Frequently Asked Questions About Accommodating Students with Disabilities

What is a disability?

Federal disability law defines a person with a disability as an individual who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, including but not limited to performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, walking, communicating, reading, learning, and concentrating.

What is an accommodation?

An accommodation is the modification, adjustment, or elimination of a barrier to a program or service to enable an individual with a disability to participate on an equal basis. Extended time for test taking, conversion of documents to alternative formats, and real-time captioning are examples of accommodations.

How are reasonable accommodations determined?

Students must initiate a request for disability accommodations through Student Disability Services (SDS).  Students will be asked to submit required documentation as outlined in the SDS documentation guidelines and complete an intake meeting with an SDS staff member. SDS uses information gathered through an interactive process with each student in order to conduct a thorough assessment of the disability a student may have and the manner in which that disability poses a barrier to equal access to University programs and services.  SDS then determines eligibility for reasonable accommodations that provide such equal access, consistent with appropriate laws and industry best practices. When needed, a third-party expert reviewer may be consulted (i.e., a medical expert familiar with a particular student’s disability).

Should I provide a student with accommodations if I have not received notification from SDS?

No. In order to ensure that the University is following best practices and ensuring equal access under the law, and so that students have a full understanding of the scope of disability services available, students should be referred to SDS prior to accommodations being provided. Generally speaking, accommodations should not be provided on an informal basis. SDS will help the student use established procedures for requesting disability services, as well as fully explore all other barriers that might impact their ability to fully participate in the life of the University.

As an instructor, what is my responsibility in providing accommodations?

The University has an obligation to ensure students’ accommodations are met in an effective manner.  Instructors play a vital role in this process.  Instructors are responsible for ensuring that courses are accessible to all enrolled students and that the approved accommodations of students in the course(s) are implemented. While SDS has resources to assist with alternative format text, communication access services, notetaking, and exam proctoring, you have the primary responsibility to implement accommodations when given timely notice from the student. Please consult with SDS to discuss any questions or concerns regarding implementation of SDS approved accommodations in your course.

What should I do if a student discloses a disability?

While students have the right to withhold information about their disability, some may choose to disclose details. Once this information has been shared, instructors are required to maintain confidentiality. Students who disclose a disability but do not provide an official notice of an accommodation should be directed to SDS.

What questions can I ask a student regarding the nature of their condition?

The conversation should be focused on ensuring equal access in the classroom. Questions that can be addressed include:

  • Do you have access needs around class participation, attendance, or test taking?
  • What are some ways to ensure that you’re able to fully participate in the course?
  • What are some accommodations that you’ve received in other courses that have worked well?

Instructors may not inquire about specific details of a student’s disability, or request disability documentation or proof of a disability. If additional information is needed beyond what is included in the Accommodation Determination Letter, please contact SDS.

What types of accommodations or services are available?

SDS may grant classroom, testing, housing, interpreting, or alternative format accommodations. Additional information regarding accommodations and services is available on the SDS website (

What if an approved accommodation appears to be unreasonable or is a fundamental alteration of the core requirements of the course?

Instructors should work with SDS to explore options that meet the needs of the student and maintain the core requirements of the course.

How do I address questions from other students about why a student is receiving an accommodation?

Information about a student’s disability and accommodations is confidential. If students ask questions regarding another student’s accommodation (i.e. use of a laptop in class), instructors may state that the reason the student is allowed to use a computer is confidential.

Do you have suggestions for what to include in the course syllabus regarding students with disabilities?

The following statement establishes a welcoming environment for students to discuss their access needs:

University of Chicago is committed to ensuring equitable access to our academic programs and services. Students with disabilities who have been approved for the use of academic accommodations by Student Disability Services (SDS) and need a reasonable accommodation(s) to participate fully in this course should follow the procedures established by SDS for using accommodations. Timely notifications are required in order to ensure that your accommodations can be implemented. Please meet with me to discuss your access needs in this course after you have completed the SDS procedures for requesting accommodations.

To contact SDS: | (773) 702-6000 |

Does including technology in my course create issues related to accessibility?

Any technology used in courses should be accessible to students with different learning and physical needs. It may be helpful to contact the UChicago Center for Digital Accessibility for recommendations on making course materials accessible. Additionally, the SDS website has instructor resources on making accessible content available (

Do you have any advice on implementing accommodations effectively and efficiently?

Proactively thinking through the course structure and design can be helpful in ensuring that the course is as accessible as possible. It would be helpful to review information about Universal Design for Learning (UDL), the Testing Guide for Instructors, and the Best Practices section of the SDS website. Additionally, SDS can address questions about classroom accessibility and the implementation of accommodations.

What safeguards exist to prevent unauthorized release of materials, such as copies of slides, supplemental copies of notes, and/or recordings of my class lectures? What if I am simply uncomfortable being recorded?

All students have a right to access the course materials in an accessible format for their individual needs (i.e. recordings, print copies of slides). Students approved by SDS to record and/or receive alternative copies of course materials have either been asked to sign an electronic agreement with SDS that specifies the restrictions on sharing course materials, or they have been asked to sign an agreement form specific to their graduate/professional division (i.e. Law School Recording Agreement). Students found in violation of an agreement will be subject to disciplinary action, which may include expulsion. Additionally, recording violations may constitute a violation of federal and/or state laws.

Will I be notified of all student accommodations at the beginning of the quarter?

To use an approved accommodation, students are encouraged to notify instructors at the beginning of the quarter. However, SDS receives and approves requests for accommodations throughout the year, so instructors may receive notification later in the quarter. Instructors may require a reasonable amount of time to implement an accommodation (i.e., seven days to arrange for exam accommodations). Instructors need only to accommodate from the date/time of notice and are not obligated to retroactively accommodate a student.

Will I receive a notification from SDS for students who become ill or injured during the quarter?

Students with temporary, acute conditions are not required to register with SDS. Academic adjustments that are needed while a student is ill and recovering should be made within the course. The Dean of Students office can offer advice and information about addressing these short-term concerns.

When the illness and injury extends for a month or more, students should be referred to SDS for consultation about eligibility for disability accommodations. If a sick or injured student is approved for temporary accommodations, SDS will provide an Accommodation Determination Letter.

Am I able to request a doctor’s note to verify that a student with a disability needs to miss class or an exam?

No. A student who is approved for attendance flexibility has provided current documentation to SDS stating that the condition may result in absences. The student’s condition may not require a visit to the doctor for each acute episode that results in absence. As a result, SDS has given the Accommodation Determination Letter as confirmation of the student’s need for the accommodation. If there is a concern about the number of absences and its impact on meeting essential course requirements, please contact SDS.

What guidance do you have for implementing deadline extensions or attendance flexibility in my course?

Students who have been approved for deadline extensions and/or attendance flexibility should have the opportunity to adjust deadlines, take absences, and take make-up exams, providing that the accommodations align with essential course requirements.

Please review the Attendance and Flexibility Accommodation Agreement available on the Course Flexibility-Faculty page at the beginning of the quarter, which will specify how this accommodation(s) will be implemented in the course. The SDS staff is available to discuss the agreement and will maintain a copy of the finalized agreement.

What should I do if a student raises concerns regarding a course policy believed to exclude students with disabilities and/or create an access barrier?

Instructors can contact SDS to review course policies, discuss how it may impact various types of disabilities, and explore alternative solutions.

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