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.

Accommodating Students During Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic

My student just failed the daily health check. Do I need to accommodate them?

Yes. We recommend that you implement the plans you have in place for a student to attend remotely or test remotely. Be aware that if the student fails the daily check, they will need to be cleared by Cornell Health and therefore may be required to imminently attend a medical appointment or testing appointment. We recommend that in such cases you extend flexibility to the student. Doing so encourages students to comply with health and safety requirements.

My remote student needs accommodations due to quarantine or testing positive. Do I need to accommodate them?

Just because the student is taking a class remotely does not mean that they will not need some support or flexibility. We recommend that you extend flexibility to the student while they attend to required health and safety needs as mandated by their local municipality or government. Do not ask them to send documentation from a medical provider, as instructors should under no circumstances be receiving that type of information from a student. If their need for flexibility extends beyond what you feel is reasonable, refer the student to connect with SDS.  

My student just told me that they have COVID-19 and needs accommodations or flexibility, what do I do?

Refer the student to connect with SDS. In the meantime, provide the student with flexibility. If you receive an accommodation letter from SDS, comply with the letter. If the student’s need for flexibility extends beyond what is in the letter, or if there are any questions, either contact SDS or refer the student to contact SDS to discuss options. 

How will I be notified that a student needs accommodations due to COVID-19?

Once our office is aware that any student requires temporary accommodations, we will send you an emailed accommodation letter regarding appropriate accommodations. The letter will not explicitly say if the student has COVID. We do not share diagnosis information.

Referring Students to SDS 

Who is eligible for disability services?

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? 

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 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

Are all students with disabilities registered with SDS?

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. 

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

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.


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.

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

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. 

What should I do if I am emailed an accommodation letter?

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 the SDS Counselor listed on the letter 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.

Am I required to provide the accommodations listed on the accommodation letter?

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. 

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 your concerns are not resolved by speaking with the SDS Counselor, you may consult with the SDS Director or the Dean of Faculty. 

Implementing Accommodations in Your Course 

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 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. 

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. View our guidance on a syllabus statement

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. 

How are exam accommodations handled?

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.

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.

Students Without Approved Accommodations 

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. 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. 

What if I get notice from another department that I need to accommodate a student?

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. 

What if a student is injured or sick?

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 continue to refer students with health conditions or disabilities to our office if there is an ongoing need for accommodations. 

Am I allowed to determine accommodations for a student who is not yet registered with SDS?

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. 


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

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

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

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. 

How do I make my course content accessible?

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. It is not automatically turned on for all courses. You can complete the Ally Request Form to have it enabled for your courses. We highly recommend this. 

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