Accommodations for Students with Disabilities

A Note from SUNY Provost Tod A. Lauren

As you work on your academic continuity plans, I am writing today regarding accommodations for students with disabilities; a population which may increase in size given transitions to online or remote instruction, increasing numbers of students with health challenges, etc.

I know you are aware that the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504, and the NYS Human Rights Law still apply. Our responsibilities to provide individual academic adjustments or modifications remain unchanged. Nazely Kurkjian, System Coordinator of Disability, Diversity, and Nontraditional Student Services has worked in cooperation with the Office of General Counsel, to prepare the following guidance and resources. Note that in addition to the information below, there will be a related webinar (repeated over two days) as part of the SUNY Remote Teaching Clinic , found under the Technical Training Tab, called Planning for Digital Accessibility in Remote Teaching, March 19 and 24.

  • Institutions may see an increase in accommodation requests overall, particularly chronic health and mental health  disability accommodation requests. People with serious chronic health conditions  are at a higher risk of getting sick from COVID-19.  Maximum flexibility for campus community members with immunocompromised disabilities students is strongly encouraged.
  • Students who utilize assistive technologies (e.g., text-to-speech software) may only have access to these technologies at the physical campus. Therefore, campuses may need to consider how those students can use such assistive technology remotely. There may be alternative software or other technologies available on the student’s home device to provide equivalent access but this will require dedicated conversations to assess.
  • Transitioning to online or other forms of remote instruction may change the accommodation plans for students with disabilities. Some accommodations faculty used before may no longer apply, and some accommodations not considered previously may need to be considered now.

 While students are not required to disclose their disability to the institution, students should be provided contact information for your campus Accessibility/Disability Services office and offered the opportunity to update their accommodation plan as needed. To that end, students may have difficulty obtaining documentation from secondary institutions and/or medical providers at this time. As such, campuses are encouraged create mechanisms to permit students to receive accommodations when documentation of the disability is not readily available. Offices should also permit students to send pictures of their documentation. Ultimately, these offices can conduct the interactive process with students through teleconferencing solutions.

As you explore different types of distance/remote technologies, please consider the following:

Teleconferencing/Lecture Capture Technologies

Not all teleconferencing software is accessible to individuals with disabilities. To make sure students can fully engage in the online learning environment:

  • Identify the accessibility barriers for the product of your choosing and limit interactions of inaccessible features;
  • Provide accessibility features and resources to enable using the product independently;
  • Establish responsibility for quickly addressing equal access needs, such as closed or live captioning. Consider using Microsoft Office PowerPoint with the Presentation Translator Plug-in , or Google Slides with live captions ; and
  • As screen sharing occurs, audio description is needed to provide the important visual content to people who are blind or visually impaired.

Additional third party or open-source digital learning technologies used to facilitate instruction, such as polling software, must also be evaluated for accessibility. If the required technology is inaccessible to users with disabilities, work closely with your campus disability services office to create equally effective access for the known barriers.

Digital Content

As various types of content are uploaded to the Learning Management Systems (LMS), establish a plan to prioritize making course materials and related technologies accessible to all learners. It is recommended to use the following hierarchy:

  • Content for registered students with disabilities;
  • Large enrollment courses; and
  • Required courses.

There are numerous free or campus-sponsored tools to enhance the inclusiveness of the course. Here are some basic universal design tips:

  • If you post a PDF, make sure it is searchable text and not just an image;
  • If you post a PowerPoint presentation, use larger size fonts and high-contrast color schemes.  Avoid the use of color or animation to convey information;
  • If you post a video, check and see if it has intelligible captions. At minimum, use automatic caption features (e.g., YouTube ) and improve accuracy as needed;
  • If you post audio, also share a written transcript. The Google Docs Voice Typing feature  creates a transcript for you;
  • If you post photographs, graphs or other media, add alternative text  to describe the image and its context;
  • If you are a campus that uses accessibility tools in your LMS, leverage them; and
  • If you use a new technology for engagement/discussion, check with your campus disability services office to be sure all your students can use it.

Online Exams/Quizzes

For courses moved online, the process for scheduling and delivering exams and quizzes may change. As campuses plan to deliver exams online, ensure that assistive technologies (e.g., screen reader, text-to-speech) are not blocked from taking exams remotely. While proctoring/testing systems allow for exam security, they may pose barriers to students with disabilities.

To extend time on exams and quizzes, most, if not all, LMS have built-in features to accomplish this. However, you may need to extend the time manually for the individual student for each exam and quiz. [Directions on how to do this in Blackboard]

Additional Resources

  • New! Ally software  is an accessibility tool for courses that provides faculty with user-friendly feedback on the accessibility of their content. Ally is now available to all campuses at no cost through June 30th of this year; your campus Chief Information Officer has been sent the Participating Institution Agreement (PIA) to setup Ally.
  • SUNY’s Electronic & Information Technology (EIT) Accessibility guidance and free, unlimited user access to self-paced online accessibility training through Deque University may accessed by logging into SUNY Blue. Visit blue.suny.edu  and enter your campus credentials. Navigate to Enterprise Projects > SUNY EIT Accessibility. If your campus does not have a Deque University administrator, contact your campus EIT Accessibility Officer.
  • Check out 20 Tips for Teaching an Accessible Online Course (PDF).
  • For individuals who have a chronic illness, please feel free to share this resource to speak with others who understand this time of heightened stress: Beyond My Battle Support Group .