Orientation Information for Incoming Students with Disabilities

Orientation Frequently Asked Questions

Important Advising Information

Initiating Disability Services

What is Documentation?

Current Documentation

Course Loads and Scheduling

Differences between High School and University


Types of Academic Adjustments

Types of University Accommodations

Textbooks in Alternate Formats


Parental Role


Important Advising Information for Students with Disabilities

Welcome to Western Michigan University and Disability Services for Students (DSS). It is essential that your documentation be received as soon as possible. Accommodations for the fall semester cannot be provided without appropriate documentation and, a high school IEP or 504 plan may not be sufficient for accommodations at the university.

One of the most difficult transitions you will be making as you leave your high school is that of becoming your own advocate. This means you will need to speak up for yourself to make things happen. DSS can help you do just that.

When you meet with an advisor, he/she will need to know how to help you schedule classes so that you can function within the college setting. Here are a few suggestions to discuss with an advisor for this first semester:

  • Discuss limiting the number of heavy reading courses if you have a learning disability or comprehension problem.
  • Discuss limiting the number of heavy writing courses if you have written expression disabilities or other physical impairments that make writing difficult.
  • Discuss putting off any math classes until next semester when you have a little more confidence in handling the pressures of college, especially if your disability is a mathematics issue.
  • Discuss your vision issues with the advisor. Some of WMU’s classes are extremely visual in nature (art history, science labs, etc.). You may need to access a different type of class.
  • Discuss the need for a Native English speaking instructor if you have hearing impairments or difficulty with auditory processing. Many of the classes at WMU are taught by English Second Language instructors or teaching assistants. Some accents may be hard to understand.
  • Discuss the distances between classroom buildings for the 10 minutes you will have between classes. Students with mobility issues need to know how long it takes to get across campus. And with the current construction
    going on around campus, distances will be lengthened. Also be aware of which campus you will need to attend. It could take upwards of 45 minutes to get to the Parkview campus by bus.
  • Try to avoid scheduling the one-day-a-week block classes. They sound nice, but are 2½ -3 hours long, sometimes without a break, and there are six days of forgetting to account for.
  • Determine your optimum time to attend classes. With some medications and sleep disorders, early morning classes are out of the question. Sleeping in is NOT a good reason for staying away from early classes. Likewise, if your medications wear off late in the afternoon, try not to schedule late afternoon or evening classes.
  • Limit the number of large lecture classes. Be aware that some classes may have over 300 students. Students with hearing impairments, vision impairments, LD, and ADD/ADHD can all be affected.
  • Discuss with your advisor the need to schedule breaks between classes. For some students, going from class to class with no time to process the information can cause problems with retaining information. Likewise, some disabilities require regular meal times or medications to be taken with food.

While not all of these suggestions may apply to your specific disability nor be appropriate, be aware that you must help the advisor understand your needs for a workable schedule. Be as up-front as you can be; you know yourself better than the advisor, so discuss your needs and concerns. While you may not get your ideal schedule for your first term at Western, you will have one you can live with. And though it would be nice to only have classes in the afternoon on 2 days a week, that may not be the schedule most conducive to optimal learning for you.

WMU charges tuition with a flat rate for 12-16 credit hours. We would encourage you to discuss how taking more than 12 credits is affected by your disability. 12 credit hours keeps you full time for insurance and financial aid purposes, but limits the amount of work you need to accomplish while getting used to college life. You will need to make an appointment with DSRS to discuss your concerns and options about your first semester’s schedule.

To plan a schedule for each new semester, you will need to meet with an academic advisor for your program of study around midterm of the current semester. As a student with disabilities, you are given priority registration through our office, allowing us to register you before the majority of the student population. We’ll send you more information on this if you provide us with your email address.

Have a great summer and be sure to send your documentation to DSRS before the start of fall semester, if you haven’t already done so.


Initiating Disability Services

Transitioning from high school to college is a process. During your K-12 years, Individualized Education Plans (IEP’s) were created and shared with teachers and other school employees year after year. However, when you leave high school to go to the university, none of the documentation used at the high school is automatically forwarded or accepted to the disabilities services office at any college or university.

In order to receive accommodations and/or academic adjustments, you will need to identify yourself as a student with a disability, present current documentation addressing your disability, and request any accommodations you will need while at the university. The following steps for initiating disability services will ease the process.

1. Obtain copies of your documentation. While this varies for each disability, be sure the documentation includes: diagnosis, how diagnosis was determined (including testing instruments and scores), interpretation of scores, history of disability, limitations of function in academic setting, recommendations of accommodations, and licensure of professional making the diagnosis. The documentation should be recent: ADD/ADHD
within the last three years; LD within the last five years; mobility, visual impairments and hearing impairments should be within year (even if the disability has been since birth); and emotional/psychological disorders must have documentation that has been within the last six months.

2. Arrange an appointment at Disability Services for Students (DSS). You may either bring your documentation with you or fax it to (269)387-0633 or it can be mailed to:

Disability Services for Students
Western Michigan University
1903 W. Michigan, Kalamazoo MI 49008-5277.

3. Attend the appointment. While your parents are welcome to attend the meeting with your permission, most of the conversation will be directed to you. It is helpful to be able to discuss the types of services and accommodations you received in high school. Be aware that not all services and accommodations that you received in high school are available at the university. Accommodations are granted on a case-by- case basis.

4. Follow the procedures for requesting accommodations. DSS does not contact your professors for you. You need to request the accommodation letters at the beginning of each semester once you know what is expected of you in each class and then give the letters to your professors.

What is Documentation?

Documentation is the evidence of your disability. It may be a brief report showing recent or regular contact with an appropriate professional or an in-depth psychological evaluation. Documentation should include the following information:

  • A diagnosis of your current disability
  • The date of the diagnosis
  • How the diagnosis was reached, including any testing/evaluative instruments used, the scores attained, and any interpretation of what the scores mean
  • How your disability affects a major life activity
  • How the disability affects you academic performance
  • Any available history concerning your disability
  • Recommendations of appropriate academic adjustments and/or
  • The credentials of the professional making the diagnosis

The more comprehensive the report, the better the chance it will be accepted. A student with a disability who presents incomplete documentation will not be granted accommodations. An example of rejected documentation would be a couple of lines scribbled on a doctor’s prescription pad.

Documentation is required for all students regardless of the type of disability. Whether the disability is newly diagnosed or you have had the disability since birth, documentation is required to show how the disability affects you in your current life stage.

Current Documentation

Documentation is the evidence of your disability. The report includes information about how and when you were diagnosed, the testing instruments used and the scores you attained, the interpretation of the scores, how the disability impacts your functioning in a major life activity, a brief history of how long you have been affected, and recommendations of the accommodations which could be made at the university.

The documentation must be current and appropriate for your current life-stage. In other words, for some disabilities, if you have not been evaluated since you were in grade school, we cannot accept the documentation as being current. Without current documentation, services cannot be granted.


Course Loads and Scheduling

Students with disabilities have real concerns when it comes to the amount of work and study necessary for success at the university level. Scheduling classes and understanding course loads can be daunting. While all students want to obtain their degrees as quickly as possible, when a disability is factored in, speed may not be the best way to finish a program of study.

Scheduling is determining which classes to take. It involves determining the days and times the classes meet AND how each class will be impacted by the disability. You will work with college or program advisors for the first semester during orientation. Disabled Student Resources and Services (DSRS) can assist with scheduling and registration starting with the 2nd semester.

Course loads is looking at each course and determining what will be expected of the student to be successful in that course. Some courses are project-based and will require students to participate in groups or teams; some courses are Internet-based, meaning all work and communication is on-line (computer skills are a must); still others are more traditional, with two or three exams as the only assessments. You need to know how well you can function in these circumstances so that you can put together an effective schedule.

It is important for you to understand the particular disability. In other words, will the disability present too many obstacles? For example, a learning disability may present in slow reading rates, short–term memory difficulties, and information processing difficulties. Therefore, when scheduling classes and considering course loads, it would not be wise to register for four heavy reading classes at the same time. Students with Attention Deficit Disorder may want to avoid the one-day-a-week block courses, as they are three hours of sitting, often without a break. Those classes also mean that there are six days in which to forget information. Knowing your disability can help you function more successfully at the university.


Differences Between High School and University

Within the kindergarten through twelfth grade system (K-12), school districts must do everything in their power to assure success for students with disabilities. Once a student with disabilities graduates from high school and turns eighteen years of age, the focus changes from success to access. Access deals with granting accommodations and academic adjustments to students with disabilities so that they have an even chance to be successful. Not all disabilities require academic adjustment, nor do students with the same disability diagnosis require the same accommodations.

While students in the K-12 system may have Individualized Education Plans (IEP’s) or a 504 Plan, those designations do not necessarily apply to the postsecondary setting. Colleges do not use IEP’s and, although students with disabilities are covered under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, again the focus changes to equal access for adults.

Another major difference from the K-12 system is parental rights. As a minor, your parents have been responsible for every aspect of your life, including education. Once you turn 18 and graduate from high school you are considered an adult; your parents will only have as much input as you allow. Without your expressed, written permission, many college offices and professors will not even speak with your parents. Students, with or without disabilities) are expected to make their needs known to the appropriate university personnel. The university is not expected to nor required to anticipate the needs of individual students.



An advocate is someone who supports, defends, or pleads on behalf of someone else. The self-advocate supports, defends, or pleads for him/herself. It means identifying yourself as a student with a disability. It means discussing one-on-one with professors your need for specific accommodations in a classroom. It also means being aware of how your disability impacts your ability to function and then seeking out the resources to assist you in overcoming obstacles presented by your disability.

At the postsecondary level, colleges and universities are not allowed to ask about disabilities during the admittance process. Since they cannot ask, they must rely on you to make your needs known. You will need to provide the appropriate documentation to substantiate the disability and request accommodations and/or academic adjustments in a timely manner.

The disability services office will help promote your skill as a self-advocate by explaining procedures, providing resources and services, and act on your behalf when requested. Again, the onus is on you to make your needs known.


Types of Academic Adjustments

Academic adjustments can be as varied as the types of disabilities. Not all adjustments are suitable to every disability, nor do students with the same diagnosed disability need the same accommodations. Each student with a disability will need to provide documentation addressing his/her specific disability. Disability Services for Students (DSS) staff will meet individually with the student and determine which adjustments are most appropriate. Academic adjustments may include, but are not limited to:

  • Extended time on tests - time and 1/2 appropriate
  • Quiet room for testing
  • Test reader/scribe, student to arrange through DSRS
  • Permission to use a formula/note card for tests
  • Use of a word processor for in-class writing or essay tests
  • No Scantron answer sheets used
  • Alternate format for textbooks
  • Enlarged print
  • Course materials in electronic format
  • Copies of lecture materials, if available
  • Permission to tape record lectures
  • Leniency on spelling and mechanics for in-class writing assignments
  • Attendance leniency for health issues
  • Regular contact with instructor for clarification or discussion of health issues
  • Course substitutions


Types of University Accommodations

University accommodations are those needed to assure access to the university. A classroom accommodation is that which does not necessarily involve a specific course, but affects the learning environment of any class. University accommodations are as varied as the types of disabilities. Not all accommodations are appropriate for every disability nor are students with the same diagnosed disability eligible for the same accommodations.

University accommodations, which fall into several categories, may include, but are not limited to:

  • Classroom accommodations
  • Room location changes
  • Furniture requirements (table and separate chair instead of desks)
  • FM amplification systems
  • Sign language interpreters
  • Preferential Seating
  • Limited number of exams per day
  • Permission to move, stand or sit after prolonged periods
  • Priority Registration
  • Laboratory assistance

Facility accommodations:

  • Library research/retrieval assistance
  • Snow removal
  • Residence Hall issues
  • First floor rooms
  • Fire alert equipment for deaf students (flashing strobe alarms, etc)
  • Accessible showers/bathrooms
  • Considerations for severe asthma and allergies


  • Referrals to agencies within and outside of Western Michigan University
  • Advocacy for students with disabilities to professors, Residence Life, and
    other departments on campus
  • Meetings for students with disabilities who would like regular contact to
    reduce isolation and/or discuss personal or academic concerns


Textbooks in Alternate Formats

Students with print disabilities are able to request their textbooks in alternate formats. Currently, Disability Services for Students (DSS) is able to provide electronic versions of most books. In order for DSRS to do this, you must first purchase your textbook. Due to copyright laws, we must provide a proof of purchase to the publishers in order to receive files of the book. Electronic books can be in Word, .RTF, or PDF formats. As a student with print disabilities you need to do the following:

1. Purchase all of your textbooks as far in advance of the beginning of the semester as possible. The campus bookstore does offer a pre-order service. You can also request an early purchase because of needing to have the books prepared in an alternate format.

2. Bring your textbooks and your purchase receipt to DSS office, preferably before the start of the semester. DSS will contact the publishers first to see if an electronic version is available. That can sometimes take three or more weeks. If any publisher does not have the book available in an alternate format, or if you need the book more quickly, DSS can scan your book. Depending on the semester, this may take one to two weeks. DSS would have to cut the binding from your book, but you can have it spiral bound at any printing/copy shop. Another suggestion would be to three-hole punch the book to put in a binder. That way you would only have to carry a couple of chapters at a time.

3. Download any of several free screen readers from the Internet if you don’t already have a computer screen reader. You can use the built-in Narrator on Windows-based computers. The free versions do not have all of the bells and whistles a higher quality for-purchase program will have, but they do the job. NaturalReader and TextAloud are examples of screen readers (also known as test-to-speech readers).

4. Pick up your books from DSS and bring in a USB drive (also known as a thumb drive or jump drive). You will be contacted, usually through email, when your books are ready. They won’t do you any good if you don’t come and get them. You are encouraged to complete any tutorials that come with the screen reader programs. Using the program is the best teacher – the more you use it the easier it is to use. You can make an appointment to have some basic training on the software, if you
still have difficulty.


Parental Role

As a minor or person under 18 years old, your parents have been responsible for every part of your life. This changes once you turn 18 and are admitted to a college or university. As an adult, everything about you and the university is private and confidential. Your parents are only able to be involved if you give them permission. This includes every aspect of college life – tuition and fees, room and board, academics and classes, conduct, and so on.

The Family Education and Right to Privacy Act (FERPA) is an Act that provides for the release of private and confidential information to specified persons. Release forms are available at various departments on campus and at Disabled Student Resources and Services. If you expect either of your parents, other guardian or person to contact DSS to discuss you and your situation, you will need to sign the FERPA.

For other areas of the university, you may need to provide your parents with passwords and other account information. For example, if your parents will be “paying the bills,” you will need to allow them access to the goWMU portal so they can get any balances due. Paper statements are no longer mailed. It is assumed that you, the student and adult, will take care of your financial responsibilities, so if you want you parents to do it, you must give access.

For orientation students: check out the First Year Experience Pages!

If you cannot find information on the website, please feel free to email Jen Lawson-Steeves with your questions.


Disablity Services for Students
Western Michigan University
Kalamazoo MI 49008-5277 USA
(269) 387-2116 | (269) 387-0633 Fax