What Accommodations Support School Performance?

In this page, you can find types of classroom accommodations and case illustrations of situations in which students with psychiatric disabilities have used accommodations, including what was effective for them.


Academic Accommodations

For college students with disabilities, academic accommodations may 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 has both the diversity of resources and the flexibility to select the specific aids or services it provides, as long as they are effective. Such aids and services should be selected in consultation with student who will use them.

Classroom Accommodations

  • Preferential seating
    Seating in front, by door, helps reduce audio/visual distractions
  • Coach / Mentor
    Having someone (another student, or a counseling staff member) to accompany a student to class and/or stay in class with the student.
  • Assigned classmate as volunteer assistant
    Similar to an accompanier, an assistant may help take notes or provide informal support.
  • Beverages permitted in class
    Helps alleviate dry mouth or tiredness caused by medications.

    Lecture accommodations

    • Pre-arranged breaks
      Helps student anticipate and manage anxiety, stress, or extreme restlessness caused by medication.
  • Tape Recorder
    Alleviates pressure of note taking, freeing student to attend and participate more fully in class.
  • Note taker
    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 note taking.
  • Photocopy or Email attachment of another student’s notes
    If note takers are not available, then securing from another student helps free him or her to attend and participate more fully in class.

    Examination accommodations

    • Change in test format
      Altering an exam from a multiple choice format to an essay format may help students demonstrate their knowledge more effectively and with much less interference from anxiety or a learning disability.
    • Permit use of computer software programs or other technological assistance
      Writing may be difficult due to medication side effects that create muscular or visual problems.
    • Extended time
      Allowing a specific extra amount of time, to be negotiated before the exam, allows the student to focus on the exam content instead of the clock, and lessens the chance that anxiety or other symptoms will interfere with his or her performance.
    • Segmented
      Dividing an exam up into parts and allowing student to take them in two or three sessions over 1-2 days helps reduce the effect of fatigue and focus on one section at a time.
    • Permit 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.
    • Increase frequency of tests or examinations
      Giving student more opportunities to demonstrate knowledge creates less pressure than having just a midterm or a final.
    • Permit exams to be read orally, dictated, scribed, or typed.
      Anxiety, other symptoms, medication side effects, or a learning disability may interfere with mental focus, concentration, ability to retrieve information, and/or writing capacity during a typical paper-pencil test. Reducing the amount of external pressure and distractions gives the student an equal opportunity to demonstrate his or her expertise without the disability skewing the results.

      Assignment accommodations

      • Substitute assignments
        Written exercises or other out-out class exercise may be necessary for a student with a psychiatric disability to best demonstrate their grasp of the required knowledge.
      • Advance notice of assignments
        Helps a student anticipate and plan time, energy, and workload, and arrange for any support or academic adjustments.
      • Delay in assignment due dates
        A student may need to go into the hospital for week for a medication check or a brief emergency; extra time on a due date might be all that is needed for a student to pass the course. The delay should be specified; i.e., a new due date should be negotiated and formalized, not be left open-ended.
      • Handwritten rather than typed papers
        Relieves an additional source of pressure if student does not yet have typing skills. The time tests and accuracy required in a typing course make them a very high stress experience for students who are just returning to school. In addition, students and teachers should be aware of voice-activated computer software that offers an alternative to keyboard use.
      • Assignment assistance during hospitalization
        Staying connected to a student during a course while he or she is in the hospital may mean the student can finish the course as planned, and not have to take an incomplete or withdrawal grade, lose their money, or repeat the course again. (The exacerbation of psychiatric symptoms does not necessarily preclude the student’s ability to complete schoolwork, and in some cases seems to help them leave the hospital sooner because they academic responsibilities to meet.)
      • Use alternative forms for students to demonstrate course mastery
        A student may be better able to demonstrate his or her 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 the student has not performed well on the exam due to his or her disability).
      • Textbooks on tape
        May help a student whose vision or concentration interferes with their reading ability.

        Administrative accommodations

        • 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 not 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 student’s 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 he or she 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 a student to full-time financial aid).
        • Assistance with selecting classes and course load.
          Early morning classes or high stress classes, such as keyboarding could set a student up failure.
        • Parking passes, elevator key, access to lounge
          Anxiety and other psychiatric symptoms can physically and emotionally prevent a student from crossing the campus or climbing several sets of stairs or sustaining energy for a day of classes, when they would otherwise be capable of attending class. These supports make the environment more accessible and “friendly,” and are usually cheap and easy to obtain.
        • Incompletes rather than failures or withdrawals if relapse occurs.
          If a student has finished most of the coursework but is unable to complete the remainder before the semester’s end, negotiating an incomplete usually means that a student will not have to repay or retake the entire course in order to finish it.
        • Identified place to meet on campus that feels “safe” before or after class.
          Having a place that is safe may help a student attend class more regularly and help lessen the effects of anxiety and “in the bud” stresses that can exacerbate other psychiatric symptoms.

          Case Illustrations of Classroom Accommodations

          • Jennifer was enrolled in a beginning computer class. Due to her symptoms of her mental illness, she had difficulty focusing in class. Her thoughts would wander from the teacher, and often she would feel lost in class. When this happened, she would interrupt the class to ask the teacher questions. She noticed that if her teacher and classmates were annoyed by her disruptions.Jennifer’s teacher allowed her to bring in a tape recorder to tape the class lectures. She also was assigned a “buddy,” a classmate who would sit next to her during class to point out what they were focusing on if Jennifer became lost. The teacher also made herself available to Jennifer each week at a certain time for questions. Jennifer also increased her time in the computer lab at the school.
          • Lisa was in her second semester at a community college. She had been taking three classes and was near completion of the semester when her symptoms began to affect her school work. Until this point, Lisa had been an exemplary student, with a grade point average of 4.0. It became impossible for Lisa to go to her classes. Lisa did not want to jeopardize her grade point average, nor did she have the financial resources to retake the classes.Because of her exemplary record, Lisa’s teachers all agreed to give her an incomplete rather than having her withdraw or failing her. This enabled Lisa to complete the course work over the next semester. It would not affect her grade point average and she would not have to pay for the classes again.
          • Joe was attending a major metropolitan university. The parking lot for the university was quite a distance from the building were his classes took place. Because of an anxiety disorder, Joe would find himself experiencing panic attacks walking from his car to the classroom building. Once he arrived in the building it would take him several minutes to calm himself and he was generally very flustered during his class. Joe was contemplating quitting school.Joe approached the Students with Disabilities Office and was able to get a parking pass which allowed him to park closer to the building where his classes were held. Because of this he felt safer in the environment and no longer experienced the panic attacks on his way to class.

            The following semester Joe had classes on the first floor and the third floor of the building. In between classes, the hallway and staircase were extremely crowded. Joe found himself experiencing panic attacks on his way up the stair case, wanting to run out of the building.

            Joe approached the Student’s with Disabilities Office again. Since Joe’s class was located near an elevator they were able to give him a key to the elevator. He would take the elevator to the third floor allowing him to avoid the crowded staircase and diminishing his anxiety.

          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.