Department of English
FAQs: Responding to Students with Documented Disabilities

General Questions about Accommodating Students with Disabilities

1. How do I know if a student requires accommodation?
2. Do I have to sign the SAAR request form?
3. Once I have signed the form, what are my responsibilities?
4. What kinds of accommodations are we usually asked to provide?
5. Can I ask the student why they need the accommodation?

Responding to Specific Accommodation Requests

6. I have a student who needs extra time for an exam, how do I handle that?
7. I have a student who needs a Low Distraction Room for exams, how do I handle that?
8. I have a student who requires assistance to take exams, how do I handle that?
9. I have a student who needs a textbook on tape, how do I handle that?
10. I have a student who needs "Copies of Notes" or an in-class note taker, how do I handle that?
11. I have a student who needs an accommodation for attendance.  Attendance is a requirement for my course, how can I accommodate this request?

Follow-up Concerns

12. Is there anything else I can do to be proactive about Disability issues in my classroom?
13. My question is not addressed here, who can give me more information?


1. How do I know if a student requires accommodation?

Students must present you with a Student Academic Accommodation Request (SAAR) form, most often during the first two weeks of the semester. This means the student has worked with the Office of Disability Resources to establish that he or she is eligible to receive accommodation from the University.  Students typically present SAAR forms during the first two weeks of the term, however, they may do so at anytime. However, accommodations are not retroactive.

You can remind students to make requests early by including a statement on your syllabus.  (Here are some sample statements in a .WORD file.)

 
2. Do I have to sign the SAAR request form?

Eventually you will have to sign something, but if the accommodation requested is not clear to you, seems unreasonable or you are concerned that it may compromise the essential elements or integrity of the course you should NOT sign it immediately.  You should speak with the student to resolve the concern and call the Disability Resource Office (294-7220) for clarification.  Once the form is presented to you it IS your responsibility to either agree to the accommodation by signing the form and returning it to the student (keeping the pink copy for your records) OR to contact the student and Disability Resource Office about your concern and discuss other options if available.  In other words, no pocket vetoes are allowed—you must take one of those two steps. In compliance with the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and with Iowa State University's own non-discrimination policy, we are required to provide reasonable accommodations for students with documented Disabilities.

If you don’t know what the accommodation listed on the form means, ask for clarification.  If you don’t know HOW to carry out the accommodation, check here for questions, contact Jeslyn Jackson (the English Department Disability Liaison) or call the Disability Resources Office (294-7220) or send an email to John Hirschman in that office.


3. Once I have signed the form, what are my responsibilities?

Keep the pink copy of the form in a confidential secure location so you may refer to it. Provide the accommodation.  If the accommodation involves alternative exam structures, plan ahead. If the accommodation requires regular support like notes or copies of overheads, make a habit of making them available.  Keep the form in your confidential files for at least two years from the end of the semester.

 
4. What kinds of accommodations are we usually asked to provide?

Accommodations can take many forms. The two main categories we have seen are Exam Accommodations and Classroom Accommodations.

For Exams the most common requests are for “Extended time” and for a “Low Distraction Room.”  For Classroom Accommodations in our English Department courses, probably the most common requests are for “Copies of Notes,” “Copies of Overheads,” and “Spelling Not Counted for In-Class Work.”  The other accommodations are typically self-explanatory, for example, a vision impaired student may request front row seating and an increased font size for the exams.

One note: I have seen a slight increase in the number of students who request accommodation for “Absences.” Each class is different. This can be a special challenge to those teaching small classes or where participation is a key to the learning of the material.  The Disability Resource Office wants instructors and students to TALK about this kind of accommodation and they leave space on the form for you to indicate the MAX # of absences you could possibly accommodate and you can write in how these will be handled.

5. Can I ask the student why they need the accommodation?

No.  Many students volunteer this information, but they are not required to prove to you that they need the accommodation or to explain why.  We have to trust the judgment of the professionals in the Disability Resources Office.  If we have questions, we can contact them, but, by law, they are not allowed to talk specifically about the diagnosis of the student.

6. I have a student who needs extra time for an exam, how do I handle that?

There are various appropriate ways to handle this accommodation and it is appropriate to handle this need on your own. You can offer the solution you think works best for you, but you should discuss it with the students to make sure it works for them as well. Many faculty simply have students come to their offices to take the test there. This might be during office hours—if you have a place for the student to work—or during a time when you can get the student started before you go to a meeting or to class.  You may also schedule a room in which a student can take an exam.  You can reserve a room through the department’s online reservation system or, if nothing is available, you can contact Jeslyn Jackson in the main office in Ross to reserve a room. [jeslyn@iastate.edu or 294-3457]  Jeslyn will typically need 48 hours notice to get room scheduling to set this up.

 
7. I have a student who needs a Low Distraction Room for exams, how do I handle that?

There are various appropriate ways to handle this accommodation and, like the extended time accommodation we are expected to handle this accommodation within the resources available in the English Department.  You can offer the solution you think works best for you, but you should discuss it with the students to make sure it works for them as well. Many faculty simply have students come to their offices to take the test there; but this is only an effective accommodation if you can make sure that the space is actually Low Distraction enough to work for that individual student. You may also schedule a room in which a student can take an exam.  You can reserve a room through the department’s online reservation system or, if nothing is available, you can contact Jeslyn Jackson in the main office in Ross to reserve a room. [jeslyn@iastate.edu or 294-3457]  Jeslyn will typically need 48 hours notice to get room scheduling to set this up.

8. I have a student who requires assistance to take exams, how do I handle that?

There are various appropriate ways to handle this accommodation, but when a student needs a level of accommodation whether it is an exam reader, a scribe or a wholly non-distracting environment, planning ahead is crucial. Some faculty arrange a space for the student in the department and arrange for a work study student or volunteer classmate to provide the accommodation.  Other faculty will contact the Disability Resource Office to arrange to mail or drop off the exam so that someone in that office can provide the appropriate accommodation.  The disability resource office has developed a new online reservation system to handle these requests.  Use their Online Application Form for Exam Accommodations to make your request.  Requests must be submitted at least a week before the test needs to be administered. Testing Coordinator Lori Johnston (loricisu@iastate.edu) will handle your request.  The Disability Resources office has new testing space available in the Hixson-Lied Student Success Center on the southeast corner of campus.  When you fill out the request form you will clarify whether how you will handle delivery and pick up of the exam as well as what kinds of resources a student may use during the test.

9. I have a student who needs a textbook on tape, how do I handle that?

The first step is to be proactive by ordering your textbooks early!  The Disability Resource Office and the students in your class will begin the process of getting access to books months before the semester begins; the only way for a student to have a recorded book available by the first week of the term is to get their request in early.  Should textbook problems arise you will want to be in touch with the Disabilities Resources Office.  So, typically, providing audio version of the texts is NOT your job, but if you don’t order books in a timely way or if you make changes part way through the semester, you will need to provide assistance and exercise patience while the student and the office work to make the materials available in an appropriate form.

Sometimes the disability resources office will request a copy of the book from you before the semester begins. If you can give them a copy, they will take the binding apart, scan the book and convert it for student use.  If you do not have a extra copy of the book they will re-bind the book with a heavy duty spiral binding and you'll have a book you can use--and one that will lie flat.

 
10. I have a student who needs "Copies of Notes" or an in-class note taker, how do I handle that?

When the student brings you the SAAR form, discuss the particulars of the request.  If you provide class notes on a website to everyone, that may satisfy the needs of this student.  Some faculty will agree to share their lecture notes/outline.  This accommodation can be a challenge in discussion courses.  If your course uses a great deal of discussion, find out if taping the discussion will respond to the need of the student.  If it does not, you may need to recruit a note taker for the student.

The most common process is to announce the need for a note taker to the class (do not identify who it is who needs the note taker).  I've simply said: "The Disability Resources office has requested that I find a designated note taker for this class. So I am looking for a volunteer who writes legibly and is willing to share their class notes with a classmate. I'd also like to have someone who is willing to be a substitute when the regular note taker is absent. If you are interested let me know at the end of class or send me an email later today.  Taking good notes can certainly help you study, so this is a nice way to be helpful to others and to yourself."  Iowa students are often generous and respond to this request--sometimes making the request in an email will be equally effective.  Sometimes you have enough volunteers to move the responsibility around. 

Because taking good notes is an academic skill, you may consider awarding some kind of minor credit to the student volunteer--bonus points, quiz points, an extension "chip" or two to be used as needed.  Often the student note taker just rips the notes out of the carbonless paper notebook (provided by the DR office) and turns them in to you at the end of each class session; you can then pass them on to the student privately.  If the student requiring the accommodation is willing to identify him/herself to the note taker, then they can get the notes directly from the student.  Some student note takers will use laptops to accomplish their task; in this case they can email the notes to you and you can forward them to the student requiring the accommodation.  If the student note taker is willing, you might consider just posting those student notes to a website where all members of the class can benefit from them (and offer corrections as needed).

You can contact the Disability Resources Office to get the lovely carbonless notebooks.  If you are absolutely unable to recruit a volunteer scribe, there are limited additional options available.  You might take good notes yourself and pass them on or find funding for a paid scribe position.  The DR office has some funding for this, but it is limited and they won't cover more than half the cost so the department would be expected to cover the rest.  We all know that the department has little enough in resources for such a task, but since we are legally required to make the accommodation we would have to come up with some way to do this (shifting work study or grad student responsibilities?)  This accommodation is being provided all over campus, nearly always with student volunteers, so we should be able to handle it this way.  

 11. I have a student who needs an accommodation for attendance.  Attendance is a requirement for my course, how can I accommodate this request?

The attendance accommodation request is a request that must be discussed between instructor and student.  Never sign off on a SAAR form with an attendance accommodation request without clarifying and identifying the maximum number of allowable absences and the process to be followed (prior notice required? office hour visit required afterward?).  Remember that Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act asks us to make reasonable accommodations, not to change the fundamental learning outcomes for our classes.  It is our obligation to think broadly and creatively on behalf of students who have established a clear need for this kind of accommodation as indicated on a valid SAAR form.  If you want more guidance from a DR professional before signing off on a SAAR form requesting an attendance accommodation or any other questions related to accommodations, please feel free to contact the DR office at 294-7220.  They can't tell you why the student requires the accommodation (the student may volunteer this, but, as noted above, we do not have the right to know), but they can have a conversation with you about what might be a reasonable number of absences for that student given the context of your course.

12. Is there anything else I can do to be proactive about Disability issues in my classroom?

Certainly. A first step is to include a statement about accommodations on your syllabus for every class, every semester.  Here is a list of possible ways phrase this information.

Use the Disability Resource Office as a resource; read more and consider becoming an advocate for accessibility.

 
13. My question is not addressed here, who can give me more information?

Talk to colleagues.  Contact Jeslyn Jackson (the English Department Disability Liaison), call the Disability Resources Office (294-7220) or send an email to John Hirschman at jhirsch@iastate.edu. Faculty should also feel free to check in with outgoing disability liaison Amy Slagell (310B Carver) for assistance.