In educational settings, reasonable accommodations are often referred to as academic adjustments. If you are a student with a psychiatric disability, academic adjustments might include adaptations in the way specific courses are conducted, the use of auxiliary equipment and support staff, and modifications in academic requirements. A college or university usually has both the diversity of resources and the flexibility to select the specific aids or services it provides, as long as they are effective. However, specific adjustments are not mandatory; instead, they should be should be negotiated, selected, and arranged in consultation with you, the instructor, and disability support services personnel, as the case may be. Below is a list of some possible aids and services, with a brief description of each.
- Seating in front, by door, helps reduce audio/visual distractions
- Having someone (another student, or a counseling staff member) to go with you to class and sometimes stay in class with you.
Assigned classmate as volunteer assistant
- Similar to an accompanier, an assistant may help you take notes or provide informal support.
Beverages permitted in class
- Helps alleviate dry mouth or tiredness caused by medications.
- Helps you anticipate and manage anxiety, stress, or extreme restlessness caused by medication.
- Alleviates pressure of notetaking, freeing you to attend and participate more fully in class.
- Similar to above, having someone in class to take notes alleviates anxiety of having to capture all the information; sometimes the anxiety of attending class interferes with effective notetaking.
Photocopy of another student’s notes
- If notetakers are not available, then securing notes from another student helps free you to attend and participate more fully in class.
Change in test format
- Altering an exam from a multiple choice format to an essay format may help you to demonstrate what you know more effectively and perhaps reduce interference from anxiety or the effects of learning disability.
Permit use of computer software programs or other technological assistance
- May assist you to write if physical handwriting is difficult due to medication side effects that create muscular or visual problems.
- Negotiating permission for a specific extra amount of time before the exam might help you to focus on the exam content instead of the clock, and lessens the chance that anxiety or other symptoms will interfere with your performance.
- Dividing an exam up into parts taking them in two or three sessions over 1-2 days helps to reduce the effect of fatigue and focus on one section at a time.
Have exams to be individually proctored, including in hospital
- A non-distracting, quiet setting helps reduce interference from anxiety or other symptoms or medication side effects.
Increased frequency of tests or examinations
- Having more opportunities to demonstrate knowledge creates less pressure than having just a midterm or a final.
Have exams read orally, dictated, scribed or typed
- As you know, symptoms, such as anxiety; medication side effects; or a learning disability may interfere with your mental focus, concentration, ability to retrieve information, and/or writing capacity during a typical paper-pencil test. Having an exam read or typed might help reduce the amount of external pressure and distractions, and give you more of an equal opportunity to demonstrate his or her expertise without the disability skewing the results.
- Asking for written exercises or other out-of-class exercises may be better ways for you to demonstrate your grasp of the required knowledge in a course.
Advance notice of assignments
- Having a syllabus helps you to anticipate and plan time, energy, and workload, as well as to arrange for any support or academic adjustments.
Delay in assignment due dates
- If you’ve had to be hospitalized for reasons related to your disability or if other unforeseeable events have interrupted your semester, extra time on a due date might be all that is needed for you to pass the course. Your request for an extension should be very specific; i.e., a new due date should be negotiated and formalized, not be left open-ended.
Handwritten rather than typed papers
- If you do not yet have typing skills, you might benefit from asking to have papers handwritten instead of typed.
Assignment assistance during hospitalization
- Staying connected with either your course instructor or your school’s disabilities services staff person while you are in the hospital may mean you can finish your course as planned, and not have to take an incomplete or withdrawal grade, lose your money, or repeat the course again.
Use alternative forms for students to demonstrate course mastery
- You may be better able to demonstrate your knowledge in ways that don’t require lots of writing (e.g., a narrative tape instead of a written journal) or time pressure (an essay exam rather than only multiple choice, or an extra paper if you have not performed well on the exam due to your disability).
Textbooks on tape
- May be helpful to listen to a textbook instead of reading it, if your vision or concentration interferes with your reading ability.
Providing modifications, substitutions, or waivers of courses, major fields of study, or degree requirements on a case-by-case basis
- These adjustments should be considered on an individual basis, and only if the changes requested would substantially alter essential elements of the course or program, or if courses are required for licensure.
Provide orientation to campus and administrative procedures
- Increasing a students familiarity with an environment and the system help him or her to feel more confident and confident, and allow the student to plan, strategize, anticipate trouble spots, and know where to go for assistance.
Provide assistance with registration/financial aid
- Helping a student cut through red tape and coaching them thorough the intricate but critical process of financial aid eliminates a potentially debilitating amount of stress and hassle.
Flexibility in determining “Full Time” status (for purposes of financial aid and health insurance)
- A school often has the power to declare a student “full-time” even if s/he is part-time. If the disability is such that a part-time load is equal in burden to a full time load for a student without disability, such a case can be made. (This adjustment does not entitle the student to full time financial aid).
Assistance with selecting classes and courseload
- Early morning classes or high stress classes such as keyboarding can create problems if you are on medication or susceptible to stress; getting help with planning and scheduling your classes can make your semester more comfortable and increase your chances of completion.
Parking passes, elevator key, access to lounge
- Anxiety and other psychiatric symptoms can physically and emotionally prevent you from crossing the campus or climbing several sets of stairs or sustaining energy for a day of classes, when you would otherwise be perfectly capable of attending class. These supports make the environment more accessible and “user-friendly,” and are usually cheap and easy to obtain.
Incompletes rather than failures or withdrawals if relapse occurs
- If you have finished most of the coursework for a class but are unable to complete the remainder before the semester’s end, you should try to negotiate getting a grade of “Incomplete” rather than a “Withdraw” or “Fail” grade. A grade of “Incomplete” usually means that you will not have to repay or retake the entire course in order to finish it; a “Fail” or “Withdraw” usually means you do.
Identified place to meet on campus that feels “safe” before or after class
- Having a preferred place to meet other students or a support person might help you to attend class more regularly, and perhaps lessen the effects of anxiety, or “nip in the bud” any stresses that could trigger other symptoms.
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.