Frequently Asked Questions

Students' Questions

What is Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD)?

SSD is the office that oversees implementation of academic and programmatic accommodations for students with disabilities. Through SSD, students can make arrangements for modifications such as testing accommodations, recorded books or in e-text, scribe services, auxiliary aids, sign language interpreting, and other accommodations as determined appropriate by SSD and the student requesting an accommodation.

How do I know if my condition is considered to be a disability and if I qualify for accommodations?

Students with physical or mental conditions that interfere with major life activities may qualify for accommodations. SSD provides services to students with various disabilities including, but not limited to, learning disabilities, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), sensory impairments, mobility impairments, anxiety disorders, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, chronic medical conditions. Accommodations are determined on a case-by-case basis. If you are unsure if you qualify for accommodations, please call the SSD staff at (847) 467-5530, (847) 467-5533 (TTY) or email them using this direct link to our office email address to set up an appointment.

How are reasonable accommodations determined?

Accommodations must be supported by documentation from a qualified professional, such as a physician, psychologist or learning specialist. In general, disability documentation must be comprehensive enough to allow the SSD staff to make informed decisions about reasonable accommodations.  It should include the name of the condition, a description of how the condition impacts one’s major life activities, as well as recommendations for adjustments. Additional information about our documentation criteria is available. Accommodations will be determined after careful consideration of disability documentation, need for accommodation and program requirements.

What is the procedure for receiving academic accommodations at Northwestern University?

Each student requesting disability accommodations must meet with SSD staff to review his/her disability documentation and cooperatively determine accommodations. Once accommodations have been determined and the student has signed an accommodations agreement, accommodations can be implemented.
To promote self-advocacy, students who have been granted testing accommodations are asked to meet with each of their instructors, in the beginning of each quarter, to verify the instructor's receipt of accommodation notification from SSD verifying which accommodations have been granted and to discuss their accommodation needs. Because accommodations are individual and granted on a case-by-case basis, there are many methods of implementation. SSD staff will discuss accommodation arrangements with each student registered with the office when appropriate accommodations are determined.

Will any information regarding my disability be printed on my transcript?

No. Disability-related information is maintained in the SSD office. SSD follows a strict confidentiality policy.

Faculty Questions

Please use this direct link to our office email address to pose your questions and concerns so that we can keep our pages updated and useful to you.

How will I know if a student needs accommodations?

You will receive an email from Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) notifying you that a student requires accommodations and identifying the specific accommodations for which he or she is 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. One notification per class should be sufficient to provide accommodations; there is no need for students to formally request notifications before each exam. Please let the student know if he or she should also provide a notification to a TA.

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

Yes, here's our recommended statement: Any student with a disability requesting accommodations is required to register with Services for Students with Disabilities (ssd@northwestern.edu; 847-467-5530) and provide professors with an accommodation notification from SSD, preferably within the first two weeks of class. All information will remain confidential.

How are testing accommodations arranged?

We encourage the students to discuss with their instructors possible ways to arrange their testing accommodation. There are advantages for students to take the exams with the class because they can ask questions, and if there are any changes during the exam, they would be 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. Please be mindful of confidentiality of the students when making such arrangements. Another option is for you to make arrangement to have the students take the exam in your office or a separate room proctored by you or your TA.

What if I am unable to accommodate the student?

If the instructor is unable to proctor the students’ exams because of their need for accommodation, alternative testing arrangements, including extended time for testing and computer access, can be made through the SSD office. Students are responsible for logging onto SSD's database and scheduling an exam working days prior to each exam they need to take in the SSD office. Once the student has requested SSD to proctor the exam, the instructor 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 emailed or faxed to SSD. 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.

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

If a student asks for an accommodation but you have received no notification from SSD verifying eligibility for accommodations, it is strongly recommended that you contact SSD or ask the student to contact SSD. Similarly, if a student asks you for an accommodation, and that specific accommodation is not listed in the certifying notification from SSD, you are not obligated to provide it. If you are ever uncertain about your obligations, please call SSD at 847-467-5530.

Do I have to provide the accommodations listed in a letter 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 SSD are entitled to the accommodations listed in instructor letters. Providing accommodations is a shared obligation of Northwestern University faculty and staff.

What accommodations are appropriate?

SSD grants accommodations to students with documented disabilities based on the recommendations of medical, mental health, or other appropriate professionals and on the needs of students. These accommodations do not fundamentally alter instructional programming. Examples of accommodations include extended time for testing, alternative test locations to reduce distractions, access to materials in alternative formats, and use of note-taking services. ++++ All students, including students with disabilities, are expected to attend class and turn assignments in on time. It is not a standard policy of SSD 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 can be made if a student’s symptoms are acute.

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. 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 aware of professors’ 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:

  • Provide lecture notes in electronic format. 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.
  • Provide clear copies of handouts. 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 SSD.
  • Include information about obtaining accommodations on your syllabi. It is Northwestern University’s obligation to inform students of the existence of SSD. Here’s an example of what you should include on your syllabi: Any student with a disability requesting accommodations is required to register with Services for Students with Disabilities (ssd@northwestern.edu; 847-467-5530) and provide an accommodation notification from SSD to his/her professor, preferably within the first two weeks of class. All information will remain confidential.
  • 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.
  • Please see our Instructional Strategies for Faculty page for more ideas.

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 SSD 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 SSD works with students in an AD/HD coaching capacity to try to assist in these areas (if you want to refer a student to SSD). 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 the writing-related disability), which is tougher to have a policy on, although that student could still be provided a note-taker by SSD if his having a computer in a class that otherwise usually doesn't allow them 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 SSD?

Search more of the faculty pages on this website, call us at 847-467-5530, use this direct link to our office email address, or stop by our office in the basement of Scott Hall. We look forward to working with you!