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Teaching Students With Disabilities

Columbia is committed to ensuring that all members of our academic community have the opportunity to participate and to benefit from the academic programs, the co-curricular activities, and the services offered by the University. These pages provide a brief overview of responsibilities, policies, and resources regarding teaching students with disabilities.

From the Faculty Handbook published by the Provost Office:

Persons with Disabilities

       The University is sensitive to the needs of its constituents and is committed to facilitating equal access for anyone with disabilities. Special attention is given to the needs of disabled faculty and students in assigning classrooms that can accommodate those individuals. This will sometimes necessitate relocating classes after the start of a term.

       Disability Services, which is responsible for providing support for students with disabilities on the Morningside, Manhattanville, and Irving Medical Center campuses, works with faculty to ensure that the accommodations the students receive are consistent with course requirements, the academic standards of the programs in which those students are enrolled, and the clinical documentation submitted to Disability Services to support specific accommodations.

       While students with disabilities are expected to meet the same academic requirements as other students, they may require special arrangements in order to do so, such as recordings of class lectures, the assistance of a sign language interpreter, and extended time or separate space for in-class examinations. The Office of Disability Services informs faculty of any accommodations that need to be provided to students enrolled in their courses, directly or through the appropriate members of their dean’s staff, and encourages the students to discuss their needs directly with their instructors.

       Students with disabilities requesting accommodations are required to register with the Office of Disability Services and must provide current clinical documentation that verifies their disability status and accommodation needs. Faculty members are not required to make adjustments for students who have not registered with that office and are advised not to make academic adjustments on their own. Faculty should contact that office directly for additional information or with concerns about specific students.

Federal Law and University Policy and Practice

Americans with Disabilities Act, 1990

The law requires colleges and universities to provide to students with disabilities reasonable accommodations that assist their full participation and engagement in their programs of study. Such accommodations should not in any way undermine the integrity of the academic work required.

Columbia University Disabilities Services

Disabilities Services (DS) is charged with enabling the University to fulfill its federal mandate. DS determines necessary accommodation plans and services on a case-by-case basis, taking into consideration students’ needs, as described in their disability documentation, and the academic requirements of their course of study.

Faculty may also consult with DS on the final determination of accommodations for each of their courses and for each student. Some accommodations may be appropriate in one course or program, but not in another and DS relies upon instructors to provide information regarding difficulties that might arise from a particular accommodation.

Typical accommodations include:

Rights and Responsibilities

Students, instructors, and Disability Services (DS) all have rights and responsibilities in the process of ensuring that students receive the reasonable accommodations necessary for their full participation in their academic program. This page provides a brief oversight of these rights and responsibilities, but for more information you are referred to Disability Services.

Student Rights and Responsibilities

In order to ensure their rights to reasonable accommodations, it is the responsibility of students to report any learning-related disabilities, to do so in a timely fashion, and to do so through the Office of Disability Services. Students who have documented conditions and are determined by DS to need individualized services will be provided an DS-certified ‘Accommodation Letter’. It is students’ responsibility to provide this letter to all their instructors and in so doing request the stated accommodations.

Instructor Rights and Responsibilities

Is is the right of all instructors to establish the academic standards for the courses that they teach and to consult with DS to determine what accommodations are reasonable for a given course. It is therefore the responsibility of an instructor to provide accommodations, as determined by the DS-certified ‘Accommodation Letter’, as long as they do not undermine the academic integrity of the course. Instructors are also responsible for evaluating the academic work of students with disabilities according to the same criteria of evaluation utilized for all other students in the class.

It is also the responsibility of an instructor to maintain student confidentiality. Instructors are expected to refrain from discussing a student’s disability with other students, to file accommodation requests in a secure location, and to provide opportunities for students to discuss privately their accommodation needs.

Lastly, while individual students with documented disabilities are entitled to reasonable and specific accommodations, instructors are responsible for fostering accessible learning environments for all students. Many strategies for teaching students with disabilities are known to benefit all students. These include:

  • Clear statement of course goals and objectives;
  • Clarity in course syllabus, schedule, and requirements;
  • Multiple modes of presentation - lecture, handouts, powerpoints;
  • Setting the tone for intellectually rigorous and socially courteous engagement with all students;
  • Including in syllabi a statement regarding classroom accommodations – for example:

"If you are a student with a disability and have an DS-certified ‘Accommodation Letter’ please come to my office hours to confirm your accommodation needs. If you believe that you might have a disability that requires accommodation, you should contact Disability Services at 212-854-2388 and"

Disability Services Rights and Responsibilities

Disability Services is responsible for working with students with disabilities to assess their academic needs, for assisting students in communicating with individual instructors regarding reasonable accommodations and, in some cases, for facilitating the implementation of the approved accommodations. DS shares the educational mission of all offices in the University and is therefore also responsible for upholding the academic policies established by the faculty and for the integrity of academic programs. DS therefore has the right to receive current disability documentation and to deny requests for accommodations that are not warranted or are not reasonable.

Contact Information

Columbia Disability Services

For general information, please refer to:

Disability Services
Wien Hall, Suite 108A, First Floor (map to Disability Services)
411 W. 116th Street, Mail Code 3714
New York, NY 10027
Phone: (212) 854-2388

There are two designated faculty liaisons should you have concerns about any student in your class, or the accommodations that have been requested for a student in your class, please contact the following staff:

  • Anuj Persad, Accommodations Coordinator
    • For exam administration related questions or concerns
  • Ashley Schleimer, Student Services Coordinator
    • For student/accommodation related questions or concerns

You may also wish to consult a student's academic adviser when making accommodations during a term. You can find the name and email address of a student's assigned adviser in CourseWorks, under "Photo Roster," then "List/Advisors." If you have more general advising questions, please contact one of the following individuals:

  • Columbia College or Columbia Engineering undergraduates:
    • Andrew Plaa, Dean of Advising, Berick Center for Student Advising, (212) 854-8829,
  • General Studies undergraduates
    • Marlyn Delva, Dean of Studies, The School of General Studies, (212) 854-2881,

Barnard Center for Accessibility Resources & Disability Services (CARDS)

Barnard College has a separate office for disability services to support Barnard undergraduates

Barnard Center for Accessibility Resources & Disability Services (CARDS)
101 Altschul Hall (map to Disability Services)
411 W. 116th Street, Mail Code 3714
New York, NY 10027
Phone: (212) 854-4634

The CARDS website has a page of Information for Faculty.