When college professors refuse accommodations: 5 things to know

At a glance

  • If a college professor refuses to give your child accommodations, it’s up to your child to manage the situation.

  • You can offer tips to help your child self-advocate.

  • Encourage your college student to talk to disability services.

When a college professor refuses classroom , your first instinct as a parent may be to rush into action. After all, you want to help your child at any age. When your child was in high school, you had access to the people providing the accommodations. And you could intervene when those services weren’t being implemented.

But in college, that’s no longer the case. When legally an adult, it’s up to your child to handle these types of things. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t provide guidance. Here’s what you need to know when a professor refuses accommodations for a college student.

1. Resist jumping in.

As a parent, you can’t make the phone call. You can’t send the email or walk into a professor’s office on your child’s behalf. It’s a violation of protocol and privacy laws at the college level. But more than that, trying to fight a battle for your child can have unfavorable results. It might even make things worse.

Ideally, you worked on self-advocacy skills in high school to help the transition to college, and your child feels confident about speaking up. But if that’s not the case, now is the time for a crash course.

2. Advise your college student to talk to the disability services office.

Colleges don’t have to provide supports and services that a student might have gotten in high school. But they do have to follow federal civil rights laws, like Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

For students to get help under those laws, they need to have a documented disability and register with the disability services office. So if your child hasn’t spoken with the disability services office, the professor may not know that accommodations are needed or have been requested.

3. Encourage reining in the emotions.

Try to help your child understand that being overly emotional may not help the situation. Explain that some professors simply might not know the impact of “invisible” disabilities like learning and thinking differences.

The professor’s refusal for accommodation is probably not personal. It’s more likely that the professor is just misinformed. Help your child choose the right language to disclose information about challenges. That way your child can more easily self-advocate for needed supports.

4. Know the technical standards of the department.

In college, students need to meet technical standards to complete training for their chosen career. These are the skills and abilities students need to be able to perform. Many colleges use these standards to measure student progress.

All students need to meet those technical standards. That includes students with learning and thinking differences. So it’s important to try to find accommodations that are helpful but that don’t get in the way of meeting standards.

For example, nursing students may have to be able to understand medical documents, journals, and databases. In that case, audiobooks or text-to-speech might be reasonable accommodations. (See more examples of college accommodations.)

5. Recommend making an appointment with the professor.

Remind your child not to discuss accommodations while other students are around. It’s also not the best idea to try to grab the professor on the way out the door.

Instead, recommend a private appointment during office hours. If the professor holds open office hours, that’s a good time to talk. But it’s important to know whether those hours are group sessions. If they are, your child should request to meet the professor alone.

Disability services can also help students come up with a plan to work with professors. In some cases, a student’s advisor may meet with the student and disability services to understand what accommodations are needed. The advisor can then facilitate a meeting with other faculty members and the student.

Standing back and watching your college-age child self-advocate for accommodations may be hard for you to do. But the advice you give can help your child manage the situation and feel good about it.

If your child is just starting to think about college, hear from an expert on why to let your child take the lead in the school search. Explore college programs for students with learning and thinking differences. And find out what to do if your child wants to leave college.

Key takeaways

  • As a parent of a college student, it’s important to resist jumping in to help your child get accommodations.

  • Students need to have a documented disability and register with the disability services office to get college accommodations.

  • Encourage your child to talk to the professor during a private appointment, or to come up with a plan with disability services.


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