Faculty and Staff Frequently Asked Questions

What do I do if a student discloses a disability?

If a student has provided you a memo requesting accommodations, follow the request as asked.  If you have any questions, please contact Disability Support Resources (DSR) at (616) 331-2490 or [email protected].  If the student has not provided you with a memo, you are not required to provide accommodations.

How should I handle a student’s informal request for course accommodations?

Please refer the student to the DSR office first.  Faculty should refrain from providing any accommodations due to a disability without a memo from DSR.  Even though responding immediately may seem more efficient (or friendlier), acting on a student’s self-report is outside of established policy and problems may result (e.g.., unwarranted or uneven treatment of students, unnecessary work for you, and could establish an obligation for other faculty by setting precedence until the end of the student’s academic career.  The student is responsible for notifying the college of the disability and the need for academic adjustment or auxiliary aids and services.

What if I suspect a student has a learning disability and needs support?

If the student approaches you seeking assistance, or you notice the student is struggling academically, you could use open-ended questions to generate understanding of how the student learns: 

  • Is there anything else that I need to know about you and what you need to maximize your learning?
  • What type of resources do you need to be a successful student?
  • What type of strategies work for you?
  • What do you need to perform at your best in class, in a testing situation, and outside of the classroom?

These types of questions may lead students to self-disclose a disability and then you may use that opportunity to refer the student to the DSR office, if the student is seeking accommodations.  Other resources to suggest may include the Writing Center, Science Success Center, Knowledge Market, Mathematics Lab, Statistics Lab, Tutoring Center, Counseling Center, and the Student Academic Success Center.

How do I handle I issues of a temporary disability (athletic injury, car accident, traumatic experiences, head injuries, and pregnancy)?

If the temporary disability occurs early in the semester, the student may:

  • Make arrangements with the professor to complete assignments outside of the classroom.
  • Request to be reassigned to a different section of the same course in an accessible location.
  • Withdraw from the course and register to take the class as an independent study with the professor’s permission.
  • Request, if the classroom is now inaccessible, it be relocated to an accessible location if no other options are feasible.
  • Withdraw from the course(s) if the remaining assignments cannot be completed over a reasonable period of time.

If the temporary disability takes place a few weeks or more into the semester, the student may:

  • Request that an Incomplete be given as a grade if the assignments can be completed within a year.
  • Withdraw from the class if the assignments cannot be completed within a reasonable amount of time, if the deadline has not already passed.
  • Request a medical withdrawal, but must be aware that the withdrawal will be from all classes on their course schedule for that semester.

In all cases of temporary disability, the student should remain in close contact with their professors. In considering options it is recommended that students consult with Disability Support Resources, when appropriate. If you decide to accommodate this student without consultation with DSR, remember you must give the same accommodation to a student in the future.

Do I have the right to see the student’s documentation or ask a student to disclose to me?

Faculty cannot review the documentation or ask a student to bring them documentation.  Documentation must be housed in a central location.  We understand that this may be difficult for some individuals who teach; however, requiring that a student disclose the nature of their disability puts the university at risk.  Although you may be open to listening if a student chooses to explain a disability to you (without your actual or implied solicitation of information) it is very important that you communicate respect for the student’s privacy regarding the specific nature of disability.  Comments such as, “What’s wrong with you?” or “You look normal to me.” are clearly inappropriate and put the university at great risk, as they can be interpreted as discriminatory.

It is true that many disabilities covered by the law are not easy to detect visibly.  Thus, it is important that verbal and nonverbal responses be monitored.  If you ever suspect that a request for accommodation is not legitimate, contact DSR at (616) 331-2490 or [email protected].

How do I know if a student really has a disability?

Many disabilities are hidden. We do not have to see a disability for it to be real.  If you receive a memo from a student, then DSR has reviewed the documentation provided by an appropriately licensed professional qualified to evaluate the disability, and has these records on file.

What if a student with a disability is disruptive in class?

A student with a disability who is disruptive in class should be treated as an instructor would treat any student who is disruptive in class.  If an instructor feels that there is a disability-related reason for the student’s behavior, the instructor can discuss this with the student’s DSR advisor listed on the memo to determine if there is a solution to the problem, or strategies for addressing the behavior. Refer to the Student Code: https://www.gvsu.edu/studentcode

Students who are posing behavior issues in the classroom can be referred to the Behavior Intervention Team through the Dean of Student’s office. Steps will be taken to address the issue with the student immediately. In some cases a student is asked to comply with a behavioral checklist which outlines expected behaviors. Students, who disrupt the class to such an extent that learning is compromised, can be asked to leave the classroom. In some cases, security can be called.

What if a student with a disability is failing?

It is important for instructors to remember that providing reasonable accommodations for a student with a disability does not guarantee success in the course.  Students with disabilities might not master the course material, just like any other student.  Students with disabilities have the same right as other students to fail as part their educational experience.

Can I penalize a student with a disability for always turning in assignments late and not showing up for exams?

Yes. The student must meet the same standards as other students, including deadlines, unless prior arrangements have been made.  Students are responsible for contacting you to discuss issues.  DSR approves accommodations for students within the classroom.  We do not request accommodations on assignments outside of the classroom.  Students need to follow the deadlines in the syllabus, however some flexibility may be considered at your discretion.

What do I do if a student is habitually late? Must I accommodate?

No, unless there has been a prior arrangement based on the student’s needs.

What do I do if a student asks for more time on exams? How much more time is given?

The amount of time given depends on the student’s disability and the documentation.  The specific amount of additional time allowed will be detailed in the “Memo” e.g.., 1.5x.

Do you have any suggestions for what to include in my course syllabus regarding students with disabilities?

“Your success in this class is important to me. Please address any special needs with me at the beginning of the semester or as soon as you become aware of your needs. If you have needs because of a learning, physical, or other disability and feel that you need accommodations in this course, you must present a memo to me from Disability Support Resources (DSR), indicating the existence of a disability and the suggested accommodations. If you have not already done so, please contact the Disability Support Resources office (4015 JHZ) by calling (616) 331-2490 or email to [email protected]. Please note that I cannot provide accommodations based upon disability until I have received a copy of the DSR issued memo. Furthermore, if you have a disability and think you will need assistance evacuating this classroom and/or building in an emergency, please make me aware so that the university and I can develop a plan to assist you. Your cooperation is appreciated. I look forward to working with you to meet your learning goals.” You may want to add all discussions will remain confidential.

What should I do if a student comes up to me right before, during or after class and hands me their “Memo” or they provide it to me through email that requires a password to view it?

Tell the student in order to respect their confidentiality, you would like to meet during office hours in which the two of you can discuss the request further.  Let the student know that this will give you both an opportunity to review the “memo”, any other necessary forms and discuss their needs for academic success.  Memos should not be forwarded to professors through email. The memos are sent directly to the student with an encryption that only the student should be able to open. In the event that you should receive a memo directly from the student in an electronic format, please inform the student to print the memo and refer to an appropriate time to meet. You can call DSR at (616) 331-2490 for clarification. 

If a student does not approach me with their information concerning accommodations do I approach them?

There are students who are reluctant to contact their instructors to discuss their needs. Many faculty members are sensitive to this issue and are open to discuss the students’ needs early in the term and in a private location. That is the perfect time for the faculty member to discuss course policies on attendance, late assignment submission, and other topics critical for a student’s success in the class. This information is printed on your syllabus, or as the faculty, you can make an announcement letting the students know that you would like to meet to discuss accommodations or any other needs.

Do I have to comply?

In order to meet ADA law, you must comply with the accommodation letter. If you have questions or concerns, please contact the DSR office.

What types of accommodations or services are available?

Listed below are some of the most commonly requested accommodations.  The list is not all-inclusive, as accommodations are always individually determined and based on the individual needs.

  • Extended test-taking time
  • Readers/scribes for tests
  • Electronic textbooks- Electronic books require additional time for ordering and/or creation. For this reason, it is most important for professors to adopt textbooks well in advance of the beginning of the semester. Students are required to purchase or rent books before they can receive electronic editions through DSR because of copyright restrictions. Once they provide documentation of the purchase or rental, DSR can order or create the electronic editions.
  • Enlarged print materials
  • Permission to record lectures
  • Assistive technology
  • Preferential seating
  • Absence, tardiness flexibility and frequent breaks
  • Use of a laptop in class to take notes

Whose responsibility is it to ensure the instructor knows about the accommodation plan?

It is the student’s responsibility to ensure that the instructor has received the memo and discuss the accommodations with instructor, so they both understand the accommodations. It is also an opportunity to discuss the plan and decide which accommodations are truly relevant to the class.

Do I have to give an accommodation not found on the memo?

If a student requests an accommodation not on the plan, the instructor is encouraged to contact DSR to find out if the student is entitled to the requested accommodation based on the student’s documentation. In some instances, the student may request an accommodation that is not mandated on a college level, such as the opportunity to use notes on an exam, take an open book test, or receive unlimited absences. Students are made aware of the differences between high school and college accommodation plans.

Whose responsibility is it to find a notetaker for a student and what is the process of a volunteer notetaker?

“Please assist student in finding a volunteer notetaker, if requested. This can usually be accomplished by making an announcement in class without disclosing their identity.”

This verbiage is found on a memo for a student making the request. If a student is unable to find a notetaker in her or his course to become a volunteer notetaker, then the student will ask assistance from the instructor. Faculty will make an announcement during class asking for a volunteer notetaker when this accommodation is requested. When the notetaker has been identified, please ask the volunteer to go to Disability Support Resources (215 The Blue Connection). They will be asked to fill out a Volunteer Notetaker Registration Form, offered carbonless paper, and given further instructions regarding their role as a notetaker. Some students wish to remain anonymous to the notetaker whereas other students will be responsible for getting the notes from the student. Others prefer that the notes be to the DSR office after class to be picked up anonymously.

It is mandatory that DSR students using notetakers attend all class sessions for which they receive notes.  A notetaker should not be considered a substitute for obtaining lecture/lab material when a DSR participant is absent. It is the DSR student’s responsibility to speak with the notetaker if problems arise with the notes. Please note that your DSR counselor is available to help resolve situations as well.

DSR reserves the right to discontinue notetaker services if any of the above policies, or any combination of the above policies are violated or abused. Please note, if the DSR student nor the professor can identify a notetaker, DSR should be contacted immediately by the student in need of the accommodation for further assistance.

Do accommodations apply to an online course (or online portions of a course)?

Yes. You will learn of any specific accommodations that you need to provide via the DSR memo. However, the time to consider the overall accessibility of your course is before an accommodation request is made on behalf of a particular student. Keep in mind that someone who is deaf or blind or has a learning disability in reading may enroll in your course at any time. Captioning  video content and verifying that posted files and linked-to sites are compatible with screen readers is not necessarily something you’ll be able to rapidly address in order to meet the legal obligation. If you need assistance with ensuring your online course is accessible, contact our Assistive Technology Coordinator at (616) 331-2490.

How do I accommodate a student on the Autism Spectrum in my classroom?

Accommodate according to student’s memo.  Please contact DSR with any concerns.  If necessary a meeting can take place to discuss and create a behavior plan with the student.  Some recommendations are:

  • Be patient and flexible.
  • Be direct/literal when offering feedback, directions and discussion.
  • Avoid idioms, metaphors.
  • Establish rules (personal space, time, and boundaries).
  • Avoid having students self-select into groups. Try placing student into groups with students whom may be more tolerant and understanding.
  • When the student must be in a group, be sure to clarify your expectations, both academically and behaviorally.

What should I do if the student’s memo specifies flexible attendance, or periodic absences?

We encourage students to have this conversation with their instructors as soon as possible. Here are some suggested questions you may want to agree upon between you and the student.

  • How many days are excusable without compromising the integrity of the course?
  • How should contact be made in the rare circumstance of rescheduling an exam?
  • How would you like communication when an absence may occur?
  • What recommendations do you have for keeping up with course content when this occurs?
  • What options are available for accessing missed notes for this course?
  • How many days late would you accept an assignment? (1-2 days)

According to Office of Civil Rights, you should consider these questions as well:

  • Is there regular classroom interaction between the instructor and the students and among the students themselves?
  • Do student contributions in class constitute a significant component of the learning process?
  • Does the fundamental nature of the course rely upon student participation as an essential method of learning?
  • To what degree does the student’s failure to attend class constitute a significant loss of the educational experience of the other students in the class?
  • What do the course description and syllabus say regarding attendance?
  • What is the method by which the final grade is calculated?

Do I have any recourse if I disagree with the accommodations that have been approved in one of my classes?

Yes.  Start by discussing your concerns with the advisor who wrote the memo in DSR.  If unique aspects of your course were not fully considered, then alterations may be needed.  If you still feel the accommodations are inappropriate, please review your objections with your department chair and forward any additional concerns to DSR.  The matter will be reviewed with appropriate administration.  Do not discontinue or refuse accommodations without formal administration consultation and legal review.

What safeguards exist to prevent unauthorized release of materials such as supplemental notes or recordings of my class lectures? What if I am simply uncomfortable being recorded?

Accommodated students sign an agreement on file in the DSR office stating that materials provided are for their use only and may not be shared or sold (in a private meeting with the student you could add  your emphasis to these points, if you like).  Accommodations are approved with supported documentation and with the student’s particular access needs. If your class format includes the sharing of sensitive information by other classmates or yourself that will not be included on a test, you may privately arrange a signal to alert students to stop recording during just those portions.

Will I be required to give my personal notes or PowerPoint presentation to a student with a disability?

Providing personal copies of professor’s notes or presentations are not mandated as an academic accommodation.  However, if it is a professor’s customary practice to make personal notes or presentations available to all students, it may be a reasonable accommodation listed on the DSR memo, for you to provide the DSR student with the notes in an alternate format.

Can I incorporate one or more technologies into my courses? Are there any special concerns about accessibility?

Yes and Yes, however verification of accessibility features should occur prior to choosing technologies to use in online as well as face-to-face classes (there have been legal consequences for institutions that have by-passed this important phase).  Consultation with DSR and Information Technology and/or Distance Learning will help ensure that all your students will benefit from these new tools in an “equally effective and equally integrated manner”, and will keep the University in compliance with federal regulation.  There are many technologies available that can support student learning, whether or not you currently have a student with a memo in your classes. We encourage you to reach out to the above offices, to improve your teaching practice in the area of technology, and to support greater access for all students.

What are strategies that can be used by students with low vision to access printed materials?

Printed material can be enlarged with a photocopier for a student able to read large print.  Blackboard now includes an add-in called Ally that can automatically create accessible formats from course documents posted into Blackboard.  See https://www.gvsu.edu/dsr/blackboard-ally-111.htm for additional information.  DSR can obtain textbooks in accessible format that can be used with speech and/or magnification software.  A closed-circuit television (CCTV) can enlarge the printed material for a student.  A reader may read material aloud to the student or provide recordings.

How can a student who is blind follow a video?

Ideally, professors should use videos with audio description, which include extra spoken content.

If described video is not available, and if all essential information contained in the video is provided verbally, and if another person watching the video describes important visual content, then the student who is blind can benefit from the video. 

How can a person with a visual impairment participate in a class that is computer based?

A student who has some usable sight may be able to use the computer with screen magnification software and a large monitor.  A student with little or no usable vision would benefit most from using a computer in class equipped with screen reading software.  The student should know what accommodations will work for him/her and should be consulted as early in the class as possible so they do not fall behind.

In what format can a student who is blind turn in written assignments?

In most cases, a student who is blind will type assignments using a computer that is equipped with screen reader software.  At times, students may also choose to dictate short answers using speech recognition software. 

What can I do to make sure a student who is hard of hearing can access spoken information in a large lecture?

Do not turn your back to the group while speaking.  Avoid lecturing against a window since the light through the window may throw a shadow over your mouth, making lip-reading difficult.  Finally, avoid obscuring your mouth with books, hands, or other materials.  If possible and agreeable, recommend that the student sit near the front of the class.

How do I grade written essays when syntax and grammatical errors are evident for students who have a hearing loss and use American Sign Language (ASL)?

English is a second language for many people who are deaf, and therefore, presents unique challenges for the student and professor when written assignments are evaluated. For students who rely on ASL, transferring thoughts to a written form is difficult because ASL does not have its own grammatical structure. You must provide a reasonable accommodation for a disability, but should not lower your academic standards. Correct the student’s grammar and syntax and assist the student in developing their English skills. You may wish to refer the student to the Tutoring Center and the Writing Center.

How do individuals with hearing impairments communicate by telephone?

Many individuals use text messaging rather than voice communication.

There are three different kinds of technology used for voice telephone communication:

  • TTY, TDD and TT are acronyms used interchangeably for mechanical teleprinter equipment which consists of a small keyboard and visual display. This equipment is used by a person who does not have enough functional hearing to understand speech even with amplification.
  • Amplification devices can be added to telephones to allow people who are hard of hearing to benefit from enhanced volume.
  • A relay system is a method in which only the person with a hearing impairment has a TTY/TDD/TT, and an operator relays the message to the hearing party.

What are Assistive Listening Devices (ALDs)?

ALDs can provide clear sound over distances, eliminating echoes and reducing the distraction of surrounding noises, and allow the student to more easily hear the instructor.  These devices typically consist of a microphone and transmitter worn by the instructor, and a receiver used by the student.  The receiver may connect to a small speaker, headphones, or a student’s hearing aid.

Do I need to make any special adjustments in a laboratory for a student who is deaf?

Yes. Provide written instructions, captioned video instructions, and/or demonstrations prior to the lab. Safety procedures should also be reviewed with the students and visual lab warning signals (e.g. flashlights) need to be in place. It may also be helpful to provide preferential seating so the student can easily view demonstrations and watch the instructor. It is important to remember that students who use a sign language interpreter or read lips may have difficulty simultaneously observing a demonstration while watching the interpreter or reading lips. Discuss lab activities with the student, as they are the best source of information about their needs.

How can I improve the accessibility of my lab for a student who uses a wheelchair?

Principles of universal design promote access for individuals with a wide range of abilities and should be considered when planning and organizing the physical environment. Examples of basic universal design guidelines you can readily implement include the following:

  • Make sure all routes to the lab are wheelchair accessible.
  • Keep aisles wide and clear.
  • Provide at least one adjustable table or work space at ADA regulated height.
  • Make sure controls for computer and other equipment can be reached by someone sitting in a wheelchair.

Are there any training/classes currently concerning DSR services?

We offer “DSR 101” for faculty and staff.

What do I do if a student brings a dog/miniature horse to class without a service animal badge?

If there is a reason to question whether an animal accompanying a student to classrooms or offices is a service animal, faculty/staff may ask two questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of disability? (2) What work or task has the dog been trained to perform? 

Staff cannot ask about a person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.  If faculty or staff have any additional questions regarding a student enrolled in their class with a service animal, please contact DSR.

Under what circumstances can a service animal be asked to leave or not allowed on campus?

  • If a service animal is found to be disruptive in the classroom
  • If a service animal shows aggression towards their handler or other members of campus or the community
  • If a service animal is physically ill
  • If the service animal is unreasonably dirty
  • Any place on campus where the presence of a service animal cause danger to the safety of the of the handler or other students/member of campus
  • Any place on campus where a service animal’s safety is compromised

What needs to happen if a service animal is behaving aggressively towards their handler or others, or if a handler or other students are behaving aggressively towards a service animal?

Call campus police at (616) 331-3255.

What if another student (in housing or in class) or a faculty member has severe allergies around animal dander?

The final determination regarding how to manage the situation will be made on a case-by-case basis.  Please contact DSR for further information if a situation of this nature occurs.

In an emergency evacuation, what is my responsibility for a student who uses a wheelchair or who has another mobility impairment?

Inform all students about emergency procedures. For students with a disability, work with the student and the DSR office to develop a clear evacuation plan. You may refer to GVSU Emergency Evacuation procedures at the following website www.gvsu.edu/emergency.

You should assist the student to the Area of Rescue Assistance, which is the enclosed stairwell with firewalls, doors and sirens.  Emergency personal checks this area first in an event of an emergency.  You may also notify emergency personal upon your exit from the building.

An ADA table and chair are in my classroom, do I have any responsibilities?

Yes, the student may self-disclose or it may be obvious due to their disability.  Please ensure that the table and chair are used appropriately and for the assigned student.

This list encompasses some questions and answers, if in doubt please contact DSR at (616) 331-2490 or [email protected]. We are always available to assist.


June 2020

Page last modified September 26, 2023