Disability Resources for Students

Below are frequently asked questions of Disability Resources for Students (DRS). There are general questions that are asked of multiple audiences (students, staff, faculty, families, administrators, etc…). We also identified some questions applicable to specific audiences.

General DRS FAQs

What is a disability?

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act and Washington State Law, a disability is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Major life activities related to education include, but are not limited to: walking, sleeping, eating, learning, reading, writing, processing, hearing, etc.

Tip: For more information, please refer to DRS’s Law & Policy page. Questions are welcomed; you can call or email the DRS front desk or contact a student’s DRS Coordinator directly.

What is an accommodation?

An accommodation is an adjustment made to a policy and/or academic environment to ensure students with temporary or permanent disabilities have equal access to course material, information, activities, programs, housing, and other campus facilities.

Tip: For more information, please refer to the DRS Accommodations page.

How does a student get started with DRS?

First, a student must complete the DRS new student application and submit documentation from a qualified healthcare professional. Then, DRS engages the student in the interactive process to determine reasonable accommodations.

For more information, please refer to the DRS Getting Started page.

Does a student need to provide medical documentation to be approved for accommodations?

The University of Washington (UW) requires students seeking services to provide documentation from a qualified healthcare professional that describes the disability/health condition as well as shares the functional impact on the student’s academic experiences. DRS has specific documentation guidelines to provide an outline of the information necessary to establish that a student has a disability and/or temporary health condition.

For more detailed information about required documentation, including guidelines for specific conditions, please refer to the Documentation Guidelines outlined on our website.

Does DRS adhere to any privacy laws?

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) of 1974 (20 U.S.C. § 1232g; 34 CFR Part 99) is a federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. All information and documentation submitted to the DRS office is kept separate from an academic record and is considered private under FERPA. It is an individual’s choice whether to disclose the nature of their disability to faculty. Asking a student for more details regarding their disability is not permitted as the confidentiality of medical information must be maintained. DRS can and will discuss student information with Faculty related to the facilitation of accommodations.

Resources: Some resources about FERPA are found at Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) for Students and FERPA Training for Staff & Faculty. For more information about confidentiality for faculty and staff, please visit the Faculty Responsibilities page. Students may also authorize DRS to release information about their disability accommodations with a family member, healthcare provider, or other non UW staff. The student would need to complete the Release of Information Form.

What is a service animal?

A service animal is an animal that is trained to work or perform active tasks for an individual with a disability. If it is unclear whether an animal is a service animal, anyone can ask following questions: (1) is the service animal required because of a disability? and (2) what work or task the animal has been trained to perform? If you are unsure whether these questions have been answered satisfactorily, allow the person and animal to proceed, and contact DRS.

Resource: For UW-specific information, visit the University of Washington Service Animals page. For more general information, visit U.S. Department of Justice Frequently Asked Questions about Service Animals and the ADA.

What is academic coaching?

Coaching focuses on addressing impacts to executive functioning for DRS students. Working one-on-one with an academic coach will help students identify and utilize new learning tools and strategies in order to help students meet their academic and personal goals. Students and coach develop working relationships through meetings and follow up email communications. In the meetings, coaches use a variety of tools to help students improve their time management, study strategies, issues related to attention, focus, and motivation.

What is the social model of disability?

Watch this 3 min YouTube video for a short explanation about social model of disability.

What laws protect the rights of students with disabilities?

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires recipients of federal funding to afford individuals with disabilities equal access to all services.  In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) spelled out in greater detail the obligations not only of recipients of federal funds but also private businesses and public spaces. Details like door sizes, toilet and grab bar heights, parking spaces, and many others were clearly defined. In 2008, after a series of court decisions eroded congress’s intent with the ADA, Congress passed the amendments act. The ADA Amendments Act reaffirms congress’s intention that the ADA applies to individuals with all types of disabilities including those suffering from long-term illnesses such as cancer or impairments to bodily systems and made clear that mitigating measures should not be taken into effect when determining whether an individual has a disability. The intent and effect of the amendments act was to significantly expand the number of people covered by the ADA.

Resources: For more information about law and UW policy, refer to the DRS Law & Policy page.

How do I refer someone to DRS?

DRS serves students in academic and housing environments. There are several ways to connect with DRS. One method is to peruse the Supporting Students with Disabilities. Another is to call or visit during our daily drop-in hours, to speak with a Coordinator on Duty (COD). Lastly, DRS Coordinators are assigned to serve specific academic colleges and schools. The list of liaisons can be access through the Meet Our Staff.

Tip: COD hours are an opportunity to meet and greet, learn about DRS and ask questions about specific student situations.

Faculty and Staff FAQs

How do I let students know about the DRS office?

In your syllabus, include a DRS statement explaining that students with disabilities needing accommodations in your class should connect with DRS. Including this information in your syllabus helps inform students, especially first-year students, about the DRS office and the appropriate process for requesting accommodations.

Tip: For more information review this link for a sample syllabus statement.

Where can I find the sample Syllabus Statement?

You can find our sample syllabus statement in our faculty resource area.

How do I ask a student about their disability?

Asking a student for more details regarding their disability is not permitted as the confidentiality of medical information must be maintained. It is an individual’s choice whether to disclose the nature of their disability.

Tip: Focus your discussion on the student’s access needs or approved accommodations versus the disability. View the Supporting Students with Disabilities page for more details and information.

What are suggestions for working with students with disabilities?

While each student is unique, start from a “people-first” perspective. Below is a link to some general themes of how to engage with students.

Tip: Check out our website on tips for working with different disabilities.

What is my legal obligation?

Relevant academic faculty and staff will be asked to implement approved accommodations and maintain student’s confidentiality. DRS will send the Faculty Notification Letter for more information about an individual student. Contact DRS if you are not sure what you need to do.

Resources: Some resources about FERPA are found at Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) for Students and FERPA Training for Staff & Faculty. For more information about law and UW policy, refer to the DRS Law & Policy page.

My department is purchasing a new software program or piece of equipment. How can I make sure it’s accessible to students with disabilities?

The UW is responsible for making all of its programs and facilities accessible to people with disabilities.  Purchasing accessible products helps the university meet this responsibility. Vendors should be able to provide accessibility information about the products they sell, so be sure to ask.  More information about procuring accessible products can be found on the UW Accessibility webpage.

Tip:  Make accessibility audits a mandatory part of your department’s procurement process.

My department has technical standards for a profession. How can I make sure these are not discriminatory?

Technical standards are meant to identify learning outcomes critical for a given program.  These should be regularly reviewed by faculty to ensure they are representative of the current demands in a given field. The ADA regulations state: “[schools] shall not impose or apply eligibility criteria that screen out or tend to screen out an individual with a disability or any class of individuals with disabilities…unless such criteria can be shown to be necessary for the provision of the service, program, or activity being offered. (28 C.F.R. 35.130(b)(8); 28 C.F.R. 36.301(a).)  This means that a school’s technical standards must focus on the skill required, not on characteristics of a student.

Tip: Review technical standards for common pitfalls, such as unnecessarily associating a task with a specific sense.  For example, students in a nursing program may be required to detect a heartbeat, but it’s not necessary to hear a heartbeat.

Are there more students with disabilities in college now than ever before?

Yes. Accessible technologies, advances in healthcare, better resources in K-12, broadening of the term disability under the ADA Amendments Act, and a social model of disability have all contributed to both the reduction in stigma of a disability as well as the creation of or more opportunities for students with disabilities in higher education.

Program Specific FAQs

Access Text and Technology (Textbooks, Files, Technology)

Alternative Testing Services

Deaf and Hard of Hearing