The syllabus sets the tone for the course from the very first day — this is our opportunity to welcome all of our students! Welcoming students with disabilities reflects the William & Mary values of belonging, flourishing, and respect, but it can require reframing our stock legalistic language about accommodations.
My accommodations statement appears on my syllabi before any other course policies:
“I am committed to teaching a class in which every student can learn and participate. If you have a disability or any circumstance that affects your learning in this course, please let me know as soon as possible so that we can discuss together the best way to meet your needs. If you have a documented disability, Student Accessibility Services (email@example.com) can provide certain accommodations for all of your courses.”
I’ve revised my statement over the years, and I consider it a work-in-progress. It communicates several things I want students to know:
• That I am committed to accessibility, and that I take responsibility for making it a part of my classes. It’s not the individual student asking for a special favor — it’s what they should expect as an integral part of the course.
• That I am open to accommodations for any circumstance that impacts students’ learning. Many disability activists solely use the term disability, but I have found that some of my students who need accommodations don’t identify as disabled. I want to know about any learning needs.
• That I am inviting students to a discussion. I say this aloud on the first day, as well as on the syllabus. The statement also gives Student Accessibility Services (SAS) contact information for students who can document their disabilities and need accommodations that only SAS can provide (e.g. extra exam time). The discussion helps me to fit accommodations into the class context and to be responsive to all student needs (e.g. noise-cancelling headphones that allow a student to concentrate on lectures).
Some questions to ask as you write your accommodations statement:
• Does my statement sound welcoming? Does the language match how I would address any other group of students? Is it language I would want to have addressed to me on the first day of a new class?
• Does my statement open up a dialogue? How does my statement ensure I get the information I need about accommodations? Does it respect the student as the one who knows what they will need in order to learn?
• What steps do I tell students to take? Are these completely clear, especially to neurodiverse students and students new to W&M?
Remember, students know their needs and you know your class — together, you can ensure that everyone is able to engage in rigorous learning.
For more syllabus ideas, consider the W&M Neurodiversity Initiative’s resources for faculty. Professor Zoë Wool of Rice University also provides examples of accommodation statements that are, as she says, “better than good enough.” Your syllabus reflects your teaching style. Reframing your accommodation statement means that it also reflects your welcome to students!
© 2021 Leslie Cochrane. The text of this work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 International License.
Meet the Author
2021-2022 STLI Fellow for Excellence in Teaching and Linguistics Professor
Leslie teaches Linguistics, including COLL 200, COLL 350, and COLL 400 courses, with cross-lists in English, Anthropology, and Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies. Her research focuses on spoken, written, and online English, especially discourse by and about people with disabilities.