University of Pittsburgh BradfordAcademics
Information for Faculty and Staff

When a Student Asks a Faculty Member for an Accommodation

If a student makes a request for an accommodation directly to the faculty member, that faculty member should ask the student for an Accommodation Letter from DRS that verifies the disability and the appropriateness of the accommodation. If the student is not registered with DRS, they should be referred to the office. This ensures that the student is qualified under the law as having a disability and that the accommodation they requested is appropriate for their disability.

DRS does not recommend that faculty directly ask students if they have a disability and need an accommodation. If a student is having difficulty in the course and a faculty member suspects a disability, it is appropriate to discuss the difficulty (i.e., poor writing) as they would with any student. However, concerns about a possible disability should be discussed first with the DRS coordinator.

When a Student with a Disability is in Your Class

  1. Have a conversation with the student about how his/her disability may affect their learning. Understand that students with similar disabilities may have very different learning styles.

  2. Consider adaptations in the presentation of information. For example students with low vision do not benefit from visual learning tools such as slides or power point, therefore including text descriptions of each slide could be very beneficial. Students with auditory processing disorders may not be able to follow multiple conversations in small group discussions, therefore consider asking each group to designate a person to take notes reflecting the discussion.

  3. Announce early in the term that you want to meet, in person, with students who have disabilities. Inform students that simply placing the Accommondation Letter in the instructor's departmental mailbox will not suffice.

  4. When you are choosing textbooks for your class, remember that the earlier you submit your textbook selection, the sooner DRS can begin the alternative format conversion process. In the Fall term, DRS converted 68 text books and over 200 journal articles into e-text.

  5. Announce any changes to the syllabus well in advance; students who use alternate format text may need additional time to receive their readings or to complete the reading assignment. If a student indicates that DRS did not prepare their materials in a timely manner, contact the office to confirm this information.

  6. If you suspect a disability because of a student's attendance or performance, talk to the student about your observations without labeling. Ask the student to describe what he/she is experiencing. If you are comfortable doing so, offer advice about how to approach studying or improving performance and request additional meetings with the student. If the student continues to experience difficulties, refer the student to DRS for consultation.

  7. Maintain confidentiality regarding all communications with students who have disabilities. Requests for information should be sent to DRS.

  8. Remember that it is the student's decision whether on not to disclose a disability. The student may be registered with DRS but also choose not to disclose to faculty.

Confidentiality

It is important that faculty and staff recognize the important role that confidentiality plays in working with students with disabilities. The University is committed to maintaining the confidentiality of both current and former students with disabilities. As a general rule, all information regarding a student's disability is confidential. Only the particular student and DRS will need to know confidential information regarding a student with a disability.

This confidentiality rule applies to all information, regardless of its source. You may, for example, receive confidential information from a representative from DRS, who is sharing the information with you on a need-to-know basis. You may also receive confidential information from the student regarding his or her disability, such as information regarding a student's medication or other medical history, or information regarding their academic progress in other courses. You also should treat any accommodations provided to a student as confidential, and should share the details of such accommodations only on a need-to-know basis.

There may be times when someone directly asks you for information about a
student with a disability that is considered confidential. For example, classmates of a student with a disability who is receiving an accommodation may inquire as to why the student receives extra time on a test, or why the student is never in the classroom on test days. An appropriate response to such inquiries regarding students with disabilities may be: "Each student's academic program is confidential, including your own, and I'm unable to discuss any student's situation with their classmates."

If you have any questions regarding confidentiality while working with a student with a disability, such as who qualifies for the "need-to-know" exception to confidentiality, you should discuss the issue with the particular student and/or DRS.

Working with Interpreters

Role of the Interpreter

Sign language interpreting is very much like spoken foreign language, except that it involves the use of the language of signs. The interpreter has a single responsibility in your class, that being to facilitate communication between you and your deaf student(s), and between the deaf student(s) and hearing classmates. The interpreter is responsible for interpreting all information as accurately as he or she can, without embellishment or deletion. The interpreter is NOT a teacher, a tutor, nor an aide for the deaf student.

Deaf Student's Reliance on Vision

Deaf students frequently sit in the front row of the classroom in order to see the instructor, the interpreter, and the board. The interpreter generally sits facing the deaf student-it is essential that you keep the visual line of communication open by avoiding walking between them. Sometimes, the interpreter may need to reposition. For example, if the class is watching uncaptioned videotape, the interpreter will move next to the television screen. Be sure to pause to allow the interpreter time to take up her new position.

Deaf students prefer to have captioned media when available. If the program selected is not available in captioned format, it will need to be interpreted. In this case, ideally the interpreter should have access to the program in advance of the class viewing.

Length and Pace of Class

Interpreting is very demanding physically. It is therefore recommended that you:

  • Build in breaks when classes exceed 50 minutes
  • Ensure that breaks are at least 10 minutes in length
  • Remember that using the break to talk to the deaf student means that the interpreter is still working

Depending on the length and pace of your class, two interpreters may be assigned to your class as a team, switching every 20-30 minutes.

It is also important that you control the pace of your class. If you tend to speak rapidly, or have rapid interchanges between yourself and your students, you may want to consider pausing more frequently. If you do not know whether your pace is too fast, ask your interpreter to let you know if the speed becomes a problem.

Complex Concepts and Obscure Terms

Most interpreters are not content experts therefore it is helpful for the interpreter to have copies of the textbook, course syllabus, and handouts in order to provide more accurate information.

Interpreters often rely on fingerspelling to communicate ideas. Fingerspelling is a way of representing the alphabet on the hand. Many terms, including people's names and uncommon scientific vocabulary, do not have a sign equivalent and therefore, must be finger spelled. Writing new vocabulary words of this kind on the board will greatly aid the interpreter.

Seminars and Open Class Discussion

Seminars and classes that encourage free-flowing discussion present a special challenge to interpreters. Such classes often exclude the deaf student, not by intent, but because of the quick pace and unstructured interchanges.

Multiple conversations cannot be interpreted, so it is important that only one person speak at a time. Often, there is a self-appointed "conversational policeman" who will point out when it appears that the deaf student has a question or comment to make, or remind the class when individuals are speaking over each other. When asking a question in a regular class lecture, wait until after the interpreter has completed signing the question before you call on students for an answer. This pause allows deaf students an opportunity to see the full question and then raise their hands if they wish to participate.

Final Thoughts

  • If you would like to speak to the deaf student, the interpreter will interpret your question or comment. It is easier to interpret if you speak directly to the student.
  • An interpreter can only interpret what can be heard so please speak clearly.
  • The interpreter is not a participating member of the class. If you have a question for the interpreter, feel free to ask during a non-interpreting time.
  • In classes where sensitive information is being shared, interpreters regard all assignment-related information as confidential.

The best resource for additional information on your use of interpreters is the interpreter in your class.

Test Proctoring Service

To have a test proctored at DRS

  1. Read the Accommodation Letter given to you by a student registered with DRS.
  2. Expect to receive a DRS Instructor Test Reply form from the DRS office 3 days prior to each test date.
  3. Complete the Instructor Test Reply form and send to the ACTC as soon as possible prior to scheduled exam.
  4. Please email (jac117@pitt.edu) or send the test in campus mail to the ASC (218 Hanley Library) at least one (1) day prior to scheduled exam. 
  5. Contact the DRS coordinator, Carma Horner(362-7609 or clh71@pitt.edu) to clarify any questions or concerns that you may have regarding the test proctoring process, accommodations or disability issues.

Employee Services

Disability Resources and Services (DRS) provides the University community with objective consultation and general information regarding the rights and responsibilities of employees with documented disabilities.

How do I request a reasonable accommodation?

Employees or applicants in need of assistance or accommodations should notify their supervisor or Carma Horner, Disability Resources and Services Coordinator, at 814-362-7609 or clh71@upb.pitt.edu. It is the responsibility of the employee with a disability to self identify and inform the University that an accommodation is requested. Requests for reasonable accommodations are determined on a case-by-case basis involving a cooperative effort among the employee making the request, the supervisor and Disability Resources and Services, with due consideration of the documentation that has been submitted.

What is a reasonable accommodation?

A reasonable accommodation is a modification or adjustment to a job or the work environment that will enable a qualified applicant or employee with a disability to participate in the application process or to perform essential job functions.

Recommended Syllabus Statement

On February 27, 2001, the Faculty Assembly unanimously passed a resolution to include the following statement on course syllabi.

If you have a disability for which you are or may be requesting an accommodation, you are encouraged to contact both your instructor and Disability Resources and Services, 218 Hanley Library, 814-362-7533 as early as possible in the term.

Disability Resources and Services reviews documentation related to a student's disability, provides verification of the disability, and recommends reasonable accommodations for specific courses.