Increasing access by decreasing reliance on 3rd party documentation to assess accommodations
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Increasing Access by Decreasing Reliance on 3rd Party Documentation to Assess Accommodations. Adam Meyer Disability Resource Center Eastern Michigan University. Goals for Today’s Session. Discuss the big picture behind documentation changes

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Increasing Access by Decreasing Reliance on 3rd Party Documentation to Assess Accommodations

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Increasing access by decreasing reliance on 3rd party documentation to assess accommodations

Increasing Access by Decreasing Reliance on 3rd Party Documentation to Assess Accommodations

Adam Meyer

Disability Resource Center

Eastern Michigan University

Goals for today s session

Goals for Today’s Session

  • Discuss the big picture behind documentation changes

  • Review Eastern Michigan University’s journey to change documentation policies

  • Offer you my experience to guide you as you see fit

Defining documentation for today

Defining documentation for today

  • When challenging the current model, documentation = 3rd party documentation (external from the disability office)

  • When proposing a new way, documentation = internal, disability office created documentation

Quick emu details

Quick EMU Details

  • 18,000 undergraduate students

  • Five Colleges:

    • Arts & Sciences

    • Education

    • Business (2nd admit)

    • Health and Human Services (2nd admit programs)

    • Technology

  • No medical school or law school

  • 2 primary disability advisors in DRC

  • 600 students actively use DRC resources

My own journey

My Own Journey

  • 8 years in the field

  • Relied on 3rd party documentation heavily first two years

    • New, uncertain, learning

  • Recognized what was happening when referring

  • Came to trust my judgment

    • From AHEAD: Experienced disability professionals should feel comfortable using their observations of students’ language, performance, and strategies as an appropriate tool in validating student narrative and self-report.

  • Formal minimal documentation policy for 3 years but practicing for about 5

Looking at the big picture behind the change in documentation practices

Looking at the big picture behind the change in documentation practices

Social welfare vs social justice

Social Welfare vs. Social Justice

Broad social welfare concept

Broad Social Welfare Concept

  • Provide certain minimum standards and certain opportunities.

  • Helping people facing contingencies and who may not have opportunity otherwise

  • Striving to promote the basic well-being of individuals in need

The social welfare model as seen in ds field

The Social Welfare Model as Seen in DS Field

  • Sort, label, and determine need eligibility

  • Retrofit activities to fit needs (accommodations)

  • Offer segregated or parallel services

  • Disabled students are the needy clients

  • Disabled students ask to be included in a system (such as classroom) or society that does not fit the individual otherwise

Considering disability as a matter of social justice

Considering Disability as a Matter of Social Justice

  • A Definition of Social Justice

    • A belief in the human rights of all people and the equality of their human value

    • Everyone has a right to fair treatment, a share of the benefits of society and participatory democracy

Social justice concepts

Social Justice Concepts

  • Promotes full inclusion and participation

  • Freedom from discrimination

  • Open doors, include everyone

  • Inclusive design reduces retrofitting

  • Inclusive strategies minimize segregation

Medical model of disability vs sociopolitical model of disability

Medical Model of disability vs. Sociopolitical model of disability

The medical m odel s c haracteristics

The Medical Model’s Characteristics

  • Disability is a deficiency or abnormality

  • Being disabled is negative

  • Disability resides in the individual

  • The remedy for disability-related problems is cure or normalization of the individual

  • The agent of remedy is the professional who affects the arrangements between the individual and society with focus on the person

The social model suggests

The Social Model suggests:

  • Disability is a difference

  • Being disabled, in itself, is neutral

  • Disability derives from interaction between individual and society

  • The remedy for disability-related problems is a change in the interaction between the individual and society

  • The agent of remedy can be the individual, an advocate, or anyone who affects the arrangements between the individual and society

Documentation and the big picture

Documentation and the Big Picture

  • Strict reliance on 3rd party documentation seemingly promotes the medical model of disability

    • Deficiency information

    • Places problem within the person

    • Offers recommendations as to how person can cure self (so as to adjust to society)

    • Asks professionals to be the change agent

  • Social welfare models require people to disclose their inabilities or problems in order to gain access to special services

    **Is that the model that we want to promote through the work we do in our offices?

Increasing access by decreasing reliance on 3rd party documentation to assess accommodations

Eastern Michigan University’s Three Year Journey to Minimize Documentation as a Critical Need for Decision-Making

Previous emu documentation policy

Previous EMU Documentation Policy

  • Need documentation within 3 – 5 years

  • Generally resembled previous AHEAD Best Practices for Documentation

  • Students without the documentation in place could not proceed with accommodations

    • Approximately 20 – 30 students per semester came to office, were told to get documentation in order to get accommodations, but never returned

Gaining necessary support for change

Gaining Necessary Support for change

  • Ran the idea by:

    • Supervisor

    • Legal Affairs

    • Campus Counseling Center

    • Faculty Senate

    • DRC Faculty Advisory Committee

Through guidelines and processes our decisions would ideally

Through guidelines and processes, our decisions would ideally:

  • Establish judgment based on the reasonableness of accommodations fitting the situation

    • Not a judgment on the disability, including diagnosis

  • Consider all collected information for the given situation

Key elements

Key Elements

  • Create our own “documentation” for justification through consideration of:

    • Self-Report

    • Environment’s Incompatibility with Disability

    • Current and past treatments, medications, auxiliary aids, assistive devices, and utilized resources

    • Available documentation presented

  • Assessed clarity, internal consistency, and observed behaviors of student during initial discussion

Current documentation guidelines

Current documentation guidelines

Core aspects of guidelines

Core Aspects of Guidelines

  • Just come to the office

    • The DRC encourages students to meet with an advisor without the need for documentation in hand…Determinations on individual documentation needs will be made…Our first priority is to get to know each student individually.

  • What accommodations, if any, would be reasonable given each situation presented? Acknowledge environment.

  • Explain reasonable accommodations and categorize unreasonable ones upfront

  • EMU decision is isolated from other universities and testing agencies

  • Subsequent requests may require a need for 3rd party info

  • 3rd party info varies by situation when needed

Created internal and published guidelines

Created Internal and Published Guidelines

  • Published guidelines include core aspects

  • Internal guidelines include:

    • Key elements used to collect student information

    • Differentiation among visible and invisible disability situations

Visible disabilities

Visible Disabilities

  • 3rd party not necessary…unless requests do not correlate with disability information

  • Topic of consideration

    • Student with hearing impairment wants “more” in college than in high school

      • Support student as often as possible but request info as necessary

Invisible disabilities with history

Invisible disabilities with History

  • 3rd party not necessary…unless requests do not correlate with disability information

  • Current Exceptions:

    • Course substitutions (but building a process for change)

    • Alternative media (but considering a process for change)

Invisible disabilities potential with no known history

Invisible disabilities (Potential) with No Known History

  • Assessed with care by the advisor

  • Would a reasonable person conclude a connection between the situation presented and reasonable accommodations?

  • No uniform answer because so many variables

  • In some situations, no 3rd party documentation needed

    • Student may remain in contact with the advisor for follow-up and assessment response to accommodations

  • In other instances, third-party documentation needed up front

    • Use feedback from external experts who can offer further insight on the presence of a disability and the impact of a disability

  • These situations will be documented in detail by the advisor and the advising team will consult as necessary

Previous approach to invisible disabilities potential with no known history

Previous approach to Invisible disabilities (Potential) with No Known History

  • Student required to either

    • A) Get 3rd party documentation before access to accommodations

    • B) Maintain semester check-in schedule with advisor in lieu of documentation

  • Abandoned because…

    • Could not agree on system to best track this approach

    • Philosophical differences

  • New process offers more flexibility around options with advisor documentation key

3 rd party documentation

3rd Party Documentation

  • Role: Add to the pool of knowledge; fill in gaps in understanding access when necessary

    • What does not make sense?

    • The bigger the gap, the bigger the need

  • No time frame limitations generally

  • Simple statements may work

    • Prescription pad notes

    • List of medications

    • List of symptoms, pain, etc.

  • IEP/504 shows history

Essential in decision making

Essential in decision-making

  • Is request consistent with disability/story? And what about the environment?

  • The focus is on access…period

    • Accommodation requests and decisions must be:

      • Reasonable overall

      • Reasonable fitting the situation at hand

    • Goal of accommodations is not to maximize the learning potential of the student

Something to think about

Something to think about…

  • If we focus on barriers and access, rather than on the professional(ism) belief that we need to be the be-all-end-all for the student about his or her disability, it’s easier to be satisfied with information (from the student, from our own observations or from a variety of external sources) that simply illustrates how the barrier and the disability are connected and how an accommodation could remove that barrier.

    Carol Funckes, University of Arizona

Questions to ponder

Questions to Ponder…

  • Do we really need documentation to help students transition successfully through college?

  • Are there other ways to assist with learning strategy development than documentation?

  • The environment is prevalent in each situation. Who is in the best place to address the disability and environmental disconnect?

Frequent discussions over past year

Frequent Discussions over past Year

  • Course substitution – ultimately need 3rd party documentation requirement but may change philosophy

  • Currently need 3rd party info for alternative media but may change philosophy

  • Psychiatric situations – to what extent do we need information for accommodations vs. “campus safety”

    • What is the role of the DS office?

  • When is 3rd party documentation really required for accommodation decisions vs. when is it nice to have to offer greater support to the student?

What we have learned

What We have Learned

  • Refreshing to go through initial discussion without focus on documentation

    • Allowed focus to be on the student and on the environment

  • Students and parents immediately more relaxed about the process

  • We have the individual and collective expertise to make most decisions regarding reasonable accommodations

  • Consistency perhaps more possible because we were the lead decision-makers, not the varied quality of documentation

  • Working with students without prior disability history were the most challenging



  • Our energies are not being wasted on third party documentation collection and critical scrutiny

    • Focus is on students, environments, accommodations, and quality resources

    • Try to proceed without 3rd party documentation as much as possible

Using the student interview to make decisions easier and to decrease 3 rd party documentation need

Using the student interview to make decisions easier and to decrease 3rd party documentation need

The student s story as primary source

The Student’s Story as Primary Source

  • It is only through understanding an individual's experience in context that we can…

    • Recognize environmental barriers that create gaps to access

      • Student’s disability

      • History and past experiences

      • Specific request relative to specific situation

      • Unique characteristics of the course, program, or requirement

    • Truly translate any diagnostic evaluations into useable information

Considering a shift in the initial meeting

Considering a Shift in the Initial Meeting…

  • “Intake”

    • What does this word suggest?

    • How might it impact the student experience?

  • Power in asking about the environment

    • Generally why a student comes to the disability office

    • Students know what environmental variables they like and hate, are compatible with or not, etc.

      • Easier than discussing that within?

Our role as interviewers

Our role as interviewers

  • Our initial meeting questions are powerful

    • Dictate conversation and information collected

    • Dictate the “tone” of the conversation

  • Is the student’s disability (problem) the focus or is the environment’s barriers?

    • May be a subtle difference

  • General belief students do not know about their situation

    • Can we help them become experts?

Standard questions

Standard Questions?

  • For what disability are you seeking accommodations?

  • Did you get help for your disability in high school?

  • How does ADD impact you?

  • What is your biggest problem with classroom learning?

  • Does your disability make it hard to take notes?

  • What assistance do you need with exams?

  • Any difficulties with reading?

  • Do you struggle with time management?

  • Do you have concerns/limitations outside of the classroom?

  • What accommodations did you use in high school?

Questions that focus on environment

Questions that Focus on Environment

  • How does “that experience” impact you?

  • What type of classroom environment do you prefer? What environments create barriers for you?

  • How is X class designed?

  • How do you do on different types of exams?

  • What is it about Y test (class, paper, etc) that you do not need accommodations for it?

  • What type of assignments challenge you?

  • How is your time management?

  • How is the housing experience going?

  • What accommodations did you use in high school?

Translating decisions to the accommodation letter

Translating decisions to the accommodation letter

Two categories of accommodations

Two Categories of accommodations

  • Requiring timely implementation

  • Requiring discussion and consideration

Requiring timely implementation

Requiring timely implementation

  • Those accommodations standard in most course situations

    • Extra time for exams

    • Computer technology for exams

    • Note-taking

    • Accessible documents

    • Hearing impairment accommodations

  • Generally needs to happen

    • Student needs to arrange details with professor

    • (Professor cannot really deny)

Requiring discussion and consideration

Requiring discussion and consideration

  • Respects the unique nature of each course and the fact that different outcomes exist

    • Attendance accommodation

    • Extra time on assignments

    • Others: Exam notes, laboratory accommodations, etc.

  • Idea is to show student (and faculty) that all decisions not isolated to disability office only

    • Access is a collaborative process with the campus community

    • The environment plays a key role

    • Professor assessment matters in these cases

Questions open discussion

Questions???Open Discussion

Adam meyer eastern michigan university ameyer12@emich edu

Adam MeyerEastern Michigan

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