Accessibility can sometimes seem complex. This is hindered by a number of unhelpful myths and misconceptions that create confusion and even threaten to deprive students of equal access. This page debunks a few of the most common myths and can be used as a reference when discussing accessibility with colleagues and peers.
Myth #1: Accessibility only affects a small group of students
Around 15% of the world's population lives with disabilities. This makes them the largest minority in the world. At WVU, the Office of Accessibility Services accommodates approximately 10% of the campus population, a number that continues to rise as more students with Disabilities become aware of their rights and the services available to them in higher education. While proactive accessibility and accommodation are important to ensure equal access for those individuals, most accommodations also improve the academic experience for students who do not have disabilities.
Myth #2: Accommodations confer an unfair advantage
Accommodations are neither fair nor unfair. They are reasonable adjustments that reduce or remove barriers caused by Disability. This creates a level playing field and ensures students have equal access to classroom instruction. Accommodations are determined according to established clinical need, and while they do not guarantee success, they do ensure equal access.
Myth #3: Students choose their accommodations from a "grab bag"
Students do not choose their accommodations at all. Rather, Accessibility Specialists authorize accommodations as appropriate, based on information provided in the student's medical documentation. By law, students in higher education do have a right to choose when or whether authorized and approved accommodations are implemented (i.e. in which educational scenarios), as long as the accommodation is relevant and appropriate to the class. Because each student is different, and because each class is different, accommodations are individually implemented according to the specific presentation of each student's functional impairment and the demands of the course. Hence, students and faculty are required to meet to discuss the implementation of accommodations as part of the interactive process.
Myth #4: Students are accommodated at the discretion of the instructor
Determining accommodations does not fall under the scope of practice for faculty, and if faculty were to take on that role, it would place both the institution and the faculty member at considerable liability. Accommodation is required by law of any institution of higher education. The U.S. Office for Civil Rights investigates failure to provide equal access to students with Disabilities, and failure to provide equal access can result in civil liability for institutions and for individual instructors. OAS helps to prevent this by authorizing accommodations and by supporting their effective implementation. In certain circumstances, an accommodation may conflict with an established/published technical standard of a course. In those situations, faculty should reach out to OAS for guidance. Through the interactive process, the accommodations and course standards will be discussed to determine if accommodation is inappropriate in the specific class, and alternative accommodations may be explored.
Myth #5: OAS serves as the "long arm of the law"
OAS does not take sides when issues of accommodation are raised. We serve both faculty and students to help ensure that accommodations are appropriately implemented. This includes providing support to faculty throughout the interactive process and in situations where accommodations are being requested in a way that is inconsistent with the spirit or intent of the accommodation. It also includes providing support to students in situations where they are being denied appropriate accommodation. OAS does not run compliance investigations. To avoid any conflict of interest, when complaints are issued, they are investigated through WVU's Office of Equity Assurance.
Myth #6: Accommodations are too time consuming
At WVU, instructors have a responsibility to teaching to all students, regardless of the thought or planning required. In fact, failure to adequately and appropriately accommodate students is what really becomes time consuming because it requires meetings, phone calls, email exchanges, and other interactions with various campus stakeholders. This can create avoidable stress or anxiety for faculty. Fortunately, most accommodations are straightforward and easy to implement. Courses can be made proactively accessible with the help of OAS (mitigating the need for accommodation). And in the case of time-intensive accommodations (i.e. closed captioning of media, alternative formatting of printed text), OAS provides the necessary services and resources to faculty free of charge.
For additional information about accessibility, please check out our FAQ.