Students with Psychiatric Disabilities

Allegheny is required by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act to provide reasonable accommodations to students with a documented physical or mental impairment which rises to the level of a disability (substantial limitation of one or more major life activities). Conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and obsessive compulsive disorder may rise to the level of disability, and thus need to be accommodated.

Most students with a psychiatric disability are very protective of their confidentiality, and federal law mandates that we not breach their confidentiality. If a student provides you with a letter from Student Disability Services (SDS) stating that the student has a disability, it is important that you not announce to the class that the student has a disability. If the student chooses to disclose his/her disability, that is the student’s decision to make.

If a student comes to you and asks for accommodations based upon a psychiatric disability, ask that student to provide you with a letter from SDS. Please do not grant accommodations based upon disability without a letter from SDS. It is SDS’s role to review psychometric evaluations and determine what, if any, accommodations are appropriate for students with psychiatric disabilities.

Often, the side effects of medication, counseling/mediation appointments, and the difficulty of keeping a structured schedule can cause the student to miss an occasional class. A reasonable accommodation for a student with a psychiatric disability may be flexibility in terms of class attendance. However, this flexibility cannot be without limits, and the student must bear responsibility for notification of absences and for make-up work and tests. If repeated absences threaten the essential components of the course, a withdrawal may be appropriate.   Please consult with SDS should this become an issue in dealing with a student with a psychiatric disability.

Tips for Positive Communication

  • Stress the importance of good study habits and effective time management.
  • Give timely feedback to the student; errors need to be corrected as soon as possible.
  • Give praise when merited; it builds confidence.

Possible Classroom Accommodations

  • SDS may provide you with a letter stating that the student has a psychological condition which might impact the student’s academic success. This letter will outline appropriate accommodations.
  • Testing accommodations may be necessary. These can include extended time and an alternate location for the exam.
  • Depending on the nature of the psychiatric disability, the tape recording of lectures or the use of notetakers may be necessary.
  • Flexibility should be given in attendance policies as long as absences do not violate the essential elements of the course.
  • Refer students to the Learning Commons for study skills and time management help.
  • Prepare handouts and review technical terms used in your class.
  • Point out the organizational items in textbooks, e.g., chapter summaries, sub-headings, graphic design, charts, maps, and indexes.
  • Give all assignments and course expectations in written and oral form.
  • Incorporate “hands on” and lab experiences when they are appropriate.
  • Consult with the student and the Student Disability Services Coordinator when assistance is needed in solving problems.
  • Give students a clear syllabus, listing tests and assignments with due dates noted.
  • Use demonstrations and hands-on experiences.
  • Break down difficult concepts into steps or parts.
  • Give assignments verbally and in writing.
  • Outline the day’s lecture on the chalkboard, overhead, or PowerPoint.
  • Make alternative assignments in some cases.