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Advising Students with Disabilities

All students may have multiple advisors, formal and informal.

The primary academic advisor for most students is their Initiatives advisor, followed by their major advisor. However, students are frequently also advised by a variety of staff members including Student Excellence and Leadership (SEL) counselors, coaches, student affairs staff, as well as the Director of the Learning Enrichment and Disability Services. Whether or not a student discloses a disability is a personal decision and is solely the decision of the student (unless there is an emergency or the student is a threat to self or others). Consequently, an advisor may or may not be told that the student has a disability and it is likely that the advisor will not know the nature of the disability unless the student has provided it.

Initiatives advisors may become aware that there is a disability when a student presents the advisor with an Access Letter. [Note: This is NOT to be filed in the advising folder – see Access Letter for details]. The student does not need to provide any details regarding his/her disability in order to receive accommodations. However, you are encouraged to ask the student if he/she can envision ways in which his/her disability may affect the manner in which you advise them.

A student may need such things as:

  • information or directions need to be written
  • written information needs to be enlarged or put in an audio format
  • assistance with reading social cues
  • course selection adjustments (e.g. a student with a written expression disorder should not take two writing-intensive courses during the same term; students with difficulties concentrating should not take courses back-to-back)
  • help in remembering advising appointments (or any appointments!)
  • assistance finding resources or services
  • assistance finding courses that do not require a certain skill or ability (e.g. mathematics, map reading, or physical dexterity)
  • an advocate or ally in complicated situations
  • suggestions for academic strategies

During the process, make sure to continue the philosophy of enabling students to become self-advocates. It is important that they hone this skill to prepare themselves for life after college.

For accommodations that dramatically affect the student’s registration or program (e.g. student cannot handle a full-time load or needs a course substitution), the Director, usually after consulting with the appropriate faculty and staff, will provide a letter similar to the Access Letter to the academic advisor. This letter may be filed in the student’s advising file and should be shared with any new advisors.

Like all situations, this information is confidential and is not to be shared. Similar to instructors, advisors with questions that are disability-related should ask the student first, but also may consult with the Director of the Learning Enrichment and Disability Services office (keeping in mind that in the absences of written authorization by the student, the Director is still bound by confidentiality).

The Director also advises students with disabilities. At times, the Director and other advisors may suggest modifications to course selections and will strongly suggest that the student discuss these suggestions with his/her advisor(s). Keep in mind that it is often the case that, even though she cannot always share it, the Director has been provided specific information regarding the student’s disability and how it impacts their education.

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