The decision to disclose a disability is a personal choice. Deciding what and how much information to share with an instructor or staff member will vary by student depending on his/her comfort levels. It is, however, important to initiate a conversation with instructors early in the semester so that sufficient time exists to implement an accommodation or to trouble-shoot a problem. Even if you disclose and explain that you prefer NOT to use your accommodations unless the need arises, you are at least making the instructor aware of possible accommodation requests that may need to be made at a later date.
The following points can be helpful to begin conversations relating to the presence of a disability and/or need for academic accommodations:
Make an appointment with your instructor to meet during office hours.
It is not necessary to tell your life story to the instructor at that time or provide the instructor with your accommodation plan; simply set up an initial appointment. Before your appointment, you may want to discuss and/or practice what you are going to say with a friend, family member, or DSS staff member.
Make sure you know how to explain the exact nature of your disability, how it affects your academic performance, and/or what types of accommodations (if any), you need.
If you feel uncomfortable with this, discuss these issues with the DSS Accommodations Specialist. Be prepared to answer specific questions and possible skepticism. It is not uncommon for a faculty or staff member to be unfamiliar with how a disability relates to a particular accommodation. Emphasize your strengths, explain what you need, and provide examples of how an accommodation has been helpful to you in the past.
Have a copy of your accommodation letter ready to give to your instructors.
Although instructors are electronically notified of your accommodation needs, there may be situations that result in the instructor not receiving a copy. You should verify with your instructor that he/she has received a copy of your accommodation plan, and if not, provide him/her with a copy.
You may have to educate your professor as to what your disability IS and IS NOT.
It is helpful to remember that instructors have varying levels of familiarity and experience working with students who have disabilities. If an instructor is not familiar with support services offered through the DSS office, give them some background information and suggest that they contact the DSS office if they have any questions or need assistance.
Describe your learning style in simple language.
Provide concrete examples of how your disability may affect you in each particular class, how you learn best, and suggestions for strategies or ways in which you have successfully accommodated your challenges in the past. Sometimes this can be a starting point for you and the instructor to brainstorm possible solutions together.
For students with learning disabilities, it may be helpful to explain that you have gone through extensive diagnostic testing to diagnose and determine your specific learning disability.
Your instructors may ask you to provide them with documentation of your disability. Decide in advance how much personal information you feel comfortable divulging. You are not required to show copies of your diagnostic evaluation to anyone, unless you choose to do so. You may prefer to have the instructor contact the DSS office, for further clarification. However, the DSS staff will not disclose any confidential information about you to anyone without your consent.
Anticipate any accommodations or special needs you have in advance and develop a plan of action with your instructor.
Will you need extended time on exams? Will you need a note-taker who is willing to share class notes? Will you need to take your exam in a quiet room with a proctor? Will the instructor allow you to use a calculator or other aid during exams? Do you anticipate missing class due to your disability? It is always best to address any potential issues that may come up due to the impact of your disability as proactively as possible. The earlier these issues are identified, the more time there is to develop a plan of action for addressing them.
If you intend to record lectures, always ask permission.
If an instructor expresses concern or seems uncomfortable with this, notify the DSS office. If you are eligible for this accommodation, instructors cannot deny your request to record. Sometimes instructors feel more comfortable if you sign a recording agreement form. These forms are available at the DSS office.
What if an instructor is skeptical and/or not receptive to your accommodation requests?
Discuss the situation with a DSS staff member. Often a DSS staff member will contact the instructor to clarify expectations, policies and/or procedures as well as to answer any questions the instructor may have. Additionally, in some instances where the instructor may be unfamiliar with expectations or procedures for implementing accommodations, DSS staff can provide education and guidance. At any time should you feel that your accommodations are not being provided you should let the DSS office know right away.
Information modified courtesy, Northern Illinois University, DRS office.