It’s become standard fare for instructors to include in a syllabus a statement of ADA accommodation. My syllabus are no different. I always include, somewhere near the “Academic Honesty” section (though the placement doesn’t matter), this sentence: “If you need adaptations or accommodations (due to a learning disability, different physical abilities, sensitivity to hall sounds or overhead lighting, etc.), if you have emergency medical information to share with me, or if you need special arrangements in case the building must be evacuated, please make an appointment to meet with me as soon as possible.”
Some might challenge this statement, saying that I need to refer students to the appropriate department (at Virginia Tech, that’s Services for Students with Disabilities, or SSD). Others might want me to include the word “documented” to modify “disabilities,” worrying that students without documentation will take advantage of my willingness to believe them.
For these challenges, I can only offer questions:
- What about students who have challenges to their learning that can’t be documented? Are documented learning challenges the only valid ones?
- How can we help students who find some stigma in the word “disability”?
I find nothing inherently wrong with specifying documented dis/abilities, but not all students seek that kind of help or know to get help from SSD. One of the responsibilities of instructors is to work with all students. I’ve found it helpful to guide students who believe themselves to have some sort of document-able condition toward SSD, not for my class, but for other classes that may require paperwork.
The single most important part of an ADA statement is what happens after. Following through on promises to help, looking out for students, listening to them– all these make the ADA statement meaningful.
But what about students who don’t like the word “disability,” for whatever connotations it has? I always include a section for finding help. In it, I point to librarians, the writing center, asking questions, and meeting with me as ways that can help students find success. Of course, not all students seek out the many ways that they can find help, but it’s our responsibility to give them the opportunities.
(Post inspired by “A New Obstacle for Students with Disabilities,” which discusses the accommodation difficulties with new instructional technologies.)