Administrators suggest syllabi include disability clause
by Sally Claunch

Special to The Shorthorn

Jim Hayes, Office for Students with Disabilities director and the Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator, has recommended for three years that the administration require professors to place a statement about students with disabilities, both learning and physical, on each syllabus. "This gives us an opportunity to find out where our disabled population is... and acquaint them with our office," he said. Requiring a statement is something Hayes said the university has a responsibility to do. "I hope the administration will require that a statement be placed on each syllabus," he said, "The law says you must let the students know (about accommodations that can be made) and must review and keep documents confidential." Mary Ridgway, vice president for undergraduate and student affairs, said there are specific criteria each syllabus must meet. "We recommend to faculty members that a statement about students with disabilities might be something they want to include, but it is not required," Dr. Ridgway said. Dianne Hengst, a counseling/learning specialist for the university, deals only with learning disabilities, but knows about requirements other universities mandate for their instructors. "Most major universities, such as Texas WomenÕs University, require that a disability statement be placed on each syllabus," she said. "And I am surprised that the administration does not require one here." She said the only way for students to know that there are services available to accommodate their disabilities is a small paragraph in the undergraduate catalog. "It doesnÕt discuss learning disabilities at all. Students who read this will go to Jim HayesÕ office and then have to be referred to me," she said. Hengst said a learning disabled student has an above-average intelligence, but has significant difficulties in one or more areas of spelling, reading, writing, reasoning, listening ability or mathematical ability. Hengst said because the university has many older people coming back to school for the first time, they are new to that fact that they have a learning disability. They have had the disability all along, but are recently diagnosed. She said they need her help in choosing what accommodations they need. She also has to help them understand the disability and how to deal with it. "A learning disabled student is not held up to a different standard than any other student, they are only accommodated and still have to maintain the same GPA as any other student," she said. Hayes said some departments on campus will ask him to come and talk to the faculty members and make them aware of the scope of the Americans with Disabilities Act. He conducts the training sessions only with the departments that request them. Even though faculty members are issued a guide book about students with disabilities when they come to the university, Hayes said he still needs to let them know about certain parameters of the law established by the courts. He said some faculty members have made the statement that they donÕt believe in accommodation for students with disabilities, as if the disabilities donÕt really exist. "That kind of statement can get a faculty member in big trouble," Hayes said. Students who lodge a complaint go to HayesÕ office and file a written complaint within 30 days after the students become aware of the infraction. Then, either Hayes or Hengst will investigate the charges and write a report on the complaint and its resolution. "So far at the university, there have not been any lawsuits filed," Hayes said. If students need to get accommodations, they must follow a procedure set up by the office of career and counseling development. The first step is to provide documentation of the disability dated within the past five years. The students must allow a week for the documentation to be reviewed and make an appointment with either Hengst or Hayes. Students must then fill out and sign a "Request for Accommodations" form and leave a copy with the counseling and career development. A letter will be written for the students to give to their professors outlining the accommodations they need. The letter does not, however, reveal the nature of the disability, only the accommodations needed. The "Request for Accommodations" form must be completed each semester by each student. Allan Saxe, associate professor of political science, said he has had several disabled students in his classes. "I had two hearing-impaired students in one class, and had two people doing sign language for them on either side of me," he said. "They were happy that they could keep up with me because I talk really fast," he said. Dr. Saxe said he has no problem accommodating students and some of his disabled students have been some of his best students.