The Faculty Assembly Disabilities Committee has crafted a syllabi statement on disability and access designed to engage students. The impetus behind the statement is to initiate conversations about inclusive teaching and encourage faculty to more actively engage disability in their classrooms. Also, while some of the suggested or required syllabi statements circulating at CU Denver are effective, the committee noticed that many of these statements adopted terse legal language that discourages conversations about disability and typically conflicts with how faculty design syllabi. In a handful cases, suggested syllabi statements conflicted with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act and/or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (by requiring letters at a certain time or foreclosing certain accommodations).
A well-crafted access/disability statement can signal to disabled students that you are aware of your legal obligations and interested in creating an inclusive classroom. It also signals to able-bodied students that they should expect disability to be part of the learning experience in your classroom. This is important as some disabled students report trouble in receiving their deserved accommodations.
In Spring 2015, CU Denver’s Faculty Assembly endorsed the following statement:
Syllabus Statement: Disability and Access
The University of Colorado Denver is committed to ensuring the full participation of all students in its programs, including students with disabilities. If you have a disability or think you have a disability and need accommodations to succeed in this course, I encourage you to contact Disability Resources and Services (DRS) and/or speak with me as soon as you can. (DRS is located in Academic Building 1, Suite 2116, and at firstname.lastname@example.org.) I am committed to providing equal access as required by federal law, and I am interested in developing strategies for your success in this course.
In developing this statement, the committee sought to eliminate illegalities and inconsistencies across CU Denver’s various suggested and required policies, but this is not required. This is partly because engaging disability is an ongoing conversation, rather than a list of dos and don’ts. You may want to add to the statement, including information about your own needs as a teacher.
In the statement above, disabled students are invited to speak with you “and/or” DRS. This phrasing exists because while many disabled students will choose to discuss their disabilities with faculty members, disabled students are not required to do so (and may disclose only to DRS). So in revising the statement, avoid requiring students to speak with you, and remember that all accommodations sanctioned by DRS must be provided.
In general, using “disabled” or “people with disabilities” is best, though there is some debate on this issue. In the 1990s and early 2000s, person-first language become popular, with phrases such as “person who is deaf” and “person with multiple sclerosis” becoming dominant. More recently, some disabled people have advocated for “identity-first” language and a return to “disabled people,” “deaf people,” etc. Many disability studies scholars use a mix of person-first and identity-first terminology.
Absolutely. DRS does its best to articulate best accommodations, but it’s up to you and the disabled student to work out how those accommodations will play out in your class. Also, in some cases, required accommodations may not make sense in your course, such as extended time on tests when your course has not tests. Speak with disabled students about such conflicts, as they are the experts on their own disabilities.
Ideally, discussing the syllabi statement in your class will encourage students to secure accommodations early in your course. It’s also possible that students may be diagnosed with disabilities, or realize that they need accommodations, after class is already underway. If this occurs, take time to speak with the student. Faculty are required to provide accommodations when formally requested at any time during the course, but accommodations are not retroactive.
As with any student issue, the first step is to listen to the student. Some students may choose to self-advocate, cannot afford required testing to gain DRS documentation, and/or have obvious disabilities with limited accommodation requests. The university does not require you to accommodate students without letters, but you may have discussions with the student and make informed pedagogical decisions, as you would with any student who approaches you with a concern or idea.
It’s important to remember that faculty and staff are disabled, not just students. For information for disabled faculty (including how to secure accommodations), head to the Disabled Faculty Accommodations page. If you’re looking for support in articulating your accommodations to your classes, contact DisC (see below).