Frequently Asked Questions

Faculty and staff play a key role in supporting students with disabilities on campus. Student Disability Services (SDS) is available to assist with any questions or concerns you may have. Please do not hesitate to contact us, if needed.

Referring Students to SDS

We encourage any students who anticipate barriers in accessing or participating in classes, programs, or opportunities at Cornell to connect with our office. We will work with the student to understand their access concerns and to determine if accommodations are appropriate. We work with students with permanent disabilities, but also temporary disabilities including illnesses and injuries.  

More info: What is a disability? 

Student Disability Services (SDS) is the office responsible for determining eligibility and appropriate reasonable accommodations for Cornell students with disabilities as required under federal and state laws.  

Students should follow the steps outlined on our website to register for services or accommodations

Registration Status of Students

No, students may choose not to register for disability services. Some may not need services or accommodations. Others may benefit from disability services but choose not to use them because they are concerned with the stigma of disclosing a disability. The university’s work towards creating a climate where all students with disabilities feel comfortable coming forward is ongoing.  

Some students may not need accommodations if all their instructors embrace the principles of universal design. Students may not register with SDS if they do not encounter any access barriers in their courses or programs. 

If a student has been approved to receive academic accommodations, they can request that a copy of their accommodation letter be sent to you by SDS. You can view a copy of your students' accommodation letters in the SDS Faculty Portal.


An accommodation is the modification, adjustment, or elimination of a barrier to a program or service to enable an individual with a disability to participate on an equal basis. Extended time for test taking, document conversion of print material to alternate formats, and real-time captioning are examples of accommodations provided for Cornell students.

Professional staff in SDS review information submitted by a student to our office to determine if disability accommodations are appropriate. Reasonable accommodations or modifications are approved to address the impact of the student’s condition. The instructor will be consulted as needed to determine adjustments that are specific to a course or degree program. 

SDS takes into consideration the student's experiences, the impact of their disability, relevant documentation, previous use of accommodations, and the nature of the course or degree program when determining an appropriate accommodation plan. 

When you receive an accommodation letter, it puts you on notice of the accommodations that a student has been officially approved to receive. You should communicate privately with the student and establish a means of providing these accommodations in a timely manner. You can also greatly assist the student by asking what can be done in the course to facilitate learning and access to the class. 

You should consult with SDS if you have any concerns about the implementation of these accommodations in your course, especially if you feel it may mean a fundamental alteration of the course or learning objectives.

Accommodations providing equal access to educational programs for qualified students with disabilities are required under federal and state law. We assist the University in fulfilling its legal responsibilities mandated by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as amended in 2008, and New York Human Rights Law.  

If you have concerns about the implementation of a particular accommodation in your course, reach out to SDS as soon as possible to discuss possible options. 

Read the review process for fundamental alterations and contact SDS to discuss why you think the accommodation is not appropriate for your course. If your concerns are not resolved, you may consult with the SDS Director or the Dean of Faculty.

Implementing Accommodations in Your Course

Faculty members who have been notified by the student with an accommodation letter in a timely fashion are responsible for fulfilling classroom accommodation requests. Occasionally, requests may come directly from SDS. We will assist with certain accommodations, such as: loaning laptops for test taking, providing adaptive equipment for the lab, or arranging sign language interpreting.

It is your role to ensure your course content meets accessibility standards. We recommend you take advantage of the resources being provided by the university to aid in this process. See "How do I make my course content accessible?" below. 

There is a designated Disability Representative in each college who can provide additional guidance on the accommodation process within the college. 

Establishing a welcoming tone on the first day of class will indicate to students that you are interested in discussing their disability access needs. View our guidance on a syllabus statement

Students can register with our office throughout the semester, so please be aware that you may receive accommodation letters at any point. 

Students are advised to discuss accommodation arrangements with you early in the semester as some accommodations require arrangements to implement. While you may only need a week to implement an exam accommodation, more notice may be needed for certain accommodations, such as arranging adaptive transportation or interpreters for field trips. 

You can ask students to let you know about accommodation needs early in the semester (e.g., within the first two weeks), however should also include an open invitation for them to discuss evolving needs with you past the beginning of the semester as well. Because students can register for services at any time, you may receive accommodation letters past the start of the semester. If you have concerns about the timeline for implementing accommodations, please correspond with the student and SDS about implementation timeline so that everyone is on the same page. 

Cornell does not have a central testing center. Faculty, course staff, and departments are responsible for making all testing arrangements for students, including students with disabilities. This includes providing space for testing and proctors. Speak to your department if you have questions about making arrangements.

SDS may reach out to you in some specific circumstances regarding resources for testing accommodations.

Yes, the principle of equal access for students with disabilities ensures that students are able to participate fully in their courses while using the testing accommodations approved to address the impact of the student’s disability. Students are responsible for providing notice to the instructor of this conflict as soon as the exam schedule is posted for the class.

Unless otherwise specified in the letter, accommodations are not applied retroactively. There may be certain circumstances where a retroactive accommodation makes sense (for example, if a student needs course materials or recordings in an accessible format, including materials from earlier in the semester).

Students Without Approved Accommodations

If you observe an obvious access issue, ask the student how you can assist and refer the student to SDS for a follow-up discussion. Students who disclose a non-obvious disability and request an accommodation for the course should be referred to SDS. Not all medical or mental health concerns are disabilities. We will assist the student in finding the appropriate resources.

In order to ensure that the student has a full understanding of the scope of disability services, you should refer the student to SDS. We will help the student use the established procedure for requesting disability services as well as fully explore all of their access issues. 

If a student has an acute temporary condition (e.g., stomach flu, broken arm), you may need to make a temporary arrangement with students to assist in these sudden situations. Please continue to refer students with health conditions or disabilities to our office if there is an ongoing need for accommodations.

There may be non-health situations that warrant some accommodation. You may be contacted by a Cornell Crisis Manager, a school or college Dean, an advising office, etc., to make arrangements to meet the needs of a student’s particular situation. 

If you feel there is a health-, mental health-, or disability-related impact on the student, please refer the student to SDS to explore if disability accommodations would be appropriate.

We encourage students with health conditions or other disabilities to register with our office to arrange for an appropriate accommodation plan, but we also recognize that acute conditions and injuries (e.g., flu, broken arm, etc.) can occur suddenly. Faculty are expected to make appropriate arrangements with students to assist in these sudden situations. Please refer students with health conditions or disabilities to our office if there is an ongoing need for accommodations. 

It can us a few business days for us to make arrangements in these kinds of acute situations, so your interim help with the student's access needs is appreciated.

Review the information on the Dean of Faculty's website regarding making arrangements for students with sudden, short-term needs.

There may be acute situations (e.g., flu, broken arm) where you would need to make appropriate arrangements to accommodate a student, recognizing that it may take some time for a student to register with our office if they will have an ongoing need.  

If a student contacts you about rescheduling an exam, missing a class, or needing some straightforward support (e.g., permission to type their exam instead of handwriting), you are empowered to make the appropriate arrangements in these sudden, unpredictable situations.  

It is also your role to refer the student to connect with our office if they will have an ongoing need for accommodations (more than a few days), or if you have concerns about the level or support and accommodation a student may need in the interim. You are welcome to contact us if you need to consult about a particular situation. 


Information about a student’s disability status and accommodations may be shared only with teaching assistants and staff who assist with providing accommodations or services. Teaching assistants should be advised not to share this information with others. You should avoid disclosing the disability status of a student. If sending an email message to students about accommodation arrangements, send individual messages or blind copy (BCC) a group of students so that their names are not disclosed to each other. Accommodation letters emailed to you do not need to be retained past the end of the semester, unless there is a reason for ongoing communication regarding that student and your course.  

We do not recommend printing accommodation letters. Any record of a student’s disability or accommodations that exists in hard copy must be destroyed at the end of the semester.  

A student’s disability status and accommodations are covered under FERPA and under Cornell Policy 4.5

Getting Help

You can review the other information available on this website, or can contact our office. We would be happy to answer your questions and discuss appropriate resources with you. 

Each college and school at Cornell has a Disability Representative who can also provide information about processes and resources in your college/school. 

It is your role to ensure your course content meets accessibility standards. We recommend you take advantage of the resources being provided by the university to aid in this process.  

The Center for Teaching Innovation is leading the efforts to guide faculty and staff on meeting course accessibility standards and offer multiple means of resources and support: 

Ally is a Canvas tool that can help you identify content that may need attention to become accessible. However, everything should be manually checked by you. As an automated checker, Ally may not notice inaccessible things (such as inaccurate scans, poor color contrast) that a human would.  

One Quick Tip: Do not use scanned images for course material on your class Canvas site. Image scans of text are inaccessible.