Tips for Talking with Professors
Communicating directly with your instructors 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 other research-based sources, or consult with your doctor or diagnostician.
Although you do not have to disclose your disability when talking to your instructor, it is helpful for them to know how it affects you in the classroom. Do you have trouble concentrating? Is it hard to follow along while taking notes? Can you see the information presented in class? If an instructor has this information, they may have a better idea of how to appropriately accommodate your disability.
Your Right to Academic Accommodations
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 and the Americans with Disabilities Act to ensure equitable access to educational programs and services.
- At Cornell, SDS determines what accommodations are appropriate by reviewing the information you submitted and by discussing your particular needs with you.
- Meet with your instructor(s) after requesting your Accommodation Letter(s) from SDS. 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 instructors 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 an instructor. This is often the time when everybody with a question bombards them 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 instructor's full attention. Your best bet is to make an appointment to see a instructor 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 an instructor 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.