Faculty Guide for Disability Services

Last reviewed: 12/22/2022

Faculty and staff requesting accommodations for their own disabilities must contact Human Resources Disability Services.

What Does Disability Services Do?

Disability Services facilitates equal access for students with disabilities in all areas of University life:

  • Academics
  • Housing
  • Technology and library access
  • Campus access
  • Commencement and Class Day services for students and their guests with disabilities
  • Student activities and programs

Disability Services works with undergraduate and graduate students with all types of disabilities, including physical, learning, sensory, psychological, ADHD, and chronic medical conditions. We work with students across the University, including Columbia University Medical Center. We do not serve students at Columbia-affiliated institutions (i.e., Barnard College, Teachers College, Jewish Theological Seminary, or Union Theological Seminary). However, we do work with students in joint programs registered in the affiliated institutions and in Columbia degree programs or classes.

Disability Services also provides assistance to students with temporary injuries and illnesses. Examples of temporary disabilities may include, but are not limited to: broken limbs, hand injuries, concussions/traumatic brain injuries, or short-term impairments following surgery or medical treatments.

A full-time learning specialist is available to meet with students individually to develop compensatory strategies and skills related to global learning concerns; for example, procrastination, organization, note-taking, test-taking, and presentation skills.

Faculty and Disability Services Collaboration

Disability Services deeply values the input of Columbia faculty in its effort to ensure that students with disabilities have equal access to University curricula. In particular, Disability Services relies on faculty guidance in striking the balance between accommodating students with disabilities and preserving academic standards.

Disability Services collaborates with faculty to determine appropriate reasonable accommodations and to maintain the integrity of course standards and program requirements.

Reasonable accommodations are adjustments to policy, practice, and programs that “level the playing field” for students with disabilities and provide equal access to programs and activities. Examples of accommodations may include the administration of exams with extended time or in a smaller proctored environment, while services may include note-taking, sign language interpreters, assistive technology, and coordination of accessible housing needs. Accommodation plans 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.

Faculty Procedures for Accommodations

In some cases, students with disabilities are entitled to accommodations related to administration of examinations. These testing accommodations modify, in specific ways, the way an exam is administered. Typical testing accommodations include extended time to complete the exam, alternate format (e.g., large print), a smaller proctored environment to take the exam, or the use of a computer to type the exam.

The intent of testing accommodations is not to alter the performance requirements or lessen course standards; rather, their purpose is to ensure equal access to the testing setting for students with relevant disabilities needing modification related to the administration of exams.

Such testing accommodations can either be provided directly by course instructors, by Disability Services for undergraduate students, or through graduate liaisons for graduate students. Many instructors have been able, 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 dedicated testing space that is quiet, offers minimal distractions, and provides the ability to take and complete the exam in a continuous space (without having to change rooms). The location must be equivalent to the in-class exam environment.
  • 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)

Alternatively, for undergraduate courses, Disability Services can administer exams. Our staff are equipped to administer exams in an appropriate and secure manner.

Disability Services is fully committed to preserving the University’s academic integrity. To arrange testing accommodations through Disability Services, students have been instructed to notify Disability Services at least three weeks prior to the exam date. This lead-time is necessary so that Disability Services can secure space and proctors to administer the exam. Disability Services also requires that the Testing Accommodation Request Form be completed by both the professor and student and submitted to Disability Services.

All exams must be delivered to Disability Services at least 72 hours prior to the exam: Email exams to [email protected], fax them to 212-854-3448, or drop them off at the Disability Services main office in Wien Hall, Suite 108A, located on the first floor.

If, during the exam, a faculty member provides the class with additional instructions or modifies the exam, please contact Disability Services so that we can alert students to such changes.

Arrangements for testing accommodations for graduate courses can be made with the support of a graduate program’s designated graduate liaison. Procedures for requesting support in testing administration vary by graduate school or program. Professors should contact their respective liaison for more information about procedures within their school.

Upon request from an eligible student, Disability Services or the graduate liaison will contact faculty to make an announcement in class to assist in recruiting a classmate to provide a copy of their notes. Note-taking services are coordinated in ways that preserve the anonymity of those receiving this service. Disability Services or the graduate liaison will review potential classmates’ notes for quality, content, neatness, and organization. Note-takers are required to provide a copy of their notes each week. Note-taking services are not intended to be a substitute for class attendance.

Frequently Asked Questions

A disability is defined as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits an individual in one or more major life activities, as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act. Major life activities include, but are not limited to, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working.

A major life activity also includes the operation of a major bodily function, including but not limited to, functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions. Disability Services also provides assistance to students with temporary injuries and illnesses that are substantially limiting.

During the first few weeks of each semester, students are required to present Disability Services Accommodation Letters to each of their professors. To request these letters, students must submit the Accommodation Letter Request Form. Students will receive the letter via email after it’s been prepared, generally within 3 business days of receiving the student’s request.  Students must return the letters to Disability Services after each professor reviews and signs them.

Email Disability Services at least two weeks in advance of the event at [email protected] and include the following information:

  • Date of event
  • Start and end times
  • Location with exact street address, including room number
  • Name and contact information for the person requesting the interpreters
  • Name and cell phone number of on-site contact
  • Name of Deaf consumer
  • Subject or agenda
  • Flyers and/or information on the featured speakers
  • Will there be any audio or video elements?

Requests made with less than two weeks’ notice cannot be guaranteed.

If a student discloses that they have a disability, but they have not yet connected with Disability Services, the student should be advised to contact Disability Services:

For exams with a listening or visual component that Disability Services will administer, please provide detailed instructions as to how this portion will be administered to the class during the exam. Disability Services will provide appropriate accommodations based on the instructions.

Art exams require additional time to configure slide shows. As such, please send your exam at least 72 hours in advance.

Language exams: For exams with a listening component, we recommend scheduling a separate time with the student to administer this section. Alternatively, you may provide a pre-recorded file or create a recording at our office in 108-A Wien Hall at least 72 hours in advance.

Music exams: Please send audio files in mp3 or WAV format, or drop off a CD with the selections at our office in 108-A Wien Hall at least 72 hours in advance.