University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown

Disability Information for Faculty

When a Student Asks a Faculty Member for an Accommodation

If a Pitt-Johnstown student makes a request for an accommodation directly to the faculty member, that faculty member should ask the student for a Letter of Accommodation from Disability Services that verifies the disability and the appropriateness of the accommodation. If the student is not registered with Disability Services, they should be referred to the office. This ensures that the student is qualified under the law as having a disability and that the accommodation they requested is appropriate for their disability.

Disability Services does not recommend that faculty directly ask students if they have a disability and need an accommodation. If a student is having difficulty in the course and a faculty member suspects a disability, it is appropriate to discuss the difficulty (i.e., poor writing) as they would with any student. However, concerns about a possible disability should be discussed first with a Disability Specialist at Disability Services.

When a Student with a Disability is in Your Class

  1. Have a conversation with the student about how his/her disability may affect their learning. Understand that students with similar disabilities may have very different learning styles.
  2. Consider adaptations in the presentation of information. For example students with low vision do not benefit from visual learning tools such as slides or power point, therefore including text descriptions of each slide could be very beneficial. Students with auditory processing disorders may not be able to follow multiple conversations in small group discussions, therefore consider asking each group to designate a person to take notes reflecting the discussion.
  3. If you suspect a disability because of a student's attendance or performance, talk to the student about your observations without labeling. Ask the student to describe what he/she is experiencing. If you are comfortable doing so, offer advice about how to approach studying or improving performance and request additional meetings with the student. If the student continues to experience difficulties, refer the student to Disability Services for consultation.
  4. Maintain confidentiality regarding all communications with students who have disabilities. Requests for information should be sent to Disability Services.
  5. Remember that it is the student's decision whether or not to disclose a disability. The student may be registered with Disability Services but also choose not to disclose to faculty.


It is important that faculty and staff recognize the important role that confidentiality plays in working with students with disabilities. The University is committed to maintaining the confidentiality of both current and former students with disabilities. As a general rule, all information regarding a student's disability is confidential and covered under HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). Only the particular student and Disability Services will need to know confidential information regarding a student with a disability.

This confidentiality rule applies to all information, regardless of its source. You may, for example, receive confidential information from a representative from Disability Services, who is sharing the information with you on a need-to-know basis. You may also receive confidential information from the student regarding his or her disability, such as information regarding a student's medication or other medical history, or information regarding their academic progress in other courses. You also should treat any accommodations provided to a student as confidential, and should share the details of such accommodations only on a need-to-know basis.

There may be times when someone directly asks you for information about a student with a disability that is considered confidential. For example, classmates of a student with a disability who is receiving an accommodation may inquire as to why the student receives extra time on a test, or why the student is never in the classroom on test days. An appropriate response to such inquiries regarding students with disabilities may be: "Each student's academic program is confidential, including your own, and I'm unable to discuss any student's situation with their classmates."

If you have any questions regarding confidentiality while working with a student with a disability, such as who qualifies for the "need-to-know" exception to confidentiality, you should discuss the issue with the particular student and/or Disability Services.