How do I help students with disabilities?

As a University of Minnesota faculty or staff member, do you sometimes struggle to figure out how to best serve students with disabilities on campus? Do you sometimes wonder what is "required" and whether you have to do everything that a student asks you to do?

If you have questions about accommodations for a student in your class, or any accommodations or universal design questions for our campus, please contact the Disability Resource Center. If you are interested in education on disability issues in general, please contact the Disability Resource Center at 218-281-8587.

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About Disability

  • The Americans with Disabilities Act as Amended states that a disability is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities such as walking, standing, sleeping, seeing, speaking, hearing, breathing, self-care, learning, concentrating, working and reading.
  • The majority of students we serve have non-apparent disabilities such as mental health conditions, chronic medical conditions, brain injuries, learning disabilities or ADD/ADHD. Only 20% of the population we serve has a visible disability including mobility, blind and low vision, and D/deaf and hard of hearing.
  • Generally, temporary health conditions such as broken limbs, viruses, or pregnancies are not considered disabilities. However, if students experience significant impacts to their education due to a temporary health condition, they can contact the DRC and discuss options and resources.

Reasonable Accommodations

  • An accommodation is a modification that is made to a course, program, service, job, activity, or facility that eliminates or minimizes disability-related barriers to allow for equal access.
  • There is often more than one way to accommodate a situation or activity. In order for an accommodation to be considered reasonable, however, it must meet four criteria:
    • It must not compromise essential requirements of a course, program, job, activity, or facility. 
    • It must not cause an undue administrative or financial hardship.
    • It must not compromise safety of the student or others.
    • It must not fundamentally alter a course or program.
  • The DRC will work with you and each student to determine if an accommodation is reasonable. Different courses may require different accommodations. Each plan is tailored to the student and their courses. For example, accommodations used in the classroom may be different from those used in a laboratory setting.

The Disability Resource Center's Process

  • The Disability Resource Center (DRC) staff will meet with students to discuss how their condition impacts their educational pursuits. We then determine accommodations that are reasonable based on these impacts and the courses they are taking.
  • Each semester, students are responsible for requesting a current accommodation letter and it will be emailed to their instructors. 
  • Students and instructors should discuss how to best implement the accommodations in each class.
  • Students are responsible for requesting accommodations as early in the term as possible because the DRC does not require instructors to provide retroactive accommodations.
  • Students, DRC staff, and instructors maintain contact throughout the semester as necessary to discuss any questions or concerns that may arise regarding the essential course requirements and implementing accommodations.

Students with Disabilities in Your Class

  • All information regarding students with disabilities is CONFIDENTIAL
  • It is important to focus conversation on the impacts and accommodations, not on the disability. Students are not obligated to disclose their disability condition to anyone outside of the Disability Resource Center. 
  • If there is conflict between providing accommodations and maintaining essential course requirements, feel free to consult with the students’ access consultants.
  • We encourage faculty to refer students who are struggling in their courses to the DRC. We need your opinions and observations and will use them to help us identify if an evaluation is necessary and the type of assessment that may be needed to determine a potential disability. The DRC can offer provisional accommodations until we are able to get the appropriate documentation

Frequently Used Accommodations

While incorporating Best Practices or Universal Design can eliminate the need for many accommodations, it does not eliminate the need for all of them. Here is information on the most commonly requested accommodations for students with disabilities.

Testing Accommodations
If your student has exam accommodations, you and the student should discuss testing arrangements. Whenever possible, students should take their exams within the department. If testing services are requires or requested, the DRC can arrange for tests with accommodations. See “Testing Services for Your Students with Disabilities”

Document Conversion
Converting books and print documents to an alternative format, such as accessible PDF or braille, takes time⎼ between 25 and 40 hours or more for the average textbook. Contact the DRC to make arrangements.

Classroom Interpreting and Captioning
The Interpreting/Captioning Unit (ICU) of the Disability Resource Center in the Twin Cities provides communication access to D/deaf, DeafBlind, and hard of hearing individuals. In the Crookston area, we must contract those services and there is limited availability in this region so advance notice is important.

We may also use CART services, (Captioning in real time) as an alternative. 

Media Captioning
Media captioning provides access to material to D/deaf and hard of hearing students (i.e. videos, YouTube, DVDs).

Access Assistants
Trained student workers called Access Assistants or Access Specialists hired from outside the UMC community may be hired to help remove barriers for students with disabilities. They may assist eligible students with laboratory access, note taking, library assistance, individual reading, textbook taping, testing, transportation and other activities.

Testing Services for Your Students with Accommodations

U of M Crookston offers testing with accommodations for your students with advance notice. Please read the tip sheet to learn about testing procedures and fill out the test proctoring from below for each test.

Essential Course Requirements

  • Essential requirements are the learning outcomes (including skills, knowledge and attitudes) all students must demonstrate with or without using accommodations.
  • When identifying essential program requirements, consider course objectives, licensing board requirements and if applicable, professional standards from a general class of occupations such as engineering, teaching, or health professions.

Accessible Technology Resources

We are mandated to make our courses accessible to all students and students with disabilities are just one group that will benefit. Students with language barriers, students in noisy environments, and students with different learning styles will also benefit.

Please visit AccessibleU for resources on accessible course materials.

Achieving Access in Your Class -- Best Practices/Universal Design for Instruction

Universal Design for Instruction (UDI) refers to the teaching practice that addresses the potential needs of a variety of learners. Another way to think about UDI is using the most inclusive model of teaching and learning. While instructors use a variety of approaches to incorporating UDI in their classrooms, effective UDI is comprised of the following principles:

  • Create a welcoming classroom climate
  • Provide clear expectations and feedback
  • Incorporate natural supports for learning
  • Use multimodal instructional methods
  • Provide a variety of ways to demonstrate knowledge
  • Use technology to enhance learning
  • Encourage instructors-student contact
  • Determine essential course components

Academic Technology Support Services:

Other University Resources:

What are the guidelines for service animals in my class?

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), only dogs and miniature horses can be service animals. The ADA states that there are only two questions one may ask of a person with a service animal: 1) is the dog required because of a disability; and 2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform? However, it is not appropriate to ask the student to have the animal demonstrate these tasks. Other factors are considered in the cases of miniature horses. Please do not feed or provide treats for service animals. Always ask permission to pet a service animal and do not be offended if the students denies that request. These are working animals and we want them to be alert to the needs of the student at all times. Call the DRC for any questions and to alert them if a student has a service animal. 

Disability Syllabus Statement

Policy statement to include in your syllabi:

Disability Accommodations

The University of Minnesota is committed to providing equitable access to learning opportunities for all students. The Disability Resource Center is the campus office that collaborates with students who have disabilities to provide and/or arrange reasonable accommodations.

If you have, or think you may have, a disability (e.g., mental health, attentional, learning, chronic health, sensory, or physical), please contact Disability Resource Center at 218-281-8587 (or email at to arrange a confidential discussion regarding equitable access and reasonable accommodations.

If you are registered with Disability Resource Center and have a current letter requesting reasonable accommodations, please contact your instructor as early in the semester as possible to discuss how the accommodations will be applied in the course.

For more information, please see the Disability Resource Center website,