Disability Resource Center

Frequently Asked Questions

I suspect a student in one of my classes has a disability. What should I do?

While it is true that faculty members should not ask a student if he or she has a disability, there are other ways to address this issue. If you notice any of the following indicators, please invite the student to speak with you during office hours:

  • Exhibits patterns of mistakes.
  • Demonstrates knowledge of course material during discussion, but performs poorly on exams.
  • Does not seem to grasp concepts.
  • Does not follow directions well or seems distracted.
  • Frequent absences or breaks taken during class.

During your meeting with the student, one way to bring up services provided by DRC is to use a list of campus resources: University Counseling Center fall seminars on learning, studying, managing time, and test taking; tutoring through the University Advising and Academic Support Center; assessment and therapy through the Psychology Clinic; assistance with writing at the Writing Center; and academic adjustments for individuals with disabilities at Disability Resource Center. If a student has an obvious access issue, such as inaccessible classroom furniture, please do not wait to accommodate him or her. Also, please refer them to DRC so that in future semesters, appropriate arrangements can be made before classes begin.

What should I do when a student requests accommodations?

A student who is requesting accommodations should present you with a current letter from DRC. This letter will list the accommodations for which the student is eligible. Invite students to your office hours to privately discuss accommodation matters.
Please be aware that students may or may not need all of the accommodations for which they are eligible in your course. The student’s specific needs for your course should be clarified in the discussion regarding accommodation matters.

How should I proceed when a student hands me the letter and walks away without discussing it?

Once a student hands you the letter, they are officially notifying you of the need for accommodations.  In order to implement these accommodations, you must discuss the letter with the student to make specific plans.  For example, if the letter states that the student is eligible for testing accommodations, you will need to let the student know if you will provide those accommodations or if the student should schedule exams at the DRC.  It is appropriate and necessary to discuss the plans for accommodations with the student, and you should feel free to approach them regarding such.  You may send the student an email or approach the student after class and ask them to meet with you during office hours to discuss the letter.  However, students should not be asked to disclose specific information about their condition or to justify the need for accommodations.

How does DRC assist faculty members?

  • Provides an exam service to faculty members who do not have the time, space, or resources.
  • Coordinates volunteer note takers referred by faculty.
  • Offers text conversion of required class materials for qualifying students.
  • Answers questions about rights and responsibilities related to the provision of accommodations.
  • Holds information sessions for faculty who have students with disabilities registered in their courses each semester.
  • Provides early notification and consultation on accommodations that may require pre-planning.
  • Advises faculty on the appropriateness of requested accommodations for their individual courses.
  • Assists faculty in finding resources for universal design of courses.

What is a reasonable accommodation?

Reasonable accommodations are changes in the learning environment that permit students with disabilities to compete at the University. The accommodations modify nonessential elements of University programs.
Examples include, but are not limited to:

  • Extended testing times.
  • Note takers.
  • Enlarged course material.
  • Sign language interpreters.
  • Adaptive computer software.
  • Accessible classrooms.
  • Alternative textbook format.

The DRC coordinates and provides reasonable accommodations to qualified students with disabilities. Accommodations are individualized to address specific environmental barriers to a student’s participation in an educational setting. There must be a logical link between the accommodation and the student’s disability.

Are accommodations fair to other students?

This question is often asked of students with disabilities. The underlying assumption of the question is that fairness and equal treatment are synonymous with “the same” treatment. However, the same treatment doesn’t always measure fairly. First, disability law protects students with disabilities from being subjected to the arbitrary measure of what is best for others, except in cases of safety to others. Second, the assumption of the law is that modifying non-essential tasks should give the student with a disability an equal, or fair, chance to demonstrate their ability, minimizing the impact of the environment to the greatest extent possible.

  1. A student who cannot perform the physical task of writing or other fine motor manipulations may be an excellent writer even though they cannot print or type the letters and words. Thus, the physical act of writing is a non-essential task. The student’s mastery of language and course material must not, under the law, be judged by their ability to manipulate a pencil or pen, or by use of a keyboard. Accommodating the student by providing a scribe to record the student’s essay responses, permits the student to show whether they can write effectively and whether they have acquired the information and critical skills the instructor wished to convey in the course.
  2. A student with a learning disability can learn, but learns differently. Learning disabilities that involve eye hand coordination or thought processing may call for accommodations (e.g., alternative format textbooks, readers and scribes for tests, screen readers, help with marking scantron sheets) that reduce barriers to learning in the classroom and/or to accurate demonstration of course competency.

Fair and just as described in the dictionary means students with disabilities take the same test as everyone else, and just means each according to their need. The provision of accommodations is not an issue of fairness but justice.

First, the laws protect students with disabilities from being measured in a manner that precludes demonstration of their true level of abilities. Second, reasonable modification allows students with disabilities an equal opportunity to perform at a standard equivalent to students without a disability. While an accommodation may present an advantage to students without a disability, it isn’t an advantage for a student with a disability, but an equalizer.

When are accommodations not provided?

The University provides accommodations unless they fall under one of the following three categories:

  • FUNDAMENTAL ALTERATION: If an accommodation reduces the academic standards of the University, its schools, departments, or its courses, the University denies the accommodation and deems it unreasonable. Academic standards are essential for any student. Determination of a fundamental alternation is made by the DRC after discussion with faculty on the essential components of the course or major. Students with disabilities must acquire the same knowledge and skills as other students.
  • UNDUE HARDSHIP: If an accommodation costs too much or is impossible to administer, the accommodation is deemed unreasonable. An undue administrative burden occurs when the University doesn't have enough time to respond to the request, or when it would be impossible or infeasible to administer. In every instance, the University reserves the right to offer other, equally effective accommodations. In twenty years of case law and findings under Section 504, the federal government has never allowed a post-secondary institution to claim undue financial hardship as a legitimate refusal to provide auxiliary aids or services.
  • PERSONAL SERVICE: If a request for an accommodation falls under the definition of a personal service, the University is not responsible for providing the request. Personal services are those that a person with a disability must use regardless of attendance at the University. In addition, personal services are those for which no correlation between the disability and program access can be established. The University, for instance, does not purchase wheelchairs or other assistive technologies used in every setting to compensate for a mobility disability. Other examples of personal services may include independent living, mental health, rehabilitation, remediation and tutoring.

What should I do if I have questions about the appropriateness of an accommodation in my course?

If you are uncertain about the reasonableness of an accommodation, you have several options. First, you can ask the student for their letter of verification from the DRC to ensure that the accommodation is one recommended. If the letter doesn't mention the requested accommodation, you can contact DRC. Many accommodations may be requested by the student in the classroom, but have not been discussed with the DRC. This doesn't always mean that the request is unreasonable or cannot be provided. Contact the DRC if you are unsure if a request is reasonable or disagree with the recommendation.

What happens if I choose not to comply?

If an instructor does not provide an accommodation which is reasonable and legitimate, the student has several options, both formal and informal. While DRC staff default to the level of action which intervenes the least between the student and the instructor, we also have an ethical obligation to inform students of their rights to due process under the law.
Informal options, and therefore the least interventionist ones, include the following:

  • Clarifying the student's rights in the situation at hand, and coaching them about how to best discuss the accommodations further with their instructor.
  • DRC staff may phone the instructor to further clarify the issue and to ensure he or she understands the student's civil rights.
  • Student and DRC staff meet with instructor.
  • Student may contact chair or dean for assistance with the situation.

The student may wish to file a formal, internal complaint with the office of Equal Opportunity & Access on campus. This review process will attempt to determine if discrimination on the basis of disability has occurred, and recommend resolution.
The student always has the right to file formal complaints with either the Illinois Human Rights Commission or with the U.S. Dept. Of Education's Office of Civil Rights. This process takes longer before the situation is resolved, but carries with it greater threats to the University as a whole in the event of adverse findings.

What if a student with a disability is failing my course?

Equal access through use of reasonable accommodations for a student with disabilities does not ensure success. The possibility of a student with a disability failing a course exists when academic performance falls below minimal standards. The question to ask yourself in this situation is “Were requested accommodations provided in a satisfactory manner?”  If so, then the failing grade is an accurate measure of the student’s performance and has been earned.

It is possible for a student with a disability to fail a course.  The faculty member must analyze his or her personal role in complying with civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination.  These laws mandate access to education, not guaranteed academic success. When a faculty member has done all that is required, then failing the under-qualified student is proper and lawful. Here's a compliance checklist:

  • Stand by academic standards and freedoms. Full and equitable access to academic programs serves as the foundation to standards and freedoms.
  • Communicate clear and concise expectations for performance to your students. Care should be taken to distinguish between essential and non-essential components of the course.
  • Allow reasonable accommodations. Accommodations are changes in the way things are done and affect only non-essential aspects of a course. They are reasonable so long as course standards are not fundamentally altered.
  • Provide notice to your students of your willingness to accommodate. This can be done verbally during lectures and in writing within a course syllabus. DRC recommends both. One might say “Students with disabilities are welcome to discuss accommodations with me.”
  • Consult with the student and DRC staff. Any student should initiate his or her own requests for accommodations. Requests for accommodations will be supported by an accommodation letter from the DRC office.  The letter will provide information that is relevant for the faculty member.  DRC takes great care in assuring that there exists a link between the student's disability and the requested accommodations.
  • Permit students to use auxiliary aides and technologies which ensure access. Depending on the disability, students may use note takers, sign language interpreters, readers, scribes, and research assistants. Others may use tape recorder/players, computers, assistive listening devices, and other technologies for the same purpose.
  • When requested, provide alternatives to printed information such as Braille, computer electronic text, large print, and tape cassettes. If Internet resources and other technologies are used, then they must be as accessible to students with disabilities as they are for other students. DRC produces these alternative formats.
  • Make academic adjustments in instruction. Some students need lecturers to face the audience while speaking. Others may need written or graphic information spoken aloud or described. Adjustments such as these may be made after the student requests them.
  • If faculty members are planning to provide test accommodations in their departments, work with students to arrange such.  If faculty members do not have the time, space, or resources; DRC will provide that through their Exam Service.  Test accommodations may include, but are not limited to, extended time, a quiet location, a reader, or a scribe.
  • Regard disability-related discussions and information with the strictest confidentiality. No professor has the right to destroy program access by ignoring confidentiality.

If a faculty member has provided appropriate accommodations in compliance with the law and the student has not earned a passing grade, the student is subject to the same grading scale as the rest of the student population.

What if a student misses class because of an elevator breakdown?

Elevator breakdowns or other short-term barriers may constitute temporary access issues for students with mobility disabilities. Students may miss critical course information, be unable to take scheduled exams or pop quizzes, or be unable to give required presentations. This is a no-fault situation in many respects, but the University still assumes the responsibility of equal access. In such circumstances, the student should contact the instructor as soon as possible. He or she should request some assistance in obtaining course notes or rescheduling an exam or presentation. The student should not be adversely affected in terms of attendance. Most elevator breakdowns last only a few hours. In rare instances though, breakdowns have lasted as long as several weeks. In cases where a student’s attendance is affected for more than one day, it may be necessary to temporarily relocate a class to ensure full participation of all students.

What if we’re going on a required field trip?

Many courses at Western Illinois University occur outside the traditional classroom or laboratory, and many programs require the completion of such courses as part of the standard curriculum.
Examples of such courses are:

  • Field trips
  • Field experiences
  • Practicum
  • Student teaching
  • Professional internships
  • Study abroad

Disability Resource Center (DRC) adheres to its over-arching policies regarding program access, reasonable accommodations and prohibition against discrimination with respect to these educational experiences.
When a student asks us to do so, DRC provides reasonable accommodations such as readers, scribes, sign language interpreters, and assistive technology. DRC may cover the cost of some of these accommodations, and arranges cost-sharing with academic departments for others when the student is eligible for that program. Many accommodations are at no cost and can be provided on site. For example, desks can be raised by blocks of wood to permit use with a wheelchair, work station lighting can be modified, and other no-cost accommodations can be provided upon request. At no time does a student pay fees for reasonable accommodations. However, personal services such as personal care attendants, drivers, etc. are the responsibility of the student.
The student arranges a practicum, internship, field trip or field experience or overseas study program through their instructor, advisor, professional school or other appropriate division of the University. If accommodations are likely to be required, the student must make the request. For example, use of an aid in student teaching would be requested by the student in advance. The purpose, activities, and time necessary to plan for the accommodations would be discussed by DRC staff, the student, the practicum supervisor, and potentially the staff involved at the practicum site.  In other cases, the student makes the requests directly to the practicum site personnel, and comes to DRC only for services that would involve some cost, such as readers or scribes.  DRC and the student agree on which accommodations are necessary and reasonable, and the student decides how to proceed with such.  Supervising faculty should discuss the potential need for accommodations with students when appropriate.

What if a student needs an interpreter?

Students who are deaf may request the use of a sign language interpreter in order to have access to course lectures and other University activities. Sign language interpreters are professionals employed by DRC. Their job is to provide access by interpreting lecture and other spoken communication into signed communication, usually American Sign Language (ASL). Interpreters maintain a professional level of distance in the classroom when interpreting.
Example: If a student is addressed by the instructor, the instructor should look directly at the student and speak in the first, not the second, person. Likewise, if a student wishes to ask a question, the interpreter will voice the student’s question or comment. It is not ethical for the interpreter to carry the student’s part of the conversation with the instructor or other students, but simply to interpret spoken language into sign, and to voice sign language. The sign language interpreter is not responsible for the students’ grasp of material, homework, testing arrangements, or attendance. These are the student’s responsibility.

Hours of Operation

Monday - Friday
8:00am to 4:30pm

Contact Info

Disability Resource Center
Memorial Hall 143
1 University Circle
Macomb, IL 61455

Email: disability@wiu.edu
Phone: (309) 298-2512
Fax: (309) 298-2361