Under the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act of 2008, “A public entity must reasonably modify its policies, practices, or procedures to avoid discrimination. If the public entity can demonstrate, however, that the modifications would fundamentally alter the nature of its service, program, or activity, it is not required to make the modification” (ADA Title II Technical Assistance Manual). Through various Department of Justice Office of Civil Rights case resolutions, the federal government has clarified that colleges and universities must:
- engage in an individualized, interactive process with each student request for accommodations and avoid blanket statements or policies regarding accommodations (OCR No. 10-16-2203),
- the student must not be put in the place of requesting their accommodation more than once and must not be left to negotiate their accommodation with faculty (OCR No. 01-16-2113)
- the decision of whether an accommodation may fundamentally alter an essential course/ program objective must be made by a group of knowledgeable and trained individuals at the college within the program and the disability services office (OCR No. 01-16-2120; 03-14-2248),
- the group pursues a thoughtful, careful, rational review of the course/program essential objectives and requirements (OCR No. 01-16-2120), and
- considers a series of alternatives and modifications that does not fundamentally alter the course/program even if it is not the accommodation originally requested (OCR No. 01-16-2120).
Whether accommodations “would fundamentally alter the nature of its service, program, or activity” are reviewed on a case-by-case basis using the following procedure (Title II, Americans with Disabilities Act). The goal of this procedure is to distinguish the nature of how the course has always been taught from the truly essential objectives and requirements of the course or academic program. Through this procedure, methods of instruction and assessment may be examined to determine how the course or program information is taught and whether there are opportunities for alternate format of materials, alternative teaching and learning methods, additional skills or strategies, etc.
Essential course and program objectives are identified as the core learning outcomes (such as skills, knowledge, or licensure requirements) that all students must demonstrate, with or without accommodations, which are part of the interconnected curriculum of the degree or academic program.
Established essential objectives and requirements:
- Clearly articulate the overall purpose of the course/program
- Identify required mastery of specific skills, knowledge, principles, and concepts
- Convey the framework used to set academic and program standards
- Ensure a fair deliberation with qualified campus professionals when determining if a requested accommodation would be a fundamental alteration
If a faculty member is concerned that an accommodation fundamentally alters an essential requirement or course objective of a course or academic program, the following deliberative process will be followed:
- The SDC Accommodation Specialist identified on the letter of accommodation is contacted to consult on the concern
- The SDC Accommodation Specialist may involve campus partners as needed, such as the SDC Assistant Director of Access and Accommodations, SDC Director, faculty member within academic program/course, the Chair of the academic department, and other knowledgeable and trained administrators deemed appropriate in determining the reasonableness of the request, fundamental requirements of the course or program, or the possible alternatives to accommodate the student.
- After deliberation, the SDC Accommodation Specialist informs the student of the final decision from the group of knowledgeable college professionals engaged in the process. If the accommodation is denied or modified, the Accommodation Specialist will provide written explanation of the reasons why it was denied or modified and opportunities for the to respond to the decision.
To determine the essential requirements for a course or program, faculty and SDC staff will consider the following questions:
- What fundamental course objective does this accommodation alter?
- What practical function does this fundamental objective serve in the academic program?
- Please provide documentation of the fundamental course objective (e.g. syllabus, professional association certification requirement, technical standard, etc.)
- How does the requested accommodation alter this fundamental course objective?
- Has this accommodation been approved to students without disabilities or for any other situation or reason in your class in the current semester or in the past? If so, Why?
- Is there any alternate way the student could demonstrate competence without undermining the essential course objectives? For example, an alternate accommodation that would not alter the essential objective of the course/program.
Faculty can either discuss these questions with an SDC staff member in or phone/video call, in-person or by submitting a Fundamental Alteration Process Form.
The student may appeal the decision through the Dispute Resolution Procedure.