Policies and Legalities
ADA/AA on Accessibility & the Role of Accommodations
Reasonable accommodations are provided to students with disabilities when the existing curriculum or learning environment is inherently inaccessible. For example, a student with auditory processing difficulties may be permitted to audio record in class, so that they have the ability to listen to the lecture again later on while studying. A similar accommodations might be provided to a student with severe ADHD who may not be able to focus their attention on the lecture and take down notes simultaneously.
Before the amended ADA laws, these students may have been told to take a different class or forced themselves to struggle through it. Now, these students have a federally-mandated civil right to be provided with equal access to the same education and college services that are offered to other students.
What is a "Reasonable Accommodation"?
Applicable federal laws indicate that disability accommodations are "reasonable" adjustments to a course, program, service, job, activity, or facility. It enables a qualified student with a disability the opportunity to attain the same level of performance or to enjoy benefits and privileges that are available to a similarly situated student who does not have a disability. All reasonable accommodations are individualized based on the nature of the disability and the academic environment, and are discussed with each student individually. Still, since the majority of students receiving services in college are registered with their college for "learning disabilities", the same accommodations tend to be applicable across the board. Learn more about "common accommodations" on the SAS website.
Accessibility Before Accommodations
One poorly understood, yet critical element of the ADA is that all programs and services must be made universally accessible FIRST, and if needed, accommodations should be provided to make up for the lack of accessibility. Many educators assume that accommodations should be provided to all students with disabilities, but in reality, the ADA and related regulations have a clear mandate for integration in the "least restrictive environment possible". In the classroom, that can translate to the design of courses that are universally accessible to as many different types of qualified students as possible.
When the content of a course is only delivered to students verbally or when the material is only provided in a printed format, the course becomes inherently inaccessible to students with certain disabilities. The course also becomes less engaging for many students who have mixed or kinesthetic learning styles. Creating a course that is built on Universal Design concepts can open up the course content to different types of learners and it reduces the need to provide individual accommodations.