Accomodations vs. Modification

Three people, backs to us, are looking over a fence. The tall man is standing on the ground. A woman, shorter than the man, is standing on a short riser, so her head is the same height as the mans. A child is standing on top of a high riser, so his or her head is at the same height as the others.

When discussing accommodations for students with disabilities, accommodations must be distinguished from modifications. Modifications refer to instructional or test adaptations that reduce learning expectations or affect the content in such a way that what is being taught or tested is fundamentally changed.

In contrast, according to Crawford (2013), accommodations "allow the student to demonstrate what he or she knows without fundamentally changing the target skill that's being taught in the classroom or measured in testing situations... More specifically, they change the manner or setting in which information is presented or the manner in which students respond. But they do not change the target skill or the testing construct."

An accommodation means that a typical or standard procedure is adapted so that the person with a disability has an equal opportunity as other students.

When considering accommodations it is important to note that:

  1. An accommodation does not lower academic standards or compromise academic integrity.
  2. In other words, the standards remain the same.

An accommodation does not relieve the student of the responsibility to develop the essential skills and knowledge expected of the entire student body. Accommodations do not violate essential requirements of a course. Essential requirements are defined as "the outcomes (including skills, knowledge, and attitudes) all students must demonstrate" with or without the use of accommodations.5 Essential outcomes may be distinguished from non-essential requirements in that some skills/outcomes are absolutely required for successful completion of the course/program, whereas other skills are preferred outcomes. Preferred skills/outcomes are classified as non-essential requirements.

The Supreme Court of Canada has developed a test for determining whether policies, rules, and standards result in a discriminatory environment for people with disabilities. When determining whether an accommodation interferes with the essential requirements of a course or academic program, instructors and disability service providers must consider the following questions:6

  1. Is the policy, rule, or standard rationally connected to its objective?
  2. Did the postsecondary institution adopt the policy, rule or standard with an honest and good faith belief that the policy was necessary to accomplish its service-related purpose?
  3. Is the policy, rule or standard reasonably necessary for the postsecondary institution to accomplish its purpose?

Once essential course requirements have been determined instructors should be able to collaborate with students with disabilities and the Disability Service Office or staff to determine reasonable accommodations for a given course and/or program.

Video: Christyne Allain, Executive Director, Premier's Council on the Status of Disabled Persons

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  • 5. Stanford University (2013).
  • 6. Alberta Human Rights Commission (2012).