Academic advisers usually discuss a range of academic and student life issues with their advisees. In the course of these conversations, students may disclose medical and mental disabilities. That is a personal decision of the student and must never be the result of advisers asking direct questions of their advisees about private medical or mental health issues. If an advisee wishes to discuss relevant accommodations and how to acquire approval, their adviser should refer them to the Office of Accessibility Resources (formerly Disability Services).

Once apprised of the existence of a disability, the adviser is encouraged to ask the student how they might envision their disability affecting the adviser-advisee relationship. Some possible topics might include the selection of courses that might be particularly challenging due to the disability, the availability of accessible materials and technology, assistance finding resources and additional help with academic strategies, and advice on how to speak with professors about accommodations. The adviser is encouraged to advocate for any advisee with disabilities who wishes it. However, since advisers are constrained by the same confidentiality rules concerning accommodations that govern the faculty, it is usually a better option to encourage and support advisees to engage in self-advocacy by directing them to resources and staff who can provide more direct help. Advisers should also be mindful to avoid telling students with disabilities that they are “unqualified” for any particular course or program of study due to their impairment. This is discriminatory. The adviser’s role in these cases is to highlight some of the questions that their advisee should investigate further with faculty in the course or program being discussed. This will enable advisees to make informed and appropriate decisions for themselves.

The following are good tips that advisers can provide advisees on how they should interact with their professors to discuss approved accommodations:

  • Email the professor to schedule an appointment or visit during office hours early in the term.
  • Prepare to discuss the written confirmation of your approved accommodation with your professor. Faculty need not know the specifics of the underlying medical diagnosis, though you are free to share whatever you feel is important to implementing the accommodation and that you are comfortable sharing with your professor.
  • Review the course syllabus thoroughly and jot down questions or concerns you might have in light of your approved accommodation.
  • Be sure to discuss how you would like to communicate with the professor should you face challenges during the term.
  • Develop a specific plan with your professor to implement the accommodation.

The following prompts may be given to advisees to use with their professors to get the process going:

“I’d like to discuss with you how my approved accommodation plan will work in your course.”

“I regularly use an accommodation (e.g., extra time, recording device, etc.), how could this be implemented in your course?”

“How would you like me to communicate with you when my accommodation should be implemented?”

Advisers with questions about a disability that a student has disclosed or about an approved accommodation should direct those questions to the advisee first and/or the Office of Accessibility Resources. Once again, such conversations should be highly sensitive to the privacy rights of the student.

A good resource that offers useful recommendations and unpacks a number of the nuances of accommodations policy and practice are two videos produced at the winter-break advising workshop on accommodations and accessibility in December 2019. These one-hour videos focus on “Legal Aspects” and “A Panel on Disability Service Practice.”