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 other questions or concerns you may have. Please do not hesitate to contact us, if needed.


Where do students register for disability services or accommodations?

Student Disability Services (SDS) is the office responsible for determining eligibility and appropriate reasonable accommodations for Cornell students with disabilities. 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. These laws require universities to provide equal access to educational programs for qualified students with disabilities. The student is responsible for being a self-advocate and discussing accommodation requests with instructors.

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

Who is eligible for disability services?

Any student with a significant physical or mental disability that substantially limits one or more major life activities, such as walking, learning, and performing manual tasks, is eligible for disability services. Students requesting services and accommodations are required to register by submitting current and comprehensive disability documentation and meeting with a designated SDS staff member.

Who decides what academic accommodations are appropriate for a student and how is that decision made?

SDS reviews a student’s disability documentation to determine if a condition meets the standard established by the ADA of a substantial impairment of a major life activity. The documentation must also demonstrate the functional impact of this condition on the student in an academic setting. Reasonable modifications are approved to address the impact of the condition, taking into consideration the student’s request, past history of accommodation, and the nature of the course or degree program. The instructor will be consulted as needed to determine adjustments that are specific to a course or degree program.

Are all students with disabilities registered with SDS?

No, many students either choose not to register for disability services or they have not met the eligibility criteria for services. Some do not need services or accommodations. Others need disability services but choose not to use them because they are concerned with the stigma attached to disclosing a disability and being considered less capable than non-disabled peers or seen as asking for special consideration. Faculty members do not have to provide unregistered students with accommodations.

How do I know if a student is registered with SDS?

Upon student request and verification of eligibility, an accommodation letter is prepared by SDS for each course. Students are responsible for meeting with instructors, providing the accommodation letter and making arrangements for accommodations for the course. If a student requests accommodations without providing an accommodation letter, you should request a letter before providing accommodations. However, if the disability is obvious and the request is reasonable, you should provide the accommodation while waiting for an accommodation letter.

What is an accommodation?

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.

What should I do if a student gives me an accommodation letter from SDS?

When a student gives you an accommodation letter and discloses that he or she has a disability, you should meet privately with the student and establish a means of providing accommodations in a timely manner that is satisfactory to you and the student. Faculty members can also greatly assist the student by asking what can be done in the course to facilitate learning and access to the class.

What is my responsibility for maintaining confidentiality about a student’s disability?

Information about a student’s disability status and accommodations may be shared with teaching assistants and staff who assist with providing accommodations or services. Teaching assistants should be advised not to share this information with others. Faculty should guard against acting in such a manner as to disclose the disability status of a student to classmates. 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. Disability accommodation letters should be stored in a secured location and shredded upon completion of the semester.

Who is responsible for providing accommodations?

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. SDS will assist with accommodations that require converting materials to electronic format, loaning laptops for test taking, or providing adaptive equipment for the lab. There is a designated Disability Representative in each college who can provide guidance on the accommodation process within the college. 

What is the best way to encourage students to request accommodations early in the semester?

Establishing a welcoming tone on the first day of class will indicate to students that you are interested in discussing their access needs. Include a statement in your syllabus such as:

Students with Disabilities: Your access in this course is important. Please give me [the TA, the Course Coordinator] your Student Disability Services (SDS) accommodation letter early in the semester so that we have adequate time to arrange your approved academic accommodations. If you need an immediate accommodation for equal access, please speak with me after class or send an email message to me and/or SDS at If the need arises for additional accommodations during the semester, please contact SDS.

View more sample syllabus statements.

What is considered timely notice of the need for accommodations?

Students are advised to meet with you early in the semester to make arrangements for accommodations. At least two weeks' advance notice is reasonable for test-taking accommodations. More notice may be needed for some accommodations such as arranging adaptive transportation or interpreters for field trips. Because students can register for services at any time during the semester, you may receive accommodation letters throughout the semester. You need only accommodate from the time of notice.

My exams are scheduled during the class period. Am I responsible for finding an alternate time for a student who uses extended time accommodations who has class before and after my exam?

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.

What is my responsibility if a student appears disabled but does not request accommodations, or tells me that they have a medical or psychological condition?

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.

Should I accommodate students who have self-identified but have not given me an accommodation letter from SDS?

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

What is my recourse if I disagree with an approved accommodation for my course?

Contact the SDS counselor who has approved the student’s accommodation to discuss why you think the accommodation is not appropriate for your course. If you cannot reach an agreement with SDS, the Dean of Faculty and the Vice President for Student and Campus Life will consider the impact of the disability and recommended accommodation, along with the essential requirements of the course, and make a determination of the appropriate course of action.

How are disputes resolved if a student thinks he or she is experiencing discrimination on the basis of a disability?

The SDS staff will attempt to resolve a student’s disability-related concerns informally. Students who believe they have been discriminated against and wish to seek a formal resolution must use the procedures outlined in Policy 6.4, Prohibited Discrimination, Protected Status (Including Sexual) Harassment and Bias Activity. The policy is administered through the Office of Workforce Policy and Labor Relations.

Where can I find more information to assist students with disabilities?

Please call SDS at 607-254-4545 for more information. Our website is a good resource for additional information.

How do I recruit students with disabilities for programs, events, opportunities, etc.?

Students with disabilities may not have the same access to the typical recruitment information and events used by graduate and professional programs. These strategies can help ensure that individuals with disabilities are included in your recruitment efforts.

Include information in your promotional information encouraging students with disabilities to apply and how they can request accommodations in the application or interview stage.

  • Develop procedures and train staff to respond to accommodation requests appropriately and effectively.
  • Disseminate information about your program to disability-related advocacy/resource organizations and career centers at colleges and universities.
  • In diversity information, include the value of persons with disabilities, include images of persons with disabilities and highlight the accomplishments of students, faculty, and staff with disabilities.
  • Contact the Disability Services offices at your target universities with your promotional information so that they can share the information with students registered with the office.
  • Make the interview process accessible. Plan in advance about potential accommodations that applicants may require (e.g., sign language interpreters, wheelchair access, accessible transportation, materials in accessible formats).
  • Recruit faculty and staff with disabilities who can be mentors.


  • Work with Admissions staff to ensure that the applications are accessible and offer applications in a variety of accessible formats (e.g., online, print).
  • Establish procedures for handling voluntary self-disclosure in the application stage. For example, disability-related information should be separate from application materials and sent to the disability services office when appropriate.
  • Faculty and staff on application review committees must be apprised of disability-related laws, program policies, and ways to avoid discrimination against qualified students with disabilities.

Admitted students

  • Training directors, faculty, and staff can take a number of steps to welcome students with disabilities.
  • Provide on-campus disability-related resources to all newly-admitted students shortly after they have been accepted into the program. Encourage students to contact the disability services office well in advance of the start of the term so that necessary accommodations will be in place as the semester begins.
  • Identify “look-alike” mentors. Find mentors within the academic program who have disabilities or similar research interests.