imperial logo
Welcome to Imperial Valley College!

Where we foster excellence in education that challenges students of every background to develop their intellect, character, and abilities; to assist students in achieving their educational and career goals; and to be responsive to the greater community.

Follow us:facebook icontwitter iconinstagram iconyoutube iconlinkedin icon

Facts on the ADA, Disability, and Accommodations

This document was supported in whole or in part by the US Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, (Cooperative Agreement No. H324M980109). However, the opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the US Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, and no official endorsement by the Department should be inferred. Note: There are no copyright restrictions on this document, however please credit the source and support of federal funds when copying all or part of this material. This report is also available on the web for printing at: Developed by: Sean Lancaster, Daryl Mellard and Melissa Krueger of the University of Kansas CRL, Division of Adult Studies

Am I expected to become an expert on disabilities?

No. The college has other staff with expertise in verifying disabilities and determining academic accommodations. Many resources are available to assist faculty and staff. The staff at the Disability Support Services office are willing and able to work collaboratively with you in order to ensure that all aspects of your college are inviting, welcoming and inclusive of students with disabilities.

Introduction to the Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), landmark civil rights legislation, was enacted in 1990. ADA’s purpose is to ensure that people with disabilities are granted equal access to employment, public services, places of public accommodation, transportation, and telecommunications.

Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities by public entities. These provisions include publicly funded educational institutions such as universities, colleges, and technical schools. Privately funded educational institutions are subject to similar non-discrimination requirements under Title III of the Act and employers are covered under Title I.

The prohibition against discrimination is very broad and encompasses all the programs, activities, and services that your institution provides. In general the Act requires… that people with disabilities have an equal opportunity to benefit from or participate in your services.

A major thrust of the ADA is to ensure that people with disabilities gain access to the mainstream of American society. Access to education is one key to opening the doors of mainstream society to people with disabilities.

One way a college strives to ensure that people with disabilities have equal access is by providing accommodations for qualified people with disabilities. Accommodations are a necessary part of meeting the requirements of the ADA. The college’s obligation to provide accommodations extends to prospective and enrolled students, employees, members of the public who may wish to attend public events or activities sponsored by the college, and to any other individual who is eligible to attend, enroll in or benefit from the college’s programs, services or activities. This bulletin will focus specifically on accommodations for students with disabilities.

Accommodations for Students

Accommodations are a means of providing qualified students with disabilities a similar opportunity to benefit from their educational experience as their non-disabled counterparts. The obligation to provide accommodations for students with disabilities is not a new concept. Most publicly funded educational institutions have been subject to similar obligations for many years under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Whether you have been aware of it or not, your college has probably been providing some type of accommodations for students with disabilities for quite some time.

During the 1995-96 academic year, six percent of first year students reported having a disability that affected hearing, speech, mobility or vision, but that number is increasing. In fact, current reports suggest that 1 out of 11 college students have reported that they have a disability (U.S. Dept. of Education, 1999). Not every student with a disability will be eligible for or need an accommodation. However, as more students with disabilities enroll in post-secondary education, the need for accommodations will increase.

What is an Accommodation?

An accommodation is a legally mandated modification or service that gives a student with a disability an equal opportunity to benefit from the educational process. It may be useful to think of accommodations as adjustments to how things are normally done. From one perspective, accommodations can be grouped into the following categories:

  • Changes to a classroom environment or task that permit a student with a disability to participate in the educational process,
  • Removal of architectural barriers,
  • Modifications to policies, practices or procedures,
  • Provision of auxiliary aids and services, and
  • Other adaptations or modifications that enable a student to enjoy the benefits and privileges of the college’s program, services and activities.

Accommodations do not lower academic standards or compromise the integrity of an academic program. Academic, conduct and technical standards will always be maintained. Accommodations are provided at no cost for eligible students. Eligibility for accommodations is discussed further on.

The Accommodations Process

Typically the accommodation process starts when a student contacts the Disabled Student Programs & Services (DSPS) office or an instructor and makes a request for a disability related accommodation. If a student asks you for an accommodation and has not had his or her disability verified by DSP you should refer the student to DSPS.

Types of Accommodations

Here is a list of commonly provided educational accommodations.

  • Sign language interpreters
  • Note takers or scribes
  • Tape recorders
  • Test taking accommodations, such as:
    -giving exams in alternative formats (e.g., giving a written exam orally, or changing the way answers are recorded);
    -extending the time allowed;
    -permitting use of a dictionary or spell checker (unless test is designed to measure spelling ability);
    -providing quiet room for test taking in order to decrease auditory or visual distractions;
    -repeating instructions.
  • Assistive listening devices
  • Removal of architectural barriers
    -providing quiet room for test taking in order to decrease auditory or visual distractions;
    -installing better lighting in classrooms to assist students with low vision
  • Course substitutions and waivers
  • Written materials in alternative formats such as large print, Braille, computer diskette, or audiotape readers

Rather than provide all these accommodations, why don’t we create special programs for students with disabilities?

The ADA does not prohibit special or segregated programs designed just to meet the needs of students with disabilities. However, they are generally not the best way to meet the intent of the ADA, which is to integrate people with disabilities into mainstream society. When students leave college they need to be prepared to succeed in the work world. Integrated classrooms prepare all students, both with and without disabilities for the challenges they will face.

It is important to note that if special programming is offered, a college must still permit qualified students with disabilities to attend the regular programs. The college must also continue to provide accommodations for students with disabilities in the regular program.

What types of accommodations will not be provided?

  • Personal devices such as wheelchairs, hearing aids or glasses.
  • Personal services such as assistance with eating, toileting or dressing will not be provided.
  • Accommodations that would fundamentally alter the nature of a program will not be provided.
  • Accommodations which lower or substantially modify academic or program standards will not be provided.
  • Accommodations that are unduly burdensome, administratively or financially.

Is the college required to provide individual tutoring for students with disabilities? No. Individual tutoring is not a required accommodation. Tutoring is considered a personal service and the law does not require a school to provide students with personal services. However, if a college provides tutoring or services such as math or writing labs for non-disabled students, students with disabilities must have the same access to these services as non-disabled students.

Who is eligible for an accommodation?

A student must meet two criteria to be eligible for an accommodation. First, the student must meet the essential or requisite eligibility requirements of the program, service or activity in which he or she wishes to participate with or without an accommodation. This means that the student must meet the requisite eligibility requirements in spite of his or her disability. Second, the student must have a documented disability as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act or the Rehabilitation Act.

What is a disability under the ADA?

Disability is defined as any physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities such as caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, or working. “Substantially limited” generally means that a person is unable to perform a major life activity that the average person in the general population can perform. Mitigating or corrective measures such as medication, or corrective lenses may be considered when determining whether a person is substantially limited.

The ADA also prohibits discrimination against individuals who have a record or history of being substantially impaired and individuals who are regarded as having such impairments..

At each college a designated staff decides whether a student meets the definition of disability under the ADA requires. Persons are not entitled to protection of the ADA simply because they have been diagnosed with a disability. The disability must substantially limit their ability to perform major life activities. Thus, this disability determination process is on a case-by-case basis. A college cannot set-up predetermined categories of what types of disabilities will be accommodated and what types will not.

To help you understand the potential scope of covered disabilities a non-exhaustive list of types of conditions that may be covered by the ADA includes:

  • physical, sight, speech or hearing impairments,
  • epilepsy
  • muscular dystrophy,
  • multiple sclerosis,
  • cancer,
  • heart diseases,
  • diabetes,
  • chronic illnesses,
  • HIV or AIDS,
  • psychiatric disabilities,
  • specific learning disabilities,
  • mental retardation, and
  • recovered drug or alcohol addiction.

The college uses the Individual Accommodations Model to determine appropriate and effective academic accommodations. The model provides a research-based method for selecting accommodations that are based on a student’s needs, strengths, and goals.

How Are Accommodations Selected?

After a student’s disability has been verified, a DSPS staff person meets with the student discuss what types of accommodations may be needed. The “Accommodations Interivew” is one procedure for helping determine appropriate accommodation strategies. The “Accommodations Interview” is included in the IAM booklet, Ensuring Appropriate Accommodations for Students with Disabilities. The needs assessment considers the setting in which the accommodation will be provided, the characteristics of the student’s disability, the student’s goals and needs, and the college’s legal rights and responsibilities. Based on the results of the functional needs assessment and relevant medical or psychological tests, DSPS will approve the use of specific accommodations. Only accommodations that specifically address identified functional limitations caused by student’s disability will be approved by DSPS.

Often times more than one way is available to accommodate a student’s needs. The law requires that students be provided with effective accommodations, not the best or most expensive accommodation. Consideration will be given to the student’s preferred choice of accommodations. However, the college reserves the right to reject a student’s choice in lieu of another accommodation provided it is an effective alternative. In addition, the college is not required to provide accommodations that are unduly burdensome or that would fundamentally alter an educational program.

A student with a disability must make his or her accommodation needs known. Thus, the student is generally responsible for initiating the accommodation process. However, when faculty and staff are aware of a student’s disability and suspect that an accommodation is needed, they should refer the student to DSPS for assistance.

Communicating With and About People with Disabilities

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), other legislation, and the efforts of many disability organizations have begun to improve accessibility in buildings, increase access to education, open employment opportunities, and develop realistic portrayals of persons with disabilities in television programming and motion pictures.

However, more progress needs to be made. Many people still view persons with disabilities as individuals to be pitied, feared, or ignored. These attitudes may arise from discomfort with individuals who are perceived to be different or simply from a lack of information. Listed on the following pages are some suggestions on how to relate and communicate with and about people with disabilities.

We must look beyond the disability and look at the individual’s ability and capability--the things that make each of us unique and worthwhile.


Positive language empowers. When writing or speaking about people with disabilities, the person first. Group designations such as “the blind,” “the deaf” or “the disabled” are inappropriate because they do not reflect the individuality, equality, or dignity of people with disabilities. The next page provides some examples of positive and negative phrases. Note that the positive phrases put the person first.

Negative Phrases

  • retarded
  • mentally defective
  • the blind
  • the disabled
  • handicapped
  • suffers a hearing loss
  • the deaf
  • afflicted by MS
  • CP victim
  • epileptic
  • confined or restricted to a wheelchair
  • stricken by MD
  • crippled
  • lame
  • deformed
  • normal person (implies that the person with a disability isn’t normal)
  • dumb
  • mute
  • has overcome his/her disability
  • courageous (when it implies the person has courage because of having a disability)
  • crazy
  • nuts
  • the deinstitutionalized
  • admits she has a disability

Affirmative Phrases

  • person with mental retardation
  • person who is blind, person who is visually impaired
  • person with a disability
  • person who is deaf, person who is hard of hearing
  • person who has multiple sclerosis
  • person with cerebral palsy
  • person with epilepsy, person with seizure disorder
  • person who uses a wheelchair
  • person who has muscular dystrophy
  • physically disabled
  • successful, productive
  • person with psychiatric disability
  • person who no longer lives in an institution
  • says she/he has a disability


Outlined below are the “Ten Commandments of Etiquette for Communicating with People with Disabilities” to help you in communicating with persons with disabilities.

  1. When talking with a person with a disability, speak directly to that person rather than through a companion or sign language interpreter.
  2. When introduced to a person with a disability, it is appropriate to offer to shake hands. People with limited hand use or who wear an artificial limb can usually shake hands. (Shaking hands with the left hand is an acceptable greeting.)
  3. When meeting a person who is visually impaired, always identify yourself and others who may be with you. When conversing in a group, remember to identify the person to whom you are speaking.
  4. If you offer assistance, wait until the offer is accepted. Then listen to or ask for instructions.
  5. Treat adults as adults. Address people who have disabilities by their first names only when extending the same familiarity to all others. (Never patronize people who use wheelchairs by patting them on the head or shoulder.)
  6. Leaning on or hanging on to a person’s wheelchair is similar to leaning on hanging on to a person and is generally considered annoying. The chair is part of the personal body space of the person who uses it.
  7. Listen attentively when you’re talking with a person who has difficulty speaking. Be patient and wait for the person to finish, rather than correcting or speaking for the person. If necessary, ask short questions that require short answers, a nod or shake of the head. Never pretend to understand if you are having difficulty doing so. Instead, repeat what you have understood and allow the person to respond. The response will clue you and guide your understanding.
  8. When speaking with a person who uses a wheelchair or a person who uses crutches, place yourself at eye level in front of the person to facilitate the conversation.
  9. To get the attention of a person who is deaf, tap the person on the shoulder or wave your hand. Look directly at the person and speak clearly, slowly, and expressively to determine if the person can read your lips. Not all people who are deaf can read lips. For those who do lip read, place yourself so that you face the light source and keep hands, cigarettes and food away from your mouth when speaking.
  10. Relax. Don’t be embarrassed if you happen to use accepted, common expressions such as “See you later,” or “Did you hear about that?” that seems to relate to a person’s disability. Don’t be afraid to ask questions when you’re unsure of what to do.

The information for parts of this bulletin came from three sources: The President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities; Guidelines to Reporting and Writing About People with Disabilities, produced by the Media Project, Research and Training Center on Independent Living, 4089 Dole, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS 66045; and Ten Commandments of Etiquette for Communicating with People with Disabilities, National Center for Access Unlimited, 155 North Wacker Drive, Suite 315, Chicago, IL 60606.