Boston University Sargent College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences
Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation

Boston University Sargent College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences
Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation

What Would You Do?

You are a teacher in a large lecture course. A student approaches you mid-semester and tells you that she needs accommodations in order to take the midterm that is scheduled for next week. She claims that she is entitled to the accommodations because she has a mental health condition and a resulting disability. How do you respond? 


RESPONSE: Any student seeking an accommodation needs to have a letter from a medical doctor which stays confidentially on file with the college support service or disability office. The teacher is entitled to know that the student has a disability, but is not entitled to the details surrounding the disability. The first step then is to ask the student if she has met this requirement. The second step is to confirm this documentation with the support services office. The third step is to discuss and negotiate with the student exactly what type of accommodation would be needed (e.g., extended time, a separate room, a proctored exam, etc.). Additionally, if the last-minute timing has created an inconvenience for you, tell the student that knowing about the accommodation earlier would have helped you both. 


You are a counselor in the student support office of a small college. Your dean approaches you in August and asks you to run a special orientation group for new students with psychiatric conditions entering in September. What issues should you consider as you are planning and implementing this group? 

RESPONSE: You can run the group as long as it does not have a discriminatory effect on the participants. Specifically, participation in the group cannot be made mandatory and students must not be required to disclose their condition in order to attend your school. 

In fact, inquiries about the presence, nature, or severity of disability are illegal. 


As an administrator, two different students approach you with reports that one particular faculty member is refusing to allow any academic adjustments in his classroom, citing his right to run the class as he determines fit. What is your response? 

RESPONSE: The right to reasonable accommodations overrides faculty rights to academic freedom; the academic adjustments must be allowed if they are reasonable and if the student has a documented disability. 


A student who has a documented psychiatric disability is one of thirty in class that meets for three hours, once a week. He says that because one of the side effects of his psychotropic medication is akathisia (extreme restlessness), he needs to pace around the classroom every twenty minutes, to relieve his agitation. What is your response? 

RESPONSE: Protecting the rights of one student does not justify violating the rights of several others, which in this case is the right to participate and learn in the classroom. The student with akathisia must negotiate with the teacher to find a way to participate that does not interfere with the learning of the other students. Perhaps he needs more frequent breaks or needs to arrange to have some of the lecture taped if he cannot attend the entire lecture. The law requires that the student be able to meet the essential requirements of the student role; if attending is essential, he may not be able to fulfill the requirements in the educational setting. 


NOTE: The information contained in these pages is for educational purposes only, and is not legal advice. Individuals should contact the appropriate legal resources for specific legal advice regarding their particular situations.