[An example of a typical student disability accommodation
request at my day job.]
I am a student with a disability.
As such I'm entitled to time-and-a-half on tests. Please let
me know how this might be handled for your course.
_____________ (name of student)
sometimes use the template below to respond to students who
request disability-related accommodations at the traditional
(in-person) university where I teach.]
The online quizzes are "infinite time"
(since they are currently open and you can start "right
now"). It typically takes less than a half-hour to input
the answers to those tests and you literally have hundreds
of hours to do them. Thus it would be silly to ask for
"additional time" on quizzes that are open for "weeks."
Testing accommodations are meant to insure sufficient
time to take a test -- not facilitate procrastination
in taking a test.
As far as the in-person exams, please "try"
taking the first one in the regular manner and during the
regular time frame.
If you feel your resulting test score is less that you would
have been capable of if you had more time then I'll let you
take a different version of the exam (different questions
but covering the same lesson material) either via
a video (that can be rewound) or possibly
I'm open to other reasonable approaches as well.
p.s. The information below is not directed at you. It is
just something I include in emails regarding this topic
whenever a student requests an accommodation.
Students are not automatically "entitled"
to a specific testing accommodation.
Whether or not an accommodation must be made depends on a
number of factors.
Two of the main factors considered by the courts are:
alteration." Does the requested
accommodation fundamentally alter the nature of the
testing? If so, the instructor is not required to make the
modification. (See section III-4.2100, pasted below for
If you'll read Section
III-4.6100 of the ADA
Title III Technical Assistance Manual, you'll see that
"A private entity offering an examination covered by
this section is responsible for selecting and
administering the examination in a place and manner that
ensures that the examination accurately reflects an
individual's aptitude or achievement level or other
factor the examination purports to measure, rather than
reflecting the individual's impaired sensory, manual, or
speaking skills (except
where those skills are the factors that the examination
purports to measure)."
bolded information in parenthetical expression? A
student may not ask to be excepted from the aptitude or
skill that the test is designed to measure. Deaf people
sign and fingerspell at a certain pace. A "receptive ASL
fluency" test is designed to determine if a student can
recognize and process the meaning of a series of signs
at a certain pace. To slow that pace down (i.e.,
provide time and a half for a student to "figure out"
what a sentence means)--would fundamentally alter
the nature of the test.
2. "Undue burden."
Does the requested accommodation cause an undue burden?
An instructor is not required to provide auxiliary aids
and services if an undue burden or a
would result. (See section III-4.3100, pasted below for
your convenience). One student requiring an instructor
devote after-class time to administer a single
one-on-one performance tests at one-and-a-half extended
time would not necessarily present an undue burden.
However, multiple tests (not just one) would eventually
add up to a substantial impact on the instructors time
(possibly adding as much as 20 or 30 percent more effort
added to his/her semester load since each test would
require his/her undivided attention to administer. It
would be different if we were discussing written tests
that the student could take at a writing center, and
that could be possibly be corrected by a computer. The
tests we are referring to however are receptive and/or
expressive ASL. Such tests (if not given via video)
would require 100 percent of the instructors attention
and time throughout the duration of the testing.
III-4.2100 General. A public accommodation must reasonably
modify its policies, practices, or procedures to avoid
discrimination. If the public accommodation can demonstrate,
however, that a modification would fundamentally
alter the nature of the
goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or
accommodations it provides, it
is not required to make the modification.
III-4.3100 General. A public accommodation is required to
provide auxiliary aids and services that are necessary to
ensure equal access to the goods, services, facilities,
privileges, or accommodations that it offers, unless
an undue burden or a fundamental alteration would result.
Here is a sample illustration paraphrased from the technical
guide, "Suppose Steve who is blind, visits an electronics
store to purchase a clock radio and wishes to inspect the
merchandise information cards next to the floor models in
order to decide which one to buy. Reading the model
information to Steve should be adequate to ensure effective
communication. If Steve is unreasonably demanding or is
shopping when the store is extremely busy, it may be an
undue burden to spend extended periods of time reading price
and product information."
Of the items above it is the fundamental alteration item that
applies most to ASL testing.
A student is NOT entitled to an accommodation that results in
the fundamental alteration of a main factor in a test of
speaking skills. (Such as "speed" which is an integral aspect of
fluency testing.) This is very clear in the ADA guidelines. To
ask for "more processing time" on a test of speaking or
listening fluency fundamentally alters that test.
Instead, the defensible accommodation is to allow a student to
use a Deaf Culture or similar class to satisfy the "Foreign
Language" requirement at a college or university.
A representative from a college center for students with
Good Afternoon Professor Vicars,
I have a student enrolled in your "ASL 2" course. She has requested
to write down the letters as you fingerspell during a test. She said
that she asked you about it and you said she had to get an
accommodation letter if she was going to be allowed to do this.
Before I do the accommodation letter I want to make sure that this
accommodation would not fundamentally alter your course
requirements. I am not sure if one of the goals of the course is for
your students to be able to interpret your finger spelling and
answer in a timely manner to demonstrate that they could hold a
reasonably flowing conversation? If this is a goal would her having
the ability to write down the letters during the test alter your
On the other hand, if this is not the goal and her writing down the
letters while you finger spell during a test would not fundamentally
alter your class then I will go ahead and revise her accommodation
letter to allow her to do this.
Thank you for your time and if you have any questions or concerns
please feel free to contact me.
Have a wonderful day,
Molly Smith (name changed), M.S.
Learning Disabilities Specialist
I give three kinds of tests in this semester's "American Sign
Language 2" course:
Receptive: I sign and the students write.
Expressive: The students sign and I make notes.
Culture: Matching and/or multiple choice.
It seems the student is requesting to be able to write down the
letters of fingerspelled words that I spell as part of the
"receptive" testing that I do in class. Thus she is "requesting"
something that is actually "required" as part of the test. YES by
all means she can, (and should / must) write down the letters so
that I can see if she understood the letters that were in the
Now, if the student is requesting that I slow down or hold each
letter of a fingerspelled word steady in the air until she has
written it onto her paper prior to my moving on to the next letter
of the fingerspelled word, I must say that would indeed change the
fundamental nature of the class in general and the test in specific
-- since one of the things the test is designed to discover is
whether or not the student can understand signing in a timely manner
(so as to be prepared to move on to the next level course and so
forth until being able to have gained the ability to actually
communicate with individuals who are Deaf). If this cannot be
accomplished by the student due to a disability then the "proper"
accommodation for the student may be to give her a letter waiving
the "Foreign Language" requirement and/or allow her to use a course
such as the Deaf Culture course or some sort of "Ethnic Studies"
course to satisfy the requirement.
One of the ways I test fingerspelling is to use this website:
That is a website I built to help people practice understanding
I also use it as part of some of my tests.
The benefit is that it is "very" consistent in speed and thus
A rough guideline is that an ASL 2 should be able to catch 7 out of
10 words on the first try at medium speed (for a C), 8 for a B, and
9 for an A-, and 10 out of 10 for an "A." (Meaning: An "A" student
near the end of ASL 2 will generally catch all or almost all of the
fingerspelling at medium speed (at a six letter maximum length).
Additionally, I'd like to note that isolated fingerspelling is at
most "3 questions" out of 25 questions (or out of 30 questions) on
my exams. Thus the percentage of occurrence of fingerspelling in my
tests is very reasonable. Occasionally some of the sentences I sign
have fingerspelling in them but those occurrences are of typical and
regular items such as the term "ASL" or "SAC" (for Sacramento) --
which students are expected to be familiar with since they show up
so frequently (in our area).
So, you may wish to explain to the student that she is welcome to
write each letter off to the side (as I spell) and then look down
and piece the letters together into a word and write that word on
the answer line. (No accommodation letter needed.)
In general though, no, an accommodation letter could not be used to
try to force me to slow down my spelling during testing. (Forgive my
use of the term "force." I know that is not what is going on here.)
I know we are all simply trying to make sure that what is best for
the student and society actually happens. The long view is we
are also trying to protect the student from wasting years of her
life studying sign language in the hopes of becoming an interpreter
and then finding out upon graduation that nobody wants to hire an
interpreter who has to write down fingerspelled words in order to
figure out what is being signed.
If she is simply trying to fulfill the Foreign Language requirement
by taking ASL 2, then our main concern should be to assure her that
if she is within a few % points of passing with the necessary C-,
(and has put forth a solid effort at attendance and homework) and it
is determined that the "fingerspelling" issue was the straw that
"broke the camel's back" (and that her disability precludes her from
doing well on receptive fingerspelling) then CERTAINLY we can
revisit her grades and substitute some equivalent but different
measure of competence and grant her the C- so she can be on her way
toward graduation (along with a clear admonition that continuing
upward to "ASL 3" is not advised since it too will involve
fingerspelling -- and at an even faster pace).
Thank you Jamie for all that you do on behalf of our students.
You can learn American Sign Language
(ASL) online at American Sign Language University ™
by Lifeprint.com © Dr. William Vicars
Dr. Bill's new iPhone "Fingerspelling Practice" app is
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