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Faculty FAQs

The following answers to Frequently Asked Questions may assist faculty in gaining insight into the disability accommodation process at Stanford.  Faculty are urged to call at 650-723-1066 or e-mail the OAE Office Manager with any questions or concerns.

Question #1.  If a student asks me to provide him or her with a disability-related accommodation in my course, what should I do?

The first thing to determine is whether the student has an Accommodation Letter setting forth the accommodations recommended by the OAE.  If the student does not have such a letter, do not seek to arrange accommodations with the student yourself; refer him or her immediately to the OAE.

Q #2.  What is an Accommodation Letter?

An Accommodation Letter is a letter from a Disability Adviser or Learning Specialist at the OAE, which lists the specific recommended academic accommodations for an individual student.  A student who has an Accommodation Letter, dated in the quarter in which the class is taking place, is currently registered with the OAE and has provided the OAE with medical documentation of his or her disability.

Q #3.  Who is responsible for determining appropriate accommodations?

The Office of Accessible Education (OAE) is the campus office designated to work with all Stanford students to put in place the appropriate accommodations at both the undergraduate and graduate levels (including the professional schools).  The OAE provides a wide array of support services, accommodations, and programs to remove barriers to full participation in the life of the University.

Q #4.  What does reasonable accommodation mean?

A reasonable accommodation is an adjustment designed to mitigate the impact of a student’s disability without compromising the integrity of an academic course or program.  Reasonable accommodations may include:

  • assistive technology
  • auxiliary aides such as sign language interpreters
  • instructional strategies
  • extended time to complete degree, etc.

Providing reasonable accommodations allows students with disabilities to have equal access to education and services at the University.  Students with disabilities are required to meet the same academic and technical standards as their non-disabled peers, using reasonable accommodations.

Q #5.  A student has asked for accommodations. How do I know the student truly has a disability and needs accommodations?

You may ask the student to provide you with an Accommodation Letter from the OAE verifying that he or she has a disability. The student, if registered with the OAE and after providing documentation that the OAE determines supports the accommodation, is provided with a letter that details the required accommodations to which they are entitled so long as they do not fundamentally alter an essential component of your course. For every student registered with the OAE, the office has a file with documentation of the disability. For reasons of confidentiality, the nature and specifics of the disability are not disclosed to faculty and teaching staff.

Q #6.  When is a student required to notify me of a need for accommodations?

The OAE encourages but cannot require registered students to provide instructors with their Accommodation Letter at the beginning of each quarter. A student can register with the OAE or present his or her Accommodation Letter to you at any time during the quarter.  Accommodations, however, are not retroactive.

Q #7.  Do I need to be presented with an Accommodation Letter each quarter for the same student if I have him or her in another class or another quarter?

Yes, the student is required to provide you with an Accommodation Letter dated in the current quarter for each course. You cannot assume that once a student is eligible the first time, he or she is eligible the next time. Also, a student's accommodation needs may vary from quarter to quarter or from course to course.

Q #8.  Should I provide accommodations to a student who does not present an Accommodation Letter?

If a student asks for an accommodation but does not deliver an Accommodation Letter from the OAE verifying eligibility for academic adjustments, it is strongly recommended that you contact the OAE or direct the student to contact the OAE.  Similarly, if a student asks you for an accommodation, and that specific accommodation is not listed in the letter from OAE, you are not obligated to provide it.  To reiterate, you are urged not to seek to arrange by yourself accommodations for the student; refer him or her instead to the OAE.  If you are ever uncertain about your obligations, please call at 650-723-1066 or e-mail the OAE Office Manager.

Q #9.  Am I required to provide exam accommodations to students who request it?

Yes, if such accommodations are set forth in the student's Accommodation Letter from the OAE (see Questions #1 & #2).  The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 504, as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the ADA Amendments Act protect students with disabilities. These laws require that qualified students with disabilities must have equal access to an education, including exam accommodations.  If you believe that the recommended accommodations fundamentally alter an essential component of your course, see the answer to Question #15 below.

Q #10.  Am I allowed to request disability documentation from the student?

No. Stanford has designated the OAE as the repository of all disability documentation for students with disabilities. Documentation stating and describing a student's disability is confidential information. Recognize that most students feel very vulnerable in disclosing their accommodation needs to faculty.

While faculty may be able to surmise the condition on the basis of the accommodations, probing for disability information is inappropriate.

Q #11.  Do I have to keep the student's disability information confidential?

Yes! Faculty should always keep disability-related information confidential. For many students with disabilities, disclosure of their disability is a very personal and sensitive matter. You can always contact the student's assigned OAE staff member if there are any questions, issues, or concerns. Inappropriate disclosure of disability information must be avoided.

Q #12.  Do I have to allow students to use technology in my courses?

There are instances when an OAE student will need to use various technologies during your class. These will be outlined in the Accommodation Letter. This may include, but is not limited to, a laptop to take notes, a tape recorder to audio record class lectures, and other types of technology as needed.

Q #13.  What if I have a policy specifically banning the use of laptops?

If a laptop is an approved accommodation, a policy modification for the student with a disability is reasonable. In order not to publicly identify the student with a disability the instructor is encouraged to state on the syllabus something like the following:  "Exceptions for the use of a laptop may be granted for compelling reasons at the discretion of the instructor."

Q #14.  Am I required to lower the standards of a required assignment because the student has a disability?

No. Standards are the same for all students; however, some students with disabilities may use accommodations to exhibit their knowledge, their production, and their meeting of other course expectations differently than their peers. For example, a student with low vision may produce an essay exam by using a computer or scribe rather than writing out an answer. The quality of the work should be the same.

Q #15.  What should I do if I believe an accommodation listed in the Accommodation Letter fundamentally alters an essential element of my course?   Do I have any recourse if I disagree about recommended accommodations?

Yes. Academic adjustments listed in the student’s Accommodation Letter are open for negotiation. You can and should bring your concerns about specific accommodations to the assigned OAE staff member working with your student. It may be that a different accommodation would be better suited to your particular course and the OAE staff member can help develop the alternative.

Q #16.  Do I have to alter my attendance policy?

No. You are under no obligation to alter or waive your attendance policy. However, you are strongly encouraged to identify and determine how much attendance is considered an essential part of your courses. The OAE may make recommendations to faculty about unique circumstances where attendance considerations would be beneficial. Attendance considerations for students from the OAE always carry a "standard of reasonableness" with them. It is always good practice to clearly state on your course syllabus your attendance requirements.

Q #17.  I've been debating about the textbook and other course materials I want to use for my class, but the OAE keeps asking for this information?  Do I have to provide it?

The short answer is, “yes.” Textbook publishers are often not able to provide books in digital formats that are usable or acquired in time for a course. Publishers do grant authorization to create digital copies of traditional texts for eligible students with disabilities. However, textbook conversion is a time-consuming, labor-intensive task. Every quarter the OAE creates screen-readable text (e-text), Braille, or other formats for students.

Students need to be able to access their textbooks at the same time as others in the class. By delaying the selection of textbooks, the OAE may not be able to get material converted to an appropriate format in a timely fashion. This means students may have to start the quarter without access to their textbooks.

Q #18.  I have a student who is having difficulty in my class. I think he or she may have a disability. What should I do to help him?

Talk privately with the student to discuss your observations. The student may reveal he or she has a disability. If this is the case and the student is registered with the OAE, suggest that he or she talk to a disability adviser in the office.

If he or she is not aware of any particular difficulties, he or she may still be referred to the OAE for an intake appointment.  It is not unusual for high ability students to be identified with a learning disability at the college level.  Often the compensatory strategies used at the secondary level are no longer adequate in a demanding university setting. Suggest that the student call the OAE at (650) 723-1066 for further information.

Q #19.  A student with a disability has requested that he take an exam in a separate location that is less distracting than a classroom.   How do I know that the student will not be getting an unfair advantage?

The OAE recognizes that faculty try to avoid, as far as practicable, academic procedures that create temptations to violate Stanford’s Honor Code. Students taking exams in a separate location from the class are reminded by OAE staff of their obligation under Stanford University’s Honor Code. If you have reason to believe the student committed an Honor Code violation, you should follow through with the usual reporting procedures established by the Office of Judicial Affairs.

Q #20.  A student came to me in the sixth week of the quarter requesting accommodations. I believe this is too late to ask for accommodations and arrangements should be made at the beginning of the quarter. I even made an announcement on the first day of class to meet with me about these arrangements. Do I have to provide accommodations for someone this late?

In many instances, “yes.” There are numerous reasons why a student makes a late request. Perhaps he or she could not get documentation of his or her disability any earlier and, therefore, could not initiate accommodations earlier. Some students try to take a class without accommodations but find that they aren't doing well and need accommodations. Whatever the reason, students may make requests for accommodations any time during the quarter.

On the other hand, there may be some situations where students make a request for accommodations so late that appropriate arrangements cannot practicably or reasonably be made. An example of such a request might be a student requesting an entire textbook be converted to alternate format at the end of a quarter.

The University is obligated to provide accommodations only at the point when a student makes a request, and you and the OAE are able to make appropriate arrangements. The student is too late if he or she reveals a disability after the completion of a class and requests a change in grading basis to Credit/No Credit or a deletion of a poor grade, for example.  Accommodations are not provided retroactively.

Q #21.  I have a student with a disability who is behind in his homework. This student has missed a number of classes and has not handed in several assignments. Although the student has taken a midterm and used accommodations, the student received a D for the midterm. At this point, the student is not passing the class. Do I have a right to fail a student with a disability?

The student with a disability has the same right to fail as anyone else. Their work should be equivalent to his or her peers. It may be a good idea to discuss your concerns with this student, just as you would with anyone else in your class who is experiencing difficulty.

Q #22.  I have a blind student in my chemistry lab. How is the student going to participate and be graded in their lab work?

When it is impossible for a student to independently carry out certain manual or visual tasks, the OAE generally will hire a laboratory assistant for the student.  The student is expected to direct the lab protocol and provide the lab assistant with explicit instructions for performing the various tasks. In turn, the lab assistant can give a detailed verbal description of the experiment in process as it is actually happening. Some laboratory equipment has audible output  (talking voltmeter and conductivity meter etc.) that may be operated independently by a student who is blind.