3.10 Requesting Academic Adjustments: Course Substitutions & Program Modifications

Regulations for Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 specifically address the issue of accommodation in the event that fulfilling a course requirement puts a student with a disability at a disadvantage. Gallaudet University complies with these regulations by offering qualified students with disabilities the opportunity to request an academic adjustment based on their disability.

"Qualified students with a disability" in this case means students who, with reasonable accommodation, can meet the essential requirements of an academic program. For example, if a physically challenged student is required to complete a physical education activity course but is not physically able to do so, these procedures may apply. It is appropriate that the disabled student, the academic departments involved, and OSWD work together to determine an appropriate substitution.

The most common course substitutions for learning disabled students are related to math and to foreign languages, but specific substitutions are made based on individual circumstances. Factors complicating substitution decisions include the wide range in types and severity of any particular disability; variation in diagnosis and interpretation of the disability; and whether the disability's effects can be remediated through reasonable accommodations or study strategies such as extended time on exams, extra take-home assignments, specialized tutoring, and compensatory strategies.

Federal regulations that apply to Gallaudet require that it "shall make modifications to its academic requirements as are necessary to ensure that such requirements do not discriminate or have the effect of discriminating on the basis of disability, against a qualified disabled applicant or student. Academic requirements that the [University] can demonstrate are essential to the program of instruction being pursued by such student ... will not be regarded as discriminatory .... Modifications may include changes in the length of time permitted for the completion of degree requirements, substitution of specific courses required for the completion of degree requirements, and adaptation of the manner in which specific courses are conducted."

In general, students with disabilities are expected to meet the course and academic-program requirements of Gallaudet University, as are all students. When a course is essential to a major-level program, as decided by Gallaudet University's Academic Adjustments Committee, no modifications are possible. It is absolutely necessary, for example, for an engineer or architect to have courses in mathematics, or for a lawyer to have courses in government. "Academic programs" include

  • the Undergraduate curriculum;
  • a special field of concentration (major) at both undergraduate and graduate levels; and
  • non-credit or developmental courses.

When a student with a disability is not able to succeed in a course that is not essential to a major-level program, and if the lack of success is due to a disability, requesting an academic adjustment may be appropriate. A course substitution, for example, may be granted for a particular course when it is not essential to the student's major. For example, a quantitative methods course may not be essential for students majoring in English. In such cases, students with disabilities may be able to demonstrate competence in a related subject in which their disability does not hinder them. A program modification may include substituting one course for another or modifying a required course.

Students with disabilities must request modifications in a program early enough in their university career to allow the request to be processed and for arrangements to be made for the student to complete the recommended substitution or modification in a timely manner. If the student changes majors after a course adjustment or substitution has been granted, previously adopted course changes may not be approved for the new major.

Student Procedures for Submitting Requests for Academic Adjustments

An academic adjustment is considered a disability-related accommodation, provided the disability is supported by appropriate medical, psychological, or psycho-educational documentation. The request for an academic adjustment must be made in writing to OSWD and include:

  • The course in question;
  • The nature of the relevant disability and the reason for the accommodation;
  • The student's history with the subject matter, including previous attempts to pass the course;
  • The student's history of accommodation pertaining to the course; and
  • Disability documentation supporting the request.

Requests will be considered by an Academic Adjustments Committee, whose members include:

  • OSWD representatives;
  • Deans, Academic Affairs (either Undergraduate or Graduate Dean);
  • Academic Advising representatives; and
  • Chairperson of the Department

The Committee may also include the student's academic advisor, representatives from the Mental Health Center, or the faculty member who is teaching the course in question.

The Academic Adjustments Committee will meet within three weeks of the date a student submits a written request, and will notify the appropriate academic officials of its judgment within one week of its meeting. The outcome will be one of the following:

  • Approval of a specific academic adjustment in the student's course or program of study, with notification to the Registrar's Office of the substitutions or modifications granted;
  • Pending additional documentation to enable complete consideration of the student's request by the Committee;
    • The student has provided insufficient documentation of the disability to enable the committee to make a decision.
    • The students will be given one semester in which to provide sufficient documentation.
    • If documentation is not received within one semester, the student must reapply to the committee once documentation has been obtained.
  • Denial of the student's request for an academic adjustment for one of the following reasons:
    • The course under consideration is deemed essential to the program of study; or
    • Documentation does not support the academic adjustment requested.

Decisions by the Academic Adjustments Committee are considered final. Their execution shall be supervised by the Academic Dean of the school in which the student requesting an academic adjustment is enrolled. If the student requesting an academic adjustment does not agree with the Academic Adjustment Committee's decision, he or she may initiate the Gallaudet University Section 504/ADA Student Grievance Procedure (see the section of the same name in this handbook).