2. Pre-Semester Planning (Instructor Guide to Student Accommodations)

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Whether you work with a class of several hundred or a small discussion section, there is a good chance that you will have students with disability-related accommodation requests.

Did you know… Roughly 10% of students attending UW-Madison are affiliated with the McBurney Center.

Planning for accommodations begins with planning for your course. The more you anticipate and work through the need for accommodations both individually and with your teaching team (such as coordinators, TAs, and lab managers), the more prepared, efficient, and effective you will be in providing accommodations and supporting students.

Include syllabus resources

It is important to include in your syllabus a current accommodation statement that both creates a welcoming environment to make requests and gives students a process to follow. This syllabus statement can be found as part of the syllabus template on the Division for Teaching and Learning website and in the UW-Madison Guide.

Review Student Accommodation Letters

Photo of an instructor with his back to the photographer, facing a small classroom of students in individual desks and speaking while gesturing with his hands.

When a student is found eligible for accommodations, the McBurney Center develops an individual plan for the student in the McBurney Connect system and provides relevant training to the student. It is then up to the student to decide with which class sections to share all or part of that accommodation plan. In the training from the McBurney Center, students are encouraged to be proactive, both to allow instructors sufficient time and because accommodations are not provided retroactively. Students can ultimately choose not to request accommodations for some or all of their courses, even though they are eligible.

Students make their requests known to instructors by logging on to McBurney Connect and generating Student Accommodation Letters (previously titled “Faculty Notification Letters”) for each of the sections in which they would like to use accommodations. Students can generate Student Accommodation Letters starting about 24 hours after they register for courses. However, keep in mind that students apply for accommodations at various times of the year and so may not be eligible at the time they register for their classes. Additionally, some students attend a couple class meetings before deciding whether their accommodations are needed for that course.

The Student Accommodation Letter is the beginning of the interactive process between the instructor and the student to determine how approved accommodations will be implemented within the course.

You can review letters as they appear in the Instructor Portal of McBurney Connect (more on this below).  Letters are also emailed from McBurney Connect to the instructor(s) of record for each section about two weeks prior to the start of the semester. This is when most instructors are actively working on course preparations. After that point, letters are released weekdays on a rolling basis as students generate them.

Students are instructed to reach out to their instructors after sending their letters. Typically, this happens just before the semester starts or in the first couple weeks of class, depending on when the student was approved for accommodations and the types of accommodations they are requesting.

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Contents of Student Accommodation Letters

View a sample letter (Google Docs)

The Student Accommodation Letter follows a standard format:

  1. The top of the letter includes the course and section information, the date, the student’s name/ID#/email and the student’s Access Consultant with email address.
  2. The greeting will list all instructors of record for that section (who receive the letter via email).
  3. The opening paragraph describes the student’s eligibility for accommodations, the purpose of the accommodations, and confidentiality.
  4. The student’s approved and selected accommodations are listed in groups, such as alternative formats, alternative testing, classroom accommodations, and communication access. Each approved accommodation has a short description of how it is typically implemented. Some accommodations include a link to a supplemental letter, which provides additional important information and suggested implementation strategies. 
  5. Some letters have “Additional Notification(s) Regarding Student” below the list of accommodations. This is critical to review, since it provides further detail about standard accommodations (e.g., what size to use for large print), information on non-standard accommodations, or variations on common accommodations.
  6. A section about students being trained to reach out to instructors to discuss their accommodations.
  7. Finally, the student’s Access Consultant’s name and contact information are listed again. This provides a direct connection for you to the McBurney Center if you have questions that cannot be resolved with the student, want a consultation on a possible accommodation denial, or would like support of any kind.

An important note about confidentiality: Student Accommodation Letters are considered confidential information under FERPA (the federal law that defines what information we need to keep private about students’ educational records). You may share accommodation information with others legitimately involved in accommodation implementation, such as the course lecturer or course coordinator.

The Student Accommodation Letter and the descriptions of the common accommodations are written in ways that are general enough to apply across the courses that students are likely to take. Meeting and/or communicating with the student to discuss implementation of the accommodations becomes the bridge between the general nature of the letter and your specific course (you’ll learn more about these communications in the next topic).

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Using the McBurney Connect Instructor Portal

An icon in red showing a computer screen with 3 lines emerging from it, connecting to various destination points.

Even before you receive individual emails starting about two weeks before the semester, you can access all accommodation requests to-date for your courses in one place on the Instructor Portal of McBurney Connect. Letters will appear as soon as students make requests for your course section, so you don’t need to wait for the letters to arrive via email.

Knowing how many of your students may request accommodations will help you plan for accommodations you may need to provide and more efficiently respond to groups of learners with similar needs.

The instructor portal is also a valuable tool through the semester. It lists students by course section, allows you to view their letters, and provides an overview of the types of accommodation requests students have made. You can export an Excel spreadsheet of students and their accommodations that can be useful for coordinating accommodations, such as testing.

It is important to understand that students generate accommodation letters on a section-by-section basis rather than by course. This means that instructors teaching different components of a course may get different letters with slightly different accommodations. For example, the letter that goes to the instructor teaching the lecture section of a course may be different from the letter that the teaching assistant receives for the discussion and lab sections of that same course.

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Preparing for the semester

You can do a number of things to help prepare your course materials and your students. First, think about ways that you can design the learning interactions of your course to be inclusive of a broad range of students, including disabled students.

Design course activities to give students access to the instruction documents and the course environments, including both physical and virtual environments. For information about inclusive and universal design strategies and resources that benefit all students, promote inclusion, and increase access:

 Making your syllabus available early helps students understand the format and requirements of the course so they know what to include on their Student Accommodation Letters. It also allows the McBurney Center to implement accommodations such as alternative formats in a timely manner and consult with you if helpful.

Opening access to Canvas environment prior to the first day of class allows students to get more familiar and comfortable with the course at a low-stress time. This helps students plan for accommodations, identify potential concerns, and get ready for course requirements.

Entering your textbooks into the Faculty Center early assists both learners and McBurney Center staff, while helping to keep costs lower for students.

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Accommodations requiring additional lead time

Photo of a woman typing on a steno machine, providing live, professional captioning (CART services) at a campus event.

Some accommodations require additional lead time to produce or schedule. These typically include some alternative format materials (e.g. Braille, math), sign language interpreting, media captioning, and live professional captioning (CART).

When you have students in your class with these accommodations, the McBurney Center will ordinarily reach out to you for additional information and to start the planning process. We appreciate you responding promptly.

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Review & Apply Activity (7 questions)