First impressions are more important in college than high school when it comes to how to explain accommodations. Back in high school, teachers thought they could handle anything and everything, and then suddenly would express their worries about having a student with a disability, after it was too late for the student to transfer classes. Some teachers could handle IEPs and 504 plans really well, and other teachers preferred to focus on the class as a whole instead of accommodating one or two students. Legally, teachers must comply with these plans, but things happen, so students learn to work with it.
In college, professors are upfront about how the semester will go, and aren’t afraid to tell you if they can’t accommodate you. In order to figure out if the professor is open to having a student with a disability, I write an email before the first day of class, as well as talk to them on the first day to make sure we are all on the same page. Here is how I structure these conversations and how to explain accommodations.
Send an email
- I begin the email by introducing myself by saying my name, my class year, and my major.
- Next, I inform them I have a file with the Office of Disabilities on campus, and that I also have a 504 plan.
- Then, I summarize my accommodations as simply as possible, and talk about any assistive technology I use.
- Finally, I sign off the message asking if there is any textbooks or class materials I need before class begins. I want to make sure that I can get the materials in an accessible format.
Here is a sample email:
Dear Professor Lastname,
My name is Veronica, and I am a sophomore studying assistive technology. I have a file with Office of Disability Services and a 504 plan for low vision and testing accommodations. I need materials in a digital format so that I can enlarge them to a font size I can read. This will not be needed for exams, as I will be taking tests in the Office of Disability Services testing center.
I use an iPad, Microsoft Surface Pro 3, and/or Android phone in order to access digital materials, in addition to my SmartLux magnifier and E-Bot Pro to access paper materials when needed. I also use a blindness cane with a rolling tip when walking to and from class as well as when walking around the room when obstacles are present.
Before the semester starts, may I get the name/ISBN of the textbooks and other materials for the semester? I want to make sure I can have them in an accessible format for the first day of class.
Thank you in advance, and I can’t wait to be in your class!
Replying to the email
The professor usually replies within a week, if not much sooner, with the textbook information and says they look forward to having me in the class. Some professors don’t respond, so I make sure to include extra details when I talk to them on the first day of class.
The first day of class
- On the first day, bring every piece of assistive technology that could potentially be used in the class. I typically bring a rolling backpack in addition to my normal bag.
- Read through the syllabus seeing what devices will be needed for future classes. For example, if we have an assignment with lots of maps, I will bring my video magnifier
- Pay attention for phrases from the professor such as “I really embrace pencil and paper,” “I don’t like electronics in the classroom,” or “I will not allow any devices in the classroom.” If you hear these phrases, start looking for a new class to transfer to.
- If that is not an option, go to the teacher after class with your accommodation sheet from the Office of Disability Services, or a similar document that simply explains the services required.
- Try to explain everything in thirty seconds or less, as a long list of accommodations can be daunting.
Here’s how the conversation usually goes:
“Hi, I’m Veronica. I have a file with Office of Disability Services for low vision. I need to receive materials digitally when possible. You can email me them at the beginning of class or post them on the class website. I also take tests in the Disability Testing Center. And in icy or extremely rainy conditions, I might be a bit late to class, but I will try to make it!”
- Accommodations for print materials
- Walking in the rain with low vision
- Staying warm with a blindness cane
Demonstrating my technology
Almost all of my professors have been surprised over how simple my accommodations are. They are more than willing to work with me.. If asked, I also do a brief demonstration of my devices that I use in the classroom or show examples of accessible materials. Here are some examples:
- I put a piece of paper under the E-Bot Pro to show it enlarges on my iPad and can’t access the internet or other apps
- I run the SmartLux over a book to show how the text enlarges.
- For classes related to my major, I share an example of accessible assignments from the previous semester
I’ve only had one professor who seemed apprehensive over my technology, and I was thankful for their honesty, as I didn’t want a semester of frustration for both of us. I was able to transfer to a new class with a professor, who worked in disability policy prior to becoming a professor and embraced my assistive technologies. It was a win-win for everyone.
The above experience highlights another key thing to remember, which is to pick your battles.
Yes, you can force people to follow your accommodations, but it may not be the best solution. It can be stressful for not only the professor, but for you as well. This is especially true in classes that are in the core curriculum/general education requirements (i.e, not your major), as there are always different professors and different classes you can take to meet these core requirements.
Find the professor that understands your accommodations and sees how simple they truly are, and that helps you to thrive in the classroom environment. They might even forget you have a disability.