Information for faculty and instructors working with students with disabilities at Penn State


The accommodations appropriate for a student's documented disability will be outlined in their academic accommodations letter. In addition to commonly utilized accommodations by disability type that are granted to students, flexibility adjustments involving attendance, deadlines, and rescheduling of exams can also be included in the letter.

Instructors are encouraged to contact the Student Disability Resources staff member that signed the academic accommodations letter if there are any questions regarding the suggested accommodations listed in the letter.

Student Disability Resources is here to help faculty with:

  • any concerns or difficulties associated with the student
  • suggestions or advice in regard to working with the student in the classroom

Student Disability Resources will:

  • not disclose the nature of the disability or any other information regarding the student without written permission from the student
  • only disclose information related to the accommodation(s) in the classroom and not specific information regarding the student's disability

Must I allow accommodations?

Yes, U.S. disability laws require post-secondary institutions to provide equal access to students with disabilities in the form of reasonable accommodations.

Accommodations should not compromise the learning objectives of a course. If you feel a student is requesting an accommodation that would, please contact the disability specialist listed on the student's academic accommodations letter.

Academic Accommodations Letter

Every student seeking classroom accommodations is required to obtain a new Academic Accommodations Letter at the beginning of each semester from their campus disability resources office. The letter contains suggested classroom accommodations for the student based on their documented disability.

It is the student's responsibility to present their accommodation letter to you, their instructor, as early in the semester as possible so that accommodation procedures are clear to both the instructor and the student.

Problems implementing an accommodation

If you have a question or think you will have difficulty in providing an accommodation requested...

  1. Consult our implementation guides (listed below)
  2. Contact the disability specialist or campus disability coordinator listed on the student's academic accommodations letter
    • They can help clarify any information, as well as assist you with resources in providing the accommodation.
    • In some cases, clarification involves a collaboration to adjust the accommodation such that it works for everyone involved in a particular academic situation.

Why is extended test time so common?

Students attending the Penn State have a variety of learning and physical disabilities. Extended test time is the accommodation most common for students to assist them with their classes.

For example...

  • A student with a learning disability cannot process information in the same manner as a typical student. Therefore, they need additional time to rephrase the questions in a way they can understand and answer.
  • A student with a disability affecting motor control of his or her extremities may need additional time to write the answers.

The results of three studies performed on the range of instructional accommodations at two- and four-year universities found the accommodation that is most widely accepted and easiest to provide is testing under modified conditions. Faculty and administrators agree that tests need to reflect students' course mastery, rather than their disability.

What if timing the exam is part of the grade?

If an otherwise reasonable accommodation infringes on the course's fundamental goals, then the student may not be entitled to the accommodation in such a situation. A guideline would be to determine if it is speed or knowledge that is being tested.

Contact the disability specialist or campus disability coordinator listed on the student's academic accommodations letter for clarification and/or assistance.

Implementation Guides

Guides for faculty on implementing accommodations for students

Assistance Accommodations Guide

Guide for faculty on providing assistance accommodations such as assistive listening devices, sign language interpreters, CART, and captioning

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Exam Accommodations Guide

Guide for faculty on providing common exam accommodations such as additional time, alternate test formats, and/or a distraction-reduced environment

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Flexibility Accommodations Guide

Guide for faculty on providing flexibility accommodations such as flexible attendance, due dates for assignments, and rescheduling exams/quizzes

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Science Laboratory Accommodations

Guide for faculty on adapting laboratory courses for students with disabilities

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Additional Information

Syllabus Statement

Example disability statement required on all University syllabi

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In-Class Announcement

Suggested in-class announcement to make students aware of the Student Disability Resources office should they need assistance with a disability

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Commonly Utilized Accommodations

A non-exhaustive list of accommodations or academic adjustments that may be considered a reasonable accommodation in the classroom

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Classroom Situations

Suggestions on handling classroom situations that might arise with students who have disabilities

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Emergency Evacuation

Considerations and procedures for assisting those with disabilities in the event of an emergency evacuation from offices and/or classrooms

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Penn State Policy AD91

Penn State's policy on Discrimination and Harassment and Related Inappropriate Conduct

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Related content
  • College Liaisons
    Disability Specialists focus on specific colleges to better understand the unique needs of students, faculty, and staff
  • Rights and Responsibilities
    The rights and responsibilities of students and Penn State for students seeking disability services