Top Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) for Faculty and Staff
The following answers to the top Frequently Asked Questions may assist faculty in gaining insight into the disability accommodation process at Sonoma State University. If your question is not listed on this page, click on the article page links at the bottom of the page or try our Search All FAQs page.
Faculty are urged to call
1. If a student asks me to provide him or her with a disability-related accommodation in my course, what should I do?
The first thing to determine is whether the student has an Accommodation Letter setting forth the accommodations recommended by the DSS office. If the student does not have such a letter, do not seek to arrange accommodations with the student yourself; refer him or her immediately to the DSS office.
2. What is an Accommodation Letter?
An Accommodation Letter is a letter from a Disability Adviser in DSS, which lists the specific academic accommodations for an individual student. A student who has an Accommodation Letter, dated in the semester in which the class is taking place, is currently registered with DSS and has provided the DSS office with medical documentation of his or her disability.
3. Who is responsible for determining appropriate accommodations?
The DSS office is the campus office designated to work with all SSU students to put in place the appropriate accommodations at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. DSS provides a wide array of support services, accommodations, and programs to remove barriers to full participation in the life of the University.
4. What does reasonable accommodation mean?
A reasonable accommodation is an adjustment designed to mitigate the impact of a student’s disability without compromising the integrity of an academic course or program. Reasonable accommodations may include:
auxiliary aids such as sign language interpreters
test-taking accommodations to complete exams
Providing reasonable accommodations allows students with disabilities to have equal access to education and services at the University. Students with disabilities are required to meet the same academic and technical standards as their non-disabled peers, using reasonable accommodations.
5. A student has asked for accommodations. How do I know the student truly has a disability and needs accommodations?
You may ask the student to provide you with an Accommodation Letter from DSS verifying that he or she has a disability. The student, if registered with DSS and after providing documentation that DSS determines supports the accommodation, is provided with a letter that details the required accommodations to which they are entitled so long as they do not fundamentally alter an essential component of your course. For every student registered with DSS, the office has a file with documentation of the disability. For reasons of confidentiality, the nature and specifics of the disability are not disclosed to faculty.
6. When is a student required to notify me of a need for accommodations?
DSS encourages but cannot require registered students to provide instructors with their Accommodation Letter at the beginning of each semester. A student can register with DSS or present his or her Accommodation Letter to you at any time during the semester. Accommodations, however, are not retroactive. Accommodations begin at the point the student has provided faculty with their accommodation letter.
7. Do I need to be presented with an Accommodation Letter each Semester for the same student if I have him or her in another class or another semester?
Yes, the student is required to provide you with an Accommodation Letter dated in the current semester for each course. You cannot assume that once a student is eligible the first time, he or she is eligible the next time. Also, a student's accommodation needs may vary from semester to semester or from course to course.
8. Should I provide accommodations to a student who does not present an Accommodation Letter?
If a student asks for an accommodation but does not deliver an Accommodation Letter from DSS verifying eligibility for academic adjustments, it is strongly recommended that you contact DSS or direct the student to contact DSS. Similarly, if a student asks you for an accommodation, and that specific accommodation is not listed in the letter from DSS, you are not obligated to provide it. To reiterate, you are urged not to seek to arrange by yourself accommodations for the student; refer him or her instead to DSS. If you are ever uncertain about your obligations, please call at
9. Am I required to provide exam accommodations to students who request it?
Yes, if such accommodations are set forth in the student's Accommodation Letter from DSS (see Questions #1 & #2). The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 504, as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the ADA Amendments Act protect students with disabilities. These laws require that qualified students with disabilities must have equal access to an education, including exam accommodations. If you believe that the recommended accommodations fundamentally alter an essential component of your course, see the answer to Question #15 below.
10. Am I allowed to request disability documentation from the student?
No. SSU has designated the DSS office as the repository of all disability documentation for students with disabilities. Documentation stating and describing a student's disability is confidential information. Recognize that most students feel very vulnerable in disclosing their accommodation needs to faculty.
While faculty may be able to surmise the condition on the basis of the accommodations, probing for disability information is inappropriate.
11. Do I have to keep the student's disability information confidential?
Yes! Faculty should always keep disability-related information confidential. For many students with disabilities, disclosure of their disability is a very personal and sensitive matter. You can always contact the student's DSS Advisor if there are any questions, issues, or concerns. Inappropriate disclosure of disability information must be avoided.
12. Do I have to allow students to use technology in my courses?
There are instances when the DSS student will need to use various technologies during your class. These will be outlined in the Accommodation Letter. This may include, but is not limited to, a laptop to take notes, a recorder to audio record class lectures, and other types of technology as needed.
13. What if I have a policy specifically banning the use of laptops?
If a laptop is an approved accommodation, a policy modification for the student with a disability is reasonable. In order not to publicly identify the student with a disability the instructor is encouraged to state on the syllabus something like the following: "Exceptions for the use of a laptop may be granted for compelling reasons at the discretion of the instructor."
14. Am I required to lower the standards of a required assignment because the student has a disability?
No. Standards are the same for all students; however, some students with disabilities may use accommodations to exhibit their knowledge, their production, and their meeting of other course expectations differently than their peers. For example, a student with low vision may produce an essay exam by using a computer rather than writing out an answer. The quality of the work should be the same.
15. What should I do if I believe an accommodation listed in the Accommodation Letter fundamentally alters an essential element of my course? Do I have any recourse if I disagree about recommended accommodations?
Yes. Academic adjustments listed in the student’s Accommodation Letter are open for negotiation. You can and should bring your concerns about specific accommodations to the DSS Advisor working with your student. It may be that a different accommodation would be better suited to your particular course and the DSS Advisor can help develop the alternative.
16. Do I have to alter my attendance policy?
No. You are under no obligation to alter or waive your attendance policy. However, you are strongly encouraged to identify and determine how much attendance is considered an essential part of your courses. The DSS office may make recommendations to faculty about unique circumstances where attendance considerations would be beneficial. Attendance considerations for students from DSS always carry a "standard of reasonableness" with them. It is always good practice to clearly state on your course syllabus your attendance requirements.
17. I've been debating about the textbook and other course materials I want to use for my class, but the DSS office keeps asking for this information? Do I have to provide it?
The short answer is, “yes.” Textbook publishers are often not able to provide books in digital formats that are usable or acquired in time for a course. Publishers do grant authorization to create digital copies of traditional texts for eligible students with disabilities. However, textbook conversion is a time-consuming, labor-intensive task. Every semester the DSS office Alternate Media staff creates screen-readable text (e-text), Braille, or other formats for students.
Students need to be able to access their textbooks at the same time as others in the class. By delaying the selection of textbooks, the DSS office may not be able to get material converted to an appropriate format in a timely fashion. This means students may have to start the semester without access to their textbooks.
18. I have a student who is having difficulty in my class. I think he or she may have a disability. What should I do to help them?
Talk privately with the student to discuss your observations. The student may reveal he or she has a disability. If this is the case and the student is registered with the DSS office, suggest that he or she talk to a Disability Adviser in the office.
If he or she is not aware of any particular difficulties, he or she may still be referred to the DSS office for an intake or prospective student appointment. It is not unusual for high ability students to be identified with a learning disability at the college level. Often the compensatory strategies used at the secondary level are no longer adequate in a demanding university setting. Suggest that the student call the DSS office at
19. A student with a disability has requested that he take an exam in a separate location that is less distracting than a classroom. How do I know that the student will not be getting an unfair advantage?
The DSS office recognizes that faculty try to avoid, as far as practicable, academic procedures that create temptations to violate SSU’s Honor Code. Students taking exams in a separate location from the class are reminded by DSS staff of their obligation under Sonoma State University’s Honor Code. If you have reason to believe the student committed an Honor Code violation, you should follow through with the usual reporting procedures established by the Office of Student Conduct.
20. A student came to me in the tenth week of the semester requesting accommodations. I believe this is too late to ask for accommodations and arrangements should be made at the beginning of the semester. I even made an announcement on the first day of class to meet with me about these arrangements. Do I have to provide accommodations for someone this late?
In most instances, “yes.” There are numerous reasons why a student makes a late request. Perhaps he or she could not get documentation of his or her disability any earlier and, therefore, could not initiate accommodations earlier. Some students try to take a class without accommodations but find that they aren't doing well and need accommodations. Whatever the reason, students may make requests for accommodations any time during the semester.
On the other hand, there may be some situations where students make a request for accommodations so late that appropriate arrangements cannot practicably or reasonably be made. An example of such a request might be a student requesting an entire textbook be converted to alternate format at the end of a semester.
The University is obligated to provide accommodations only at the point when a student makes a request, and you and the DSS office are able to make appropriate arrangements. The student is too late if he or she reveals a disability after the completion of a class and requests a change in grading basis to Credit/No Credit or deletion of a poor grade, for example. Accommodations are not provided retroactively.
21. I have a student with a disability who is behind in his homework. This student has missed a number of classes and has not handed in several assignments. Although the student has taken a midterm and used accommodations, the student received a D for the midterm. At this point, the student is not passing the class. Do I have a right to fail a student with a disability?
The student with a disability has the same right to fail as anyone else. Their work should be equivalent to his or her peers. It may be a good idea to discuss your concerns with this student, just as you would with anyone else in your class who is experiencing difficulty.