Faculty and Staff Information

For Faculty and Staff

Understanding the ADA, Accommodations, and Disability

Faculty is not expected to be an expert on disabilities. The university has staff with expertise in verifying disabilities and determining academic accommodations.  The Ability Services staff is willing and able to work collaboratively with faculty in order to ensure that all aspects of the curriculum are welcoming and inclusive of students with disabilities. 

The Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), was enacted in 1990 to ensure that people with disabilities are granted equal access to employment, public services, places of public accommodation, transportation, and telecommunications.

Title II of ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities by public entities. These provisions include publicly funded educational institutions such as our university. The prohibition against discrimination is very broad and encompasses all the programs, activities, and services that the university provides. In general, the Act requires that people with disabilities have equal opportunity to benefit from or participate in university services. 

A primary push of the ADA is to ensure that people with disabilities gain access to the mainstream of American society.  Access to education is one key to opening the doors of mainstream society to people with disabilities. 

One way our university strives to ensure equal access is by providing accommodations to qualified students with disabilities. Accommodations are a necessary part of meeting the requirements of the ADA.  The university's obligation to provide accommodations extends to enrolled students, employees, members of the public who may wish to attend public events or activities sponsored by the university, and to any other individual who is eligible to attend, enroll in, or benefit from the university's programs, services, or activities. The Ability Services office focuses specifically on accommodations for enrolled students with disabilities.

A student must meet two criteria to be eligible for an accommodation. First, the student must meet the essential eligibility requirements of the course or activity in which he, she, or they wishes to participate, with or without an accommodation. This means that the student must meet the course requisites in spite of the personal disability. Second, the student must have a documented disability as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act or the Rehabilitation Act. 

Under Section 504 of the ADA, disability is defined as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, such as caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, or working.  "Substantially limited" generally means that a person is unable to perform a major life activity that the average person in a general population can perform. The ADA also prohibits discrimination against individuals who have a record or history of being substantially impaired and individuals who are regarded as having an impairment.

The Ability Services office has designated staff which decides whether a student meets the definition of disability under the ADA requirements. Persons are not entitled to protection of the ADA simply because they have been diagnosed with a disability. The disability must substantially limit their ability to perform major life activities. For this reason, the disability determination process is on a case-by-case basis. University of Wisconsin-River Falls does not set-up predetermined categories of what types of disabilities will be accommodated and what types will not.

To help you understand the potential scope of covered disabilities, a non-exhaustive list of types of conditions that may be covered by the ADA includes:

  • physical, sight, speech or hearing impairments
  • psychiatric disabilities
  • specific learning disabilities
  • chronic illnesses
  • epilepsy
  • muscular dystrophy
  • multiple sclerosis
  • cancer
  • heart diseases
  • diabetes
  • chronic illnesses
  • HIV or AIDS
  • recovered drug or alcohol addiction.

The university uses the Individual Accommodations Model to determine appropriate and effective academic accommodations. The model provides a research-based method for selecting accommodations that are based on a student’s needs, strengths, and goals.

Students with disabilities are a protected class under ADA and have a right to reasonable accommodations. It is strongly recommended by the Ability Services office to create a welcoming and inclusive educational experience for students with disabilities. Please include the following syllabus statement in all taught courses:  

The University of Wisconsin-River Falls welcomes students with disabilities into its educational programs, activities, residential halls, and everything else it offers. Those who’ll need academic adjustments or accommodations for a disability should contact the Ability Services office, 123 Rodli Hall, 715-425-0740. Decisions to allow adjustments and accommodations are made on the basis of clinical documentation the students provide to sufficiently indicate the nature of their situation. Additional information is found at”

Here is a list of commonly provided educational accommodations.

  • Testing accommodations, possible:
    • extended time
    • distraction reduced location
    • alternative format (giving a written exam orally, or changing the way answers are recorded)
    • repeating instructions
    • permitting use of a dictionary or spell checker (unless test is designed to measure spelling ability)
    • word processor for essay exams
  • Lecture Note accommodations
  • Flexible Attendance (chronic condition with random or cyclical acute episodes) 
  • Written materials in alternative formats such as e-books, large print, Braille
  • Assistive listening devices
  • ASL - interpreters
  • Removal of architectural barriers
    • installing better lighting in classrooms to assist students with low vision


Rather than provide all these accommodations, why don’t we create special programs for students with disabilities?

The ADA does not prohibit special or segregated programs designed just to meet the needs of students with disabilities. However, they are generally not the best way to meet the intent of the ADA, which is to integrate people with disabilities into mainstream society. When students leave college they need to be prepared to succeed in the work world. Integrated classrooms prepare all students, both with and without disabilities for the challenges they will face.


The following accommodations will not be provided:

  • Personal devices such as wheelchairs, hearing aids or glasses.
  • Personal services such as assistance with eating, toileting or dressing.
  • Accommodations that would fundamentally alter the nature of a program.
  • Accommodations which lower or substantially modify academic or program standards.
  • Accommodations that are unduly burdensome, administratively or financially.

Individual tutoring is not a required accommodation. Tutoring is considered a personal service and the law does not require a school to provide students with personal services. Fortunately, UWRF does provide tutoring and services such as math and writing labs for all enrolled students.

The most common test taking accommodations are: a specified amount of additional time, a distraction reduced testing location, questions read out loud by the proctor, and transcription of student's verbal answers. The objective is to ensure an equal opportunity to measure the student's knowledge and skills, versus measuring how the disability impacts the test taking event. The objective is not to raise the potential of success.

General Preparation for a Test with Accommodations

  1. The student must first be qualified to receive this accommodation by following the Ability Services Academic Accommodation Process.
  2. Once a student is approved accommodation, they have the opportunity to share this information with a instructor in a Faculty Notification Letter. The listed eligible accommodations are unique to the noted student. 
  3. The student follows the A.S. protocol by timely requesting the accommodation for each test or quiz.
  4. The professor elects to unilaterally give the test with the accommodations, or can refer the student to Ability Services so the test can occur there. The professor contacts Ability Services if it seems the accommodation is inappropriate.
  5. If referred to Ability Services, the student fills out an Accommodated Test Request Form and asks the professor to sign it. The student delivers the form to Ability Services a minimum of one week prior the scheduled test and a minimum of two weeks prior to finals week.
  6. Ability Services uses the information on the form to make plans for the test. Ability Services will confirm the parameters of the test via e-mail within 3 days of each scheduled test.
  7. If Ability Services administers the test, the professor decides how the test is transported.

Note: It is the professor's responsibility to get the test to Ability Services in a timely manner.  E-mail and direct delivery are the two most popular means.  It is never recommended for tests be sent through intercampus mail.  

 Routine Testing Protocols at Ability Services

  • Students should deliver Accommodated Test Request Forms to the office a week in advance of a scheduled test date during the semester. For a final exam, the form should be delivered by the student no later than 2 weeks prior to the start of finals week.  Ability Services will accept all signed test request forms at the beginning of the semester if the student chooses to do this. Confirmation emails are mailed to the student a couple days before the test.
  • Tests take place in small rooms and cubicles.
  • Tests are monitored by video camera unless the proctor is physically present to read questions out loud and/or transcribe the student's verbal answers.
  • Students are asked to have nothing on the table, except the test and writing utensil.  Any materials or additional instructions provided directly from the professor will be allowed.
  • Cell phones are not permitted in the testing rooms. No exceptions at this time.
  • Ability Services must receive a signature for receipt of a completed test.  An attempt is made to return the test on the day it is administered, but there are circumstances which may prevent this. In this case, the test is held in a secure location within the Ability Services office until the next work day.

Note: If you have questions, comments, or concerns on this subject, contact Deb Morgan at 715-425-0740.

Accommodation for Lecture Notes is provided to students with disabilities which make it very difficult to take notes in a tempoed lecture. The objective is to provide equal opportunity to effectively study the information that's delivered during lectures.

How does a student with this accommodation receive notes?

  1. The student must first be qualified to receive this accommodation by following the Ability Services Academic Accommodation Process. 
  2. The student provides the professor with a Notification Letter from Ability Services which indicates it can be appropriate to have this kind of accommodation.
  3. The student outwardly requests lecture notes by providing the professor with a Note Taker Application. The top box should be completed, including the student's folder number.
  4. The professor elects to unilaterally provide copies of personal lecture notes to the student, or uses the Note Taker Application to recruit a classmate who will provide copies of lecture notes. All Applications (requests) should be submitted to the Ability Services office, but only one note taker per course is hired.
  5. The professor sends completed applications with the recruited Note Taker to Ability Services to be hired for the position and receive further directions.

It's important to know the staff of Ability Services cannot effectively monitor the content or quality of the notes being received by the accommodated student. Therefore, the office has assigned the responsibility of monitoring the copies of lecture notes to the student who is supposed to receive them. The student has been told to immediately notify Ability Services if there is any concern with the quality or timeliness of this accommodation. A link is provided to the professor to verify the content is accurate.

Note: If you have questions, comments, or concerns about this kind of accommodation contact Deb Morgan at 715-425-0740.

There are basically two kinds of text accommodations. One is an electronic version (typically a pdf) of a printed material for students with disabilities that significantly prevent the ability to read. The other is a transcript of an audio media for students with disabilities that significantly prevent the ability to hear. The objective is to create equal access and opportunity to effectively study the course material which is presented in written and audio formats. Typically these kinds of accommodations can't be purchased in ready made versions. The Ability Services office must actually manufacture the accommodations, and because of the U.S. Copyright Law, must first seek the publisher's permission. This process can take weeks. Therefore students are expected to plan ahead and request these kinds of accommodations well in advance.

  Routine Text Accommodation Protocols

  1. The student must first be qualified to receive this accommodation by following the Ability Services Academic Accommodation Process.
  2. Student receives a Letter of Eligibility from Ability Services that indicates it's appropriate to have text accommodations.
  3. Student gives a copy of the Letter to the professor soon after registering for a course starts and asks for either a list of the reading materials and assignments or list of the audio media that will be used.
  4. Student reviews the list to determine what materials will be needed in an accommodated format.
  5. Student fills out and submits an Text Accommodation Request Form to Ability Services for each material that will be needed in an accommodated format. Ability Services and Textbook Services are helpful in supporting the student well in advance when possible. 
  6. Ability Services contacts the publisher for permission to reformat the material into either an audio or transcript version.
  7. After receiving permission, Ability Services creates the accommodation. This can take up to 4 weeks

Note: for questions, comments, or concerns on this subject contact Deb Morgan at 715-425-0740.

Universal Design refers to the development of buildings, products, and teaching methods that eliminate the need to arrange retroactive accommodations. The goal is to develop things in ways that make them automatically accessible to people and students who have disabilities. Typically these ways of doing things also make them considerably more convenient for everyone.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a research-based framework for designing curriculum goals, methods, materials, and assessments that enable all students to independently gain knowledge and skills without relying on the need to arrange common kinds of accommodations for students who have a disability. This is accomplished in the planning process by designing in circumstances that can support learning while reducing barriers to the curriculum.

Interesting Scholarly articles about Universal Design found on UW-River Falls Library Article Search:

Title: Faculty Collaboration to Improve Equity, Access, and Inclusion in Higher Education.
Source: Equity & excellence in education [1066-5684] Bernacchio, Charlie yr:2007 vol:40 iss:1 pg:56 - 66

Title: Putting Universal Design for Learning on the Higher Ed Agenda.
Source: Journal of educational technology systems [0047-2395] Gradel, Kathleen yr:2009 vol:38 iss:2 pg:111 - 121

Title: Addressing the Persistence and Retention of Students with Disabilities in Higher Education: Incorporating Key Strategies and Supports on Campus.
Source: Exceptionality [0936-2835] Getzel, Elizabeth yr:2008 vol:16 iss:4 pg:207 - 219

Equal Access to Software and Information (EASI) provides ten tips for online instructors to make their courses accessible to all students. TEN TIPS FOR ONLINE TEACHERS

Web with Accessibility in Mind (WebAIM) shows instructors how to create PowerPoints that are accessible to nearly all students.

TRACE Center University of Wisconsin-Madison provides a wide range of information and resources related to accessibility and technology.

Captioning resources:

Designing accessible websites:

Accessibility for Videos and Podcasts:

Commons Reasons for Certain

Types of Accommodations

  • Common Reasons for Additional Testing Time - slower processing speed, difficulties in reading, struggles with memory recall, lack of concentration and focus, etc. 
  • Common Reasons for Writing Assistance - the physical impairment that makes it difficult to sustain writing tasks for extended periods of time, difficulty in spelling structure and organization, struggles expressing thoughts in writing, and processing disorders which result in difficulty getting thoughts to paper.
  • Common Reasons for Test Questions Read Aloud - offered to students who have difficulties in reading and processing information.  A student who processes information more effectively in an auditory manner due to their disability can see benefits from this accommodation.
  • Students with attention issues may be able to focus on one task (the speaker) rather than trying to multitask.
  • Students with limited mobility in their hands.
  • Students with auditory processing disorders.
  • Students who have slower information processing ability.
  • Students with concentration and attention issues.
  • Students who have barriers in executive functioning.

Alternative format text provides copies of textbooks or other print materials in electronic format, Braille, or another accessible format.

  • Reading Issues
  • Visually Impaired Students
  • Students with Visual Processing Issues
  • Students with Executive Functioning Issues
  • Attention and Concentration Issues

Various proposed technology which best support a student's disability.  Examples could be screen reading software, personal FM & wireless systems, closed captioning, audio recording, etc.

  • Is used by students with all types of disabilities and learning challenges.
  • Can benefit all students, not just students with disabilities.

Equal Access for Students

Fostering Independence, Reducing Barriers, & Promoting Inclusion


Ability Services

Confidential Fax: 715.425.0742
Monday - Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
123 David Rodli Hall