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Frequently Asked Questions
This section provides general information on the University's legal obligations to students with disabilities, along with responses to situations that commonly arise when working with students. Questions about specific policies and procedures under the Student Support section of our website. As always, we encourage faculty to contact us to discuss the learning needs of students.
Answers to the following questions can be found in order on this page
- What is the role of DSS?
- Who is an "individual with a disability"?
- What are the laws that protect university students with disabilities?
- What are the responsibilities of the student with a disability?
- What are the obligations of the institution?
- What am I to do when I receive a letter from DSS with regard to a student in my class?
- What should I do if a student speaks with me directly to negotiate accommodations without an accommodation letter from DSS?
- What are some examples of reasonable accommodations that an institution may be expected to provide its students who have disabilities?
- How much additional time on exams is reasonable?
- Does DSS offer a test accommodation service?
- What should I do if I have questions about or disagree with the recommended accommodations?
- How can I learn about specific disabilities or disability issues?
- What can you do to begin the dialogue with students?
1. What is the role of DSS?
The University established Disability Support Services (DSS) in 1978 in compliance with federal guidelines, with the purpose of providing equally effective access for qualified students with disabilities. Although Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act is over 35 years old, and the Americans with Disabilities Act is over 20 years old, these disability laws continue to create some confusion in the higher education community regarding students’ ─ and a university’s ─ rights, responsibilities and obligations. DSS’ primary role is to articulate the intent of these laws.
2. Who is an "individual with a disability"?
person who: 1) has a physical or mental impairment which substantially
limits a major life activity; 2) has a record or history of such an
impairment; or 3) is regarded as having such an impairment.
3. What are the laws that protect university students with disabilities?
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 provides that no otherwise qualified individual with disabilities in the United States...shall, solely by reason of his/her disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 upholds and extends the compliance mandates set forth in Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to include the whole of the institution's activities including facilities, programs, and employment.
The Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act (ADAAA) broadens the definition of disability, supports an individual’s ability to perform a major life activity in a similar manner under comparable conditions as “most people in the general population,” and typically uses a common-sense analysis without scientific or medical evidence.
Section 508 of the ADA was enacted to eliminate barriers in information technology, open new opportunities for people with disabilities, and encourage development of technologies that will help achieve these goals.
4. What are the responsibilities of the student with a disability?
In order to be recognized as a student with a disability, a student must self-identify that she/he has a disability and needs accommodation. To be eligible for reasonable and appropriate services, a student must present current and comprehensive documentation of disability to Disability Support Services. The records kept in our office are strictly confidential and are not part of the student's academic record.
5. What are the obligations of the institution?
The institution must provide reasonable accommodations to the student's known disability in order to afford him/her an equal opportunity to participate in the institution's programs, activities and services (including extracurricular activities). A college or university may not discriminate against an individual solely on the basis of disability.
6. What am I to do when I receive a letter from DSS with regard to a student in my class?
At a student's request, DSS prepares an individualized letter to professors which verifies the need for auxiliary aids and services and/or academic adjustments.
Students are encouraged to meet with each professor early in the semester to discuss the academic implications of the disability as they relate to the specific course and to request accommodation.
7. What should I do if a student speaks with me directly to negotiate accommodations without an accommodation letter from DSS?
No professor should provide a student with accommodation without verification from DSS that the student has a documented disability.
8. What are some examples of reasonable accommodations that an institution may be expected to provide its students who have disabilities?
Academic adjustments are provided to ensure that a student with a disability receives an equal opportunity to participate in the institution's programs and activities. Higher education institutions are not required to lower academic standards or compromise the integrity of the school or program. Examples of adjustments may include:
- additional time to complete tests, coursework, or graduation;
- substitution of nonessential courses for degree requirements;
- adaptation of course instruction;
- tape recording of classes; and
- modification of test taking/performance evaluations so as not to discriminate against students with sensory, manual or speaking impairments (unless such skills are the factors the test purports to measure).
9. How much additional time on exams is reasonable?
Extended time on exams is a customary accommodation for students who work more slowly for reasons of disability. For most students, time-and-one-half is adequate. Students with more severe or multiple disabilities may require additional time. The office does not view untimed exams as reasonable.
10. Does DSS offer a test accommodation service?
DSS asks that instructors administer exams for students with disabilities within their own department so that students have the opportunity to clarify any questions they may have about the exam.
There are some students, such as those who are easily distracted or need to have their tests read aloud to them, who need to take their exams with few or no other students present. If instructors are unable to locate a suitable space, DSS can administer the exam.
In order for DSS to administer an exam, the student must complete the online Test Accommodation Request Form at least 7 days before the scheduled test date. Submitting a completed form generates an email that is sent to the professor for authorization. With exception of a class conflict, students with disabilities should take their exams within the same time frame as their fellow students. Given staff and space constraints, DSS cannot accommodate last minute requests by the student or faculty member.
11. What should I do if I have questions about or disagree with the recommended accommodations?
The instructor should immediately contact Disability Support Services. If the instructor and the disability specialist cannot agree, the instructor should request a formal review of the request. The instructor should provide the requested accommodation until otherwise determined.
12. How can I learn about specific disabilities or disability issues?
Please see our teaching guides for faculty for more specific information:
DSS offers a Speakers Bureau, which is comprised of students with disabilities, welcomes the opportunity to educate the GW community on disability concerns through campus presentations. Please contact DSS and we will be pleased to design a presentation for you.
13. What can you do to begin the dialogue with students?
To encourage self-identification and to uphold the institution's commitment to nondiscrimination, DSS asks that your course syllabus state:
Any student who may need an accommodation based on the potential impact of a disability should contact the Disability Support Services office at 202-994-8250 in Rome Hall, Suite 102, to establish eligibility and to coordinate reasonable accommodations. For additional information please refer to: http://gwired.gwu.edu/dss
Disability Support Services
801 22nd Street, N.W.
Rome Hall, Suite 102
Washington, DC 20052
Tel: (202) 994-8250
Fax: (202) 994-7610