Why does UBC accommodate students with disabilities?
As a matter of principle, UBC is committed to promoting human rights, equity and diversity, and it also has a legal duty under the BC Human Rights Code to make its goods and services available in a manner that does not discriminate.
How does UBC accommodate students with disabilities?
UBC’s Board of Governors and Senate have approved a joint policy, Policy 73 (Accommodation for Students with Disabilities) that sets out principles and processes governing the accommodation of students with disabilities.
What is the role of the Centre in the accommodation process?
Under Policy 73, the Centre is responsible for assessing requests from students for accommodations. This provides a number of important benefits:
- assuring privacy for the students who are requesting accommodations (they do not have to share medical details with their instructors)
- promoting consistency in decision-making across the institution
- shielding instructors from any appearance of advertent or inadvertent bias
Who does Policy 73 apply to?
Policy 73 applies to students with disabilities who are engaged in a course, program or activity offered by the University. Under the definition in the Policy, a “student” includes a person who is registered in credit or non-credit courses offered by the University, as well as a person who has formally applied to the University as a prospective student. For clarity, Policy 73 does not apply to medical residents because they are not "students".
How is eligibility for accommodations determined?
Accommodations are intended to remove barriers experienced by individuals with disabilities. To be eligible for an accommodation, students will need to provide clear, current and credible medical information to establish the existence of a disability and to show that the disability has created a barrier to their full participation at the University.
The Centre identifies a range of accommodations based on the documentation provided by the student, the history of accommodation, and any other information provided by the student. In determining accommodations, the Centre must consider the unique circumstances of each case. The implementation of specific accommodations depends on the nature of the activity and is determined in collaboration with the student and the appropriate University administrators and/or faculty members. Reasonable and appropriate accommodations will be provided to students as long as they do not create an undue hardship for the University.
What are the documentation requirements for accommodations?
Students must provide clear, current and credible medical information from a certified and/or licensed professional who has specific training, expertise, and experience in the diagnosis of conditions for which academic or other accommodations are being requested. For example, a student requesting accommodations for a learning disability must provide a psycho-educational assessment. Similarly, a student seeking accommodations for a visual disability is required to provide an ophthalmology report. Documentation must describe the nature of the disability and include a detailed explanation of the functional impact of the disability. The documentation must provide sufficient detail so that the Centre can determine appropriate and reasonable accommodations that will minimize the impact of the disability.
Does UBC have a list of available accommodations?
As accommodations are tailored to each student's particular circumstances, it is not possible to have an exhaustive list of available accommodations. The following are examples of more common accommodations that may be provided in appropriate circumstances if supported by the medical information that has been provided:
- sign language interpreting
- extended time to write exams
- distraction reduced environment to write exams
- alternative formats for course materials
- customized exam formats
- adaptive equipment or assistive technology
- relocation of classes
- audio recording of lectures
What are some examples of when a student with disabilities might require accommodation?
For illustrative purposes only, here are examples of when students with disabilities could require UBC to provide common types of accommodations - where appropriate and medically supported:
Accommodation: Extended time to write exams and/or a distraction reduced or private space for exams.
Examples of Students who may require this Accommodation:
- A student with learning disabilities that impact visual comprehension and written output may require additional time to read and interpret exam questions and to formulate their written responses.
- A student with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder may require extra time to implement coping strategies during an exam, or to perform rituals in privacy.
- A student with a vision disability may require additional time or a private space to allow for the use of adaptive technology such as print to speech, speech to text and/or text enlargement software.
Accommodation: Access to early registration.
Examples of Students who may require this Accommodation:
- A student with a disability that significantly impacts sleep patterns may require early registration to manage their course schedule.
- A blind student who requires braille may need to be able to register as soon as possible to allow time for the identification and production of course materials.
- A student with a disability that significantly impacts their ability to walk long distances may require early registration to ensure there is sufficient time between classes.
Accommodation: Part-time schedule in a practicum or clinical component of a program.
Example of Students who may require this Accommodation:
- A student may require a part-time schedule for placements to manage fatigue or to allow for regular medical treatments related to a disability.
Accommodation: Audio recording of lectures.
Examples of Students who may require this Accommodation:
- A student with ADHD may have difficulty focusing on the content of the lecture, managing distractions, and taking accurate or detailed notes at the same time. Audio recording supplements their note-taking practices and can allow them to focus on and process the information by simply listening.
- A student with a learning disability that impacts their written output or who has slower processing speed may be unable to adequately take notes during a lecture.
- A student with limitations to their fine motor control or who experiences physical fatigue or pain in their arms/wrists/hands from writing or keyboarding can use audio recording to supplement their note-taking in lectures.
What happens if a student doesn’t agree with the accommodation decision?
The Centre is responsible for making the decision about what accommodation(s) will be offered to the student. Students who disagree with these accommodation decisions may follow the appeal process set out in section 5 of the Procedures to Policy 73.
What is the Centre's role in determining accommodations for work term placements or practicums?
Students with disabilities in programs with practicums or clinical placements may require disability-related accommodations. The process for determining eligibility for accommodations is the same as the process for determining eligibility for classroom accommodations, however, there are unique factors that must be considered when determining if and how accommodations will be implemented. These factors include the specific learning outcomes or requirements of the placement, the range of sites available, and nature of the accommodations required. While UBC programs do not have the authority to require an external employer to accommodate a student with disabilities, UBC programs have a duty to work diligently to secure a site that will meet the accommodation needs of a student. Close collaboration between the Centre and the program is critical to determining which accommodations can be implemented without causing undue hardship. As this process can take time, students with disabilities have a responsibility to notify the Centre well in advance of the practicum or placements.
What are some examples of accommodations that might be applied to a work term placement or a practicum?
The following are more common examples of accommodations that might be applied to a work term placement or a practicum where medically supported:
- Part-time schedule: The student may need a longer period of time to complete the required number of hours of work designated for a given practicum to manage fatigue or to allow for regular medical treatments related to a disability, and therefore may require a part-time placement.
- Wheelchair accessibility: The physical environment of the work placement may need to be a wheelchair accessible space due to the student's mobility impairment.
- Assistive technology: Assistive technologies may need to be available to the student in the workplace. For example, workplace computers that have speech-to-text software for a student who experiences barriers with keyboarding or hand writing and/or screen reading software for a student who is blind or has low vision.
Are there limits on UBC’s duty to accommodate?
Universities are required by law to accommodate their students with disabilities if they can do so without “undue hardship.” Section 3 of the Procedures to Policy 73 provides more information about the meaning of “undue hardship” in the University context.
The threshold of what is undue hardship for the University is quite high. However, once the University reaches that point, its legal duty to accommodate will be discharged.
Section 3.1 of the Procedures to Policy 73 lists the factors that are used by UBC to assess what is “undue hardship”. These factors include health and safety risks; failure of the student to meet an essential requirement of the course, program or activity; and/or financial or logistical challenges. These factors mirror the legal test that has been established in British Columbia for determining what is undue hardship.
In addition, if students do not reasonably participate in or cooperate with UBC’s efforts to accommodate them, UBC’s duty to accommodate may come to an end.
Is the impact on the instructor a factor that is considered when determining what is undue hardship?
Instructors sometimes ask whether the cost, time or inconvenience of implementing an accommodation, are factors that are considered when determining whether an accommodation would cause undue hardship. For example, when a student is granted an opportunity to write the exam at a later date, this may require an additional time commitment from the instructor. In some cases, there may even be an additional financial impact if teaching assistants are obliged to put in extra hours to complete the accommodation.
Providing an accommodation will not be an undue hardship unless UBC can demonstrate that doing so would: compromise safety; undermine the essential requirements of the course, program, or activity; give rise to severe financial or logistical problems; or have some other dire consequences. Given the size and resources available to UBC, it will be difficult to demonstrate that accommodations will compromise the essential requirements of courses, programs, or activities simply because they require an additional time commitment for an individual instructor or a few more hours of time for a teaching assistant. Therefore, granting a student another opportunity (or even multiple opportunities) to sit an exam or allowing a student to complete and submit coursework after the course is completed would not typically constitute undue hardship.
What is an essential requirement?
One of the ways that undue hardship can occur is if an accommodation will result in the failure of the student to meet an essential requirement of a course, program, or activity.
The term “essential requirements” relates to the bona fide requirements of a task or program that cannot be altered without compromising the fundamental nature of the task or program. This may include mastery of core aspects of a course curriculum, demonstration of key skills or, in some circumstances, the ability to show mastery of communication in a specific format if that format is a vital requirement of the program (e.g. oral communication in some programs). Determining what is an essential requirement, and what is not, is critical in distinguishing requirements that cannot be accommodated from those that can.
Identifying the essential requirements for a course, program, or activity is very important. If an instructor or the unit is clear about what is being taught and why it must be done a certain way, this assists in finding creative solutions to accommodating students with disabilities. To determine what is an essential requirement, questions such as the following should be asked:
- Are the skills or knowledge an integral part of the learning objectives of the course?
- Does the ability or skill necessarily need to be performed in a prescribed manner?
What are some examples of essential requirements that might apply at UBC?
In determining whether an accommodation can be implemented without compromising these essential requirements, the context of the task or assessment must be considered. Here are three examples:
Students in professional health programs such as Pharmacy, Medicine, or Occupational Therapy must be able to demonstrate that they are able to meet the essential requirements of the program. While it might not be possible to provide extra time to complete a medical procedure with a live subject without compromising the health and safety of that subject, it may be possible to accommodate a student with extra time to complete the same task in a simulation exercise. If this were the case, the provision of accommodations such as extra time while working with a live subject may compromise an essential requirement, but it would not compromise an essential requirement if it was feasible to carry out the task in a simulation lab.
Most undergraduate students are required to take a writing course to learn about the distinctive characteristics of scholarly prose and the styles of expression used by the different disciplines, and apply scholarly style in their own writing as they begin to participate in the academic conversations of their future area of specialization. While all students can be expected to produce writing that meets an acceptable standard, some students with disabilities may require accommodations such as the use of a computer with spell check for assignments and exams, in order to meet these standards. The provision of this accommodation would not compromise an essential requirement of the course as spelling is not typically taught in these courses.
Students in PhD programs are expected to produce original work which makes a significant contribution to knowledge in their discipline and are typically expected to progress through their degree in four to six years. A student with disabilities who experiences a flare up of an existing disability may require time away from studies one or more times over the course of their degree and may require an extension to the degree completion timeline. The nature of the academic work can be a determining factor in determining eligibility for leaves or extensions. Extensions that prevent a student from completing lab based research essential to the degree may compromise an essential requirement. However, a similar extension for a student conducting historical research may be possible without compromising essential requirements of the degree.
What is the process for identifying the essential requirements of a course, program, or activity?
Whether something is an essential requirement is not simply an academic or administrative decision. This determination must be made in accordance with the legal principles identified above.
If the instructor or other UBC employee believes an accommodation will result in the essential requirement of their course, program or activity being unmet, they should talk to the Centre. If discussions with the Centre do not resolve the concerns, the matter should be referred to the Registrar (for academic accommodations) or the Administrative Head of Unit (for non-academic accommodations), who will determine whether essential requirements would be compromised by providing the accommodation. This decision-maker must consult with all relevant parties, including the Centre, the relevant instructor or other University employee, and the Office of the University Counsel, as appropriate.
Why does the Registrar make the final decision regarding essential requirements for academic accommodations, rather than the Dean?
In Policy 73, the final decision regarding essential requirements for academic accommodations is made by the Registrar, rather than the Dean as this is more consistent with the Senate policy on program requirements, which makes the Registrar the ultimate decision-maker. Also, maintaining a single decision-maker would promote consistency in decisions and would also help to avoid unnecessary delays or trauma to the parties affected by the decision. However, to ensure that the Deans have a voice in the decision, there is a requirement under the Policy for the Registrar to consult with the relevant Dean, and also to consult with the Centre, the relevant instructor or other University employee, and the Office of the University Counsel, as appropriate.
What is the difference between academic concessions and accommodations?
Students may request academic concessions from their faculty when they experience circumstances that adversely affect their attendance or performance in their academic program. Examples of academic concessions are: deferred standing, late withdrawal and aegrotat standing.
The two general categories of requests that are given consideration for approving concessions are conflicting responsibilities and unforeseen events. These are further described in the UBC Academic Calendar under Campus-wide Policies and Regulations. Whereas, academic accommodations are any of the reasonable adjustments that UBC might make to help its students with disabilities overcome disability-related barriers they would otherwise experience at the University. The determination and implementation of academic accommodations are governed by Policy 73.
Why would the Centre consider an academic concession (rather than an accommodation) for a student with a disability?
The requirements for disability-related accommodations are typically predictable. That is, given the nature of a student’s disability, their lived experience, their history of accommodations, and their course of study, it is often possible to anticipate and put in place accommodations that will remove barriers to access. These accommodations might include extended time to complete exams or access to print materials in electronic format.
In some cases, however, the impact of a disability may vary over time and it is reasonable to expect that some individuals may experience expected but unpredictable flare-ups of their disability that are not mitigated by the proactive accommodations outlined above. UBC would still have a duty at law to accommodate students in these circumstances given the requirement arose for reasons related to the student's disability. However, the way UBC would process such accommodation is through the academic concessions process. This is why the phrase "academic concessions for disability-related reasons" is used in Policy 73.
For example, a student with a disability who, for unforeseen but disability-related circumstances is unable to attend or perform in their academic program in their usual manner, may require extra time to complete course work or prepare for an exam or, if they are not able to continue, may require a withdrawal from a course. Unlike other accommodations, an end of term extension or a withdrawal after the typical deadlines must be noted on the student’s transcript; therefore, UBC would process these accommodations as an academic concession and the academic eligibility criteria apply.
What is an example of when the Centre would determine a disability-related need for an academic concession?
A student has a disability that is under medical control, such as Spinal Muscular Atrophy, Schizophrenia, Multiple Sclerosis, or Bipolar Disorder. When they registered for the semester, their health was stable and there was no reason to believe that they would not be able to complete the semester in their usual manner with their usual academic accommodations. However, their medical condition unexpectedly worsens in the month of November, requiring them to be hospitalized and/or take a break from their studies. In this circumstance, the unforeseen flare-up of their disability makes them eligible for an academic concession. This flare up makes it impossible for them to continue in their studies. The Centre would notify the faculty that this student should be granted an academic concession, and the faculty would then decide what academic concession is to be granted based on the faculty's usual academic eligibility protocols.
What is the process for determining a disability-related academic concession?
The Centre will determine whether a disability-related concession is required, based on the documentation of disability provided by the student. This is the same process used to determine eligibility for disability-related accommodations. However, the Centre does not determine which concessions will be granted; this is the responsibility of the Dean/Advising Office and will be based on the academic regulations of the faculty.
For example, in the Faculty of Arts at UBC Vancouver, students must be in good standing in a course to be eligible for a Standing Deferral. If the Centre has deemed a student eligible for an academic concession on disability grounds but the student has not completed sufficient coursework to be considered in good standing, the Dean/Advising Office would need to offer an appropriate concession such as a late withdrawal.
Are students who have an unpredictable flare-up of their disability (for which they already have an accommodation) required to produce further documentation from a health professional?
Students who are seeking an accommodation, or who already have an accommodation in place, are required to ensure that the Centre is kept up to date with clear, current and credible medical information. If a student’s medical situation changes in any material way that could impact their accommodations, they should proactively and promptly advise the Centre of that change. The Centre may then request additional medical information to ensure that its accommodations are reasonable and appropriate in the new circumstance.
Where a student has already been granted an accommodation for a disability, but then later experiences a flare-up of that disability and the flare-up requires a different accommodation for the student than what was previously granted, further documentation will not be required to be provided to the Centre so long as the existing documentation remains current. In such circumstances, the Centre should be consulted.
What is an example of a non-disability related need for an academic concession?
The Senate Regulation on Academic Concession in the UBC Academic Calendar refers to academic concessions being requested in circumstances that generally fall into one of two categories: conflicting responsibilities and unforeseen events.
A non-disability related need for an academic concession would be where, for example, a student required an academic concession for a conflicting responsibility such as: representing the University, the province or the country in a competition or performance; serving in the Canadian military; observing a religious rite; working to support oneself or one's family; or having responsibility for the care of a family member.
Academic concessions for certain unforeseen events, such as changes in the requirements of an on-going job, may also be unrelated to a disability.
For further information on academic concessions, refer to the UBC Academic Calendar for the Senate Regulation on Academic Concession.
Is mental illness a disability for which a student can be accommodated?
The University is required to accommodate students with disabilities including students with a mental illness if it can do so without undue hardship. Students with a mental illness who are seeking accommodation must meet the eligibility criteria set out in Policy 73.
Why is there a different process for students with a temporary health issue than there is for students with a disability?
Policy 73 is intended to implement the duty imposed by the BC Human Rights Code to protect people with disabilities. The concept of physical disability is defined by case law as generally indicating a physiological state that is involuntary, has some degree of permanence, and impairs the person’s ability, in some measure, to carry out the normal functions of life. The same standard is applied for mental disability.
By contrast, temporary injuries or other health issues are not considered to be disabilities under this definition given their lack of permanence and are therefore not covered by Policy 73. For the purposes of this policy, UBC has defined temporary health issues to be any temporary medical impairment or injury that is unrelated to a disability and is likely to be substantially resolved in less than an academic term. Students with temporary health issues would follow the Senate Regulation on Academic Concessions set out in the UBC Academic Calendar.
What are some examples of temporary health issues?
Examples of temporary health issues, which would not fall under Policy 73, are:
- broken leg
- flu infection
- situational anxiety or depression that is not prolonged
- broken or sprained arm, wrist, finger(s)
Who is responsible for the costs incurred in applying for and implementing accommodations?
The Centre has funds to cover some of the costs of accommodating a student with a disability. These funds are used to cover the costs of accommodations such as interpreting and captioning, braille production, mobility training and to hire student assistants who support the provision of accommodations for students with disabilities (alternate format production assistants, note takers, mobility assistants, tutors, invigilators for accommodated exams that are coordinated centrally).
While the University recognizes that other costs (instructor or administrator time as an example) may be incurred in the process accommodating a student, these costs are deemed to be a part of the department's activity and are not covered by the Centre.
In most situations, students are responsible for any costs associated with the provision of medical information to the Centre. However, in rare circumstances, it may be appropriate for UBC to cover those expenses.
What are my responsibilities as an instructor or other University employee who has been notified of an accommodation for a student in my course, program or activity?
Instructors or other University employees who have been notified of a student’s request for accommodation have a responsibility to implement the accommodation.
This means receiving the request, maintaining the student’s confidentiality, engaging with staff from the Centre to ensure the accommodation is implemented in an appropriate manner, treating the student with professionalism and respect, and providing any required information or materials.
For example, they may be required to:
- provide course readings in advance so that these materials can be converted into alternate formats to ensure a student with a print disability has equal access to these materials
- talk to a student about the potential need for extensions to assignments or deferrals for exams
- assist the Centre to deliver exams centrally by providing to the Centre copies of the exam and any other information relevant to sitting the exam
- work with the Centre or other University staff to determine if the implementation of a specific accommodation will cause undue hardship
University instructors and staff have a right to request confirmation that the accommodations a student is requesting have been determined by the Centre in accordance with Policy 73. In the case of academic accommodations, instructors or designated academic program staff have a right to receive a current copy of the Letter of Accommodation produced by the Centre in a timely manner. A similar letter is produced by the Centre for clinical and other practical components of academic programs. For other activities such as participation in an orientation event, extracurricular activities or study abroad experience, this confirmation may be an email or meeting to confirm the range of accommodations to be considered.
University instructors have a responsibility to respect and maintain the student’s confidentiality in accordance with the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. In this context, this means that instructors and other University staff should not ask a student to disclose a diagnosis or other personal information. The student has already disclosed this information to the Centre as required by Policy 73. The Centre will determine whether individual instructors or other employees have a need to know specific information in order to consider or implement an accommodation. For example, the Centre might need to provide additional information about a student’s vision loss (with the student’s permission), if an instructor is asked to consider an alternative means of evaluation or a change to the structure of a lab activity.
What kinds of accommodations are provided by the Centre?
Instructors and other University employees are generally responsible for implementing accommodations for their course, program or activity. However, there are some accommodations that cannot be reasonably coordinated or provided at the program level, and which need to be provided or facilitated by the Centre. For example:
the coordination of exams that involve extra time, a distraction-reduced or private space, and/or the use of adaptive equipment or assistive technology
the production of alternate format materials such as braille, accessible electronic text for students with print disabilities
access to adaptive technology
the coordination of interpreting and real-time captioning for students with hearing disabilities
Where can an instructor or other University employee seek advice or support about accommodations, including how these should be implemented?
Staff from the Centre can be a resource to any instructor or University Administrator at any time. It is especially important to consult with these professionals if there are concerns about the implementation of any recommended accommodations or if a student is requesting a disability-related accommodation that has not been identified by the Centre.
Would the implementation of Universal Instructional Design eliminate the need for disability-related accommodations covered under Policy 73?
The benefits of Universal Instructional Design (UID) are widely recognized by educators. Implementation of UID provides greater access to academic content, allows for different ways of assessing mastery of course or program content, and supports students with diverse learning styles and ways of knowing. It promotes changes to our practice that eliminate barriers to education without the need for individuals to come forward requesting accommodation. Instructors are encouraged to consider ways they can implement elements of UID in their teaching practices.
In practice, it is unlikely that the implementation of UID will eliminate the need for disability-related accommodation in the foreseeable future. For example, even if an instructor follows all protocols for making a document accessible, a blind student may still require a textbook to be translated to braille. A student with a physical disability may require accommodations to complete a required lab component of a program where a simulation activity will not assess the same outcome.