Tips for Talking with Professors
Communicating directly with your professors is an important part of a successful academic career at Cornell. Not only will one-on-one meetings help you to get the most out of the academic opportunities available to you, but they also give you the chance to clearly convey your particular accommodation needs.
Part of your role each semester as a student with a disability is to hand-deliver the letters prepared by Student Disability Services (SDS) that detail your accommodations. This is a great opportunity to establish a relationship with each of your instructors early on and is the time for you and the faculty member to work out the logistics of the academic accommodations you need. This is an interactive process. The more knowledgeable you are about your disability and your needs, the more you will be able to bring to this initial conversation.
Below you will find some suggestions for how to approach meetings with instructors.
Know Yourself and How Your Disability Affects You
The more you know about your disability and its impact on your learning style, the better you can advocate for your needs. If you don't feel you know enough about your disability, don’t hesitate to use your resources—ask SDS, gather information from the library, or call your doctor or diagnostician.
Although you do not have to disclose your disability when talking to your professor, it is helpful for him or her to know how it affects you in the classroom. Do you have trouble concentrating? Is it hard to follow the professor while taking notes? Can you see information presented in class? If a professor has this information, they may have a better idea of how to appropriately accommodate your disability.
Your Right to Academic Accommodations
You will find that at Cornell, most instructors are accustomed to and interested in working with students to appropriately accommodate disabilities. However, if you find that you need to educate a faculty member about disability law and Cornell’s procedures, here is a reminder of how things work.
You are entitled to receive academic accommodations through Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 to ensure equal access to education programs and services.
At Cornell, SDS determines what accommodations are appropriate by reviewing your documentation and by discussing your particular needs with you. Let your instructor know that you met with SDS when you present them with a Faculty Notification Letter. Be ready to explain how and why an accommodation is appropriate. Having this knowledge and being able to articulate it to the instructor adds to your credibility. If you don't know why you are receiving an accommodation, speak with your SDS counselor.
Choosing a Time to Meet
It is important that you meet with your professor as close to the start of the semester as possible to ensure that accommodations are put in place swiftly. Although it might seem convenient, the time immediately after class is usually not a good time to talk with your instructors. This is often the time when everybody with a question bombards the professor and the instructor's attention is divided. Also, many instructors have other obligations directly after class, so are unable to give you the time necessary to adequately discuss your needs. Most importantly, the environment directly after a class does not provide the privacy to ensure confidentiality.
When discussing your accommodations or any other issue with an instructor, you need the professor's full attention. Your best bet is to make an appointment to see a professor during office hours or at another time that suits you both.
Be Prepared for your Appointment
When you arrive at your scheduled meeting time, have an idea of what you want to discuss. You look (and are) more organized when you have questions written down and notes highlighted. If you are going over classroom accommodations, know what they are. If you are going over a graded test, have some idea of what went wrong and discuss ways for improvement. If you are having trouble understanding lecture material, present some options that will work for you.
If you meet with a professor who is unwilling to work with you on providing accommodations, or with whom other difficulties arise, please contact SDS immediately. While it is important that you develop self-advocacy skills, we are here to help you in that process.