” is a condition caused by accident, trauma, genetics or disease that may limit a person’s mobility, hearing, vision, speech, or mental function. A person may have more than one disability.

A “handicap” is a physical or attitudinal constraint imposed upon a person; for example, stairs, narrow doorways, and curbs are handicaps imposed upon people with disabilities who use wheelchairs.

Do I have the right to know the nature of a student’s disability?

The information regarding a student’s disability should be shared only when there is a compelling reason for disclosure. The U. S. Department of Justice has indicated that a faculty member generally does not have a need to know this information, only that it has been appropriately verified by the office assigned this responsibility on behalf of the institution. Students may submit their verification to the Office of Accessibility Services without disclosing to their instructors the specific nature of their disability. Upon a student’s request for accommodations, the university and the instructor are required by law to appropriately accommodate the student in a timely manner. While students are not required to share their specific disability information, students are encouraged to discuss their specific needs with their instructors.

Should I refer a student to the Office of Accessibility Services?

Faculty members are encouraged to refer students to the Office of Accessibility Services if the student has disclosed that they have a disability. We would be more than happy to provide brochures to any academic department that would like to have them available as a student resource.

How are accommodations determined for a student with a disability?

Reasonable accommodations are determined on an individual basis after considering the specific disability and documentation of functional limitations in accordance with the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA), the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. See the Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) at www.ahead.org and the OAS website at www.dsst.fsu.edu/oas for more information regarding documentation guidelines. Accommodations are designed to provide an equal educational opportunity not to give the student a competitive edge.

How do I verify the eligibility of a student who simply tells me that he or she is disabled and requires accommodations?

On the Florida State University campus the Office of Accessibility Services is regarded as the authority to verify disabilities and determine whether a student qualifies for academic accommodations. All students eligible for accommodations have presented the necessary documentation and been verified by the OAS staff. Please do not provide accommodations to a student unless the letter of accommodation has been provided to you. If a student tells you that they have accommodations but do not provide you with a letter, please refer them to the OAS to obtain a current faculty letter.

What is a reasonable accommodation?

A reasonable accommodation is a modification or adjustment to a course, program, service, job, activity, or facility that enables a qualified individual with a disability to have an equal opportunity to attain the same level of performance or to enjoy equal benefits and privileges as are available to an individual without a disability. Some common academic accommodations include extended time on tests, use of peer note takers, use of computer with spell check, and provision of sign language interpreters.

How does a person become eligible to receive accommodations?

To become eligible, a person must have a documented disability and inform the University that he or she is requesting accommodations based on that disability.

A student must:

  1. Contact the Office of Accessibility Services ;
  2. Provide specific documentation of the disability from a qualified professional;
  3. Consult with an advisor in Office of Accessibility Services to determine appropriate accommodations.

Who determines the accommodation?

Office of Accessibility Services staff determine the accommodations using:

  • Documentation of the disability from qualified professionals provided by the student,
  • Information gathered from an intake process, and information from history of the disability.

The determination of reasonable accommodations considers the following:

  • Classroom or physical barriers,
  • The array of accommodations that might remove the barriers,
  • Whether or not the person has access to the course, program, service, job, activity, or facility without accommodations, and
  • Whether essential elements of the course, program, service, job, activity, or facility are not compromised by the accommodations.

Won’t providing accommodations on examinations give an unfair advantage to a student with a disability?

“Accommodations don’t make things easier, just possible; in the same way eyeglasses do not improve the strength of the eyes, they just make it possible for the individual to see better. Accommodations are interventions that allow the learner to indicate what they know. Without the accommodations, the learner may not be able to overcome certain barriers.” (Samuels, M. 1992 — Asking the Right Questions. The Learning Center, Calgary)

Accommodations are designed to lessen the effects of the disability and are required to provide fair and accurate testing to measure knowledge or expertise in the subject. Careful consideration must be given to requests for accommodations when the test is measuring a skill, particularly if that skill is an essential function or requirement of passing the course, such as typing at a certain speed or turning a patient for an x–ray. In such cases, please contact a Office of Accessibility Services staff member for guidance.

The purpose of academic accommodations is to adjust for the effect of the student’s disability, not to dilute academic requirements. The evaluation and assigning of grades should have the same standards for all students, including students with disabilities. For many test takers, the most common accommodation is extended time. In specific circumstances, students may also require the use of readers and/or scribes, a modification of test format, the administration of examinations orally, or an alternative time for testing. For out–of–class assignments, the extension of deadlines may be justified, especially if the student is relying heavily on support services (readers for term papers, etc.).

How is extra time justified for students with learning disabilities?

Other students could improve test scores if they were allowed additional time as well. Various factors account for the need for extra time on tests for students with learning disabilities. These include: a) speed of processing; b) visual perceptual deficits; c) difficulty with mechanics of syntax, spelling and punctuation; and d) reading comprehension deficits. Research (at UC Berkeley, 1991 and the University of Toronto, 1993) on the effects of extended time on exams has shown dramatic improvements for students with learning disabilities, but only marginal improvement for students without learning disabilities. Rather than providing an unfair advantage in the class, extended time for exams allows these students to demonstrate their level of mastery of the course objectives, rather than reflecting the deficits innate to their learning disabilities. In other words, it ‘levels the playing field.’

What do I do when a student discloses a disability?

Ask for the Letter of Accommodation from the student; this letter describes the accommodations that faculty are legally mandated to provide. During an office hour or at another convenient time, discuss the letter and the accommodations with the student. Students MUST present a letter from the Office of Accessibility Services to receive accommodations. If the student does not have a letter, he or she should be referred to the appropriate staff member at the OAS to request services. OAS staff will determine the appropriate accommodations after reviewing documentation of the disability provided by the student.

What if a student doesn’t tell me about a disability until late in the semester?

Students have a responsibility to give instructors and the OAS adequate time to arrange accommodations. All Office of Accessibility Services staff encourage students to identify early in the semester. Instructors can help by extending in class and in the syllabus an invitation for students to identify themselves early in the semester: “Any student who may need an accommodation due to a disability, please make an appointment to see me during my office hours. A letter from the Office of Accessibility Services authorizing your accommodations will be needed.”

Once a student has identified to the instructor and requests disability–related accommodations authorized by the OAS, the University has a legal responsibility to make reasonable attempts to accommodate the need, even late in the semester. There is no responsibility to provide accommodations prior to identification; for example, allowing the student to re–take exams with extended time.

Can I review the student’s documentation of the disability?

The Office of Accessibility Services is the office designated to receive and interpret documentation of the disability. OAS staff certifies eligibility for services and determines accommodations. Disability information is confidential and students are not required to disclose this information to instructors.

What if I suspect that a student has a disability?

Talk with the student about your concerns regarding his or her performance. If the concern seems disability-related, work into conversation with the student information about the Office of Accessibility Services and how to apply for services. You cannot directly ask the student if they have a disability. Whether to self-identify to the OAS is the decision of the student; however, to receive accommodations, disclosure to the OAS with proper documentation is required.

If the student has never been evaluated for a learning disability and/or Attention Deficit Disorder/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, the OASr will provide a list of local resources where the student may be screened or tested. Some of the resources offer a sliding fee schedule.

What if a student with a disability is failing?

Treat the student as you would any student who is not performing well in your class. Invite the student to your office hour to discuss reasons for the failing performance and what resources the student may use to improve. Encourage the student to see the Office of Accessibility Services staff to discuss some additional strategies to improve his or her grades. Contact the OAS staff member working with the student to discuss any concerns.

What if a student with a disability is often absent?

Talk with the student to discuss your concerns that absences are affecting class performance. Remind him or her of your policy on class absences. Determine with the student whether the missed work can be made up and make arrangements with the student to do so. Refer the student to the Office of Accessibility Services if too much class work has been missed.

What is a note taker?

A note taker is usually another student in class who agrees to provide copies of lecture notes taken during class. The note taker may make copies of notes at the OAS or use carbonless note taker paper available at no charge from Student Disability Services. The note taker may also choose to type notes during class on a laptop computer and then email the notes to the student and/or upload them into the OAS online AIM student portal system where all students with the note taking accommodation in that specific course will be able to access the notes. For more information on the note taking process, refer to the Instructions: Note taking section.

How can I assist a student with getting notes?

The Letter of Accommodation will document the need for note takers. Students who cannot take notes or have difficulty taking notes adequately due to the effects of their disability can be accommodated in a number of ways including: allowing them to tape record lectures, assisting them in obtaining an in–class volunteer note taker, and providing them with an outline of lecture materials and copies of overhead transparencies.

What should I do if a student who is deaf or hard of hearing shows up in my class without an interpreter?

In the unlikely event that a student shows up for the first day of class without an interpreter, the student should be referred to the Office of Accessibility Services. The OAS will then attempt to schedule an interpreter or work with the student to rearrange his or her schedule into classes where an interpreter is already provided.

Who is responsible for requesting an interpreter?

Students requiring an interpreter for class must make the request to the Office of Accessibility Services. For outside class requirements, such as field trips or other assigned activities, as well as office hours, students should request the interpreter from the OAS at least two weeks ahead of time or more, depending on the event. The OAS cannot guarantee an interpreter when requests are made less than two weeks before the event.

Do I need to alter my teaching style with an interpreter?

Interpreters are professionals who facilitate communication between hearing individuals and people who are deaf or hard of hearing. The role of the interpreter is similar to that of a foreign language translator: to bridge the communication gap between two parties.

Some adaptations in presentation style may be helpful when using a sign language interpreter. The interpreter will let you know if you need to slow down your rate of speaking or if they need you to repeat any information. A desk copy of the book is especially helpful for the interpreter when the class is using examples or doing exercises from the text. Please realize that if students are looking at the interpreter, they cannot be reading a book, writing, or taking notes; a pause for the students to finish their task may be required before continuing the lecture.

What can I expect if there is an interpreter in my classroom?

Interpreters are bound by the code of ethics developed by the National Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, which specifies that interpreters are to serve as communication intermediaries who are not otherwise involved.

When an interpreter is present, speak directly to the deaf or hard of hearing person rather than to the interpreter, and avoid using phrases such as “tell him” or “ask her.”

Speak normally, noting that there may be a lag time between the spoken message and the interpretation.

When referring to objects or written information, allow time for the translation to take place. Replace terms such as “here” and “there” with more specific terms, such as “on the second line” and “in the left corner.”

In a conference room or class environment, the deaf student and interpreter will work out seating arrangements, with the interpreter usually located near the speaker.

Inform the interpreter in advance if there is an audiovisual element in a presentation, so arrangements can be made for lighting and positioning. All videos used in an academic course must be captioned to be accessible for the deaf student.

In sessions that extend longer than one hour, the interpreter may require a short break to maintain proficiency in interpreting.

What should I do if my class needs to evacuate the building due to an emergency?

Students should let you know at the beginning of the semester if they will need assistance during an emergency.

Students who are blind or have low vision may need a “buddy” to assist them exit the building.

Some students with head injuries or psychiatric disabilities may become confused or disoriented during an emergency and may also need a “buddy.”

Students who use wheelchairs should NOT use the elevator but should wait for Security to safely assist them to exit the building. Security has the schedules of students who will need emergency evacuation. To prevent injuries, instructors or other untrained personnel should NOT attempt to evacuate a student who uses a wheelchair. Please wait for trained emergency personnel.

What if a student has a seizure in my classroom?

The Office of Accessibility Services encourages students with seizure disorders to inform their instructors about what should be done if a seizure occurs during class time. Some students request that Security be called immediately; others request action as listed below. Seizures happen when there is a sudden electrical discharge in the brain. Each individual has a unique reaction. A seizure can result in a relatively slight reaction, such as a short lapse in attention, or a more severe reaction known as a grand mal, which involves convulsions. Seizure disorders are generally controlled by medication, so the possibility of a seizure in the classroom is rare. If one does occur, the following actions are suggested: Keep calm. Ease the student to the floor and open the collar of the shirt. You cannot stop a seizure. Let it run its course and do not try to revive the student. Remove hard, sharp, or hot objects that may injure the student, but do not interfere with his or her movements. Do not force anything between the student’s teeth. Turn the student’s head to one side for release of saliva. Place something soft under the head. Make sure that breathing is unobstructed, but do not be concerned if breathing is irregular. When the student regains consciousness, let him or her rest as long as desired. To help orient the student to time and space, suggest where he or she is and what happened. Speak reassuringly to the student, especially as the seizure ends. The student may be agitated or confused for several minutes afterward. Don’t leave the student alone until he or she is clearheaded. Ask whether you can call a friend or relative to help him or her get home. If the seizure lasts beyond a few minutes, or if the student seems to pass from one seizure to another without regaining consciousness, contact the campus Safety and Security office. This rarely happens, but when it does, it should be treated immediately.

What is the “OAS testing center”?

The Office of Accessibility Services has an in–house testing center located on premise. The main room holds roughly 30 students, and there are five individual rooms for those students who have “private room” as an accommodation. There are thirteen computers available for tests that are online or use digital media (such as images or recordings). Faculty is always welcome to come by the OAS to tour the facility.

Is the testing environment at the OAS monitored?

Yes. Exams are kept locked in a secure location until time to administer. The testing environment at the Office of Accessibility Services is monitored by physical proctors, video cameras and a remote system that allows staff members to see what students are doing on their computer screen during exams on which a computer may be used. Instructors are welcome at any time to visit our facility to insure that the integrity of the exam process is being upheld.

We are located in the Student Services Building, 874 Traditions Ways — Room 108.

In the event that academic dishonesty is suspected, our policy is to stop the exam and notify the instructor immediately. Our office does not make decisions on penalties, but will provide any information regarding what was witnessed.

What do I need to do if my student(s) will be taking exams in the OAS exam lab?

Students are responsible for scheduling tests to be taken at the Office of Accessibility Services testing center, but faculty are given immediate notification by email whenever a student does so. At that point it is incumbent on faculty to approve the time/date of the test and to deliver the test to the testing center supervisor in a timely manner. General expectations are that tests will be delivered at least two business days prior to the testing date, although more time may be needed if the test needs to be made accessible through conversion or by supplementing (e.g. tactile images for blind students). For complete information and instructions, please visit the “Instructions: Testing” section of this handbook.

What if my student needs information provided in an alternative format?

PLEASE NOTE: Document conversion, especially for students who are blind, is a time consuming process. Any time inaccessible materials are used in class, it causes a delay for the student trying to learn and use that information.

Ideally, all class materials should be created as fully accessible documents, including text books, required readings, class handouts, slide show presentations, videos, audio recordings, etc. For more information on how to make sure that the documents used in a class are accessible, please visit the “Instructions: Alternative Text/Class Materials” section of this handbook.

In the event that faculty use materials that are not accessible, it is incumbent on the student to request that those materials be converted into an accessible format by the OAS. The alt–text conversion team at the OAS attempts to work with faculty when needed to verify that text conversions are equitable.

For more information, please refer to the “Instructions: Alternative Text/Class Materials” section of this handbook.

Who is eligible to use the OAS Van service?

  • Students, faculty, and staff who have mobility impairments, temporary or permanent, may be eligible to use the Florida State Accessible Van. Priority will be given to those individuals with permanent mobility impairments, and every effort will be made to accommodate those with temporary impairments.
  • Potential riders must complete an application and provide documentation that supports the use of van transportation.
  • Only students, faculty, and staff who have mobility issues may ride the van.

Will the OAS van drive students to their off campus apartment or appointments?

No. The van is only for on–campus transportation. Transportation to and from campus is the sole responsibility of the rider.


Forms can be downloaded from the Forms page.