What Constitutes a "Fundamental Alteration"
A "fundamental alteration" is a change that is so significant that it alters the essential nature of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations offered.
Auxiliary aids, accommodations, and services provide a modification to the academic environment, but cannot lower requirements of a course, program, or event. Although students, employees, and campus guests with disabilities can choose courses, academic programs, or events as any other person chooses, people with disabilities are strongly encouraged to explore the learning outcomes of the courses and/or programs prior to enrolling or engaging in this pursuit. The provision of reasonable accommodations and services due to disability cannot fundamentally alter the nature of the course, program, or event.
There are some situations where adjustments in teaching method or testing may not be required because they could be considered fundamental alterations.
Situation: A student taking a class in small engine repair who has limited use of his/her hands asks to take a written test instead of actually repairing an engine.
Reasonable Accommodation or Not? The student's request would not be accommodated if the essence of the course is to actually repair the engine, not talk or write about it.
Situation: student tells you that s/he cannot complete writing assignments, with or without accommodations. The student requests that writing assignments not be included in his/her grade.
Reasonable Accommodation or Not? If submitting writing assignments is an essential requirement of the class (for example, in English Composition!) there would be no legal mandate to comply with the student's request to exclude those assignments from the grade.
Situation: A student wants to take all tests at home, although tests are usually administered at the college, or insists on taking tests only as open-book, although other students are not given that choice.
Reasonable Accommodation or Not? Although a student's disability may require extended time or administration of tests at a distraction-reduced site, it would not be appropriate for a student to request that all tests be administered as take-home or open book tests.
There are many other situations where adjustments in teaching method or materials may be required because they would not fundamentally alter instruction.
Situation: A blind student enrolls in a math class and requests that the instructor verbalize what s/he is writing on the board or overhead.
Reasonable Accommodation or Not? The faculty member would be legally required (as well as ethically obliged) to make an adjustment in presentation of course material by verbalizing what is written on the board or overhead. Pointing and referring to "this" and "that" as written on the board would not give the student with a visual disability equal access to the instruction. An added benefit is that verbalizing material rather than just writing it can assist all students because the information presented is more explicit.
Situation: A blind student who reads Braille requests to have handouts a few days in advance of the class session so that they can be prepared in alternate format.
Reasonable Accommodation or Not? The law says that "communication must be as effective as that provided to others." SDS will take class handouts and Braille them. But to do that, SDS needs at least 2 days lead time. Thus, the instructor would be expected to provide the handouts to the student in a timely way so that SDS can Braille the material and the student can have equal access to the class material at the same time as his/her peers. It would not be sufficient merely to distribute the handouts in class that day and tell the student, "This is the way I teach." Or “It’s fine if you get them after the class.”
Situation: A student with a visual or reading disability requests that the instructor provide information about the textbook that will be used in an upcoming semester.
Reasonable Accommodation or Not? Faculty are expected to meet the bookstore deadlines for textbook adoption. This is not an accommodation as such, but timely textbook adoption is critically important for students with visual or reading disabilities.
What do you do if you think a student’s accommodation is a fundamental alteration to your course?
Please call Bonni Alpert at 413-782-1258 to discuss this matter.