What is an academic accommodation?
An academic accommodation is an arrangement that is put in place to support a student with a
disability. It can be anything from having an extension on an assignment, to being provided with an
academic tutor, to writing your exams in a quiet, separate room. Accommodations are provided to
"level the playing field" for you. They are available because your disability may put you at a
disadvantage compared to other students who don't have a disability.
Accommodations don't mean you are being given a special break or an unfair advantage over other
students. You will be evaluated using the same standards as everyone else. How well you do in
school is still up to you. The accommodation just makes sure you have the chance to demonstrate
your real ability.
It's important to remember that receiving accommodations for a psychiatric disability is your
You don't need to feel bad about asking for an accommodation. You're not asking for a
favour - you're just asking for the same chance to learn as everyone else.
How do you arrange for academic accommodations?
The Disability Services Office will help you arrange for academic accommodations. In order for you
to receive accommodations, your college or university will require specific documentation
from your psychiatrist or psychologist.
It is important to talk to the Disability Services Office as early in the school year as possible,
because arranging accommodations usually takes some time. If you can, make an appointment to
see them even before the school year starts. The idea is to have accommodations in place ahead
of time if, and when, you need them. Think of it as insurance.
What documentation is required?
In order to receive any academic accommodations, you will need to provide the Disability Services
Office with written documentation of your disability. Requirements vary from institution to
institution so check with the Disability Services Office to find out what information they need.
(Sometimes this information is included in the Disability Services section of a college
or university website.)
Generally, you will have to provide a detailed letter from a psychologist, psychiatrist, family
doctor who is familiar with your case, or registered clinical social worker. The letter must be
based on a recent evaluation. It will include such things as:
- Relevant medical history.
- How your condition might affect your academic performance.
- Current medication and how that medication might affect your academic performance.
- Specific accommodations required as a result. The key here is what accommodations are necessary.
You are only entitled to those that are necessary.
The letter is treated as medical information. It is confidential and kept on file in the Disability
Services Office, for use by that staff only. It will not be shared with your instructors or anyone
else in the college or university without your permission. If you have concerns about confidentiality,
ask to see the confidentiality policy.
What academic accommodations do you need?
Academic accommodations are based on your specific disability. Not all students need the same
accommodations. You will need to sit down with staff in the Disability Services Office to figure out
how your disability affects your learning and what accommodations you need as a result.
Sometimes it can be hard to decide what accommodations you need:
- You may not be completely aware of how your disability affects your life.
- It may take a while to work out what kinds of accommodations you need and which ones are helpful.
- You may need accommodations in some courses and not in others, depending on how the course is
taught and what assignments and tests are required.
- Your need for accommodations may change during the year. Depending on your mental health you may need
to use the accommodations some times and not others.
You don't have to have all the answers. Talk to the staff in the Disability Services Office. They have
experience in this area and can help you think it through.
CHECKLIST: You may also want to ask yourself the following questions
- What are my strengths? What have I done well in the past?
- What things do I have trouble with in school?
- Of the things that cause me trouble, what are related to my illness or the medication I take?
- What strategies do I think would help me?
Some typical academic accommodations
As you review the following list of possible academic accommodations, there are several
important points to remember:
- Accommodations are based on documented need. You will only be eligible for accommodations that
address the challenges caused by your disability. The goal is to provide you with the support you
need, while helping you to be as independent as possible.
- The Disability Services Office will work with you to decide what accommodations will help you and
what ones you qualify for. The accommodations listed here are just examples. There may be others that
better suit your particular situation.
- Not all accommodations are available at every college or university.
- Not all accommodations are available for every course. Depending on how a course is structured,
some accommodations may not be possible.
concentration, keeping focused, processing information,
organizing my thoughts, dealing with social situations
A formal arrangement where someone in the class takes notes for you. You still have to
attend class, but it may help to reduce your anxiety and allow you to participate
more in class.
Taping the lecture
This can supplement your own note-taking, and reduce the pressure of having to capture all
the information. If you use a digital recorder, the software will allow you to download the
lecture to your computer for easy access. You will need to get the permission of your teacher
prior to taping.
You can arrange to sit in the front of the classroom and away from windows to help reduce
audio and visual distractions.
Laptops, personal digital assistants (PDAs)with folding keyboards or small word-processing
keyboards such as AlphaSmart
or Dana are an option if you find taking
notes using a keyboard easier than handwriting.
Another student can walk you to class and sit with you in class.
More frequent breaks
You can arrange to step out of class when you need to move around to relieve stress,
anxiety or restlessness.
Thirst caused by medication
Beverages in class
Permission can be given to have beverages in class if this is not usually permitted.
How a classroom accommodation helped:
Michael is a first-year construction technology student. He has trouble with concentration so he found it
hard to focus on what the instructor said in class and take notes at the same time. With the support of
the Disabilities Services Office, he was able to arrange to get copies of notes from another student after
each class, so he could listen to lectures without the pressure of taking notes.
concentration, keeping focused, processing information,
organizing my thoughts
Academic coach or tutor
One-on-one help can be provided to help you with studying and
Readings in advance
Sometimes arrangements can be made for you to have the course materials in
advance so you have extra time to read them.
Assistance editing essays
A coach or tutor can provide help by helping you edit your essays for organization,
clarity, grammar and spelling.
In some cases, deadline extensions can be arranged. This can help reduce stress,
particularly if you have several assignments all due at the same time.
How an assignment accommodation helped:
Julie is a third-year arts student. In her second semester she had three major essays all due within the
same two-week period. When she is under pressure, she becomes very anxious and is unable to focus on
any one task. She finds it hard to read or organize her thoughts on paper and often has trouble sleeping.
Julie was able to arrange with one of her instructors for a two-week extension; another instructor gave
her a three-week extension. To make sure she met the new deadlines, she created her own schedule for
researching and writing each essay. The schedule helped her to stay on track and reduced her anxiety.
concentration, keeping focused, processing
information, dealing with social situations
You can arrange to sit in the front of the exam room and away from windows to help
reduce audio and visual distractions.
Quiet location or separate room for exam
It may be possible to write an exam in a separate room with only a few students or
on your own in a supervised area.
Supervised breaks during exam
You can arrange to step out of the exam when you need to move around to relieve stress,
anxiety or restlessness.
Changes to scheduled exam dates
Arrangements can be made to write tests on different dates if you have several taking
place in close succession.
Extended time for exams
You may be able to arrange for additional time to complete your exam.
Exam broken into segments with rest breaks
This reduces the effects of fatigue and allows you to focus on one
section at a time.
Changes to scheduled exam times
Exams can be scheduled for times when you work best, for example, afternoon
rather than early morning
How an exam accommodation helped:
Andrea is taking two courses towards a business degree and both courses require a major final exam. Exams
are written in a large room with several hundred students. The first time she wrote an exam, she found
the noise made by other students very distracting and couldn't focus on the test. She also found that
the time pressure made her very anxious and unable to organize her thoughts, even thought she knew the
This time, with the help of the Disability Services Office, she arranged to write her two exams in the
university's disability testing centre, with only a few other students present. She was also given three
hours to write each two-hour exam. This allowed her the time she needed to organize her thoughts in
point form before she answered each question.
How will the academic accommodation(s) be put in place?
Once you and the Disability Services Office have determined what academic accommodations you need, they
will prepare a letter for you to give to your instructors. They will also help
you decide how to approach your instructor to request the accommodation.
What if an instructor refuses to grant an academic accommodation?
If you feel an instructor hasn't understood your explanation of your needs, or doesn't agree that you
should receive certain accommodations, talk with the Disability Services Office as soon as possible. Staff
in the office can help to resolve the issue.
What if you don't want to disclose your disability?
In order to be eligible for academic accommodations, you do need to disclose your disability to the
Disability Services Office. But that's the only place you need to provide information about your
illness. Your instructor simply needs to know that you have a documented disability; you don't have
to discuss what kind of disability you have.
© 2004 Canadian Mental Health Association. All rights reserved. No part of this document may be copied or reproduced
in any form without written permission of the Canadian Mental Health Association.