Carnegie Mellon University

You and your student are embarking on an incredibly exciting, yet challenging chapter of their life.  Going away to college is a wonderful opportunity and accomplishment for students.  here at CMU, we pride ourselves in offering an academically rigorous, student-centered environment where students’ hearts are in the work they do.  We welcome students with disabilities and provide responsive and reasonable accommodations that allow them to do their best work.

For students with disabilities and their families, the transition to any college often presents unique challenges and opportunities.  Students become responsible for arranging their own accommodations and communicating their needs to university faculty and staff.  Parents or guardians’ roles change from advocating for their K-12 children’s needs to providing support as their college-aged adult children advocate for themselves.  The laws underpinning the provision of disability accommodations change from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.  While accommodations available in the college setting are often similar to those a student received in high school, a greater level of independence is expected of college students, and college-based accommodations may not be identical to those offered in the K-12 setting.

One of the most striking changes for family members is the difference in privacy standards related to the student’s education in university settings versus K-12 settings.  It’s important for parents and guardians to keep in mind that in order for the university to share any information about a student’s academics, disability accommodations, or other aspects of their college experience, the student will need to give explicit, written permission.  Even when written permission is given, CMU prefers that students communicate with their parents directly about their disability accommodations.  For more information about the laws that govern disability accommodations in a college setting, visit https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/transition.html.

This handbook is designed to answer the common questions that families have about what they and their current or future college student can expect, what accommodations are available, and strategies students with disabilities can use to have a successful and rewarding college experience.  While some of the information in this handbook is specific to processes and procedures at Carnegie Mellon University, much of the information provided here is more general and applies to most colleges and universities.

* A brief note about Pronouns:  In this handbook, we use the gender-neutral “they” pronoun so that our language is applicable and relevant for all students, regardless of gender identity.

Through the Office of Disability Resources, the university can provide counsel, support services, and accommodations to ensure that all students, regardless of ability, have equal access to the world-class education, campus programs and activities offered by CMU.  Upon enrollment, students with disabilities should contact the Office of Disability Resources to discuss their needs and to develop a Student Individual Accommodation Plan. Accommodations are made with the intent to maintain the academic integrity of each course and the academic program as a whole, while also meeting a student’s individual disability needs.  Accommodations are developed on a case-by-case basis, based on each student’s disability and functional limitations.  Some common accommodations that a student may qualify for include but are not limited to:

  • Additional time for exams and quizzes
  • Distraction-reduced testing environment
  • Assistance with note taking
  • Permission to use a laptop to record exam responses
  • Preferred seating
  • Books in alternative format

If you or your student would like to discuss specific services and accommodations, please contact our office at (412) 268-6121 or email us at access@andrew.cmu.edu.


 

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, individuals with disabilities are assured services and protected from discrimination. To establish that an individual is covered under the ADA, the documentation must indicate that the disability substantially limits a major life activity.
Major life activities under the Americans with Disabilities Act include:

  • Caring for oneself
  • Performing manual tasks
  • Seeing
  • Hearing
  • Eating
  • Sleeping
  • Walking
  • Standing
  • Lifting
  • Bending
  • Speaking
  • Breathing
  • Learning
  • Reading
  • Concentrating
  • Thinking
  • Communicating
  • Working
  1. Documentation must be obtained from a licensed medical or mental health professional
  2. Documentation must be current and up to date, typically five years old or less, depending on the nature of the disability - Note that Disability Resources may request more recent documentation if the disability symptomology tends to vary over time
  3. Documentation must list the diagnosis or diagnoses
  4. Documentation must describe in detail the functional impact of the disability on participation in academics and/or other aspects of campus life
  5. Documentation must detail the treatment history and plan of care
  6. 6. When appropriate, list recommended disability accommodations and/or auxiliary aids and services.


Disability Resources does not perform any testing but can provide a list of agencies that perform such evaluations. The cost of obtaining documentation is borne by the individual requesting accommodations. If the initial documentation is incomplete or inadequate to determine the extent of the disability and reasonable accommodations, Disability Resources has the discretion to require additional documentation. Any cost of obtaining additional documentation is also borne by the individual. If you have questions about documentation, please contact our office at 412-268-6121 or access@andrew.cmu.edu.

The first step is for your student to contact the Office of Disability Resources at (412) 268-6121 or mailto:access@andrew.cmu.edu  to request an appointment or phone meeting.  If your student has documentation of disability, this can be submitted when they contact us or come to the appointment at our office.  If the student does not yet have documentation, we will discuss this at the appointment and develop a plan for acquiring it.  It is the student’s responsibility to provide disability documentation to our office.

At the initial meeting, our staff will have an in-depth conversation with the student about their disability and needs.  If the student’s disability impacts their functioning in academics or other aspects of campus life, the student and Disability Resources staff will develop an Individual Accommodation Plan.  The plan outlines the reasonable accommodations that will allow the student physical, programmatic, and digital access to academic and campus life.

Upon development of the plan, students are given official notification of their approved accommodations from the Office of Disability Resources, which they should use in order to notify their faculty about their accommodations.  It is student’s’ responsibility to communicate with their faculty about their accommodations.  Generally, unless significant advanced planning by faculty would be required in order to implement the accommodation, this notification is not done automatically by Disability Resources.  Since some students prefer to receive accommodations only in certain classes and may not wish to share information about their accommodations with all of their instructors, this responsibility falls on the student in most cases.

Reasonable accommodations are modifications or adjustments to the tasks, environment or the way things are usually done that enable individuals with disabilities to have an equal opportunity to participate in an academic program or a job. Academic adjustments and/or auxiliary aids will be provided to qualified students with disabilities when necessary to ensure equality of opportunity to complete academic requirements.

Accommodation Plans for students are developed on a case-by-case basis and are based on the disability documentation and individual circumstances of each student. therefore, not all accommodations would be deemed reasonable for all students. However, some examples of reasonable accommodations may include but are not limited to:

  • Additional time on examinations for a student with a reading disability
  • Distraction-reduced testing environment for a student with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Sign language interpreting or Communication Access Real-time Translation (CART) for a student with significant hearing loss or deafness
  • Textbooks in alternative formats for students whose disabilities prevent them from accessing a traditional printed textbook
  • Ensuring that classroom and on-campus housing locations for a student with a physical disability are accessible
  • Allowing a student with diabetes to have small snacks or beverages in the classroom to manage blood glucose levels
  • Granting a student with anxiety disorder permission to leave the classroom for a few minutes to manage symptoms they may experience during class

Not all accommodations would be considered reasonable. An example of this would be an accommodation that would fundamentally alter the core components or requirements of an academic course or program. Exempting a student from completing exams or key assignments for a course would generally not be considered a reasonable accommodation. Similarly, granting a student blanket extensions on assignment due dates would also not be considered reasonable. The Office of Disability Resources encourages your student to discuss accommodation requests with our staff so that a workable and reasonable Accommodation Plan can be developed as appropriate.

In the college setting, your role as a family member changes from advocating for the student to providing advice and support as they advocate for themselves. For family members, this is sometimes the most challenging aspect of their student’s transition. Family members are often accustomed to arranging supports and accommodations for their child with a disability and being aware of their daily activities and assignments. Once the adult child is away at college and typically not living at home, family members may suddenly feel out of the loop and powerless to provide support. We can suggest a few key strategies that will help you and your student make this transition more easily.

If your student is still in high school:

  • Gradually fade your level of hands-on support so that your student becomes accustomed to managing their own schedule and workload.
  • Ensure that your student attends and participates in any meetings at school where their disability and accommodations are discussed.
  • Encourage them to practice talking to teachers about needed accommodations independently. You may want to role-play these discussions with your student first so they become comfortable with what to say.
  • Gradually increase your student’s level of responsibility when it comes to making decisions about accommodations and disability-specific services.

If your student is in college:

  • Encourage your student to take advantage of the many resources for academic and other supports at CMU. You can find a list of several of them here: https://www.cmu.edu/disability-resources/help/index.html
  • Allow your student to try different approaches to challenges other than those you might recommend. If the outcome is not exactly as your student had hoped for, debrief with them on what happened and what options might be available that would lead to a different outcome next time. For example, if your student received extra time on exams in high school but opts not to request this in college classes, explore whether they think the college exam grades are accurately representing their understanding of the material – or if exam performance might be better with the “extra time” accommodation in place. If your student would like your support in accessing accommodations, jointly develop a clear understanding about the degree of your involvement. Note that requests for accommodations or services must come directly from a student, not from a family member on behalf of a student.

In the K-12 system, family members often play a key role in helping their student receive accommodations for a disability. Perhaps you attended IEP meetings or provided input in developing your child’s 504 plan. You may have had frequent contact with teachers to assist with implementation of accommodations or homework completion.

One of the most significant changes a Parent or guardian experiences in sending a student to college is the difference in privacy standards for educational records. Carnegie Mellon values the student's right to privacy. The university adheres to a federal law called the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (also called FERPA or the Buckley Amendment) that sets privacy standards for student educational records and requires institutions to publish a compliance statement, including a statement of related institutional policies. In K-12 education, FERPA rights vest with a student’s parents or legal guardians so long as the student is under the age of 18. But when a student matriculates to an institution of higher education or turns 18, FERPA rights transfer from the parents/guardians to the student. To learn more about how CMU complies with FERPA, please visit https://www.cmu.edu/hub/privacy/index.html.

With certain exceptions, Carnegie Mellon officials will not disclose personally identifiable information from a student's education records without the student's prior written consent. If your student wishes, they may sign a Consent to Release of Student Information, allowing Disability Resources to share information with you as appropriate. The release provided by Disability Resources staff only covers Disability Resources-related activities. Disability Resources staff are always happy to provide general information about our services and accommodations, whether your student has signed the consent or not.

No.  All information about a student’s disability, accommodations, and services with the Office of Disability Resources is kept confidential and is not released to anyone outside of CMU without the student’s written permission.  A student may request that the Office of Disability Resources provide information to entities outside of CMU.  For example, students planning to take the MCAT, LSAT, GRE, or other exam may request that our staff assist them in completing forms to request testing accommodations from those examining bodies.  As students approach graduation and are applying for jobs or graduate study, our staff is more than happy to discuss with them when and whether to disclose their disability.

The laws that govern disability accommodations in the K-12 setting are different from those that govern college-based disability accommodations. You can read more about these differences by going to
https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/transition.html.

If your student received accommodations in high school, an important part of the initial meeting with Disability Resources staff will be a discussion of those accommodations, how they were implemented, whether they were effective, and if the student is requesting similar accommodations in the college setting. While many college-based disability accommodations may be set up similarly to those your student received in high school, some high school accommodations may not be available or appropriate in a college setting.

For example, if a student received extended exam time in high school, and their disability-related needs support the continuation of this accommodation in college, it is likely that a similar accommodation can be arranged here at CMU. The process they will go through to access this accommodation may be a little different, but they may still receive extended time for exams.

Conversely, a student may receive flexible assignment due dates in high school. Depending on the structure of the student’s college-based academic program and each specific course, it may or may not be possible for them to receive a similar accommodation for college courses. Rest assured, however, that CMU’s Office of Disability Resources will work with the student to develop a plan for appropriate and reasonable accommodations that will provide access to their academic program and other aspects of campus life.

Encourage your student to contact the Office of Disability Resources to discuss any difficulties they may be experiencing related to accommodations.  Our staff can support and advocate for students if needed, to ensure that the accommodations they are granted by our office are implemented properly.  We also help students problem-solve, empowering them to resolve issues independently when appropriate.  If your student would like you to be a part of the discussion with Disability Resources staff, we are happy to meet with them and conference you in by phone or involve you in the discussion in a way that works for you and the student.

We also encourage students to communicate regularly with their academic advisor about any academic concerns they may have, or their housefellow or RA if there are residential concerns on campus.  Academic advisors, housefellows, and RA’s are just a few of the many excellent resources available to CMU students, and they can best support your student when there is regular communication.

This is a very common question we receive from family members. The switch from setting up services and accommodations for your student to having this responsibility rest on the student may seem frightening. Family members are often concerned that their student may not take full advantage of accommodations that could be available to them, and that this could negatively impact their grades.

This concern is understandable, and we encourage parents and guardians of high school students to empower their children to start the process early of advocating for their own accommodations. This helps students be more at ease about arranging and using college-based accommodations. If your student is still in high school:

  • Gradually fade your level of hands-on support so that your student becomes accustomed to managing their own schedule and workload.
  • Ensure that your student attends and participates in any meetings at school where their disability and accommodations are discussed.
  • Encourage them to practice talking to teachers about needed accommodations independently. You may want to role-play these discussions with your student first so they become comfortable with what to say.
  • Gradually increase your student’s level of responsibility when it comes to making decisions about accommodations and disability-specific services.

It is common for students with disabilities to try college without disability accommodations. They may have developed greater coping skills as they go through high school and are asserting their growing independence. This desire is laudable and speaks to your student’s transition into adulthood. Students with disabilities are not required to disclose to CMU that they have a disability unless they are requesting accommodations. A significant number of CMU students have disabilities but do not require accommodations. Your student may fall into this category. Students can self-identify to the Office of Disability Resources and request accommodations at any point in their college career, including their final semester. While we strongly encourage students who may need accommodations to contact our office as early as possible so that they can take maximum advantage of those accommodations, we are happy to start working with them at any time.

In order to receive services from our office, students must self-identify as having a disability and request their own accommodations. Under FERPA, the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, our office may not set up accommodations for a student based on a family member’s request, regardless of their student’s disability status. However, if you would like to support your student in making this request, we encourage you to assist them in drafting an email to us or joining them on a phone call with our staff.

We recommend that students contact our office to explore possible disability accommodations even if they have not yet been formally diagnosed.  While evaluations are not available through the office of Disability Resources, we are happy to refer students who suspect they may have disabilities to medical or mental health professionals who may be able to complete the needed assessment and, if appropriate, provide treatment.  In some cases, we may be able to provide provisional accommodations for a short period of time while a student is in the process of obtaining documentation for their disability.

CMU is a university that embraces diversity and inclusion.  Students with disabilities are vibrant and important members of our diverse and inclusive community.  Faculty members are generally accustomed to receiving notice of accommodations from students and are happy to work with the student and Disability Resources staff to implement these accommodations.  If a student should ever have any concerns about unequal treatment or discrimination by a faculty or staff member, they should notify their academic advisor and Disability Resources staff immediately.

  • Take advantage of the many resources available to you at CMU. Resources that may relate especially to students with disabilities can be accessed at this link: https://www.cmu.edu/disability-resources/help/index.html
  • Know what you need in order to be successful, and communicate this to Disability Resources staff, your academic advisor, your housefellow or RA, and others as appropriate.
  • If you’re not sure what resources and options would best meet your needs, ask Disability Resources staff or others on campus for guidance.
  • Be proactive and plan ahead. Don’t wait until the last minute to request an accommodation or assistance if needed.
  • Work hard, but take time to rest and attend to any health needs you may have. Work with your academic advisor to develop a course schedule that is manageable, yet challenging.