Frequently asked questions about disability accommodations.
What is a disability accommodation?
Bennington College provides reasonable accommodations to otherwise qualified students with documented disabilities when such accommodations are requested and necessary to ensure equal access to College programs and facilities. This is in compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act of 2008 and similar state laws. The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 defines a disability as a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits a major life activity: “Major life activities include, but are not limited to, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working.” It further defines a major life activity to include “functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions.” (Source)
Disabilities can fall into four major areas and are often “invisible”
- Cognitive: such as ADHD, learning disability, processing disorder
- Mental Health: such as depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorder, PTSD
- Medical: such as cancer, migraines, allergies, digestive disorders, AIDS
- Physical: such as vision, hearing, loss of a limb, cerebral palsy, mobility
The Director of Academic Services works with students, faculty, staff, and administrators to provide or arrange for reasonable accommodations based on disability. The Director of Academic Services also endeavors to assist students in becoming effective self-advocates and to facilitate an inclusive, supportive campus atmosphere that fosters respect and promotes independence.
Associate Dean of the College
(interim contact for academic accommodations)
How are reasonable accommodations determined?
All students with disabilities are encouraged to work with the Director of Academic Services to request reasonable accommodations and discuss the various supports available. However, the disclosure of a disability and a request for accommodations is an individual choice and one that the College can encourage but not require. Therefore, students wishing to apply for accommodations for documented disabilities, whether permanent or temporary, must take the lead (even if accommodations were in place at a previous school) in completing the Disability Accommodation Request Form, which is sent to all students upon acceptance to the College and available at any time online or in the Academic Services office or the Provost's Office. Documentation is required for all requests. Students typically submit a psychoeducational evaluation and/or the Documentation of Disability form found on page three of the Disability Accommodation Request form, completed by a licensed professional. Requests for accommodations are reviewed and approved on a case-by-case basis. Students are expected to work cooperatively with the Director of Academic Services to determine reasonable and appropriate accommodations. The Director of Academic Services works with students, faculty, and staff to ensure access to approved accommodations and to assess the efficacy of the accommodations provided.
Reasonable accommodations do not negate requirements for successful completion of a program, course, service and/or activity; adherence to College policies and procedures; or adherence to the College’s community and student conduct standards. Accommodations are considered unreasonable and would not be approved if they:
- fundamentally alter the nature or operation of the College’s programs, services, or activities;
- cause undue burden to the College; or
- pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others.
When should students request accommodations?
Requests for accommodations can be made at any time; however, in order for accommodations to be approved prior to the start of the term, completed forms and documentation must be submitted by June 1 for fall term and January 15 for spring term (these dates vary for Master of Arts and Postbaccalaureate programs). Requests made after the deadlines or during the term will be reviewed and determined as quickly as possible. Please refer students to the Director of Academic Services at any time during the term. It is important to note that accommodations are not retroactive; accommodation requests granted after the beginning of a term will not apply to previous work in courses for that term or previous terms.
When referring students, please know that the College does not provide psychoeducational evaluations to determine whether or not a student has a cognitive disability. If students express an interest in exploring this, the Director of Psychological Services can help them find local resources. In addition, students requiring attendant care services must make arrangements to provide for their own. The College does not assume the coordination or financial responsibilities for attendant care services.
How will I know if a student has been approved to receive accommodations?
Once accommodations have been approved, students will receive confirmation in writing along with a memo to faculty detailing the accommodations for which they have been approved. Faculty advisors are copied on the letter to students; however, course faculty are NOT notified when students in their courses have been approved to receive accommodations. Students are responsible for communicating with faculty and staff about approved accommodations and working with them to make arrangements for accommodations, where it is necessary to do so.
When students make you aware of their approved accommodations, please go through their accommodations memo together to determine which accommodations will be necessary given the structure of your course (i.e., extra time on in-class tests won’t be needed if there are no in-class tests or quizzes). This is also a good time to clarify expectations with students and to learn more about who they are as learners.
Faculty should NOT ask students about their specific disabilities, make judgements as to whether or not they are eligible for the accommodations, or encourage them to try to do the work without the accommodation. If you have any questions or concerns regarding the accommodations or how to talk with students about their accommodations, please contact the Director of Academic Services.
How do I communicate the fundamental expectations of my course?
Individual faculty set the content and technical and academic standards for their courses and, as is the case for all students, students with disabilities are expected to meet those standards. The course syllabus is the best place to clearly articulate the standards and expectations for the course along with how it will be assessed or determined that students are meeting those standards and expectations.
It is important to remember that accommodations that fundamentally alter a course or program are not reasonable. When there is a question as to whether or not an accommodation will fundamentally alter a course, the syllabus often provides the best guidance in answering this question, as this is where most faculty clearly articulate and share course expectations with students.
How should I handle the question of accommodations in my syllabus?
The course syllabus is a good place to provide a statement about how students go about accessing accommodations and to manage expectations about their role in making you aware of their accommodations. The following is a sample statement:
Bennington College provides reasonable accommodations to otherwise qualified students with documented disabilities when such accommodations are requested and necessary to ensure equal access to College programs and facilities. You should speak with Academic Services about any disability-related needs. After your disability has been verified and reasonable accommodations determined, you will receive a memo detailing your accommodations. It is your responsibility to provide me with the memo and discuss the implementation of accommodations, as needed, for this course. I will not be aware of your needs if you do not share this memo and discuss your particular needs with me. Accommodations are not retroactive, so the sooner we meet to discuss your needs, the better.
How are attendance accommodations determined?
Students with disabilities that affect attendance on a regular basis can request an attendance accommodation. Attendance accommodations are reviewed on a case-by-case basis between the Director of Academic Services and individual faculty. Faculty are not required to fundamentally alter their classes, though, and students should be aware that excessive absences may alter a class. In cases where it is not possible for a student with a disability to attend enough class meetings to successfully complete the course, a course withdrawal can be considered as alternate accommodation.
The OCR provides a list of questions to help guide colleges in determining if and when an attendance accommodation makes sense for a particular course. The guidance copied below from Elizabethtown College is particularly helpful, as it doesn't just list the OCR questions, but also offers guidance for faculty in thinking about how to apply them. It also reminds us to use a consistent process when determining attendance accommodations and document it.
Consideration of these guidelines can assist you in creating syllabi that clearly define the significance of attendance in your grading policy and course expectations.
“Please refer to the guidelines below from the Office of Civil Rights decision regarding Cabrillo Community College, Case No. 09-96-2150 (OCR Region IX 1996) in determining whether attendance is an essential aspect of a course:
- Is there classroom interaction between the instructor and students, and among students? Do student contributions constitute a significant component of the learning process? Does the fundamental nature of the course rely upon student participation as an essential method for learning?
- To what degree does a student’s failure to attend constitute a significant loss to the educational experience of other students in the class?
- What do the course description and syllabus say?
- Which method is used to calculate the final grade?
- And what are the classroom practices and policies regarding attendance?
- After these factors have been examined, a reasoned judgment should be made about whether a waiver [or adjustment] of the course attendance requirement would be acceptable.
- Pay attention to possible claims of differential treatment. Occasionally, a professor has a strict attendance policy on paper but has modified it for others. It is important to consider any exceptions you may have made; either to your own policy or that of the program/school, especially for nondisabled students (car accident, death in the family, unplanned surgery, flu outbreak, etc…)
- Regardless of the outcome, the deliberative process should be well documented, so that others who were not involved in the process can understand the alternatives considered and the reasons for the final decision.”
For more information on accommodations and support, please review the Accommodations and Support page. Academic Services welcomes suggestions for further content there or for this FAQ.