What Faculty Members Should Know About the Americans with Disabilities Act and Amendments?

What is the ADA?

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, amended in 2008, is a federal law intended to eliminate discrimination against people with disabilities. It applies to employers, state and local government agencies, places of public accommodation, transportation facilities, telephone companies, and the U.S. Congress. Under Title II of the ADA, public colleges and universities are required to provide auxiliary aids and services to qualified students with disabilities. Providing auxiliary aids and services is not considered special treatment, but rather an equal opportunity to participate in the services, programs, or activities offered by the institution.

What are my responsibilities as a faculty member?

Campus compliance with the ADA is a shared responsibility, and faculty members play an important role in an institution’s efforts. The ADA is a civil rights statute that ensures that students with disabilities, including those who are deaf or hard of hearing, will have the opportunity to participate in postsecondary education without discrimination. For faculty members, providing academic adjustments is one way to prevent discrimination.

What is the purpose of academic adjustments for students who are deaf or hard of hearing?

According to the ADA, academic adjustments may include qualified interpreters or other effective methods of making aurally delivered materials available to individuals with hearing impairments. This may require adaptation of materials, methods, or environments to facilitate learning. Academic adjustments may also ensure that when students are evaluated, they are able to demonstrate what they learned rather than the effects of their hearing loss.

How do I decide which academic adjustments are appropriate for a particular student?

In most situations, faculty members are not responsible for making decisions about academic adjustments. Students have the responsibility for requesting academic adjustments through the Disability Services office and must provide any documentation of conditions that may warrant specific services. Before providing particular adjustments for a specific course, the disability specialist carefully considers the nature of the student’s disability and how this disability may affect the student’s ability to learn or demonstrate achievement in the course. Through an interactive process with the student, the Disability Services professional recommends the services which will be reasonable, appropriate and effective in mitigating the impact of the disability on the student’s inability to access the academic program.

How will I know that a student in my class is supposed to have an accommodation?

It’s fairly common practice for the Disability Services office to notify faculty members of the types of services that will be provided each term. Some of these auxiliary aids and services, such as sign language interpreting, may be provided by the Disability Services office itself. Other academic adjustments, such as extended time for exams, may be provided by the faculty member. Services that are typical for a student who is deaf or hard of hearing may include notetakers, sign language or oral interpreters, assistive listening devices, speech-to-text captioning services, open-captioned videos or films, and extended time on exams. Not every student needs every service, and the Disability Services office is the best campus resource for working with each student to determine the most appropriate and beneficial services provided.

Students have the right to privacy in disability matters, and confidentiality must be maintained. Please file notices of academic adjustments in a secure place and refrain from discussing disabilities and necessary services in the presence of fellow students or others who have no legitimate reason to know. Occasionally a student may ask you to make an academic adjustment, but you never received notification from the Disability Services office that this student was eligible for services. Refer the student to the Disability Services office to process the request.

Will accommodations compromise the integrity of my class or academic program?

No. When providing academic adjustments, institutions of higher education are not required to lower academic standards or compromise the integrity of the school or program. Essentially, academic adjustments and auxiliary aids and services are provided to “level the playing field” for the student who is deaf or hard of hearing, enabling the student to compete with hearing peers. Once you have provided academic adjustments, you should grade the work of a student who is deaf or hard of hearing as you would grade the work of any other student. There is no need to be unduly lenient. To grade students more harshly because they have had the opportunity for additional time for exams or other instructional modifications would nullify the effect of the services.

What else can I do?

Don’t be afraid to ask a student to describe how he or she learns best. Include information on your course syllabus that encourages students with disabilities to contact Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services for assistance in receiving academic adjustments.

Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services

Email: deafservices@necc.mass.edu
Phone: 978-241-7045 (VP/V)