The terms “academic adjustments” and “academic accommodations” are frequently used interchangeably, with the former being the preferred term in a post-secondary setting. When used alone, the word “accommodations” generally refers to non-academic modifications such as housing or transportation arrangements. An appropriate academic adjustment is a modification to the learning environment or learning process that removes a barrier to full participation and allows equal access for students with disabilities. Academic adjustments are meant to eliminate discrimination by equalizing opportunities, not to provide an unfair advantage to eligible students.
When a student registers with the Office of Specialized Services, accommodations and academic adjustments are jointly determined by the student and the OSS counselor. All requested accommodations and/or academic adjustments must be determined to be appropriate to the student’s documented needs. Approved modifications are recorded on an “Approved Accommodations Summary” form kept in the student’s file, which is not automatically sent to faculty but is available to faculty upon request.
Prior to the start of each semester, or as early in the semester as possible, OSS recommends that the student and faculty member privately discuss how the limiting effects of the student’s disability may impact on the completion of course requirements, and what accommodations and/or academic adjustments may need to be implemented to provide equal access. Outright denial of an accommodation or academic adjustment without due deliberation could result in claims of discrimination and in litigation against the individual faculty or staff member.
A faculty or staff member should always contact OSS whenever a request that is considered questionable or unwarranted is made by a student, to determine if the requested accommodation or academic adjustment has been approved by the office. The faculty member may also ask the student to provide a copy of the “Approved Accommodations Summary” form.
A student must give a faculty or staff member adequate time to honor his/her request for accommodations or academic adjustments. Depending on the level of complexity of the request, a minimum of one week’s advanced notice is suggested.
Appropriate academic adjustments fall into four categories:
- Services – e.g. notetaking, reader services, scribing, interpreting
- Alternative media – e.g. large print, recorded textbooks, braille materials
- Adaptive technology – e.g. adaptive computer keyboards, assistive listening devices, computer voice input and output, magnifying microscopes
- Modifications to Policies, Procedures, Practices – e.g. alternative testing procedures, alternate test formats, extended deadlines, course substitutions
OSS staff are available to assist faculty in implementing any needed academic adjustments. In situations where course materials need to be obtained in or converted to alternative formats such as large print or braille, it is essential that faculty and OSS staff work closely to ensure that materials are available to the student in the desired format in a timely manner.
Off-campus experiences. Faculty need to assure accessibility when planning class trips or field work experiences outside of the college. Faculty should verify the accessibility of museums and other destinations. Accessible vans and buses can be reserved through transportation companies. Students with disabilities may require assistive listening devices, interpreting services, or audio-taped descriptions when participating in field trips. OSS staff can be notified for assistance in making arrangements.
Field placements and internships are important components of several Ramapo College academic programs. Transportation, job site modification and job accommodations may be necessary for students with not readily discernible disabilities, as well as for those with more obvious needs. Faculty responsible for placements should openly discuss accessibility needs with the students, and may contact the OSS career counselor for assistance in arranging the appropriate sites and/or job accommodations.
Fundamental alteration not required. Meaningful access, as defined by the federal laws, does not require that the college fundamentally alter the nature of programs or services, nor does it require providing modifications that would impose undue financial burdens on the college. Students are involved in planning for their academic adjustments, but historically the laws have been interpreted to favor the institution (as represented by OSS) as having the ultimate right to choose the manner in which meaningful access is provided. Recent Office of Civil Rights (OCR) rulings have challenged this interpretation in favor of supporting the student’s preferred mode of academic accommodation.
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