Reasonable accommodations are modifications or adjustments to the tasks, environment or to the way things are usually done that enable individuals with disabilities to have an equal opportunity to participate in an academic program or a job (U.S. Department of Education, 2007). Broad categories of accommodations include changes to the application process to ensure an equal opportunity to apply for program enrollment, changes that enable a student with a disability to perform the essential functions of the academic program, and changes that enable a student with a disability to enjoy equal benefits and privileges of the program (e.g., access to training).
The Americans with Disabilities Act (1990) stipulates that postsecondary institutions are responsible for providing necessary accommodations when a student discloses a disability. Specifically, psychology training programs are required to make reasonable adjustments or modifications to practices, policies and procedures, and to provide auxiliary aids and services for students with disabilities, unless to do so would "fundamentally alter" the nature of the programs or result in an "undue burden.” Providing accommodations do not compromise the essential elements of a course or curriculum; nor do they weaken the academic standards or integrity of a course. Accommodations simply provide an alternative way to accomplish the course requirements by eliminating or reducing disability-related barriers. They provide a level playing field, not an unfair advantage.
Postsecondary student responsibilities
Under federal disability law, only if the student has disclosed a disability are you or your program responsible for providing accommodations. Most often, the student is advised to initiate the accommodation process with the disability resource center or office on campus. This office then determines whether the student is eligible for services and, if so, coordinates appropriate accommodations and services based on the documentation provided and in consultation with the student and other professionals, as appropriate. It is the also the responsibility of students who seek disability-related accommodations and services to provide written documentation of their disabilities. You or your program may also opt to obtain your own professional determination of whether specific requested accommodations are necessary.
Effectiveness of reasonable accommodations
Psychology programs are not required to provide the most sophisticated auxiliary aids and services available; however, they must effectively meet the needs of a student with a disability. They should be selected after consultation with the student who will use them. No aid or service will be useful unless it is successful in equalizing the opportunity for a particular student with a disability to participate in the education program or activity. Not all students with a similar disability benefit equally from an identical auxiliary aid or service.
The program must analyze the appropriateness of an aid or service in its specific context. For example, the type of accommodation needed by a student who is hearing-impaired may vary, depending upon whether the format is a large lecture hall or a seminar. With the one-way communication of a lecture, the service of a note taker may be adequate, but in the two-way communication of a seminar, an interpreter may be needed.
Personal aids and services
An issue that is often misunderstood by postsecondary officials and students is the provision of personal aids and services. Personal aids and services, including help in bathing, dressing or other personal care, are not required to be provided by postsecondary institutions. The Section 504 regulation states:
Recipients need not provide attendants, individually prescribed devices, readers for personal use or study, or other devices or services of a personal nature.
Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) similarly states that personal services are not required to be provided. Postsecondary schools are not obligated to provide personal services relating to certain individual academic activities. Personal attendants and individually prescribed devices are the responsibility of the student who has a disability and not of the institution. For example, readers may be provided for classroom use but institutions are not required to provide readers for personal use or for help during individual study time.
Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Pub. L. No. 101-336, § 2, 104 Stat. 328 (2000).
Bento, R. (1996). Faculty decision-making about "reasonable accommodations" for disabled college students: Information, ethical and attitudinal issues. College Student Journal, 30(4), 494-501.
Dailey, E. (2008). A survey of accommodations for psychology graduate students with learning disabilities: 35 years after the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Doctoral dissertation). The Wright Institute, Berkeley, CA. (DAI-A 69/12).
DO-IT (2011). Working together: Faculty and students with disabilities (PDF, 350KB) (brochure). Seattle, WA: University of Washington.
Florida State University Student Disability Resource Center. (2010). Guide to reasonable accommodations.
Kemp, H. V., Chen, J. S., Erickson, G. N., & Friesen, N. L. (2003). ADA accommodation of therapists with disabilities in clinical training. Women & Therapy, 26, 155-168. doi: 10.1300/J015v26n01_10
Lindstrom, J. H. (2007). Determining appropriate accommodations for postsecondary students with reading and written expression disorders. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 22(4), 229-236.
- Olkin, R. (2010). The three Rs of supervising graduate psychology students with disabilities: Reading, writing, and reasonable accommodations. Women & Therapy, 33, 73-84. doi: 10.1080/02703140903404788
- Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Public Law No. 93-112, 87 Stat. 355.
- U.S. Department of Education. (2007). Disability employment 101: Appendix IV: Reasonable accommodations and the ADA.
- Zhang, D., Landmark, L., Reber, A., Hsu, H. Y., Kwok, O., & Benz, M. (2010). University faculty knowledge, beliefs, and practices in providing reasonable accommodations to students with disabilities. Remedial and Special Education, 31(4), 276-286.