Accommodations can support success and learning in college. However, even college students with approved accommodations may experience barriers to receiving them. Deciding that you want to disclose your disability is the first step in obtaining approved accommodations, but it is not the end of the process. After you are approved for accommodations, you will need to advocate for them to be provided.
Like being approved for accommodations through your disability services office, receiving them in college is different than it was if you received them in elementary or high school. In K-12, it was the responsibility of teachers and others on the IEP team to ensure accommodations were provided. However, in college, it will be your responsibility to inform and advocate for your accommodations with your instructors. These suggestions will support you in advocating for your approved accommodations and explain what to do when problems arise.
Discuss Accommodations with Disability Services Personnel
After you receive your accommodations notice (letter or other documentation) from Disability Services, discuss the approved accommodations further with the Disability Services person supporting you. They can help you distinguish which questions need to be discussed with/answered by your instructor(s).
- Save your letter or other documentation that outlines your approved accommodations for easy access.
- Make a list of questions that you have about how you will be provided each accommodation in your classes. Some examples of questions include:
- How will I complete my tests/quizzes with extra time? Will this occur in the classroom or in a different testing location?
- Where can I go to take tests that are more private?
- How will I obtain my copies of lecture notes?
- If I need to take a break during class, what should I do?
- If I have been approved for flexible deadlines or consideration for extended time on assignments, how do I communicate the details with my instructor if/when I need to utilize this accommodation?
Discuss Accommodations with Your Instructors
Many university disability services offices do not notify the instructors of your approved accommodations each term. Instead, it will be your responsibility to do this each term and with each instructor for all the courses you are enrolled in.
- Contact your instructors before the term begins or as close to the beginning as you can.
- Most often, you will contact your instructors using email, but you can use another form of communication also, such as a phone call or attending their office hours.
- You don’t need to explain why you were approved for accommodations, but it is your decision if you choose to share information about your disability. Refer to Deciding Whether to Disclose Your Disability for more information. Even if your instructor asks you, you can answer by telling them that it helps you learn/demonstrate your knowledge.
- Draft your email/communication. This communication serves two purposes: To notify your instructor about your accommodations and to discuss how the accommodations will be provided or the logistics that may be involved. You can ask the disability services office at your college if they have a template you can use or you can use or adapt this template (see below).
- After you draft your email, you can ask the disability services personnel to review it for you. You may also ask a trusted individual — a friend or family member — to review it.
- Attach the accommodations notice to the email.
- Send the email to your instructor.
- Adapt the email and send it to your other instructors.
- Continue the conversation with your instructors in a meeting, call, or through email (based on the format you requested in your email).
- If you will be having a meeting or a call, consider preparing a list of questions or notes to guide the conversation. You can also ask a trusted individual to rehearse with you so that you can practice advocating for your accommodations and getting answers to your questions.
Persisting When There Are Breakdowns
Even when you have notified all of your instructors for each term/semester, obtaining your accommodations may not go as you planned. This does not mean that you did anything wrong, and it often does not mean that your instructor intended not to provide your accommodations accurately.
You are entitled to your approved accommodations, so if an issue comes up, it is another opportunity for you to advocate for yourself. The steps below describe how you can address problems. For many, you can advocate in the moment, either in the classroom or via email if online. If you do not feel comfortable advocating in the moment, communicate with your instructor as soon as possible.
- Preventative: You may be able to prevent breakdowns (or more breakdowns) in receiving services by sending a check-in email to your instructor prior to when certain accommodations will occur. For example, “Professor Smythe, I am confirming that I should begin my test with the class and continue in the classroom for the duration of my extended testing time.”
- Provided Incorrectly or Not Provided: If an accommodation was provided incorrectly or not provided, you can inform the instructor of the error and inquire about the resolution. For example, “Professor Onaiwu, my accommodation is for 200% extended time, not time-and-a half extended time. Can you adjust the end time in the online learning management system? Or “Can I continue my exam tomorrow for the additional time?”
Or “Professor Wrexham, the student who typically takes my notes was absent today, how can I obtain a copy of today’s notes?”
- Refused: In rare cases, the instructor may not provide the accommodation and may refuse when you advocate for it. In these instances, you can notify disability services personnel and ask them to support you in resolving the situation. For example, “Ms. Wrexham, Professor Smythe informed me that I did not need extended time on the quiz, so it wouldn’t be provided. Can you support me with the next steps?”
Most importantly, if you were approved for accommodations and you want them, advocate for them — more than once if you need to. You can use the support of the disability services personnel and your trusted friends and family. Some disability services offices may even have a support person who can support your advocacy during meetings/calls.
Dr. Lauren Lestremau Allen is a licensed psychologist (NY, MD), licensed behavior analyst, board-certified behavior analyst-doctoral, and a nationally certified school psychologist. Dr. Allen is committed to high-quality service and support delivery with autistic individuals and individuals with developmental disabilities and is passionate about training professionals. She is an assistant professor at SUNY Empire State University in the Master of Science Applied Behavior Analysis program and the assistant director of the SUNY Empire Center for Autism Advocacy: Research, Education, and Supports (CAARES), both of which prioritize compassionate, value-driven care and client self-advocacy and autonomy.
SUNY Empire State College CAARES: www.sunyempire.edu/autism