Fundamental Alteration of a Course or Program

There may be times that the student and/or the ADA Panel request an accommodation that a professor believes may compromise the academic integrity or create a fundamental alteration of the course and/or program. To determine whether an accommodation fundamentally alters the nature of a course, instructional staff members who teach or who have taught the course should:
  1. Identify the essential academic standards of the course; requirements that go to the very nature of the subject matter or that are of the utmost importance in achieving the course/program objective.
  2. Articulate specific requirements that individual instructors believe are fundamental to teaching the course/program, taking academic freedom into consideration.
  3. Identify the unique qualities of the course/program in relation to its overall objectives and any program in which the course is required.
  4. Engage in "reasoned deliberation" as to whether modification of the course/program would change the fundamental academic standards, and
  5. Determine whether there are any options to the fundamental requirements of the course/program.
  6. Why is the standard that the instructor believes will be lowered important to the course/program?
  7. Is the standard the better way (or the only way) to achieve the desired academic objective?
  8. Will the requested accommodation lower the academic standards of the course/program?
  9. Can a different method or requirement that will not be altered by the accommodation achieve the required academic or pedagogical result?
  10. If not, why not?

The decision to deny an accommodation should not be taken lightly. Institutions have found themselves in legal trouble for devoting insufficient thought to the conclusion that a requested accommodation should be denied.

Answering the above questions and documenting the process will allow instructors to establish that they have carefully evaluated the awarded accommodation and the course/program objectives. Failure to provide a reasonable accommodation to a student with a disability is a violation of law, putting in jeopardy an institution's federal funding. However, disability laws also require that students with disabilities meet the "essential," "academic," and "technical" standards of the class/program/college.

Last modified: Nov 19, 2013
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