Students with Disabilities: A Resource Guide for Faculty & Staff

Western Michigan University College Students with Disabilities

A Resource Guide for Faculty & Staff


Updated Syllabus Statement- September 2014:

Disability Services for Students is in the process of migrating to a new student accommodation management system called Accommodate. Currently, DSS provides services to more than 800 students. 

Transitioning to the new system will require that students request services and appointment scheduling through the GoWMU portal. With the new system, instructors of record will receive email notifications regarding students requesting academic accommodations or modifications. 

The current system of notification through academic accommodation cards will run in parallel with the new Accommodate system until September 2015 when the accommodation cards will be phased out. 

Students are required to request from DSS academic accommodations for each semester and each class. DSS staff then screens and approves accommodations or modifications.  Instructors of record will receive email notifications from this system when a student is screened and approved for academic accommodations and modifications. 

DSS will continue to stress to students the importance of meeting with faculty members as soon as they have been approved for services. The office also encourages students with a prior medical certification to register with DSS in the first two weeks of a semester. In addition, DSS stresses to students that accommodations are not retroactive to the beginning of a semester and will take up to five days for implementation.

To help remind students how to request such academic accommodations or modifications and utilize DSS services, we ask instructors to consider including the following statement in courses syllabi:

To assure compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, faculty members at Western Michigan University need to know how a disability will impact student participation and work in courses. Any student registered with Disability Services for Students who would like to discuss accommodations for this class should contact the instructor of record in a timely manner. Students with documented disabilities who are not registered with DSS should call the office at (269) 387-2116 or visit Students cannot request academic accommodations without scheduling an appointment and meeting with a DSS staff member. If a student does not register with DSS, their academic accommodations/modifications cannot be executed.



This resource guide is designed to assist faculty and staff in teaching and working with students with disabilities. Federal legislation mandates that, as an institution receiving federal funds, Western Michigan University (WMU) must provide reasonable accommodations that afford equal educational opportunity for all students.

Achieving reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities involves shared responsibility between the students, faculty and staff. WMU has charged Disability Services for Students to oversee the compliance of the federal mandates. Disability Services for Students (DSS), (269)-387-2116 or TDD 269-387-2120, provides services for students with documented disabilities such as Specific Learning Disabilities, Attention Deficit Disorder, Visual Impairments, Hearing Impairments, Chronic Illnesses, Psychiatric Disorders and Physical Disabilities. The Office of Institutional Equity (OIE), (269) 387-6316, acts affirmatively on behalf of qualified persons who have disability related compliance issues in accordance with Federal and State regulations.

It is important to note that disabilities range in levels of functioning and that each student with the same disability may require different compensations and/or accommodations. These may also change or vary over time. Consequently, while the information provided in this resource can be used as a general guide, specific knowledge of a student’s needs should be presented to the instructor by the student through a letter prepared by DSS.

It is hoped that this Resource Guide will serve as a quick reference for information, accommodation, and legal requirements in providing equal access for students with disabilities.

Table of Contents:

Section One: General Overview

The Law

Shared Responsibilities

Supporting All Students with Disabilities

Section Two: The Disabilities


Blindness/Visual Impairments

Chronic Illnesses

Deafness/Hearing Impairments

Emotional/Psychological Disorders

Learning/Language Disorders

Mobility/Medical Disorders

Temporary/Other Disabilities

Traumatic Brain Injury

Section Three: Specific Accommodations and Academic Adjustments




Recommendations for All Courses

Section Four: Resources

Emergency Procedures

WMU Resources

Other Resources

Selected References

Section One: General Overview

The Law

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation ACT of 1973 states that: "No otherwise qualified person with a disability in the United States… shall, solely by reason of …disability, be denied the benefits of, be excluded from participation in, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

A person with a disability includes… ”any person who (1) has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities, (2) has a record of such impairment, or (3) is regarded as having such an impairment.”

A “qualified person with a disability” is defined as one… “who meets the academic and technical standards requisite to admission or participation in the education program or activity.”

Section 504 protects the rights of qualified individuals who have disabilities such as, but not limited to:

  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
  • Blindness/visual impairment
  • Chronic Illnesses, such as: AIDS, Arthritis, Cancer, Cardiac Disease, Diabetes, Multiple Sclerosis, Muscular Dystrophy
  • Deafness/hearing impairments
  • Specific learning disabilities/Speech language disorders
  • Emotional/Psychological Impairments
  • Medical Issues
  • Orthopedic/mobility impairments
  • Traumatic Brain Injury

Under the provisions of Section 504… universities may not discriminate in the recruitment, admission, educational process, or treatment of students. Students who have self-identified, provided documentation of disabilities, and requested reasonable accommodations are entitled to receive appropriate academic adjustments or auxiliary aids that enable them to participate in and benefit from all educational programs and activities.

Section 504 also specifies that universities may not… limit the number of students with disabilities admitted, make pre-admission inquiries as to whether or not an applicant has a disability, use admission tests or criteria that inadequately measures the academic qualifications of students with disabilities because special provisions were not made, exclude a qualified student with a disability from any course of study, or establish rules and policies that may adversely affect students with disabilities.

Modifications and accommodations for students with disabilities include, but are not limited to:

  • Moving classroom assignments due to architectural barriers
  • Providing services, such as readers for students with visual impairments or learning disabilities or qualified interpreters and note-takers for students with deafness or hearing impairments
  • Allowing additional time and/or a quiet room to complete exams
  • Permitting exams to be individually proctored/monitored, dictated, or typed
  • Permitting the use of computer software programs or other assistive technological devices to assist in test-taking and study skills
  • Authorizing campus transportation services
    Obtaining textbooks in alternate formats for students with visual impairments or learning disabilities

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act contains more specific information about compliance issues in post-secondary education than the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA did extend the law to cover private institutions of higher education as well as those receiving federal funding. Universities and colleges can also expect to see more rigid enforcement of the law with the passage of the ADA.

Shared Responsibilities


A student with disabilities has three primary responsibilities, which must be completed in order to receive accommodations at WMU. First, the student must identify him/herself as a person with a disability. While the student may approach you as the instructor, it is important he/she identify with DSS. The student must also provide current documentation or supporting evidence that the disability substantially limits the ability to function in a major life activity. Finally, the student must, in a timely manner, request accommodations needed for each class every semester, particularly since faculty are not required to anticipate special needs.

Inherently, requesting accommodations also implies certain responsibilities. It is the student’s responsibility to provide instructors with a DSS accommodation letter. It is also the student’s task to meet with instructors every semester to discuss the particulars of each accommodation request. How the accommodations are provided is determined by agreement between instructors and the student.


If a student identifies him/herself as having a disability
and requests accommodations, it is your responsibility to ensure the learning environment is accessible and the accommodations provided. It is strongly recommended that you have available office hours in order to meet privately with students who have identified and request accommodations. The particulars of each student’s needs should be discussed so that both of you understand and agree upon what arrangements must be made. At a minimum, you should 1) make sure the students is aware of the services available through DSS, 2) request a letter of accommodation from DSS, 3) meet with the student to agree upon the terms of the accommodation request, and 4) look to your academic department for assistance in providing accommodations.

While you are not required to anticipate the special needs of students in your class, please keep in mind the possibility of special needs when planning and making special class arrangements, such as field trips. Be cognizant of adjustments which may be required in these situations. For example: is transportation handi-capped accessible or how will a visually impaired student participate? The goal is to make the activity accessible and valuable to all of the students in your class.

Ideally, students are encouraged to meet with you and, through open dialog, create an educational partnership in which both of you take part in assuring successful access to education. With agreement on the essentials of the accommodations, the burden of providing them is removed from both you and the student.


DSS, as a partner, assists students with disabilities request and receive appropriate accommodations. Staff members help these students advocate for themselves. DSS can also act on their behalf to resolve issues concerning academic or other accommodations.

Disability services at the university level are really all about students’ access of coursework and programs. Students matriculating directly from the K-12 system are often under the mistaken impression that the university or college must help them succeed. While success was indeed the primary goal of laws such as No Child Left Behind, once students graduate from high school, it becomes their own responsibility to succeed. Accommodations at the post-secondary level are strictly to assure equal access and avoid discrimination - not give students with disabilities undue advantage over their classmates.

Supporting All Students with Disabilities

A student with disabilities must meet the same admittance requirements to WMU as any other student. For students applying for admission as freshmen, the University admissions office will look at high school grades and coursework, as well as scores on college entrance exams such as the SAT or ACT. For students applying as transfer, previous college coursework will be factored. However, the University cannot ask for or request information regarding disabilities. When a student with a disability enrolls in your class, you can be assured that the student meets all other qualifying requirements. However, there are some ways you can support all students with disabilities in your courses regardless of the individual accommodations requested.

Syllabus Statement: Provide a statement in your syllabus requesting that students inform you of any special needs to ensure that those needs are met in a timely manner. If possible, this statement should be read aloud to the class to assure those students with print disabilities hear the information. This approach also demonstrates to students that you are sensitive to and concerned about meeting the needs of all of the students you teach. It further affords students the opportunity to make their accommodation needs known to you early in the semester. An example of an appropriate statement in a syllabus is as follows:

Any student with a documented disability (e.g. physical, learning, psychiatric, vision, hearing, etc.) who needs to arrange reasonable accommodations must contact the professor and/or Disability Services for Students at the beginning of the semester.

Confidentiality: Disability information must remain confidential. The entire class should never be informed there is a student with a disability enrolled, except at the request of the individual student. Any information a student with a disability provides you is to be used solely and specifically for arranging reasonable accommodations for the course of study. DSS recommends that students with disabilities bring their accommodation letters to you during office hours or by special appointment, and not to hand them to you just before or after a class session. During the appointment, the particulars of arrangements for accommodations can be discussed and agreed upon in private. (Also see “Specific Accommodations”.)

Textbooks, Coursepacks, Syllabi, and Videos: When selecting textbooks, please consider texts that have alternate formats available. Many publishers now offer electronic versions (provided on a compact disk for use with adaptive technology) for students with visual impairments or specific learning disabilities, however, a service provider, such as DSS, must request the materials. There is often a three-week turn around, which can hinder a student’s ability to study and prepare appropriately for your class. Michigan, along with other states, is in the process of adopting legislation requiring publishers to automatically create alternative formats of all books they market. If possible, select a textbook with an accompanying study guide or auxiliary materials to maximize comprehension for all students.

As you gather various journal articles and portions of books into coursepacks, please use the original copies or copies that are as clean and clear as possible. For students needing to have the materials scanned into electronic format, enlarged, or Brailled, clear copies are essential. Recognition software cannot generate images from blurred or poor quality copies. Providing students with coursepacks that have to be altered in a timely manner can be a major undertaking when the materials are not of the best quality.

Whenever possible, post any course materials on your course Web site. This allows students with disabilities prompt access in order to maximize their learning. For the visually impaired students, assistive technology, such as screen readers, can provide auditory versions of your materials, such as syllabi, PowerPoint presentations and lecture outlines. Other students with disabilities can download and print out before class any materials needed in preparation for daily lectures and so on.

If you tend to use videos as a method of instruction, consider using captioned or transcripted versions. Having the content in written form for students with hearing impairments allows for better participation in activities associated with the video. DSS does not currently transcribe videos.

Section Two: The Disabilities

Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder

Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, also known as ADD or ADHD, is a neurological-based medical problem that affects learning and behavior, and is characterized by inattention, impulsivity and sometimes hyperactivity.

Manifestations of ADHD in Traditional/Non-traditional Students

Freshman students with ADHD may demonstrate increased levels of anxiety related to higher expectations for colleges and universities

The significant maturational lag (of up to three years) found in students with ADHD may compromise their transition to the college environment and adjustment (Barkley, 1994).

Some students with ADHD, after years of “special” education, may wish to leave their disability behind by denying a need for continued support (Barley, 1994).

Students with ADHD may externalize frustration, blaming problems on faculty or advisors. Others may take it out on themselves in a manner that results in feelings of anger and/or depression.

Students, who have not gained insight about the symptoms of their disability, may struggle with unrecognized transition issues by finding fault and reacting with anger to every situation that poses challenges.

Students who were either “bright enough,” or had “good enough” social skills to compensate for their dificulties at the elementary and secondary levels, and did not misbehave or fall two-three years below grade level have frequently gone unidentified until they “hit the wall” of academics or adjustments at college.

Students with ADHD may also have been diagnosed with learning disabilities.

Blindness/Visual Impairments

Visual impairments include disorders that affect the central vision acuity, the field of vision, color perception, or binocular visual function. The American Medical Association defined legal blindness as visual acuity not exceeding 20/200 in the better eye with correction, or a limit in the field of vision that is less than a 20 degree angle (tunnel vision). Tumors, infections, injuries, retrolental fibroplasis, cataracts, glaucoma, diabetes, vascular impairments, or myopia may cause legal blindness. Visual disabilities vary widely. Some students may use guide dogs, others white canes, while others may not require mobility assistance. Some students may use Braille and others do not. Students with some vision use a variety of accommodations, equipment and compensatory strategies. These may include enlarged print and/or magnifiers, speech input/output software programs, tape recorders and test readers.


A student with no light perception or no functional vision may rely on a white cane, a guide dog, or a sighted guide for mobility purposes. Guide dogs should not be petted. If you serve as a guide, allow the student to take your arm just above the elbow.

A lower noise level in the classroom is important for hearing, as the student will not receive the visual cues available to sighted people. A student with visual impairment may require a reader for exams and may use a note-taking device, such as a Braille Writer or Alpha Smart, in class to take notes.

Approximately 80% of all legally blind individuals have some usable vision. Students with visual impairments benefit from seating at the front of the class. Lighting is very important and should be discussed with you. Glare may be especially troublesome. Poor quality print or copies and written material on colored paper may reduce legibility for all students, but can create major problems for the visually impaired.

When lecturing, be aware of using specific language to describe visual information. Adverbial and adjectival pronouns (this, that, there, etc.) should be replaced with specific nouns and verbs.

Post course materials to a class Web site. The student with visual impairments can then access the materials in a timely manner, but also utilize the specific type of assistive technology appropriate for him/her. The student could enlarge the text or have it read aloud by voice production software such as JAWS or ReadPlease.

Chronic Illnesses

Chronic Illness describes a group of health conditions that last long periods of time. Basically, they are conditions or problems that limit what a person can do and may never go away. This does not mean the person with a chronic illness will always be sick. In some instances, the illness may be cyclical, such as Crohne’s Disease, which presents with flare-ups and periods relatively free of symptoms. Other chronic illnesses may be completely controlled with medications. Some illnesses that are categorized as chronic are: AIDS, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Arthritis, Migraines, Cancer, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Parkinson’s Disease, Diabetes, most Respiratory ailments (asthma, etc), and cardiac problems. This list is not exhaustive, but used to illustrate the variety of illnesses considered to be chronic.

Chronic Illness may affect a person’s ability to function in an academic setting. The student may just need to discuss with you, as the instructor, possible options if he/she experiences a flare-up. Sometimes a student may need to have permission to stand up or change positions while sitting in class. Other times, the student may need to request an incomplete for the course until he/she has recovered enough to complete the work involved.

Regardless of the diagnosis, the student with chronic illness should still initiate services through DSS. We will provide an accommodation letter, which clearly indicates the type of accommodations needed for this particular student. You will want to discuss with the student how you will be notified if the student must be absent from class due to these health issues.

Deafness/Hearing Impairments

More individuals in the United States have hearing impairments than any other type of physical disability. A hearing impairment is any type or degree of auditory impairment while deafness is an inability to use hearing as a means of communication. Hearing loss may be sensorineural, involving an impairment of the auditory nerve; conductive, a defect in the auditory system that interferes with sound reaching the cochlea; or a mixed impairment involving both sensorineural and conductive. Hearing loss is measured in decibels, and may be mild, moderate, or profound. A person who is born with a hearing loss may have language deficiencies and exhibit poor vocabulary and syntax. Many students with hearing loss may use hearing aids and rely on lip reading, while others may require an interpreter.

There are two types of interpreters: oral and manual. An oral interpreter mouths the words to the person with hearing impairments to facilitate accurate lip reading. This process is used in large lecture halls or seminars or for the person who does not use sign language. Manual interpretation, sign language, is hand movements and finger spelling. If an interpreter is in your class, be aware of the slight lag time between your speech and the rate of interpretation. You may wish to discuss this with the student and interpreter prior to class. Always address the student, not the interpreter, when conversing. And, even though sign language interpretation can be a distraction for you and your class, the initial curiosity will fade.

For students with partial hearing loss, you may be asked to wear a microphone, used in conjunction with an amplifier worn by the student. This specialized system (known as an FM system) is designed to have your speech transmitted directly to the student’s aided ear. Extraneous sounds are reduced, making the lecture audible to the student.

Many deaf students can and do speak, although the speech may be difficult to understand at first. As you and the other students in class become used to the speech, understanding improves. Allow the student with hearing loss the opportunity to orally participate in your class. It is appropriate to ask the student to repeat any statement not clearly understood. Summarizing the message helps the student check for accuracy of understanding.

When possible, use captioned versions of films, videos and other visual aids. If captioned versions are not available, consider having someone transcribe the information. Printed copies of the dialog will, at least, allow the student to read through the information. Movies with characters and lots of dialog are not always suitable for sign language interpretation. DSS does not have the capability to caption or transcribe films and other visual media.

When a student has the assistance of a sign language interpreter, he/she will not be able to take notes on the lecture. Copies of your lecture outline and/or materials should be made available to the student. The student could also use your assistance in finding a classmate who would be willing to take/share notes. Upon request, DSS could provide NCR (no carbon required) paper so that neither the note-taker nor the student with hearing impairment would need to make copies.

In the future, other technologies for the deaf or hearing impaired may be available at WMU: C-Print, a computer-aided speech-to-print transcription service, and Computer Aided Realtime Translation (CART) With C-Print, a captionist types the lecture and class comments into a laptop computer, using an abbreviation and text-condensing process. The typed information is converted and simultaneously displayed onto a second laptop or television monitor. A paper copy or disk of the text is made available to the student after class. CART is similar to court reporting. A stenographer uses a specialized typing machine to phonetically transcribe the lecture and comments. The transcription is translated into readable text and displayed onto a monitor or laptop through special software.

Emotional/Psychological Disorders

Emotional/Psychological disorders cover a wide range of disorders such as neuroses, psychoses, and personality disorders. The majority of psychological disorders are controlled using a combination of medications and psychotherapy. Some conditions are cyclical in nature yet do not follow regular patterns. It is difficult to predict when symptoms will reoccur and functioning will worsen.

Some specific psychiatric disorders include:

  • Depression- a major disorder characterized by depressed mood, a lack of pleasure in most activities and feelings of worthlessness and guilt.

  • Bipolar Disorder- periods of mania and depression, manifested by disruptive sleep patterns, increased or decreased self-esteem, and periods of lethargy or euphoria

  • Anxiety Disorders- disruptions in ability to concentrate and may cause hyperventilation, dizziness, chest pains and fear.

  • Schizophrenia- possible experiences of delusions and hallucinations

Psychological disabilities are generally not apparent and cannot be generalized as to the types of accommodations needed. If a student initiates services with DSS, as with other students with disabilities, we will provide a letter of accommodation request, which specifically states the appropriate academic adjustments for that particular student.


Learning/Language Disorders

A Learning Disability (LD) is a permanent neurological disorder that affects the manner information is received, organized, remembered, and then retrieved or expressed. Students with LD possess average to above average intelligence. The disability is demonstrated by a significant discrepancy between expected and actual performance in one or more of the basic functions: memory, oral expression, listening comprehension, written expression, basic reading skills, reading comprehension, mathematical calculation, or mathematical reasoning. Keep in mind that each student with LD has his/her own set of characteristics and that he/she may not be affected in all areas. In fact, it is not unusual for a person with LD to be gifted in some areas or subjects while experiencing the disability in other areas or subjects.

Common Learning Disabilities:

  • Dyslexia – inability to read fluently. Often characterized by transposition of letters and words or skipping words and phrases altogether. Causes slow reading and takes tremendous energy to focus on comprehension.
  • Dyscalculia – inability to do mathematics. Inability to grasp and remember math concepts, rules, formulas, sequence (order of operations), and basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division facts. Poor long term memory (retention & retrieval) of concept mastery.
  • Dysgraphia – inability to write words with appropriate syntax. Written work appears careless and childlike, often illegible. Writing is inconsistent in spelling (even the same word spelled differently every time it is used), mixtures of cursive and manuscript, and upper/lower case misuse.
  • Dysphasia – inability to speak fluently or sometimes to understand others. The student may be unable to distinguish between sounds, understand lengthy sentences, or complex sentence structure. He/she may have difficulty in thinking of correct words, forming grammatically correct sentences, or make clear explanations.
  • Figure-Ground Perception – inability to see an object from a background of other objects.
  • Visual Discrimination – inability to see differences in objects
  • Auditory Figure-Group Perception – inability to hear one sound among others
  • Auditory Sequencing – inability to hear sounds in the right order.

Adaptive Technology: Students with Learning Disabilities often use a variety of adaptive technologies to aid their learning. A student with a written expression disability may use a voice input software program (similar to a dictating machine) on his/her computer for writing papers. A student with a reading comprehension disability may use auditory textbooks, either cassette tape or electronic on CD-ROMS, to hear the text while following the words in print. Some students with LD may use talking calculators and spellers. It is always recommended to discuss adaptive technology uses with the student with LD. When appropriate, allow the student the use of adaptive technology in the classroom. There may be times when you are teaching concepts that must be learned without the benefit of adaptive technology. If the concept is fundamental to your course and essential to the learning process, you may disallow adaptive technology use for that specific concept. For example, if spelling a specific body part in an anatomy class is fundamental to the course, you may request the student not use a spelling devise for a spelling test of words. However, the adaptive technology must be allowed in any other instance where spelling is not the goal of the assignment or activity.

Mobility/Medical Disorders

A variety of orthopedic/mobility-related disabilities result from congenital conditions, accidents or progressive neuromuscular diseases. These disabilities include conditions such as spinal cord injury (paraplegia or quadriplegia), Cerebral Palsy, Spina Bifida, amputation, Muscular Dystrophy, cardiac/respiratory conditions, paralysis, asthma, and stroke. Functional limitations and abilities vary widely even within one group of disabilities. Accommodations will also vary greatly and can best be determined on a case-by-case basis.

Students who use wheelchairs fall in the category of mobility impairments, but not all mobility issues concern walking. Barriers to access for mobility impairments include steps, curbs, narrow walkways, heavy doors, elevator doors with no delay mechanisms, hills, ramps, and even lengthy writing tasks.

Specific Conditions within mobility impairments:

  • Pain, spasticity, or lack of coordination
  • Dizziness, disorientation and difficulty breathing
  • Flare-ups of intensity of symptoms
  • Periods of remission with little or no visible symptoms
  • Inability to walk without crutches, braces, canes, or walkers
  • Ability to stand or walk, but may use wheelchair for complete mobility
  • Limited lower body use but full use of arms and hands
  • Limited lower body use and limited use of arms and hands
  • Impairment of speech or hearing
  • Limited head and neck movement
  • Decreased physical stamina and endurance
  • Decreased eye-hand coordination

Temporary Disabilities

Things happen. Students present any number of temporary disabilities that require accommodation, but only for short periods of time. The most common of these disabilities is broken bones. Whether the break involves arms, legs, hands or feet, a cast and rehabilitation therapy can cause problems for students. When a break occurs on the dominant arm or hand, writing becomes an issue. You and the student must find other means for the student to function in your class. Usually, a temporary service of scribing tests or tape recording lectures is sufficient. When the injury involves the legs and feet, the accommodations may include providing a table and chair rather than an armed desk. Other types of temporary disabilities include sudden illness, surgeries and hospitalization.

Students with temporary injuries and disabilities should be encouraged to contact DSS and provide documentation addressing the length of recovery so that appropriate accommodations may be determined.

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

Head injury is one of the fastest growing types of disabilities, especially for people from 15 to 28 years old. Over 5000,000 cases are reported hospitalized each year. Damage to the brain may be caused by bruising and bleeding, tearing, and swelling. The injury may be either an open head injury or a closed head injury. Closed head injuries are often considered the more profound. There is a wide range of differences in the effects of a TBI on the individual, but most cases result in some type of impairment. The functions that may be affected include: memory, cognitive/perceptual communication, speed of thinking, communication, spatial reasoning, conceptualization, psychosocial behaviors, motor abilities, sensory perception, sleep, and physical abilities.

A number of factors affect learning for a person with TBI. Short term memory may have been affected. Learning requires energy and brain injury increases fatigue. Social skills may have been affected as speech, mobility, and fine and gross motor control may be limited. The thinking process is often slowed as the person searches for the right words before speaking. Concentration can be a major problem for students with TBI. To focus on a task takes extreme effort, so study, reading, test-taking and other attention tasks become difficult.

Section Three: Specific Accommodations and Academic Adjustments


Accommodations for testing are primarily used to afford the student with disabilities enough time to read, process, and answer the questions. Sometimes, time is not a factor, but the distractions within a classroom present barriers too difficult to overcome. The student is expected to meet with you to discuss these accommodations and agree to arrangements. Please keep students with disabilities in mind when scheduling tests. Last minute changes are very hard on these students, especially when readers or scribes are involved. The following are specific testing accommodations.

Extended time – The time given for a test is extended, typically time and a half. For example, final exams are scheduled for two hours; the student requesting extended time would be allowed three hours to complete the final.

Quiet room for testing – The student is requesting a private room in which to take the test. The room may be an empty classroom, a room within the department (such as the conference room), or a room reserved at DSS, as long as the room does not have working telephones and can be restricted to prevent people from walking in on the student. When you allow the student to take the test at DSS, please make every effort to send the test over in a timely manner. The student is responsible for reminding you about the arrangements.

Test Reader – someone who will read the test to a student with disabilities. You may arrange for someone from your department to read the test or the student with disabilities will make the arrangements through DSS. It is important to note that DSS needs five business days in order to find a reader. The reader is only that; he/she will not interpret questions (unless approved to do so by you) or guide the student to a correct answer in any way. Please be aware that needing to have someone read the test aloud may increase the time needed to complete the test.

Test Scribe – Someone to write the answers provided by the student with disabilities. As with a test reader, you may prefer to use someone from your department to scribe your tests. The student with disabilities may make arrangements through DSS five business days before the exam. A scribe will only write the answers provided, whether it is filling in the scantron bubbles or writing short answers. If your tests tend to be essay, please discuss the possibility of allowing the scribe to use a word processor. The responses could be printed and returned to you as hard copy, saved to disk and returned to you, or attached to an email.

Alternate Format – Sometimes the normal test (paper, font, etc.) must be changed in some manner. Providing an enlarged copy may satisfy some students with visual impairments. Consult with the student to determine the font size and style. 18-22 is often the preferred size and a standard style such as Arial or Times New Roman would be more appropriate. A student who is blind may wish to have the test converted to Braille. The METL lab in the University Computer Center has a Braille embosser, but there will be a few days’ turn-over. Some students with visual impairments are able to use a video magnifier, which allows the printed page to be magnified or even reversed to a negative image. DSS has a video magnifier.

Limited number of tests per day – Students with extreme fatigue issues may need to have tests and exams on different days. This is especially true during finals when anxiety and extra study add to the stress levels. Those students who need to make these arrangements for tests will discuss alternate times with you. Usually finals need to be limited to two per day with sufficient time for rest/naps between tests. During the regular semester, there may be occasions when two or more classes have tests on the same day, in which case the student will work with you to find suitable alternative times. Exams may be scheduled with DSS, although they do not have to be, following the same procedures as for extended time and/or quiet room.


Accommodations for the classroom take many forms, but may not necessarily affect your teaching. However, these accommodations do pose specific needs for the student and may impact the dynamics of the classroom:

  • Preferential Seating – A student with disabilities may need to sit in a specific area of the room because of visual, hearing or physical impairments. A hearing impaired student may need to sit front and center in order to have a clear line of sight to read your lips during lecture. A student with physical and/or mobility issues may need to sit on the edge of the seating area in order to stand up and move or lean against a wall. Some students with ADD may need to sit opposite the windows or noisy heating/cooling vents. In every case, the student is expected to discuss the accommodation with you, especially if you have specific seating arrangements.
  • Copies of lecture materials, if available – Some students with disabilities may be unable to copy or see overhead transparencies and PowerPoint slides while trying to pay attention to your lecture. If they are available, the student needs to have the material prior to class. Posting the materials to a course Web site is the easiest way of complying with this accommodation. The student with visual impairments, ADD, and/or LD is able to download the information into an accessible format. The material can then be viewed and/or heard on the computer or the student may print the material in preparation for the class. If you do not use visual aids, an outline of the key points of the lecture would accommodate those students with auditory processing disabilities.
  • Permission to tape record – Sometimes a student with disabilities is unable to take notes or is limited in his/her ability to write. As a courtesy, a student with a disability will request permission to tape record your lectures for his/her personal study, although as an approved accommodation, permission is not required. Tape recording is not intended to be in lieu of attendance, nor as an excuse to not take notes. Taped lectures may not be shared with other people without your consent nor may they be used against you, other lecturers or students whose classroom comments are part of the classroom activity. Information contained in a tape-recorded lecture is protected under federal copyright laws and may not be published or quoted without your express consent or without giving proper identity and credit.
  • Permission to use a word processor for in-class writing and/or essays – When written expression is a disability or the student is unable to write due to surgery, arthritis, and other mobility issues, the student may be able to function with a word processor. The written word is legible, the student has use of a spell check and it is produced in a timely manner. For in-class writing, especially when the papers must be submitted at the end of class, the writing can be turned in on disk or attached to an email and sent to you immediately. When taking tests in class, the use of a word processor can speed up the writing for a student with writing impairments and could possibly eliminate the need of a test scribe.
  • Permission to use a word processor for note-taking – As with any in-class writing, note-taking is particularly arduous for students with dysgraphia and other disabilities. For some students with disabilities, lap-top computers, Braille writers and other electronic devices are necessary to be able to access lecture information for study purposes. It is understood that students will not be using these devices for purposes other than coursework while in class.
  • Leniency for in-class writing – This accommodation is requested when a student has a written expression learning disability. Spelling and writing mechanics are compromised when a student must write without extra time for editing. If you must have something turned in immediately, consider the content of the writing, rather than the mechanics. What the student is saying in these situations is more indicative of his/her knowledge than the ability to write a cohesive paragraph.
  • Leniency with absences due to health issues – Some chronic illnesses and medical disabilities may require a student to miss class. Flares-ups for some conditions are difficult to predict. A student requesting this accommodation will need to discuss with you the types of situations which may prevent him/her from attending your class. The condition is never an excuse to not attend class, but when the student cannot attend because of the health concern, he/she must contact you as soon as possible. For example, a student with Crohn’s Disease is suddenly hospitalized because of a flare-up. The student or his/her representative will contact you and, depending on the prognosis, you can make informed decisions about how the student will be able to continue in the course.
  • Alternate Format – Course materials such as syllabi, course packs, and handouts in other formats may need to be made available to students with disabilities. Students with visual impairments and some learning disabilities may need auditory versions or enlarged print. As discussed in the accommodations for tests, use the font size preferred by the student to enlarge the print. Posting all materials on the course Web site allows the student to access the information via modes most suitable to his/her needs and reduces the need for you to do the conversions.
  • FM Amplification System – In some instances, a student with hearing impairments may request that you wear an FM microphone. The student wears a specialized receiver which directs your amplified voice directly to his/her hearing aid. This increases the student’s ability to hear undistorted speech. Currently, very few students with auditory processing problems use this accommodation as it requires the student to carry the equipment to every class and also takes time for the instructor to set up. If your class is in one of the sound- equipped rooms, please use the equipment. Your voice will be clearer through the microphone and speakers than if you try to speak loudly.


These accommodations will not necessarily affect your teaching, but may impact the classroom. Whether the request is for specific furniture or how the student arrives to class, you may be interested in the variety of requests received.

  • Classroom change – If a room is not accessible for a student with disabilities, DSS will work with the building coordinator, room scheduler, and you to find suitable alternative rooms. Although there will be times when the room you use is preferred, the student with disabilities cannot be denied taking a course because the room cannot be accessed.
  • Table/chair – Some students may have difficulty in sitting in the pallet desks that often furnish the smaller classrooms. DSS will work with the building coordinator to place a separate table and chair in the classroom. Please do not allow anyone other than the student with a disability to use this furniture or move it to another room. Students with spinal, bone, or posture disabilities need the flexibility of a movable chair and students with obesity issues may not fit comfortably into a fixed desk. You are encouraged to discuss with any student you notice having difficulty sitting in your classroom the possibility of a disability and need to contact DSS.
  • Priority Registration – Students with disabilities who have initiated services through DSS are eligible for priority registration. The flexibility needed to arrange a schedule to accommodate the specific nature of various disabilities is crucial. Some students have mobility issues requiring sufficient time between classes to go from building to building. Others are unable to take morning classes because of medications or sleep issues. Still others are unable to attend evening classes. Students with disabilities are encouraged to meet with program advisors to determine the course recommendations before requesting priority registration assistance. DSS must register the students with disabilities, but there are also restrictions to what DSS can do. For example, DSS may not override closed sections, major/curriculum restrictions, prerequisites, or holds on student accounts. When any of these situations arise, the students are notified to contact the program advisor or have the hold released from the proper department or office.
  • Textbooks in alternate format – Students with disabilities may need to have their textbooks in an alternate format. Proof of purchase is required to satisfy copyright laws. Whenever possible, DSS first contacts the publisher of the book to verify whether the book is available in electronic format. If the book is not available, DSS can scan books and burn them to CD-ROMs for use with voice output software. When you are considering a new textbook, check the availability of electronic versions and/or auxiliary materials.
  • Course substitution – Although discouraged, course substitution can be a requested accommodation. The student must provide documentation which validates the student cannot successfully complete a specific course because of the disability. A panel, made up of representatives from DSS and the student’s program department, will meet to determine whether a substitution is appropriate and which course must be completed to meet degree requirements.
  • Residence Halls – Students with some disabilities may need specific housing requirements. Single room, private bathroom, wheelchair accessibility, and roommate cooperation are often requested. Again, the student with disabilities must provide appropriate documentation which warrants exceptions to standard residence hall procedures.
  • Lab assistance – While WMU does not have to provide personal attendants for a student with disabilities, a lab assistant may be requested. If a student uses a wheelchair, some chemical, biological, or other labs may not be accessible. The lab materials may be out of reach or the equipment used in some experiments may be difficult for students with physical disabilities to manipulate. Students with visual impairments may need an assistant to explain procedures or other activities.

Recommendations for All Courses

  • Please include a statement on your syllabus encouraging students with disabilities to speak with you and/or DSS.
  • Posting information about your course on-line will allow students, especially those with disabilities, access. Your syllabus; course activity schedule; lecture materials such as PowerPoint slide presentations, transparencies, and notes or outlines; and handouts can be posted prior to class to facilitate class preparation.
  • Give assignments both orally and in writing to avoid confusion.
  • It takes an average of four weeks to get a textbook in electronic format. Please order your textbooks well in advance of the beginning of a semester. If you change your textbook, check with each publisher for the availability of electronic versions and other auxiliary materials and use those services.
  • All students, especially those with disabilities, will benefit from brief summarizing of what has been previously covered and how that material relates to the new. Providing an overview of key points to be covered in that day’s session will also allow all students to better prepare for note-taking and anticipate possible questions.
  • Provide students with study questions before an exam. Mention the format the test will take, objective or subjective, and, if appropriate, what you would consider an acceptable answer.
  • Make an announcement during the first class session or two that you will be reading what is on any transparencies or presentation slides. This will allow students with visual impairments to access the visual materials but also aid those students with learning disabilities. Be sure to expound on the information for clarification and understanding. Some information is not always self-explanatory.

Section Four: Resources

Emergency Procedures for Students with Disabilities

When a student with disabilities is enrolled in your class, it is vital that you be aware of emergency procedures. Sometimes the emergency is to the student with disabilities him/herself, but sometimes it is an entire room or building issue. The following are some immediate actions you may be able to take when faced with specific emergencies.

Mobility: There are, of course, several different types of mobility disabilities including, but not limited to, wheelchairs, canes, walkers, cardiac, and respiratory

Wheelchair specific: breakdown – determine the type of breakdown (mechanical, electrical, etc.). If the student is safe, contact the Department of Public Safety (DPS) and/or WMU facilities. Either department may be able to jump the battery on the wheelchair, or transport, tow or push the chair to the student’s residence. The student will then be able to contact his/her own wheelchair service company.

Trapped in an elevator – contact DPS. Each elevator has a phone with a direct link to DPS. Assure the student that help is on the way. If possible, stay near the elevator for contact with the trapped student. If you cannot stay, ask for assistance from a classmate or building representative.

Classroom/building evacuation – Clear the exit route of obstacles and debris so that the chair can be moved easily. If the route cannot be cleared, move to the safest area within the building. Notify emergency personnel about any person still in the building, giving the location and reason for remaining in the building. If danger is imminent and the wheelchair itself cannot be evacuated, it may be necessary to carry the individual in an office chair or with carry techniques. Consult the person to determine the best carry options. Request assistance from emergency personnel, if possible.

People using canes, crutches, or walkers : evacuation – Evacuate the person as if he/she were injured. If the situation requires a speedy evacuation, use an office chair with casters to push the person to safety. If a chair with casters is unavailable, use a sturdy chair for the person to sit on and drag him to safety. If possible, have another person assist by helping to lift and carry the chair and person.

Other types of mobility issues : Cardiac, respiratory, arthritis and obesity may also hinder students making rapid evacuation from a classroom or building. If necessary, follow the evacuation procedures for someone using a cane or crutches.

Non-evacuation Issues : For classroom or facility issues such as non-functioning automatic door openers, broken handrails, and so on, contact the Maintenance Service Center 7:00 am – 5:00 pm Monday–Friday at 387-8514. For special facility issues at other times and weekends, contact DPS at 387-5555

Blind/Visual Impairments: Disorientation: A student with visual impairments can become lost or disoriented, especially when he/she is new to campus or building. Ask the student if assistance is needed. When appropriate, offer your elbow and guide the student to familiar ground. As you walk, alert the student to landmarks (example: “We’re coming up to Sangren Hall on the right and there is a large parking lot on the left”). The student may then recognize the area and then continue on his or her own.

Classroom/building evacuation – Alert the student to the nature of the situation. Offer assistance to guide him/her to the closest emergency exit. Give verbal instructions on the safest route using directional words and estimated distances. Announce the presence of any obstacles or debris in the path. Once safety has been reach, ask if further assistance is needed and give any other instructions (e.g. stay in the area until emergency personnel give permission to leave, etc.)

Deaf/Hearing Impaired: Classroom/building evacuation – Alert the student by flashing the lights on and off, touching the student on the shoulder, or stepping in front of the student. Clearly state the emergency in writing, gestures, and speaking. Offer visual instructions to advise the safest route or direction by pointing to the exits or evacuation maps. If necessary, assign someone to escort the student to safety.

Chronic Illnesses and Medical Disabilities:

Classroom/building – Seizures: Protect the person from injury, but do NOT restrain or put anything into his/her mouth. Stay with the person until he/she has recovered. Contact DPS.

Diabetic coma/insulin shock: Ask “Have you eaten today?” Someone who has eaten but not taken prescribed medication may be in diabetic coma. Ask “Have you taken your medication today?” Someone who has taken medication but not eaten may be having insulin reaction/shock. Insulin shock is the true emergency and requires prompt action. If the person is conscious, give sugar in any form – candy, fruit juice, soft drink. Monitor the person carefully. Contact DPS if person does not seem to be recovering.

WMU Resources

Western Michigan University

Disability Services for Students 387-2116

Responsible for issues concerning students with
disabilities and their accommodations

Office of Institutional Equity 387-8880
Responsible for issues concerning state and federal guidelines and compliance within the university

Academic Advising Offices:

Arts and Sciences 387-4366

Aviation 387-0347

Business (Haworth College of) 387-5075

General University Studies 387-4578

Education 387-3474

Engineering and Applied Science 376-3270

Fine Arts:

Art 387-2440

Dance 387-5845

Music 387-4672

Theatre 387-3912

Health & Human Services 387-2656

International Student Services 387-5865

Lee Honors College 387-3230

University Curriculum 387-4410

WMU Regional Sites:

Extended University Programs Main Number (269) 387-4200

Online Education (269) 387-4200

Kalamazoo and Statewide Programs (269) 387-4167

WMU - Battle Creek (269) 965-5380

WMU - Grand Rapids:

WMU - Lansing (517) 372-8114

WMU - Muskegon (231) 777-0500

WMU - Southwest (269) 983-1968

WMU - Traverse City (231) 922-1788

Office of Lifelong Learning and Education ( 269) 387-4174

Center for Academic Success Programs 387-4442
Provides free services designed to strengthen learning skills and enhance achievement. Services include tutoring and supplemental instruction in various
subjects and College Success Seminars to enhance reading abilities, learning styles, and study skills

Career and Student Employment Services 387-2745
Information about potential career, interviewing, and
disclosure issues for all WMU students

University Counseling and Testing Center 387-1850
Personal, educational, and career counseling for all WMU students

Information Center 387-3530
Campus information, admissions and orientation

Campus directory assistance 387-1000 (On campus dial 0)

Landscaping Services Division of Physical Plant 387-8559
Snow removal and other mobility concerns related to outdoor areas

Language, Speech & Hearing Clinic (Van Riper) 387-8047
WMU Unified Clinics - Speech and hearing evaluations

Multi-purpose Enabling Technology Lab (METL) 387-6385
University Computer Center 2nd floor
An adaptive computer lab specializing in technology to assist students with visual, hearing, reading, and writing disabilities. Can administer tests in alternative formats

Sindecuse Health Center 387-3287
On-campus, low-cost health care, including pharmaceutical, sports medicine, and LD/ADHD specific medical needs. Currently can evaluate for ADD/ADHD

STEM - Steps Toward Exhibiting Mastery Program 387-4744 Services based upon eligibility

Student Financial Aid and Scholarship 387-6000
Assistance in addressing financial concerns

Campus Bus Services (Metro Transit) 337-8222

Fixed routes on- and off-campus. No fares for students presenting valid WMU Bronco Cards

Routes available on the web through goWMU, then click on WMU directories, then A-Z bus routes

Parking Services 387-4609
Public Safety Annex
Information regarding parking regulations, permits, and violations

University Computing Services Help Desk 387-4357
University Computing Center
Assistance with computer relating questions

WMU Bookstore 387-3925
Bernhard Center
Textbook information and purchase

NAMI - Kalamazoo
Local chapter of the National Alliance of Mental Illness

Writing Lab 387-4615
Writing support for all stages of the writing process and all levels of writing. Tutors are available for walk- ins and appointments.

Other Resources

ADA Laws:

U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission

U.S. Department of Justice

U.S. Department of Labor

Department of Education - Office of Civil Rights


Association for Higher Education and Disability

National association focusing on disabilities
within post-secondary institutions


Michigan chapter of AHEAD

Social Security and Disabilities

National Institute on Mental Health

Kalamazoo County Community Mental Health 553-8000

Selected References

Faculty Handbook – Indiana University Southeast, New Albany, IN

Accommodating Disabled Students: A Resource Guide for Faculty and Staff, Mississippi State University, Mississippi State, MS

Access to Education: A Guide to Accommodating Students with Disabilities, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM

A Desk Reference Guide for Faculty & Staff, Grand Valley State University, Allendale, MI

Faculty and Staff Handbook, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI

Alert Newsletter, Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD)

Faculty Handbook, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH

Barkley, R. A. (1994). ADHD in the Classroom [video recording]: strategies for teachers/ Kevin Dawkins, producer/writer.

Barkley, R.A., Anastoponlas, A.D., Guenremont, D.C., et al. (1991). Adolescents w/ADHD: Patterns of behavioral adjustments, academic functions and treatment utilization. Journal of American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 30, 572-761

Brinckerhoff, L.C., Shaw, S.F., & McGuire, J.M. (1992). Promoting access, accommodations, and independence for college students with learning disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 25(7), 417-429.

Corn, J., Klein, A., & Merrill, P. (1989). Teaching Remedial Mathematics to Students with Learning Disabilities. Queensborough Community College, Bayside, NY

Kroeger, S. and Schuck, J. (1993 ). Responding to disability issues in student affairs. San Francisco: Jossey Bass

The Impact of Section 504 on Post-secondary Education: Subpart E., AHEAD

Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 USC§701 et seq. (1973)




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