Faculty and Staff Information

Information for Faculty & Staff

Understanding the ADA, Accommodations, and Disability

The University has professional staff in the Disability Resource Center with expertise in verifying disabilities and determining academic accommodations. Faculty are not expected to be experts on disabilities. The Disability Resource Center is willing and able to collaborate with faculty in order to ensure that all aspects of the curriculum are welcoming and inclusive of students with disabilities.

A Faculty Notification Letter (FNL) outlines a student's eligible accommodations. If this letter was emailed to you, you will find that information in DRC Connect: Instructor Access. If you have questions regarding some of the accommodations in that letter, we hope this webpage provides helpful information. If a student discloses a disability or previous accommodations, but has not connected with the Disability Resource Center, please consider recommending they contact our office. The first 3 Steps to begin the process are found on our homepage,  Accommodations should not be given to students without first receiving a Faculty Notification Letter. 


Login to view students enrolled in your courses with accommodations

  1. Username: w1234567
  2. Password: your UWRF/SSO 
  3. Sign the FERPA Agreement
  4. You're In!

Each semester, this access will allow you to view which students have shared their Faculty Notification Letter (FNL) with you. This letter is emailed from the Disability Resource Center, not from the student. Within DRC Connect, you'll be able to view student FNLs, not requiring you to find them in your emails. 

Please note, a student is not eligible to request accommodations until they share their FNL by email.  No accommodation should be given until a student takes that action.  Accommodations are not retroactive. It's best practice to wait for a student to make an outward request for an accommodation, rather than assume a request will be made.  A student may contact an instructor by email or in person. How a student uses their accommodations in each class can be unpredictable and inconsistent. Students should make their requests in a respectful, timely manner. 

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 Disability Resource Center 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 Disability Resource Center 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 Disability Resource Center 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 Disability Resource Center, 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
    • text-reading technology
  • 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 a screen reader, and transcription of student's verbal answers. The objective of testing accommodations 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 Disability Resource Center's 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. If the student requests accommodation for each test or quiz.
  4. The professor elects to unilaterally give the test with the accommodations, or can refer the student to the Disability Resource Center so the test can occur there. The professor can contact the Disability Resource Center if it seems the accommodation is inappropriate.
  5. If referred to the Disability Resource Center, the student completes the request process through their DRC Connect platform. Requests should be received a minimum of one week prior the scheduled test and a minimum of two weeks prior to finals week. The professor receives an email confirming each request. 
  6. ALTERNATIVE TESTING CONTRACT:  The professor provides testing parameters for each course by completing an alternative testing contract for each section. This link will be provided to the instructor once the first student requests to test in the DRC.  Completing this contract should be done as soon as a request is made.  This is setting the parameters only and allows the DRC to prepare space and proctoring - NO test is requested at this time.
  7. It is the instructor's responsibility to provide the exam to DRC in a timely fashion. Most exams are uploaded to a link provided to the instructor.  Completed exams are typically scanned and emailed, or scanned/emailed and sent through intercampus mail when requested. They can be held for the instructor to pick up from the DRC when notified. 

Note: It is not recommended for exams be delivered to the DRC through intercampus mail.  

 Routine Testing Protocols in the Disability Resource Center

  • Students should request testing accommodations a minimum of one week in advance for semester exams/quizzes, and no less than two weeks prior to the start of Finals Week for final exams.  The Disability Resource Center will accept all requests at the beginning of the semester if the student chooses to do this. 
  • Tests take place in small rooms and cubicles.
  • Tests are monitored by closed-circuit video unless the proctor is physically present to transcribe the student's verbal answers or control testing environment.
  • 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. There are no exceptions at this time.

Note: If you have questions or concerns, contact the DRC professional staff 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 Disability Resource Center's Academic Accommodation Process. 
  2. The student shares their Faculty Notification Letter from the Disability Resource Center which indicates it can be appropriate to have this kind of accommodation.
  3. The student outwardly requests their lecture notes using DRC Connect. Our office then sends an email to the instructor of the class to find a notetaker for the class. 
  4. The professor elects to unilaterally provide personal lecture notes to the student, or uses the Note Taker Application link in the email from the DRC to recruit a classmate who will provide copies of lecture notes once they receive this email. Remember: All Notetaker Requests & Applications need to be submitted to the Disability Resource Center using DRC Connect. Only one note taker per course is hired.
  5. The application instructions tell the Note Taker to contact the DRC to receive further direction if they need it. They can also access this note taker guide for help

See this example guide/email for an example of what you would receive as an instructor from the DRC in this process.

It's important to know the staff at the Disability Resource Center 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 the Disability Resource Center 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 or concerns, contact the DRC professional staff at 715-425-0740.

There are basically two kinds of alternative 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 Disability Resource Center 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 Disability Resource Center's Academic Accommodation Process.
  2. Student receives a Letter of Eligibility from the Disability Resource Center 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 Alternative Text Accommodation Request to the Disability Resource Center for each material that will be needed in an accommodated format. The Disability Resource Center and Textbook Services are helpful in supporting the student well in advance when possible.
  6. The Disability Resource Center contacts the publisher for permission to reformat the material.
  7. After receiving permission, the Disability Resource Center creates the accommodation. This process can take up to 4 weeks.

Note: for questions or concerns, contact DRC professional staff 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 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


Disability Resource Center

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