Addressing DSP Accommodations in Your Syllabus

Many instructors struggle to articulate a comprehensive disability accommodation statement on their syllabi. Of course, every class is different, so there is no one-size-fits-all statement. Still, this page offers a few suggestions of language for presenting your accommodation policy accurately and setting appropriate expectations and procedures for your students. 

Compiled by Jonah Levy and Justin Davidson, DSP Faculty Liaisons, Steve Johnston, Disability Access and Compliance, and Carolyn Swalina, Disabled Students' Program.

1. Avoid using language on your syllabus like “never” or “under no circumstances” in reference to assignments or exams. Disability rights are civil rights backed by the law; they are not optional. Be mindful that your syllabus cannot take away the legal rights of students with disabilities. If you write, for example, that no homework will be accepted after the due date or that no make-up exams will ever be given, you may be legally required to walk back those policies in the event that a disability prevents a student from submitting an assignment on time or taking an exam as scheduled. If you wish to draw a line in the sand, your policy should allow for exceptions in cases of disability accommodations. For example, instead of writing that “no homework will be accepted after the due date,” you could write that “no homework will be accepted after the due date except as provided by disability accommodations.” If, in practice, you make allowances for personal, family, or medical emergencies, as many instructors do, you may want to incorporate language recognizing this policy, such as, “no homework will be accepted after the due date except in cases of personal, family, or medical emergencies or as provided by disability accommodations.” 

2. Suggested general language on DSP accommodations based on a slightly modified version of DSP’s recommendation: "UC Berkeley is committed to creating a learning environment that meets the needs of its diverse student body including students with disabilities. If you anticipate or experience any barriers to learning in this course, please feel welcome to discuss your concerns with me.

If you have a disability, or think you may have a disability, you can work with the Disabled Students' Program (DSP) to determine any accommodations you may need to have equal access in this course. The Disabled Students' Program (DSP) is the campus office responsible for authorizing disability-related academic accommodations, in cooperation with the students themselves and their instructors. You can find more information about the DSP application process. I am available if you have any questions or concerns about your accommodations, but in the event of a disagreement, the proper procedure is for you to work with your DSP Specialist and your DSP Specialist to work with me toward a resolution.”

3. Suggested language on the timely submission of DSP letters of accommodation: “Please submit your DSP letters of accommodation as soon as possible. If you are uncertain as to whether you will use the accommodation, it is much better to have the accommodation in place than to scramble at the last minute should you need it. Accommodations are not retroactive, so your GSIs and I are not responsible for providing accommodations prior to the receipt of an accommodation letter (although if you have extenuating circumstances, we may be able to make temporary adjustments). The more lead time that you provide your GSIs and me, the easier it is for us to arrange your accommodations. Be mindful that it might not be possible to accommodate last-minute requests, depending on your accommodation needs.”

4. Suggested language on absence accommodations when class attendance is tracked and is part of the final course grade: “If you have a disability-related absence accommodation, you are still required to attend class and participate in order to receive full credit. An absence accommodation does not authorize unlimited absences, but rather only a reasonable number of absences made necessary by the impact of a disability. In the event of such an absence, be sure to inform your GSI and me that your absence is disability-related as soon as you are able, so that you are not penalized. We will follow up with you and your assigned Disability Specialist if we have concerns about the impact of your absences on your ability to fulfill the course requirements.”

5. Suggested language on extra time: “Almost all accommodation letters provide for extra time on quizzes and exams. This extra time accommodation applies primarily to assessments or exams that take less than 24 hours to complete. For example, if I give you a 48-hour window to complete a an exam that is open in bCourses for 2 hours, a student with a DSP accommodation of 150% time would be allowed to take 3 hours within that 48-hour window to complete the exam; the 48-hour window itself would not generally be extended.” 

Note: You may wish to indicate on your syllabus which assessments and exams allow for extra time and which do not.

6. Suggested language on extensions and make-up exams: “If your DSP letter of accommodation allows for extensions on assignments or make-up exams, be mindful that implementing such accommodations is authorized when the impact of your disability prevents you from completing the assignment or taking the exam as scheduled. There is no presumption that you can have extensions outside these circumstances. In the event that the impact of your disability prevents you from completing an assignment or taking an exam as scheduled, it is yourresponsibility to contact your GSI and me to request an extension. Extensions are not automatic and failure to communicate with your GSI and me can result in a loss of points on the assignment or exam. Extensions should be requested prior to the exam or the deadline for an assignment unless there is a documented disability-related reason that the request could not be made beforehand. You may be asked to provide medical documentation to your DSP Specialist (e.g., a note from urgent care) confirming a disability-related reason why you were unable to complete an assignment or take an exam on the originally scheduled date. Under no circumstances should you ever share the medical documentation related to your disability with your GSI or me. Extensions are generally for a short period of time (1-5 days) unless your GSI or I specifically authorize a longer extension.”  

7. If you limit the use of technology in class, provide a general exception, rather than one that is limited to students with DSP accommodations, so as not to “out” these students to the rest of the class. Suggested language on technology bans: “For reasons A and B, I believe that the classroom should be a technology-free zone with no laptops, tablets, or cell phones. If you have a compelling reason for needing one of these devices in class, please send a written explanation and request to me. If you have a letter of accommodation allowing you to use technological devices for disability-related reasons, you need not submit a request.”

Note: Do not compel students using technological devices to sit in a particular area of the room, e.g., at the front or back. Such a rule could be regarded as stigmatizing and as preventing students with disabilities from participating in the class on equal terms.

8. Suggested language on resolving disagreements about provisions of accommodation letters: “Most DSP accommodations are relatively straightforward, such as 150% time on exams. Others, however, are more ambiguous, such as ‘occasional disability-related absences.’ In the event that your GSI or I disagree with you about an accommodation, we will contact your DSP Specialist to work out a solution, and we encourage you to do the same. By working with your DSP Specialist rather than with you directly, we protect you from feeling pressured to accept a less than fair accommodation out of fear of biasing the person who will grade your work. In addition, DSP Specialists know disability law and have considerable experience helping implement accommodations, so they are best placed to work out a fair and legal accommodation with your GSI and me.”

Interview Video with Jonah Levy and Justin Davidson