Educational Access

Educational access is the provision of classroom accommodations, auxiliary aids and services, and accessible technology to ensure equal educational opportunities for all students regardless of disability. Creating equal educational opportunities is a collaborative effort between the student, the faculty member, and Disability Resources.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, as amended, protect students with disabilities from discrimination that may occur as a result of misconceptions, attitudinal barriers, and/or failure of the institution to provide appropriate accommodations, auxiliary aids, or services.

Examples of accommodations and auxiliary aids include, but are not limited to: qualified interpreters, note takers, extra time for exams, and educational materials in alternate format (i.e. Braille, audio, electronic format, enlarged print).  

Principles of ACCESS

A -  Accessibility

Faculty members play a major role in making their classrooms accessible to all students.

C -  Communication

It is imperative that students with disabilities, faculty members, and Disability Resources communicate on a regular basis.

C -  Confidentiality

All instructors and Disability Resources staff must respect a student's right to confidentiality.

E -  Eligibility for Accommodations

Disability resources is the office designated to determine eligibility for federally mandated academic accommodations and services.

S -  Student Responsibility

Students have a responsibility in ensuring they get the necessary services.

S -  Support

Both faculty and Disability Resources work together to support students in their legal right to access an education.


Faculty Have The Right To:


Request verification of a student's eligibility for any requested accommodations. Such verification will be in the form of an email generated by the student from an online database. 

Disability Resources is the only office designated to review disability documentation and determine eligibility for appropriate accommodations. Faculty should not view this documentation.


  • Expect the student to initiate accommodation requests.
  • If the student is taking their tests at Disability Resources, expect Disability Resources to administer exams in a secure and monitored environment.

Faculty Have The Responsibility To:


  • Identify and establish essential functions, abilities, skills, and knowledge of their courses and evaluate students on this basis. Students with disabilities should meet the same course expectations as their peers.
  • Provide accommodations only to students who are registered with Disability Resources. It is NOT your responsibility to provide accommodations to students who are not registered with Disability Resources.
  • Use a syllabus statement and class announcements to invite students to disclose their needs.
  • Act immediately upon getting a student’s request for accommodations by contacting Disability Resources (if unsure about request), or by providing the service.
  • If a student needs alternative media, please provide Disability Resources with syllabi, textbooks, course packets etc, well before classes begin in order for students with disabilities to use alternative media when all other students have course materials. With such timely consideration, students with disabilities who have alternative media needs for accommodations and instructional access will be best served. Converting print materials is both labor and time intensive. Alternative media may be print material in Braille, on audio CDs, scanned onto discs, or enlarged.
  • Work to ensure that all audio-visual materials used in class are accessible (e.g., that videos shown are captioned for students with hearing impairments and that the equipment used has captioning capabilities, that videos shown will be made with auditory description in some way or that written transcripts will be provided, etc).
  • Consider incorporating principles of Universal Design for learning in your teaching. 


Treat and protect all disability-related information as confidential medical information.


Clearly communicate your testing procedures with the student and with Disability Resources. Faculty do NOT have the right to ask students if they have a disability. For those students with documented disabilities, faculty do NOT have the right to ask about the nature of the disability. However, if students choose to disclose their disability, this information should be treated confidentially.


Students Have The Right To:


Expect all disability-related information to be treated confidentially.


  • Receive appropriate accommodations in a timely manner from faculty or Disability Resources. Students should have the opportunity to meet privately with faculty to discuss needed accommodations and any other concerns. Please keep in mind that Disability Resources is the only office designated to review disability documentation and determine eligibility for appropriate accommodations.
  • Appeal decisions regarding accommodations and auxiliary aids.

Students Have The Responsibility To:


Provide Disability Resources with appropriate documentation of the disability.


Go to the instructor’s office hours or make an appointment with the instructor to facilitate privacy when requesting accommodations.


  • Initiate requests for specific accommodations in a timely manner.
  • Follow procedures with faculty and Disability Resources in order to get the appropriate accommodations.
  • Inform Disability Resources of the materials you need in alternate format as soon as possible.
  • Notify faculty/Disability Resources immediately when an accommodation is not being provided completely or correctly.
  • Notify faculty/Disability Resources immediately when a decision has been made to not use an accommodation or the accommodation is no longer needed.
  • Provide for their own personal independent living needs or other personal disability-related needs. For example, coordinating services of personal care attendants or acquiring homework assistance are student responsibilities and are not the responsibilities of Disability Resources.


Act as your own advocate. Work with counselors on developing advocacy skills and communicating your specific needs and accommodations to faculty.


Disability Resources Rights:


Receive the appropriate documentation from the student prior to the services being initiated.


  • Expect students and faculty to work cooperatively with Disability Resources to facilitate academic accommodations.
  • Deny unreasonable academic accommodations, adjustments, and/or auxiliary services. Accommodations can not impose undue hardship to, or fundamentally alter, a program or activity of the college.
  • Deny academic accommodations/services if appropriate documentation has not been provided.

Disability Resources Responsibilities:


Collect, evaluate, securely house disability documentation and determine eligibility for services.


  • Treat and protect all disability-related information as confidential medical information.
  • Meet with the student privately in an accessible location to discuss disability-related needs.


  • Administer exams as directed in a secure and monitored environment.
  • Provide appropriate accommodations in collaboration with the instructor and student.
  • Provide print materials in accessible format once the faculty member and student identifies them.


Communicate procedures clearly to the student and the faculty.


  • Assist students with disabilities in understanding their strengths and functional limitations.
  • Provide them with the skills to become self-advocates.


Alternative Media

Print material that has been converted to a format that enables a person with a print disability to read the materials. This includes but is not limited to: audio materials, Braille, electronic text, and enlarged print.

Auxiliary Aids

Services, equipment, and procedures that allow students with disabilities access to learning and activities in and out of the classroom. They include but are not limited to: sign language interpreters, real time captioning services, adaptive technology, alternative media, exam accommodations, etc.

Exam Accommodations

Legally mandated services that allow students with disabilities to exhibit their knowledge on exams by using auxiliary aids which include but are not limited to: extra time, a reader/scribe, computers, large print, CCTV, distraction reduced environment, etc.

Universal Design

An approach to designing course instruction, materials, and content to benefit people of all learning styles without adaptation or retrofitting.

Universal design provides equal access to learning, not simply equal access to information. Universal design allows the student to control the method of accessing information while the teacher monitors the learning process and initiates any beneficial methods.

This publication was developed by Patricia Carlton, Jennifer Hertzfeld, and Ann Yurcisn and was funded by the U.S. Department of Education under project #F738322 

Reproduced here with the permission of The George Washington University HEATH Resource Center
2121 K Street, N.W. Suite 220 • Washington, DC 20037