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Faculty FAQ

The College of William & Mary is committed to providing equal educational opportunity for all academically qualified students in keeping with legal requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act and long-held institutional goals.

These Faculty Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) are designed to help faculty members, administrators, and staff understand their critical role in reasonably accommodating the needs of students with disabilities. It also should encourage the use of a network of persons who regularly resolve student problems associated with reasonable accommodation.

What is the mission of Disability Services?
The mission of Disability Services at the College of William & Mary is to create a barrier-free environment for matriculated students with disabilities by considering reasonable accommodation upon request on an individual and flexible basis. Goals include fostering student independence, encouraging self determination, emphasizing accommodation over limitation, and creating a comprehensively accessibly environment to ensure that individuals are viewed on the basis of ability, not disability.

The Assistant Dean of Disability Services serves as an advocate for students with disabilities and as a consultant to faculty, administrators, and staff on all matters related to disability.

Where is Disability Services located?

Disability Services, a part of the Dean of Students Office, is located in Room 109 of the Campus Center.

What should faculty know about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires reasonable accommodation in education, employment, transportation, and public institutions. To comply, colleges and universities must assure that educational programs and services offered to other students are also available to students with disabilities. This means more than the removal of architectural barriers; reasonable accommodation requires adjustment to the instructional process as well.

The ADA affirms that no otherwise qualified individual with a disability shall, solely by reason of his or her disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity of a public entity. “Person with a disability” means “any person who has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activity, including walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working; has a record of such an impairment; or is regarded as having such an impairment.” “Qualified” with respect to postsecondary educational services means “a person who meets the academic and technical standards requisite to admission or to participation in the educational program or activity, with or without reasonable modifications to rules, policies, or practices; the removal of architectural, communication, or transportation barriers; or the provision of auxiliary aids and services.”

Disabilities covered by this legislation include physical or mental impairment that substantially limit one or more major life activity. Disabling conditions may include chronic health impairment, blindness/visual impairment, deafness/hearing impairment, cognitive impairment, speech/language impairment, and mobility impairment.

What is a learning disability?

“Learning disabilities” is a generic term that refers to a heterogeneous group of disorders manifested by significant difficulties in the acquisition and use of listening, speaking, writing, reading, reasoning, mathematical abilities, or social skill. No two students will have exactly the same pattern or type of learning disability. Such disorders do not include learning problems which are due primarily to visual or auditory acuity issues, motoric impairments, mental retardation, emotional disturbance, lack of motivation, or educational and environmental deprivation.

Because of their subtlety, learning disabilities commonly go undiagnosed. This is why many people with learning disabilities may be under the false impression that their academic difficulties result from intellectual deficiency. A learning disability is characterized by a marked discrepancy between intellectual capacity and academic achievement which is clearly related to cognitive processing deficits. While learning disabilities cannot be cured, their impact can be lessened by remedial efforts, appropriate instructional interventions, and compensatory strategies. In general, professors who use a variety of instructional modes will enhance learning for students with learning disabilities.

How are students with disabilities identified?

Determining that a student is disabled will not always be simple. Some disabilities are visible, as in the case of many physical impairments, whereas other disabilities are less noticeable or hidden. In some cases, students may have multiple disabilities.

Most students with disabilities will identify themselves by contacting Disability Services and/or their instructors early in the semester. Others, especially those with hidden disabilities, may not identify themselves because they fear that the legitimacy of their requested needs will be challenged. Such students, in the absence of instructional adjustments, may experience problems completing course requirements or, in a panic, may disclose information about their disability just before an examination and hope for immediate attention. When this happens, students should be sent to Disability Services for verification of disability before academic accommodations are provided. Due to confidentiality requirements, Disability Services is unable to alert professors that a student with a disability has enrolled in a course without prior written consent from the student.

What are the responsibilities of students and faculty members regarding a student’s disability?

Students are expected to notify Disability Services of their needs to be accommodated. Once accommodations have been approved, students are given official letters of request to be hand delivered to each instructor. A file copy of each letter is retained for disability records. Students are expected to make accommodation requests far enough in advance to allow time for planning and consultation. Any questions or concerns related to accommodation needs or requests should be addressed to the Director of Disability Services.

Once notified, faculty are responsible for making appropriate adjustments. Dialogue between students and instructors is helpful and follow-up meetings are recommended. Professors can contribute greatly to a student’s comfort by making a class announcement at the beginning of the semester or by including a statement on the course syllabus that invites students with disabilities to discuss their individual learning needs in advance. The follow statement serves as an example:

“If you have a disability that may affect your participation in this course and wish to discuss academic accommodations, please contact me as soon as possible.”

If there will be specific expectations for class attendance, be sure to state these clearly. Occasionally, students will approach faculty directly about accommodation. When this happens, it is important to refer these students to Disability Services for verification of disability and eligibility review. Accommodations should never be provided without an authorizing letter from the Disability Services Office.

Please contact Disability Services if you have questions or concerns about any specific student request. 

How should faculty address a student’s disability?

As greater numbers of individuals take advantage of opportunities open to them in education, it becomes increasingly important to promote and environment that is positive for persons with disabilities. One of the best and easiest ways to accomplish this is appropriate language use. The recommended manner is known as “persons first” language. This means that the person is emphasized first, the disability second. For example:

  • person with a disability
  • individual with a speech impairment
  • woman who is blind or visually impaired
  • student who is deaf or hard of hearing
  • man with paraplegia
  • woman who is paralyzed
  • individual with epilepsy
  • person with a mental disability
  • man with a cognitive impairment
  • congenital disability
  • student with a learning disability
Setting the Tone

Unfounded attitudes can be more disabling than any condition with which a person must contend. Review, followed perhaps by revision, of present perceptions and attitudes is often the first step in accommodating students who must learn or perform in alternative ways.

When working with students who have disabilities, it is important to remember the following:

  • treat them like the intelligent adults that they are;
  • respect their privacy; do not make them discuss their needs in front of others;
  • keep an open mind and avoid skepticism or hostility;
  • keep all disability information confidential;
  • be direct in your communications and, when unsure about something, ask the student directly. 
What kinds of academic accommodations may be necessary for a student with a disability?
General Accommodations

Course requirements for students with disabilities should be the same as those for all other students, although accommodation may be necessary. Academic accommodation as required by law is not meant to compromise academic standards. Rather, it is intended to create an opportunity for students with disabilities to learn and for instructors to evaluate them fairly. The following are most common forms of accommodation:

  • Seating at the front of the classroom
  • Change of classroom location
  • Professor facing the class when speaking
  • Assistive listening systems
  • Tape recorded lectures
  • Books in alternative format
  • Reader (person who reads text aloud to student but does not assist otherwise)
  • Scribe (person who writes student’s answers/assignments but does not assist otherwise)
  • Peer note takers
  • Sign language interpretation
  • Copies of overhead transparencies
  • Large print, Braille, or electronic course materials
  • Alternative exam schedule
  • Use of aids during tests and exams (e.g., calculator, dictionary, spell check, grammar check, pre-authorized formula sheet)
  • Additional time to complete tests
  • Access to computer for tests, exams, and other assignments requiring extensive written output
  • Acquisition/modification of equipment
  • Modification of test taking/performance evaluations (e.g, oral examinations)

In exceptional cases, accommodation may even include changes in the time permitted for the completion of a degree, adaptation of the manner in which specific courses are conducted, or alteration of standard degree requirements. Academic requirements demonstrated by a professor to be essential to any program of instruction or to any directly related licensing requirement will not be regarded as discriminatory.

Note Taking Alternatives

Students who cannot take notes or who have difficulty getting adequate notes because of their disability may find tape recorded lectures or peer note takers helpful. If audio- and/or videotaping a class is determined reasonable, the professor must permit such taping or be prepared to offer a satisfactory alternative. Faculty also might assist by providing lecture outlines.

Evaluation Alternatives

Depending upon the disability, adaptations such as oral administration of tests and quizzes, use of a reader and/or scribe, extended time, or alteration of test format (unless the format itself is essential in testing the student’s comprehension of course material) may be necessary. For out of-class assignments, extension of deadlines may be justified. The objective of any such consideration should always be to accommodate the student’s learning differences while maintaining the integrity of the course. Faculty should apply the same standards to students with disabilities that they apply to all other students in evaluation work and assigning grades.

Sign Language Interpretation

Front row seating is essential for students who use interpreters or rely on speech reading and visual cues. If an interpreter is used, the student should be able to see both the interpreter and the professor. Faculty should speak directly to the student, not the interpreter, to convey a feeling of direct communication. Avoid asking the interpreter to “tell the student…” as this is considered disrespectful. Remain sensitive to processing lags required by an interpreter for translation of a message. During translation, maintain comfortable eye contact with the student and take care not to obstruct the student’s view of the interpreter by walking between them.

Class Attendance/Promptness

Students using a wheelchair or other mobility-assisting devices may have difficulty getting to class on time. Others may have periodic difficulties due to disability (permanent or temporary) and/or to medication. Please contact Disability Services if questions concerning attendance or promptness arise.

Helpful Adjustments in the Classroom

The following activities may help students with disabilities adjust in the classroom:

  • Select course materials early
  • Use textbooks that are available on compact disk (CD)
  • Provide Disability Services with a copy of the syllabus, assignments, and reading lists in advance to facilitate translation to audiotape, Braille, or large print if requested
  • Provide a complete list of test and assignment dates
  • Provide clear written and oral explanations of grading procedures and attendance policies
  • Face the class when speaking
  • Repeat discussion questions
  • Write key phrases on the blackboard or overhead
  • Provide written summaries of class assignments and expectations
  • Provide written summaries of demonstrations in advance and offer to use captioned films when there is a hearing-impaired student in the class
  • Describe visual aids if there is a student with a visual impairment in class. For example, instead of referring to a three-inch steel rod as “this,” it could be more clearly described as “this three-inch steel rod.”
Helpful Adjustments in the Laboratory

The following activities may be specifically helpful in the laboratory:

  • Address all safety concerns with student(s) and Disability Services staff in advance
  • Ensure appropriate adaptation of all safety equipment (e.g., Braille or large print labels, lengthened pull-chains, visual or auditory warning systems)
  • Arrange lab equipment so that it is easily accessed
  • Assign group projects in which all students contribute according to their strengths
  • Give oral and written lab instructions
  • Provide raised-line drawings and/or tactile models of graphs/charts for students with visual impairment if requested
  • Work with the student(s) and Disability Services staff to identify, modify, and provide appropriate lab equipment such as adjustable tables, ramps, talking thermometers and calculators, liquid level indicators, large print and tactile timers, and computers
Watson Assistive Technology

The Watson Lab, made possible by funds from Carolyn R. Watson (Class of ’43), was designed to enhance educational access through technology for William and Mary students, staff, and faculty with disabilities. Located on the first floor of the Campus Center (Room 110), the Watson Lab maintains day, evening, and weekend hours during the regular academic year and summer hours according to need.

The following assistive devices are available:

  • Kurzweil Reading Edge Reader/Scanner
  • Blazie Braille Embosser
  • Closed Circuit Television
  • JAWS (Job Access with Speech) screen reading software
  • Dragan Speak Voice Recognition Software
  • Kurzweil screen reading software
What state or government agencies are available as resouces?

The following state agencies have proven to be useful to William & Mary students and their families:


For further information regarding any aspect of Disability Services at the College of William & Mary, please contact:

Director of Disability Services
P.O. Box 8795
The College of William and Mary
Williamsburg, VA 23187-8795
757/221-2510 (voice)
757/221-2538 (fax)
deanofstudents@wm.edu