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The Basics: Providing Accommodations

Woman standing next to portable TV with the words What is the Purpose of Accommodations?

The purpose of academic accommodations is to assure that there is equal access to and the opportunity to benefit from all educational programs of The University of Texas at Austin. The University of Texas at Austin acts in accordance with two relevant laws: Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Here are some important things to know about academic accommodations:


  • provide students with disabilities with equal access to course instruction, materials, and evaluation
  • “level the playing field” and minimize the impact of the student’s disability on their academic performance
  •  do not guarantee success and do not provide an unfair advantage
  •  must be reasonable and cannot alter the essential requirements of the course

If you ever have a question about how an accommodation applies in a class, please contact SSD at 512-471-6259.

The American Psychological Association has created a disABILITY Resource Toolkit that addresses questions and concerns about providing reasonable accommodations to students with disabilities. See their section on Explaining Reasonable Accommodations for more information.

SSD: Verifying Eligibility and Determining Reasonable Academic Accommodations

It is the student’s responsibility to identify himself/herself to Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) and to provide documentation of a disability. Strict documentation guidelines exist for different types of disabilities and require a current diagnosis, prognosis,  and explanation of how the disability may impact the student’s academic performance. See our Documentation Guidelines for the criteria  that must be met in order for students to be eligible to receive accommodations.

Once appropriate documentation has been submitted, the student then meets with a Disabilities Services Coordinator in SSD, who determines appropriate accommodations after reviewing documentation prepared by a licensed professional and meeting with the student to discuss the impact their disability is having on their academics. There must be a direct connection between the functional impact of their disability and the accommodation that is approved.

Since most of the students who receive accommodations have invisible disabilities, their need for accommodations may not be readily apparent. Please do not ask a student to disclose the specific nature of their disability as this information is part of their confidential file within SSD. Rest assured that if an accommodation is listed in the Accommodation Letter, it has a direct link to the impact of the student’s disability. Below are some examples of why a single accommodation might be approved for students with a variety of disabilities:

Student may need to step out of class for 5-10 minutes:

  • students with Crohn’s Disease/Irritible Bowel Syndrome may need to use the restroom frequently
  • students with Diabetes may need to  check blood sugar levels/administer medication
  • students with PTSD may need to remove him/herself from triggers within the classroom (content, noises, images, etc)
  • students with a Panic Disorder may need to step out in order to calm down before returning to class if he/she has a panic attack

Extended time for testing (either one and a half or double time) unless speed is the factor being tested:

  • students with ADHD may struggle to remain focused and have difficulty filtering distractions
  • students with a learning disability(ies) may need extra time to read questions or formulate a response
  • students taking certain medications for their disability may experience slow processing speed
  • students who have arthritis may physical difficulty with writing for extended periods

*There may be cases where an approved accommodation may not be reasonable given the context of a specific course. SSD staff is available to help determine whether or not providing an accommodation would change the essential requirements of the course.*

How to Begin: Creating an Accessible Classroom

The first step in providing an accessible learning environment for students with disabilities is proactively establishing an accessible classroom experience. See our suggestions for Creating an Accessible Classroom , which include a sample syllabus statement about the process for requesting accommodations, considerations for choosing accessible materials, and resources for building in universal design concepts.

Now What? Providing Accommodations to Students with an Accommodation Letter

Pyramid of 6 people in business attire supporting each otherEnsuring accessibility in the classroom is a team effort between the student, the instructor, and the SSD office. Each member of the team has rights and responsibilities during the accommodation process and instructors are encouraged to learn more about the Rights and Responsibilities of Students and Faculty.

Instructors are also encouraged to explore our website and utilize the resources that are available including those from the Univ. of Washington DO-It (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology):

Working Together: Faculty and Students with Disabilities

Building the Team: Faculty, Staff, and Students Working Together

Students registered with SSD should provide their faculty members with an official Accommodation Letter from SSD (click image to Copy of Accommodation Letterenlarge) outlining the academic accommodations for which they have been approved. It is the student’s responsibility to deliver the letter to each faculty member and to discuss how the accommodations will be provided within the context of the course.  Ideally, this conversation will take place during office hours or a scheduled appointment to allow privacy and time for discussing each accommodations.

Faculty are then responsible for providing the accommodations that are listed in the Accommodation Letter, both in the classroom and for exams. However, students also have responsibilities within the accommodation process and are expected to remain in contact with their instructors throughout the semester, particularly if they are requesting flexibility with attendance or deadlines as part of an approved accommodation, to remind the instructor of any testing accommodations five business days before each exam, or if they experience any difficulty with their accommodations within the context of the course.

*Accommodations go into effect once the Accommodation Letters have been delivered and are not expected to be retroactive.*

For more information please visit our Accommodations and Services and Frequently Asked Questions page.

What if a Student Requests an Accommodation Without a Letter from SSD?

If a student requests accommodations for a disability but has not provided the faculty member with a letter from SSD, the instructor should refer the student to SSD immediately. If the disability is visible (use of a wheelchair, hearing aids, service dog, etc.) and the requested accommodation is obviously appropriate, the faculty member should provide the accommodation while the student is in the process of registering with SSD. See Making a Referral to SSD for tips on how to connect students with services.

Text: Comments, Questions, Concerns in white lettering inside a blue squareQuestions or Concerns About How to Provide an Accommodation?

If a faculty member has concerns about how an accommodation may apply in their class, please contact SSD to consult with the student’s Disabilities Services Coordinator.

There may be cases where an approved accommodation may not be reasonable given the context of a specific course. SSD staff is available to help determine whether or not providing an accommodation would change the essential requirements of the course.

SSD is here to support the academic efforts of students with disabilities and serves as a resource to faculty members to help meet this goal.

 Suggested Dos and Don’ts For Instructors Providing


Do Don’t
  • Confer with the student about how the approved accommodations will work within the structure of the given course. Ideally this conversation will be started by the student but instructors are encouraged to provide a safe and supportive space for discussion.
  • Make assumptions about a student’s ability to work in a particular field. Concerns that students may not be able to succeed are often based on fears and assumptions, not facts. Remember too, that employers are also required to comply with the ADA.
  • Treat students with disabilities with the same courtesies you would afford to other students and hold them to the same academic standards and expectations as any other student.
  • Engage in philosophical debates about “fairness” to other, nondisabled students, or whether providing accommodations somehow violates your academic freedom. Congress has determined how society should address equal access to education by passing federal civil rights statutes protecting the rights of persons with disabilities, without adversely impacting those without disabilities.
  •  Respect the privacy of students with disabilities. While they must disclose disability to a designated official at your college in order to access accommodations, this does not require disclosure to everyone. Treat disability information which has been disclosed to you as confidential.
  • Decide not to provide reasonable accommodations, or the academic adjustments which have been approved by the institution’s designee. You may subject your institution or yourself to liability.
  • Refuse to provide accommodations until you have personally evaluated a student’s documentation of disability. Eligibility for services under the ADA is the job of the SSD staff, not the instructor.
  •  Assist students in following the university’s policies, such as requirements that all requests for accommodation be lodged with the SSD office and not individual faculty members alone. This protects students, faculty and the institution by ensuring consistency and takes much of the burden off individual faculty members, who are often ill-equipped to determine whether an accommodation is appropriate or how to provide it. Violations have been found in cases where faculty members have not followed institutional policies.
  • Refuse to permit students to tape record lectures as an accommodation. Policies which permit instructors to refuse the use of tape recorders, without providing for their use by students with disabilities, are legally insufficient.
  • Refuse to provide copies of handouts if these accommodations have been determined to be appropriate for a student.
  • Refuse to provide extended time for tests on the mistaken assumption that doing so would require that all students be given additional time.

Chart Adapted from the APA’s  DART Toolkit: Legal Issues-ADA Basics.   PDF Format: Do and Dont’s for Providing Accommodations.

If questions or concerns arise when accommodating students, please contact SSD for assistance and consultation.

For more information about working with students with disabilities, click here.