A few years ago, one of my best friends called me late at night feeling extremely distressed, because they were trying to figure out if they should report disability accommodation violations. Their professor hadn’t been following the accommodations listed in their Disability Services file, and they had no idea what to do next. Here is how I answer the question “what if I have to report disability accommodation violations?”, as well as tips for addressing academic ableism and collecting documentation of violations.
Share your Disability Services file before the first day of class
One of the most important things that a student can do is share their Disability Services file or accommodations list with their professor on the first day of class, not the first time that there is a problem. Professors do not automatically get a list of students who have disabilities, and it’s up to the student to communicate what they need from the professor in order to be successful. Of course, there are some cases where accommodations may not have been finalized before the first day of class (which happened to me when I was taking summer classes at a community college), but even if that’s the case, students can still give professors a general summary of their accommodations.
- How To Create A Disability Services File
- How To Get Disability Accommodations In Community College
- Why You Should Get A Disability Services File
Talk to the professor about how to implement accommodations for their specific class
One of the accommodations listed in my Disability Services file mentions providing descriptions of images as needed and verbal warnings about rapid animations or lighting changes. My professor was confused as to what this meant, and I ended up scheduling a meeting with them to go over my accommodations and give specific examples of what I would need from them. In this example, I explained that I would need for them to write alt text/image descriptions for images that summarized important visual information, and they would need to warn me ahead of time if we would be watching an animation that features flickering or strobing effects. Sometimes professors do not follow accommodations because they aren’t sure what they are asking for, so these meetings can help a lot.
- How To Explain Disability Accommodations To Professors
- Common Classroom Accommodations For Low Vision
- How To Write Alt Text and Image Descriptions for the Visually Impaired
- Quick Ways To Improve Accessibility For Virtual Learning Materials
- How To Create Accessible Assignments With Microsoft Office Sway
Make sure that professors know about resources that can help them effectively implement accommodations
My university provides many free resources for students and professors to help with implementing accommodations that many people do not know about. Some examples of these resources include:
- Disability Services testing center, which can implement specialized testing accommodations such as extended time or use of assistive technology
- Accessible textbook/content specialists which can make classroom textbooks and other materials available in accessible formats so that professors don’t have to create them on their own
- Captioning/audio description services for videos and recorded lectures
- Assistive technology specialists that can help with making digital and physical classroom spaces accessible for individual students
While each school may have different titles for these resources, it’s important to know what is available so that accommodations can be implemented more easily. In one case, my professor was overwhelmed with trying to figure out how to make one of my exams accessible for me with large print and high-resolution images, so I reached out to the assistive technology office and they worked with my professor and me to come up with a solution that didn’t involve me failing the exam because I couldn’t see it.
- What To Bring To The Disability Services Testing Center
- How To Request Accessible Textbooks In College
- File Formats For Low Vision and Print Disabilities
- Using Blackboard Ally With Low Vision
- Creating Inclusive and Accessible Video Lectures For Visually Impaired Audiences
- What To Know About College Assistive Technology Specialists
Document incidents as much as you can
So you’ve done everything you can to help minimize accommodation violations, but there are still incidents where accommodations are not being followed. My biggest recommendation is to document these incidents as much as you can, including writing out what was said, the time/date things took place, and any physical evidence such as notes or inaccessible assignments. If this is happening in an online class, I recommend taking screenshots and saving emails/messages- for one of my classes, I created a folder in my OneDrive with time-stamped messages and screenshots of information as needed.
- Six Ways I Collected Documentation For IEP Violations
- My Talk At A Future Date: What I Wish I Learned About AT Before Starting College
- Reporting Accessibility Issues: College O&M
Note which accommodations are not being followed
When I was in high school, my case managers encouraged me to be as specific as possible when explaining issues where my accommodations weren’t being followed. Instead of saying “I can’t see this,” I often would specify which accommodation was not being followed and why what was happening was a violation of my accommodations, which meant that I would say things like “I can’t see this assignment because it is in small print, and my accommodations say that I need 22 point font. As a result, I can’t complete this assignment and will get a zero.”
Some other examples of my friends explaining accommodation violations include:
- “I was not given time and a half on this quiz, even though my accommodations say I need it. I only finished half of my quiz before the end of class.”
- “I wasn’t allowed to use a screen magnifier and couldn’t see anything on the screen as a result. I wasn’t able to do anything for the entire class.”
- “My teacher didn’t let me eat a small snack in class, even though my 504 Plan says I can have candy to help with my blood sugar, and I ended up feeling really sick and couldn’t stay in class.”
- “I wasn’t allowed to sit in the front of the classroom and couldn’t take notes on the board, so I missed a lot of content.”
- Learning to Self-Advocate
- Ways To Practice Self-Advocacy In The Virtual Classroom
- Online Activities That Help Prepare For College Transition
- A to Z of Assistive Technology For Low Vision
- Preferential Seating and Low Vision
Reach out to the department whenever possible
While I recommend working with the professor whenever possible to resolve accommodations issues, sometimes it’s necessary to reach out to the department head for support. When one of my professors wouldn’t let me make up an assignment even though I was in the ER when it was due, I contacted the head of their department asking about the department policy for making up work and was able to get an opportunity to turn in the assignment without penalty. In another case, my friend met with their department head after their professor had said they had no idea how to implement their accommodations in the classroom, and the two of them were able to come up with a solution that allowed my friend to have access to their accommodations in a non-intrusive way.
- What If I Miss Assignments Or Classes In College?
- What If I Get Appendicitis In College?
- Ten Templates For Emailing Professors
Know where to report accommodation violations at different levels
If the head of the department isn’t helpful or is unsure of how to help, there are still other university offices that can help with documenting disability accommodations violations and can help to resolve the issue. While their exact titles may vary, examples of staff members that can help include:
- Dean of the school/program (i.e dean of science department)
- Head of academic programs
- Assistive technology office
- Disability Services office
- Department of Compliance/Diversity
- Office of the President (only use in extreme cases/if nothing else works)
- Tips For Handling Academic Ableism In The Classroom
- Reporting Academic Ableism For Someone Else
- My Experience With Disability Law Center of Virginia
Don’t let the incident get in your head
It’s easy to let issues with accommodations get in your head and convince you that your disability is an inconvenience or something to be ashamed of- this is something that happened to me often in high school, and it led to me losing a lot of confidence in certain classes that affected me for many years. Almost everyone has a story about accommodation violations or frustrating incidents involving disability, and it’s important to know that the professor is likely not frustrated at your existence, but rather at a lack of knowledge about how to best support you in the classroom.
- Dealing With Anxiety About Accommodations
- I Don’t Need An IEP!
- Tips For Improving Confidence About Using Assistive Technology
- How Students Can Celebrate Global Accessibility Awareness Day
Summary of how to report disability accommodations violations
- Share your Disability Services file on or before the first day of class not the first time that there is a problem, as professors do not automatically get a list of students who have disabilities
- Talk to the professor about how to implement accommodations for their specific class
- Make sure that professors know about resources that can help them effectively implement accommodations, such as testing centers or assistive technology specialists
- Document incidents as much as you can
- Note which accommodations are not being followed
- Reach out to the department whenever possible
- Know where to report accommodation violations at different levels
- Don’t let the incident get in your head- the professor is likely not frustrated at your existence, but rather at a lack of knowledge about how to best support you in the classroom.