Faculty FAQs

What are disability accommodations?

Accommodations are reasonable adjustments to policy, practice, and programs that “level the playing field” for students with disabilities and provide access to programs and activities at Columbia University.  Accommodations and services are customized to match the disability-related needs of each student and are determined according to documentation and the student’s program requirements.  Accommodations may include (please add links to each of the below):

  • Testing accommodations (e.g. extended time)
  • Services (e.g. note-taking, sign language interpreters)
  • Assistive technology (e.g. reading software)
  • Accessible/modified housing
  • Services to facilitate campus access

How are accommodations for students determined?

Accommodations are determined on a case-by-case basis after Disability Services considers the student’s needs as described in their disability documentation. Faculty also have the opportunity to consult with Disability Services on the final determination of accommodations for each of their courses and students. Some accommodations may be appropriate in one course or program, but not in another. For example, an accommodation of extended time might be appropriate for a course with in-class timed exams, but might not be in a course where students are evaluated solely based on papers or group presentations.

How will I know if a student with a disability is enrolled in one of my courses?

There are several ways faculty are notified that a student with a disability is taking your course, as described below, but generally faculty are not notified unless the student with a disability needs an accommodation. 

Undergraduate students registered with Disability Services will typically present an Accommodation Letter to you that outlines Disability Services’ recommendations for accommodations for your course.

  • At times, DS may email you with this information in order to make arrangements for accommodations in a timely manner or to facilitate the disclosure process on the student’s behalf.
  • Disability Services strongly encourages students with disabilities to present their Accommodation Letters at the beginning of the semester. However, some students elect not to for a variety of reasons. Disability Services advises these students that accommodations are not retroactive and are more difficult to arrange later in the semester.

What should I do if a student approaches me about an accommodation that was not included in the letter or email from Disability Services/graduate school liaison?

Faculty should refer students to Disability Services in order for the appropriateness of the student’s new request to be evaluated. Disability Services will review their request along with their disability documentation and consult with the faculty member to determine if the student’s requested accommodation is appropriate for that course. 

What should I do if I am concerned that a recommended accommodation is not appropriate for my course?

Please contact Disability Services to discuss your concerns in-depth with the student’s coordinator. The student’s coordinator will facilitate a deliberative discussion to determine appropriate accommodations for your course.

I have a student whom I suspect has a disability or disclosed that they have a disability but is not registered with Disability Services. What should I do?

  • If you suspect that a student in your course has a disability and is in need of accommodations, please contact Disability Services to discuss your concerns further. 
    • DS can provide consultation regarding how to discuss your concerns with the student.
    • Faculty and staff may also speak to students in a confidential space, and encourage them to meet to someone at DS.
  • Similarly, if a student in your course discloses that they have a disability and are in need of accommodations but are not already registered with DS, please refer the student to DS.

Why do students with disabilities often need testing accommodations?

  • Testing accommodations are designed to give the student access to the assessment and evaluation methods of the course.
  • Testing accommodations do not alter the content of the exam or what the student is required to demonstrate on the exam, but rather alter the administration of the exam.
    • Examples of testing accommodations include large print format, use of a computer to type the exam, use of assistive technology for the exam, and extended time to complete the exam.
  • The intention of testing accommodations is to remove barriers that traditional exam administration presents to the student due to their disability.

Can I administer my exam with accommodations myself?

Many faculty have been able to and prefer to coordinate these accommodations with assistance from their teaching assistants. If faculty members choose to provide accommodations, they must be prepared to:

  • Provide an appropriate testing environment, including a room that is quiet, offers minimal distractions, and provides the ability to take and complete the exam without interruption.
  • Ensure that students with disabilities have the same exam opportunities and resources as all other students (e.g., the opportunity to ask clarifying questions related to the exam).

My exam format includes a timed PowerPoint presentation, listening section, or a video clip.  Can Disability Services administer my exam?

There are several ways an exam including a non-paper format can be administered.  Such options are presented according to format:

  • PowerPoint Presentation:  Faculty typically email DS the PowerPoint presentation or bring the presentation to DS on a flashdrive, which DS is then able to reformat according to the student’s accommodations (i.e. if the class is shown a slide for 2 minutes, DS will re-time the slide to 3 minutes for a student eligible for 1.5x extended time)
  • Listening Section:  There are several scenarios in which this format is typically managed.  Often times, faculty will accommodate the student for such exams.  Other times a student may present to class for the listening portion of the exam and then proceed to DS to complete the written portion.  DS is also able to administer the entire exam including the listening section if that is the preference.  In order for DS to administer the listening section, faculty typically email DS the audio file or come to DS to record the section on a digital recorder.
  • Video Clip:  If there is only one copy of the video clip without sufficient time for DS to make a copy, a student may present to class to view the video clip and then proceed to DS to complete the written portion.  DS is also able to administer the entire exam including the video clip if that is the preference.  In order for DS to administer the video clip, faculty may email DS the video clip or bring the video clip to DS in its current format so a copy can be made. 

How do I make arrangements for a student to take an exam with Disability Services?

Undergraduate students approved by Disability Services for testing accommodations are either accommodated on exams by faculty or by Disability Services.  Faculty who prefer to have their students take their exams with DS will generally need to complete a Testing Accommodation Request Form (TARF) with the student.

  • The form is completed by both the student and professor in its entirety or DS will not accept the form.
  • For students taking their exams with DS, the student must submit this form two weeks in advance in order to make arrangements to take an exam with accommodations at DS.
  • This lead time is necessary so that DS can secure space and proctors to administer the exam.

Does Disability Services recommend a statement be put on my syllabus about students with disabilities? What should it say?

You may wish to include the following information about accommodations and services on your course syllabus: 

In order to receive disability-related academic accommodations, students must first be registered with Disability Services (DS) . More information on the DS registration process is available online at Faculty must be notified of registered students’ accommodations before exam or other accommodations will be provided. Students who have, or think they may have, a disability are invited to contact Disability Services for a confidential discussion at (212) 854-2388 (Voice/TTY) or by email at