For Faculty

Learn how you can support students with disabilities, create inclusive classrooms and ensure equitable access to a RISD education.

Your role

Faculty members play a key role in our community’s shared responsibility to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Disability Support Services (DSS) provides and manages the majority of support services the majority of support services the institution is required to make available to students with disabilities. The primary way that you support qualified students is by providing reasonable accommodations or auxiliary aids and services.

To deliver approved academic accommodations in a timely, effective manner, full faculty cooperation is key. You are not responsible for making decisions about accommodations: DSS manages requests and collect appropriate documentation in evaluating student eligibility for accommodations. We determine what particular accommodations or support services students receive on an individual basis and according to the student’s documented needs.

Per protections established by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), disability documentation submitted by students to our office are kept separate from their academic records. These records are not available to anybody outside DSS. However, we are permitted by FERPA to share information about the impact of a disability and about accommodation eligibility with other RISD officials who have a legitimate educational interest.

Under these guidelines, faculty do not have the right to to demand access to a student’s disability documentation. If a student requests that you provide an accommodation without presenting an accommodation letter to you, please recommend that they channel their requests to the DSS team.

If you are concerned that a requested accommodation may jeopardize the integrity of or cause a fundamental alteration to your course, please reach out to us to discuss.

Disability types

A student may have a disability that is temporary (such as a broken arm) relapsing and remitting, or long-term. Some disability types are:

  • hearing loss
  • low vision or blindness
  • learning disabilities such as attention deficity hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia or dyscalculia
  • mobility disabilities
  • chronic health disorders such as epilepsy, Crohn’s disease, arthritis, cancer, diabetes, migraine headaches or multiple sclerosis
  • psychiatric disabilities, such as mood, anxiety and depressive disorders or post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Asperger’s disorder or other autism spectrum disorders
  • traumatic brain injury

Referring students

If a student discloses that they have a disability, we encourage faculty to refer them to us. If you think you have a student with a disability, you should ask them in private how you can support them. In this we advise you to recommend the several support services and departments available to them on campus, including DSS.

However, it is not appropriate for you to ask whether or suggest that a student has a disability. If you want to connect the student with us, you can recommend our time management support services, which we offer to all students regardless of disability status.

Unlike in high school, where teachers actively refer students to special education services, we use remember that college students are adults, and privacy is a major consideration. If you feel a student is eligible for services, you should be supportive and informational in referring them to us—not directive or authoritative.

Understand that some students may take offense to a DSS referral. In talking with your student, please steer the conversation away from the specific topic of disability. Instead, focus on observed behaviors and/or specific examples of their academic performance.

Supporting students

In any of your classes there may be a student who has chosen not to inform DSS, a faculty member or other office of their disability. You may also have a student who is eligible for a particular accommodation but chooses not to use it, or a student with an undiagnosed disability.

By law, we cannot require a student to come forward and, despite our best efforts to encourage early communication, some students may wait until they are in crisis before informing someone that they have a disability. It is not uncommon for a student to want to begin college without accommodations, but rather wait until right before an exam or critique—or after completion and return of graded work—to discuss their needs.

The decision to self-identify and ask for accommodations is deeply personal. For some students who received services prior to post-secondary education, their accommodations were managed by parents or high school systems, without the student’s direct participation. Others develop disabling conditions after beginning at RISD and have little experience requesting help. It takes time for students to advocate for themselves.

Do not disclose a student’s disability or their status with our office to anyone other than those authorized by the student. In any communication related to a student’s disability, focus on the accommodation(s) they need, not the disability itself. Never ask or require a student to disclose their disability. 

Beyond the necessary information to make approved accommodations, it is for the student to choose if they want to share their disability information. Students do not need to provide faculty members with particulars about their disability, but they may choose to do so. If they do, maintain confidentiality about anything they tell you related to their disability.

Students have a right to privacy in disability matters. Regarding the accommodation notices you receive, refrain from discussing a student’s disability and necessary accommodations in the presence of fellow students or anyone besides those with an education-related need to know.

Student conduct

As with their peers, students with disabilities are responsible for upholding RISD’s code of student conduct. A disability does not excuse disruptive or inappropriate behaviors, and the fact that a student has a disability should not inhibit you from notifying the appropriate offices if they are disruptive in class.

Any member of the RISD community may report alleged violations of conduct and community standards, either by submitting an online form or by contacting Student Affairs, Public Safety or Residence Life.

In the event of an emergency, contact Public Safety immediately, either by calling 401 454-6666 or via the LiveSafe mobile app. Following discovery of the suspected misconduct, submit a report as soon as is practical.

Student behavior varies greatly. While our office does not provide treatment for students, faculty can certainly consult with us to help you work with students more effectively. When faced with student conduct issues, you should always consult directly with the Student Conduct and Community Standards Office.

Creating inclusive classrooms

Using principles of universal design for learning (UDL) in your instruction can maximize learning for all students in your courses. UDL is a teaching approach that accommodates the needs and abilities of all learners and eliminates unnecessary hurdles in the learning process. It is an approach to designing course instruction, materials and content such that all students can access learning with a diminished need for retrofitting or accommodations.

Through UDL, you develop a flexible learning environment in which you present information and students engage in learning in multiple ways, and students have options for demonstrating what they have learned.

Inclusive teaching refers to pedagogy that strives to serve the needs of all students, regardless of background or identity, and support their engagement with subject material.

Please see more about inclusive teaching practices from the Teaching and Learning Lab.

Contact DSS

a light brown house with darker framed windows and a corner tower, surrounded by trees against a blue sky


Mon–Fri: 8:30 am–4:30 pm


Carr House, second floor

210 Benefit Street

Providence, RI 02910

401 709–8465