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Disability Services FAQ

Learn more about how we support students with disabilities.

Please review this page to find answers to commonly asked questions about disability services at Northern Vermont University. If you can’t find the answer to your question here, please contact the coordinator of disability services on your campus: at the NVU-Johnson campus or on the NVU-Lyndon campus.


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The law requires that no (otherwise) qualified person with a disability shall be denied a benefit or opportunity or excluded from participation in higher education solely on the basis of that disability. An individual with a disability is qualified if, with or without reasonable accommodation, the individual can meet the same eligibility requirements and standards of behavior and performance demanded of anyone else.

In some instances, an individual with a disability may need no accommodation to fully meet the eligibility criteria and standards required for inclusion. In some instances, the individual with a disability may meet the criteria and standards provided that a reasonable accommodation is provided or a modification is made. In some instances, an individual with a disability may be able to meet the eligibility criteria or standards only if an accommodation is made that goes beyond what is “reasonable.” In these instances, the person with a disability is not otherwise qualified and it is not discriminatory to exclude them from the benefit or opportunity.

In the context of higher education, it is easier to define when a requested accommodation is not reasonable. There are three kinds of accommodations that are not considered reasonable:

  1. It is not a reasonable accommodation if making the accommodation or allowing participation poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others.
  2. It is not a reasonable accommodation if making the accommodation means making a substantial change in an essential element of the curriculum (educational viewpoint) or a substantial alteration in the manner in which educational services are provided.
  3. It is not a reasonable accommodation if it poses an undue financial or administrative burden on the institution.

In high school, a resource room teacher or special educator worked with your parents and your teachers to develop a plan for your education. It was the school’s responsibility to see that the appropriate people were informed about you as a learner. You were (hopefully) a participant, but not necessarily in charge of the decision-making process.

In college, you are responsible for your progress and success. You must self-identify as a person with a disability to the coordinator of disability services (CDS), and then to your instructors. For example, you are responsible for scheduling and following alternative testing procedures, if that is a supported accommodation. Students with disabilities must meet the same course requirements as other students in a class, but the ways in which information is taken in or demonstrated may be adjusted. The CDS and other Academic Support Services staff stand ready to help, assist, and encourage you, but you have the responsibility for making that happen.

The CDS provides several services. In partnership with you, the student, accommodations that help support success are identified and put into place. We can review your documentation with you and help you to understand more clearly the kinds of challenges you face as a learner, as well as possible strategies to work around these challenges. We can assist you to be a more effective self-advocate and we can assist you with other barriers.

Students must self-identify and provide current and specific disability documentation — there is no automatic referral process.

  • Documentation of a disability must include a diagnostic evaluation by a qualified professional, preferably completed within the past three years.
  • It should substantiate the student’s need for accommodations based on his or her current level of functioning in an educational setting.
  • It should include an assessment and specific diagnosis based on test results, as well as specific recommendations for accommodations and the reasons for them.

A school plan such as an IEP or 504 Plan by itself may be insufficient documentation, although it can be included as part of a more comprehensive evaluation. Accommodations received in the past do not guarantee future accommodations. If documentation is missing, out-of-date, or insufficient, students bear the cost of providing additional documentation.

Please refer to the links regarding documentation on the disability services home page and contact the CDS if you have any questions.
Once the documentation paperwork is on file (preferably before the beginning of each semester), you will meet with the CDS to discuss what accommodations are reasonable and appropriate based on the classes you are registered for during that semester. Academic accommodations are determined on a semester-by-semester basis.

The CDS will review the documentation and meet with you in order to determine how your disability/functional limitations may affect academic work. Together, you and the CDS will decide in which courses you may need accommodations and what those accommodations should be. When necessary, the CDS will consult with individual professors as to whether proposed accommodations would be consistent with the technical requirements for a particular course. The CDS prepares a letter setting forth the reasonable accommodations a student should be given in a particular course, which is then delivered to the appropriate faculty members. It is the student’s responsibility to be in contact with their faculty about the use of these accommodations.

In general, students in online and/or hybrid courses access accommodations in a similar manner to on-campus students, by submitting current and specific documentation to the CDS as early as possible. The CDS schedules an initial phone interview to review documentation and discuss accommodations; subsequent discussions can be via email. The CDS delivers accommodation letters to the professors via email, with copies sent to the student. As for campus-based students, students in online courses must contact the CDS at the beginning of each semester to discuss what accommodations they may need for that semester’s courses.

Accommodations are determined on an individual basis. Reasonable accommodations permit students to learn on an equal footing with their peers at college, while maintaining the integrity of the content. Some examples of classroom accommodations are extended time on tests, access to a distraction-reduced testing area, and access to and training in the use of assistive technology. Assistive technology may include recorder devices, voice to text software, text reading software, and a variety of other options.

Your professors will know only what is in the letter from the CDS outlining the accommodations to which you are entitled. The letter states that you are a student registered with our office and lists the accommodations you are to receive. Whatever else you choose to tell your professors is up to you.

Disclosing a disability to a professor can feel awkward and uncomfortable. The decision to do this is yours, of course, but there are several things you can do to make it more comfortable and productive. Face-to-face meetings with your instructors are an excellent way to explain your need for accommodations and to help both of you feel at ease. You can even rehearse what you will say with the CDS or a close friend. Upon request, the CDS can attend a meeting with you and your professor to talk about your learning strengths and needs. For example, for students with auditory processing difficulties, adding written or visual instructions to verbal ones is very helpful.

Schedule your meeting as early in the semester as possible. This allows time for you and the professor to figure out how to implement the accommodations and helps your plan to be in place in a timely manner. You do not need to go into detail about your disability, but you may want to tell your professor about the impact it has on you as you study and do class work. Be willing to discuss what is difficult for you, but also talk about your learning strengths. Many times professors will have worked with students who have issues similar to yours and will have additional ideas. Their input can be very valuable and they are most familiar with the demands of their course.

If you use assistive technology and there is one program in particular you are familiar with and use often, having a laptop or tablet with that software may help you to be more successful. In addition, we have many assistive technology devices and software programs for you to borrow and try.

A student has the right to not ask for accommodations. Please keep the following in mind, however. If you do not request accommodations and perform poorly without them, you must accept the consequences of that action. Since college courses generally move faster and are more difficult than high school classes, it often makes sense to make use of accommodations early in your academic career. Later on, when you’re more acclimated to the academic environment, you may decide that you no longer need accommodations or can manage without them. Another important point to remember is that using accommodations is not an ‘all or nothing’ decision. A student has the choice to use accommodations in one course and not in another — or for one type of assignment but not for all. You can meet with the CDS to discuss the demands of different courses and decide when accommodations will and will not be necessary.

In general, professors at NVU are extremely helpful and supportive of students with disabilities. Occasionally, because of overwork, oversight, or lack of information, a professor may appear uncooperative in arranging accommodations. If this happens, usually polite persistence brings a favorable outcome. It is best to talk to professors outside of class, preferably during their office hours. If you feel that you have been unfairly denied accommodations, contact the CDS immediately and we will try to help you resolve the situation. If necessary, appeals may be made to the 504 Compliance Officer.

You are beginning an exciting journey that will continue to bring you new and different questions. We look forward to the opportunity to get to know you and to help you find the answers to your questions. Please feel free to call or email us at any time during the process of preparing for and then working on your college career!