FAQs

Click on any question below for its corresponding answer. Please contact AccessibleNU to share your questions and concerns so that we can keep our pages updated and useful to you. Student FAQs are also available.

How will I know if a student needs accommodations?

You will receive an email from AccessibleNU notifying you that a student requires accommodations for the duration of your course and identifying the specific accommodations for which they are eligible. (Students may also print and hand-deliver a copy of this notification.) Students are encouraged to make appointments with their instructors to discuss accommodation needs at the beginning of each quarter. Please alert students if they should also provide a notification to a TA, lab instructor, or other individual. Keep in mind that the student must initiate the request for an accommodation email; AccessibleNU cannot notify you without the student's explicit request.

Is there a statement I can include in my syllabus to encourage ANU students to approach me early in the quarter?

Yes, our recommended statement:

"Any student requesting accommodations related to a disability or other condition is required to register with AccessibleNU (847-467-5530) and provide professors with an accommodation notification from AccessibleNU, preferably within the first two weeks of class. All information will remain confidential."

How are accommodations fair? Is there any research to support their fairness?

AccessibleNU, like most disability services offices, does not operate under the definition of fairness that everyone should receive the same thing. Instead, we define fairness as we would equal access: everyone should get what they need. Although AccessibleNU students have met the same rigorous admission standards as all students and are qualified to be here, their conditions put them at a disadvantage in certain areas. They therefore need different things (i.e., accommodations) from other students in order to demonstrate their capability.

AccessibleNU students have provided detailed documentation of their condition from professionals in the field, and the documentation must demonstrate that the student's condition significantly, adversely impacts their functioning (i.e., is at the level of a disability). Disability experts in AccessibleNU review the documentation, sometimes asking for more documentation, prior to determining reasonable accommodations in conjunction with the student. Some students' requests for accommodations are turned down if there is not sufficient evidence of a significant functional impact of their condition. 

One of the most common academic accommodations is the provision of extra time, for many conditions such as learning disabilities, AD/HD, motor difficulties, and conditions treated with medications (which often cause side-effects) interfere with a student's memory, attention, and/or speed of processing or productivity. Mutliple studies (e.g., Runyan, 1992; Alster, 1997; Weaver, 2000) serve as the foundation for the fairness of the extra-time accommodation, for they have found that students without learning disabilities tend to finish standardized tests in the allotted time (and don't need extra time); in contrast, students with learning disabilities do not finish. Since both groups know the information and perform accurately, extra time significantly improves the performance of students with learning disabilities, allowing them to show what they know, while it does not impact the performance of students without learning disabilities.

How can I tell a student about your office without offending them?

Connect what classroom behaviors and concerns you are seeing to why you suggest the student approach AccessibleNU. Make sure to focus on the behaviors as opposed to making general statements about the student as a person. In other words, you might say,

  • "I notice that your answers on tests are typically correct but that you almost never finish your tests. Is this new, or has it been an issue in the past?"

  • "I've noticed you've seemed tired/stressed/etc. in class and I wanted to check in with you to make sure everything is okay?"

  • "What aspects of this class do you find challenging/easy, or what do you wish I would change about the class to make it better for you?"

  • "Tell me about your study approach to this class. Have you explored any additional resources to assist in your classes?"

Students are typically pretty quick to open up and share in response to queries such as these, which then provides you with the opening to suggest approaching AccessibleNU. Some students may not even be aware of us and will be happy for the suggestion. 

In addition, we hope that changing our name to AccessibleNU will make it easier to refer students. Moreover, we recommend:

  • Including our recommended syllabus statement and referencing it at the beginning of the course also introduces AccessibleNU and then allows you to remind students of your statement in the syllabus.

  • Consider making referencing other resources such as the academic support resources listed on the NUHelp site in your syllabus.

  • Sharing that AccessibleNU serves almost 800 students and that disability is a domain of diversity, both of which can serve to destigmatize the idea of approaching AccessibleNU for students. 

  • Informing students that about 20% of those registered with AccessibleNU don't find out they have a condition that qualifies for accommodations until they are in undergraduate or even graduate/professional schools because they are so bright and adept at compensating.

Following the above recommendations makes it easier to have difficult conversations such as this one with your students because you can easily refer back to your syllabus and ask the natural follow-up question of any student by asking any concerned student, for example, "Have you tried any of the academic support resources recommended by NUHelp?"

What if an AccessibleNU student requests accommodations beyond those listed in their accommodation email?

Although this issue doesn't arise frequently, please direct the student back to AccessibleNU. It is possible that further review of their documentation on file or requesting additional documentation will provide the necessary support for AccessibleNU to approve the new accommodation. If so, you will receive a revised accommodation email that includes the new accommodation. If you feel that a student is misrepresenting their accommodations or is pressing you to go beyond what their accommodation email specifies (e.g., asserting that you should provide them double time on a test even though they're approved for only time and a half), please contact AccessibleNU yourself. We may also direct you to contact the appropriate academic dean since misrepresenting one's accommodations could constitute an academic integrity violoation.

How do I work with students requesting exceptions due to injuries or illnesses?

If you are prepared to excuse an absence, provide extra test time, or make other considerations for a student with an injury or illness but would like verification of the student's condition, please contact Health Service. If the student has not worked through or provided third-party medical documentation to Health Service and signed a release of information, the student will need to take these steps for Health Service to verify their condition. Please refer to Health Service's policy and procedures related to academic work missed for medical reasons for more detailed information. On occasion, it may be appropriate for a student with an injury or illness to register with AccessibleNU.

May I provide accommodations to a student for whom I do not receive an accommodation notification?

If a student makes reference to having a disability or other long-term condition and asks for an accommodation but you have not received a notification from AccessibleNU verifying eligibility for accommodations, it is strongly recommended that you contact AccessibleNU or ask the student to contact us. In general, we recommend that you not provide special consideration for a student about whom AccessibleNU hasn't notified you unless you are open to providing this consideration for anyone else in the class who approaches you.

Similarly, if a student asks you for an accommodation, and that specific accommodation is not listed in the accommodation notification from AccessibleNU, you are not obligated to provide it. Please see the previous question for more information about students requesting exceptions pertaining to illness or injury.

If you are ever uncertain about your obligations, please review our faculty rights and responsibilities and contact us (847-467-5530) right away.

How are testing accommodations arranged?

We encourage the students to discuss with you possible ways to arrange their testing accommodation. There are advantages for students to take the exams with you or their TAs because students can readily ask questions, and if there are any changes during the exam, students would be quickly informed of such changes. Students can either come earlier to start the exam before the rest of the class begins or stay longer after all the other students have left the exam room.

Another option is for you to make arrangements to have the students take the exam in your office or a separate room proctored by you or your TA. Each student with testing accommodations does not need a separate room--students, even those with the "reduced-distraction testing room" accommodation, can be tested together. A separate, private testing room is needed only when that is specified in a student's  accommodation notification.

What if a student alerts me at the last minute about testing or other accommodations?

Please refer any student who approaches you for accommodations with little notice to the AccessibleNU Center or otherwise notify us so that we can advise you and the student. You are not required to provide accommodations for a student who provides little to no notice.

  • If the student is not registered with AccessibleNU, we will determine if they are eligible for services and instruct them on how to properly notify professors about their need for accommodation on future exams and make arrangements in advance.

  • If the student is registered with AccessibleNU, contact AccessibleNU immediately at 847-467-5530, for we may be available to proctor the exam if you are not able to do so and will work the student to reduce the likelihood of this late notification happening again. If neither AccessibleNU nor you are available to provide accommodations to the student, however, the student will need to forego accommodations on this particular exam.

Although it is not your responsibility, it never hurts to reach out a week before an exam to any students who have notified you about their need for accommodation but have not followed up to finalize arrangements to try to avoid this predicament. Students are instructed by AccessibleNU to follow up with professors regarding test-proctoring arrangements (e.g., to determine if you will proctor or if AccessibleNU will) right after their accommodation notifications are sent, but they unfortunately don't always do so.

What if I am unable to accommodate the student?

If you and your TA are unable to proctor a student's exams because of their need for accommodation, alternative testing arrangements, including extended time for testing and computer access, can be made through the AccesibleNU Center. In these cases, it helps us greatly if you:

  1. Fill out the Alternative Testing Contract link that appears in the red box in a student's accommodation email. You only need do this for one student in your class--we can copy the contract for the rest of the students.

  2. Remind students that they are responsible for logging onto AccessibleNU's database and scheduling an exam 5 working days prior to each exam they need to take in our center

  3. Once the student has requested AccessibleNU to proctor the exam, you will be notified via email and required to confirm exam-related details such as the following:

  • What is the length of time given to your class to complete this exam?

  • What time is the exam scheduled?

  • If there is a scheduling conflict for a student or our office due to extended time required to complete an exam, would you prefer the student take the exam earlier or later than your planned administration time?

  • Are any aids, such as calculators or notes, permitted?

  • How would you like to handle test delivery? Tests can be faxed (847-467-5531) or emailed to AccessibleNU. Often faculty members or teaching assistants drop off and pick up exams. If approved by faculty, students can also pick up and return their tests in signed, sealed envelopes.

Do I have to provide the accommodations listed in the accommodation email if they do not fit with my philosophy or style?

Yes. Federal law requires that students who present the appropriate documentation and who are registered with AccessibleNU are entitled to the accommodations listed in instructor letters. Providing accommodations is a shared obligation of Northwestern University faculty and staff. If you are concerned that the accommodations interfere with the essential elements of your course (e.g., a student's accommodation notification requests occasional flexibility with deadlines but your class has a peer-editing component), please contact AccessibleNU immediately so that we can work out a mutually amenable solution or, in cases where this is not possible, the student can make a timely decision to drop the course.

What accommodations are appropriate?

AccessibleNU grants accommodations to students with documented disabilities based on the recommendations of medical, mental health, cognitive, or other appropriate professionals and on the needs of students. The accommodations deemed reasonable to support these otherwise qualified students should not fundamentally alter instructional programming, and we ask that you contact AccessibleNU as opposed to approaching the student if you feel that the student's accommodations do fundamentally alter your programming.

Examples of accommodations include:

  • extended time for testing

  • alternative test locations to reduce distractions

  • access to materials in alternative formats

  • use of note-taking services

All students, including students with registered with AccessibleNU, are expected to attend class and turn assignments in on time. It is not a standard policy of AccessibleNU to allow students to be exempt from due dates or other essential components of their courses, but in some instances, arrangements for due date extensions are recommended if a student’s symptoms are acute or their condition is variable in nature. Your flexibility, when possible, is always appreciated and may mean the difference between a capable student being able to take or not take a class.

May I talk to students about their disabilities?

Some students may wish to keep specific disability information confidential, while others may choose to openly discuss their diagnoses and all related information with you. The decision to disclose disability information is made by the student, and you should therefore not ask them what their disability is or for any documentation of their condition. In most cases, you can best accommodate students by asking about their needs related to learning and fulfilling the requirements of your course. Most students who are aware of your efforts to accommodate them are appreciative.

Are there any general modifications I might consider to make my courses more accessible?

Yes. Here are some ideas:

  • Please include our syllabus statement.

  • Consider sharing your notes with the class and providing them in electronic format and even in advance of class for students who process information more slowly. Text in electronic form can be paired with screen-reading software, which makes printed material accessible for students with various learning disabilities, visual impairments, or limited mobility. Additionally, students who qualify for use of note-takers can access electronic notes independently, instead of relying on classmates to make copies of notes.

  • Consider students’ diverse learning styles when developing lectures and assignments. Any one of your classes may include students with reading difficulties, auditory processing deficits, and other learning disabilities or weaknesses. You can contribute to the success of your students by incorporating multiple media into your lectures and by varying the formats. For example, consider presenting a topic orally and reviewing it with an activity or with a written handout.

  • Provide clear copies of handouts and ideally, provide them in advance of class. When handouts are copied clearly, they can be easily scanned onto disk for use with screen-reading or braille-conversion software. This software is made available to students by AccessibleNU.

  • Please see our Universal Design for Learning pages page for more ideas.

I'm reluctantly allowing an AccessibleNU student to use a computer in my no-laptop course. How can I preserve the student's confidentiality?

A WCAS professor came up with a great solution to this quandary: explain to the class that only students registered with AccessibleNU or students taking notes for an AccessibleNU student can use a laptop.

One SoC professor decided to rethink her no-laptop policy after having a few AccessibleNU students in her classes who required laptops but decided to ask any students using laptops to sit in a particular area of the classroom so students who could abide by the no-laptop policy were not distracted by peers' laptop use.

Providing copies of your notes, especially in advance, also makes it less likely that students who require a laptop for note-taking will need one in your course.

A student in my class engages in distracting, non-academic computer use despite my syllabus policy. When I expressed my concerns to him, he shared that he has AD/HD. Is my computer policy reasonable, particularly for someone with AD/HD?

There's no easy answer to your question, as every student and class is different. The short answer to your question is generally "no," a student with AD/HD shouldn't be shown leniency on a classroom policy unless a variety of other means have been tried and failed. Moreover, the learning (accommodated or not) of student with a disability shouldn't interfere with other members of the class.

Before responding to the student, however, here's some additional information AccessibleNU encourages you to consider (and feel free to consult with us anytime). For many students, looking on Facebook is an updated form of doodling in one's notes. However, most research finds that multi-tasking is not a productive use of students' time even if they feel it helps them to focus. (I would argue that those studies probably didn't include students with AD/HD, although not all the students we work with who have AD/HD are good multi-taskers. Some, on the other hand, do swear by multi-tasking, and more of them than students without AD/HD, I find.) Also, there are lower tech ways to manage fidgety/distracted sorts of behaviors in class: the student could bring a koosh ball, silly putty, jewelry, or a watch to play with discretely, etc. Students need to develop ways of managing their behaviors that don't distract others, and AccessibleNU works with students in an AD/HD coaching capacity to try to assist in these areas (if you want to refer a student to ANU). One very important thing to consider is if it's disrupting your class. If it is, you're well within your right to make a policy that all students have to abide by. All students, including those with AD/HD, will need to learn to manage their symptoms through medication, coaching, and/or other means, and they will not always be able to have their preferred learning method in place.

There are a few cases where students are granted the use of a computer for note-taking due to writing-related disabilities (they may also happen to have AD/HD or just a writing-related disability), which is tougher to have a policy on, although that student could still be provided a note-taker by AccessibleNU if having a computer in a class that otherwise usually doesn't allow computers is causing a problem. As a final note, if this student is requesting any accommodations or special consideration, you should be provided with an accommodation notification from our office beforehand.

Where can I get more information about AccessibleNU?

Search more of the faculty pages on this website, call us at 847-467-5530, contact AccessibleNU via email, or stop by our office. We look forward to working with you!