Faculty Guidelines on Academic Accommodations

The following highlights the process and protocol for accommodating students, including both the student’s and the course director’s responsibilities.

NOTE: Academic accommodations are meant to remove barriers faced by students with disabilities in order to “level the playing field” while at the same time maintaining the academic integrity of the program and course curriculum.

Letters of Accommodation from Counselling and Disability Services (CDS)

  • Only students who have been fully assessed by Disability Services (DS) in CDS as having a disability will receive a letter requesting academic accommodation. The letter will include the student’s name and student number, the name of a disabilities counsellor assigned to the student by CDS, and reference the human rights code. The letter will outline the recommended classroom, assignment, test and exam accommodations intended to remove barriers and promote the opportunity for the student to fulfill the academic standards of the course.
  • Academic accommodations within the context of a specific course should reasonably reflect (but not extend beyond) what is specified in the official Letter of Accommodation. It is not appropriate for a student to negotiate accommodations beyond those outlined in the letter from CDS. A student’s request for further accommodation must first be assessed through DS in CDS and communicated in writing to the Course Director.
  • Course Directors may also receive a “support letter” from a counsellor in Personal Counselling Services in CDS with whom the student has been meeting to deal with any range of issues. This type of support letter may be given to students with or without disabilities. This is different from a Letter of Accommodation and has no legal basis. It is intended only to inform course directors (with the student’s consent), that there are extenuating circumstances that might affect the student’s performance in a course. The course director is not obliged to follow any suggestions offered in a support letter; it is for the Course Director to consider. Again, this letter is not an “official” Letter of Accommodation. See Letters from CDS for more information.

Student Responsibilities

  • Students registered with DS in CDS are instructed to deliver the letter of accommodation to each of their course directors within the first two weeks of class or as early in the term as reasonably possible thereafter.
  • It is also the student’s responsibility to submit in advance any booking requests for accommodation for each test/exam date to the Alternate Test/Exam Scheduling Services in the Office of the Registrar.

Course Director Responsibilities

  • If a student has submitted a request for accommodation for a test or exam, course instructors will receive an e-mail notification from the Registrar’s Office with a copy to the designated administrative staff contact in the department. In this notification the course instructor will be requested to respond to the initial e-mail notification to confirm the date, time, duration of the test/exam and any other relevant information needed to administer the test/exam to the student (e.g. allowed aids such as calculator, formula sheet, etc.). Course instructors will be expected to provide the test/exam materials and instructions to the Registrar’s Office a minimum of 3 business days prior to the test/exam date (preferred delivery method is via email to altprof@yorku.ca). Do not send exams by internal mail or put them in the Registrar Office drop box in the Bennett Centre.
  • It is expected that course directors will maintain confidentiality and respect the students’ right to privacy. This includes respecting the validity of an accommodation letter from DS. Any further questions regarding the recommended accommodations should be directed to DS. It precludes course directors, teaching assistants, or staff requesting further personal information from the student (e.g. medical/psychological documentation or further ‘proof’). CDS gathers relevant medical and psychological documentation to help in their determination of appropriate academic accommodations. Therefore, students do not have to disclose personal information to faculty members.
  • Where a dispute arises over the appropriateness of a recommended accommodation, it is the course directors’ responsibility to demonstrate that such accommodation would undermine the academic standards and integrity of the course. For example, course directors may refuse to waive or substitute a requirement of an oral presentation because they believe it is integral to the standards and integrity of the course that students demonstrate the oral presentation skills. Or, a course director may argue that all students must participate in group-work, and if they can’t, they may forfeit the grade for participation. Based on Ontario human rights legislation, the course director must be prepared to support the argument that the requirement in dispute is an essential, vital, and core requirement of the course and program of study. Otherwise, the student must be accommodated.
  • Queries about how to accommodate students fairly should be discussed with the DS Disabilities Counsellor named on the official Letter of Accommodation. At times, determining appropriate academic accommodation may require a discussion that includes the student, the Disabilities Counsellor from DS, and the course director. It is strongly advised that course directors not engage directly or exclusively with students on contentious accommodation issues.

The Role of CDS

  • Students with or without disabilities should be referred to CDS (Room N110 of the Bennett Centre for Student Services) for confidential personal counseling regarding emotional/psychological issues that may be interfering with their academic performance. See http://www.yorku.ca/cds/ for details of services and contact information.
  •  Please note that “Personal Counselling Services” within CDS works with all York University students, while the “Disability Services” units within CDS work exclusively with students with diagnosed disabilities and course directors to establish appropriate academic accommodations to meet the students’ individual needs.

Recommended Protocol for Course Directors from Counselling and Disability Services (CDS)

  1. Ensure the link to the York Senate Policy on Academic Accommodation for Students with Disabilities is included in all course outlines, or otherwise made available to students in all courses.
  2. Review York Senate Policy, this recommended protocol, and “CDS Faculty Guidelines on Academic Accommodation for Students with Disabilities” with Teaching Assistants prior to the first day of class.
  3. Discuss Senate Policy and Departmental protocol with students in the first week of class.
  4. Make an announcement in the first week of class asking students with disabilities to submit Letters of Accommodation issued by CDS within the first two weeks of class or as soon as reasonably possible thereafter so that appropriate academic accommodations can be discussed and arranged.
  5. Upon receiving a Letter of Accommodation, in cases where there are multiple or more complex accommodation requirements, or where the Course Director suspects there may be a potential problem or dispute forthcoming, it is recommended (but not required) that the Course Director draft a written statement indicating:
    • The ways in which the recommendations outlined in the letter will be met within the context of a particular course.
    • A clear justification/rationale for the denial of any accommodation request(s).
      In cases of straightforward accommodation requests such as extended time on a test this is not necessary.
  6. The Course Director should explain the specific terms of accommodation in the course to the student and the written statement (if one is created) should be sent via e-mail to the student, copied to the student’s Disability Counselor in CDS.
  7. Disputes regarding the terms of accommodation, or potential areas of dispute, should be brought forward and resolved in consultation with CDS early in the course. To resolve a dispute, it may be necessary to meet with the student and the student’s counselor. When disputes arise it is suggested that the Course Director notify the Undergraduate Program Director just as information.
  8. If a dispute or issues involving academic accommodation can not be resolved in consultation with CDS, notify the Chair of the Department and/or Undergraduate Program Director (UPD) right away. If the Chair or UPD is unable to resolve the dispute satisfactorily, the Associate Dean or Dean should be consulted who will attempt to resolve the disagreement. At any point in the process, the York University Centre for Human Rights on campus can be consulted to help mediate the dispute.
  9. Retroactive accommodations will be considered on a case-by-case basis.
  10. Keep records of all correspondence regarding academic accommodation.


Further Support

Academic accommodations are meant to remove barriers faced by students with disabilities within the spirit of the Ontario Human Rights Code, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act and with York University’s human rights policies and practices.  Please review the Senate policy on accommodations for students with disabilities. Your course outline should conform to Senate approved guidelines.

We provide links to additional resources that Course Directors and Teaching Assistants may find useful to improve teaching and enhancing students’ learning experience. The Faculty Resource Guide is an excellent resource for teaching students with disabilities. The Teaching Commons Resources on Accommodations and Inclusive Teaching provides advice and strategies for creating welcoming and inclusive classrooms that benefit all learners.

York University’s commitment to accessible university education and pedagogical innovation has long included the development of practices, policies and resources to create the best possible conditions for students with disabilities to demonstrate their learning and be successful university students. Should you have questions or concerns about aspects of a formal letter from DS that are not directly addressed in the guidelines, you should contact DS.

Disability Services in CDS

Disability Services in CDS website

York’s Centre for Human Rights

York’s Centre for Human Rights website

Warm regards,
Alice Pitt, Vice-Provost Academic
Marc Wilchesky, Executive Director, Counselling & Disability Services,
Michael Charles, Director, Centre for Human Rights
January 2017