Faculty Handbook Chapter 14 - Working with CAR Students

Faculty Handbook Chapter 14: Working with CAR Students

If you have any questions or concerns regarding students’ accommodations or working with a CAR student, please feel free to contact their primary Accommodation Specialist or the CAR office.

As the course instructor, it is incumbent upon you (and any co-instructors and/or teaching assistants) to create an educational experience that is inclusive of, and accessible to, people with a wide range of disability access requirements. CAR is prepared to assist you by sending a Letter of Accommodation (LOA), and we are a willing resource when questions and concerns arise. Therefore, at a minimum, it is the instructor’s responsibility to respond to accommodation notifications in a timely manner. However, we encourage you to begin thinking about access long before the semester begins and notifications are sent. 

Although accommodations are crucially important, they’re not the only way to make courses accessible to a wide array of learners. A better practice than solely relying on accommodations from CAR is to consider the access requirements of people with disabilities while designing your course. In recent decades, this concept has been formalized under a number of names such as Universal Design for Instruction, Universal Curricular Design, and Universal Design for Learning. While we will discuss Universal Design in greater detail in the following sections, here are some readily employable suggestions:

  • Start with your syllabus: Make sure your syllabus is clear, comprehensive, and broadly accessible. The Equity and Excellence in Higher Education: Universal Course Design website offers a number of helpful suggestions for improving the accessibility of your syllabus. 
  • Consider your pedagogic priorities: Do you discourage the use of memory aids during tests because memorization is important, or because that is how you were taught? If you are more concerned with the application of concepts and ideas, maybe memory aids can be permitted (or provided in the body of an exam), thereby reducing the need for exceptional practices. Many other applications of this process are possible, including the provision of copies of lecture notes/slides, additional time for exams, and offering multiple means of evaluation.
  • Encourage participation in the accommodation process: Be sure your syllabus includes a statement about disability that informs students of your willingness to provide reasonable accommodations and encourages them to work with CAR to inform you of their accommodation eligibility.
  • Distribute accessible electronic copies of course materials: Electronic materials are useful to students with diverse disabilities because they can be saved and accessed as needed, and some electronic formats (e.g. pdf documents) are compatible with screen reading software. However, electronic materials that are image-based files (e.g. jpeg and non-optical character recognition [OCR] pdf files) are not widely accessible.

Referring Students to CAR

Faculty members sometimes contact CAR regarding students they feel might need services offered by our office. Although teachers in high school are active participants in the process of identifying and referring students to special services, there is no comparable requirement in higher education. 

If you see a student who is struggling and wish to refer that student to CAR, remember that our students are adults. They may respond best to private conversations in which you use an inquiring and supportive approach and share information about the existence and location of the CAR office. Avoid singling out a student in class (this can be embarrassing for the student). Meet with a student one-on-one and discuss concerns you have from your observations of them in class. Focus on stating the facts and let them know there is help on campus and many student services are available, including CAR.

When students have difficulties but it's unclear whether it’s a disability, a faculty member may not assume or directly ask the student if she or he has a disability. However, faculty can discuss the issues of concern with the student and she or he might choose to share disability information. 

If the student discloses a disability, inform the Center for Accessible Resources (CAR) and direct the student to CAR. If the student does not indicate a disability, give them a list of campus resources and include CAR on the list. Below are some suggestions about discussing this with the student. 

1. Focus on observed behavioral symptoms or problems rather than the diagnosis, such as: 

  • “I notice you have difficulty finishing tests in the allotted time since the last few questions are usually left blank.”
  • “I notice you seem to struggle over similar problems in each writing assignment.” (Describe reversed letters, spelling of certain words, usage of certain words, etc.)
  • “I notice you have problems holding the pen when you write, leaning over to write, sitting for long periods of time, etc.” 
  • “I notice you seem to have difficulty understanding the directions for homework, quizzes, etc.”
  • “I notice from your test answers you may not understand or comprehend the questions, or do you having difficulty seeing the questions clearly?”
  • “I notice you seem to get assignments done but have difficulty organizing your time or remembering to turn them in on time.”

2. Ask the student if this pattern is familiar or something they or someone else has noticed. For example:

  • “Does my description fit what you are experiencing?” (Allow them to describe the problem from their perspective. It could be related to something entirely different from a disability, or it could be a very different problem than you imagined, e.g. chronic pain rather than a vision or cognitive problem.) 
  • “Have you had problems like this when you have attended school (previous college or high school, depending on their age) or are in a work setting?”
  • “What strategies help you avoid or reduce this problem?”

3. (Option 1): If the student says . . .

“Oh yeah, I've always had these problems and: 

  • thought maybe I had a disability, or 
  • was in special classes, or 
  • received accommodations, or 
  • was in a resource room, or 
  • worked with a Special Ed teacher, or 
  • was on an IEP, etc.”

Then encourage the student to visit CAR and see if she or he is eligible for services and accommodations. 

(Option 2): If the student is not forthcoming with any clues about possibly having a disability, then say: 

“If you'd like to explore resources on campus that might be able to assist you with these problems, I suggest you contact some of these departments to see if they can help.”

Then give the student a list of resources and include CAR, but don't emphasize it over any of the others.

Only the student can decide to disclose his, her, or their disability, or to pursue information about services available in the CAR office. If a student is requesting accommodations but you have NOT received a Letter of Accommodation from our office, please ask the student to contact CAR.

If a student self-identifies that they have a disability to you, you can directly refer the student to the Center for Accessible Resources (CAR). In that case please give them our contact information and/or website. You can let them know there is a process to follow to request accommodations.

Other ways to inform students about the Center for Accessible Resources:

  • Make general announcements to the class about CAR.
  • Use a syllabus statement to provide students information about CAR.