Documentation Guidelines

What Constitutes a Disability?

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990,

An individual with a disability refers to refers to an individual with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, has a record of such impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment. Major life activities include learning, seeing, hearing, breathing, and many others. 

The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 emphasizes that the definition of disability should be construed in favor of broad coverage of individuals to the maximum extent permitted by the terms of the ADA and generally shall not require extensive analysis.

Accommodation Request Review Process

AccessibleNU staff and students work together via an interactive process to determine appropriate academic accommodations, if any, for each student on a case-by-case basis. AccessibleNU staff often find they are in the best position to assist when they can start by reviewing any documentation regarding a student's disabling condition and the functional limitations experienced by the student. Moreover, the student provides the clearest explanation of the functional limitations during the intake appointment.

  • A diagnosis of a disorder, condition, or syndrome in and of itself does not automatically qualify an individual for accommodations.
  • The condition must have a significant, adverse impact on the student's functioning in order to qualify for accommodations.
  • If a student's documentation (if provided) is unclear, it may be referred to other professionals on campus for review and recommendation.
  • Additional information may be requested to verify a student's condition or to substantiate particular accommodation requests especially when a student is not able to clarify the need for a particular accommodation.

Explanation of the Benefit of Documentation

AccessibleNU finds it beneficial when a student provides any documentation that references a diagnosis of their condition, defines the functional limitations they will experience in an academic environment, and describes appropriate academic accommodations. Documentation is not intended to put a student in the position of proving their disability and is less needed when a student's condition is apparent; the intent is to put AccessibleNU in the most knowledgeable position possible to advocate for a student if requested to do so by the student.

In order for decisions to be made regarding the appropriate accommodations for each student, documentation of the condition by a licensed professional unrelated to the student that includes resulting limitations and recommended accommodations is most helpful. The documentation provided by the professional will not become part of the student's educational records and will be kept in the student's confidential file at AccessibleNU.

Documentation Guidelines by Type of Condition

Northwestern students present documentation related to a variety of disabilities and other conditions requiring accommodation. The most common conditions of students registered with AccessibleNU are learning disabilities, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and/or diagnosed psychological conditions; thus, the guidelines for these conditions are listed first: