Areas of Study


The Office for Students with Disabilities, known as “OSWD,” is here to provide qualified students with disabilities the support they need to succeed through equal access to education and academic activities.

To do this, we approve reasonable accommodations, provide services, and create a welcoming and productive experience that reflects a barrier-free environment, guided by the Americans with Disabilities Act.


OSWD Student Advisory Board
The OSWD Student Advisory Board (SAB) was established to address student concerns regarding accessibility on campus and give students more control over their efforts to affect change. The SAB advises OSWD and the campus community on accessibility issues that may require attention and action. It...



Faculty Questions

The Office for Students with Disabilities recommends that all faculty members use the following statement on their course syllabi to inform students with disabilities of the faculty member’s willingness to provide reasonable accommodations:

Gallaudet University is committed to providing all students equal access to learning opportunities. The Office for Students with Disabilities (OSWD) is the campus unit that works with students who have disabilities to provide and/or arrange reasonable accommodations. Students registered with OSWD, who have a letter requesting accommodations, are encouraged to contact the professor early in the semester. Students who have, or think they may have, a disability (e.g. psychiatric, attention, learning, vision, physical, or systemic), are invited to contact OSWD for a confidential discussion at (202) 651-5256 (V/TTY) or at Contact here. OSWD is located in the Student Academic Center, room 1220.

A faculty member who suspects that a student has a disability is encouraged to refer the student to OSWD for assistance.

Faculty members are encouraged to involve OSWD to mediate certain student disputes relevant to disability issues and accommodations. Often such meetings result in proactive solutions improving upon accommodations and accessibility.

Faculty members must refrain from personal judgments that affect the student’s right to receive accommodations and special services. It is the student’s right to receive identified accommodations for which the student has been qualified.

Faculty have the Right to:

  • Deny a request for accommodations if the student has not been approved by OSWD for such accommodations.
  • Request verification of a student’s eligibility for any requested accommodations.
  • Make suggestions to OSWD for appropriate academic accommodations.
  • Contact OSWD on questions regarding a student’s accommodations.
  • Identify a testing site other than OSWD as long as accommodations meet the student’s needs.

Faculty have the Responsibility to:

  • Ensure that each course, viewed in its entirely, is accessible in regard to content, texts and materials, assessment method, on-line instruction, and team requirements.
  • Support and implement reasonable accommodations as identified in the student’s Accommodations Letter.
  • Consult with OSWD if requests conflict with course objectives or requirements.
  • Maintain confidentiality. Faculty are encouraged to meet with the OSWD student privately to discuss disability issues. Such issues should not be openly discussed in class.
  • Submit book lists to the bookstore as early as possible.
  • Include an announcement on the syllabus directing students to OSWD if they need accommodations related to a disability.
  • Submit books and class materials to OSWD for alternative formats, i.e., Braille, large print, and eBooks.
  • Fill out and submit testing service request forms to allow the student to take an exam at the OSWD testing site.

Faculty need to be careful about liability in accommodating students with disabilities beyond what has been approved by OSWD. These issues are discussed briefly in When Faculty are TOO Accommodating!”.

The ADA does not exempt students with disabilities from disciplinary action for disruptive behavior, even if the behavior is due to a disability. The University must apply the same disciplinary actions to students with disabilities as those applied to non-disabled students as listed in the Student Code of Conduct.
Simply suggest that the student schedule an appointment with OSWD to discuss further the challenges the student is currently facing. OSWD will identify next steps in the eligibility process. This may entail referring the student for assessment or in contacting medical or diagnostic personnel on behalf of the student.
Providing accommodations to a student with a disability does not guarantee academic success in the course. Students with disabilities must be given the same rights as any other students to fail as part of their educational experience.
Yes, OSWD respectfully requests that you select a book as soon as possible so print alternative material for students with disabilities can be prepared or obtained in a timely manner. At least three months prior to the start of the semester is recommended.
Students with disabilities must attend classes in order to receive assistance from Note Taking Services. Their accommodation does not excuse their absences.
No, academic accommodations actually give students with disabilities the same opportunities to study as their peers. Students with disabilities are expected to meet all course requirements.
Students taking tests at OSWD do so to be tested without an unfair DISadvantage. OSWD has systematic and secure procedures for getting exams from faculty and returning them once the student has taken the exam so that no one is allowed to take an accommodated exam without authorization. Students are proctored in-person and by video cameras while taking exams.
If there is any dissatisfaction with the quality of service, professionalism, or competence of the Note Taker, the student should contact the Note-Taking Services Coordinator.

OSWD encourages students and faculty to meet at the beginning of the semester so that the student may make the faculty aware of disabilities and accommodations that have been approved. It also allows you to have questions answered by the student.

If the student either emails you their Student Accommodation Letter, or leaves it for you, we suggest that you reach out to the student and suggest a time for the two of you to meet. Creating an opportunity for both of you to discuss the situation, ask questions, and solve problems will benefit everyone.

Top Questions
Please read the pages in the section on the “Support/Services” tab called Applying for Disability Accommodations”.
As soon as possible. Although students may request accommodations at any time, students needing services should contact OSWD as early as possible so there is enough time to review their request and arrange appropriate accommodations. Some accommodations, such as interpreters, may take time to arrange. Students should not wait until after completing a course or receiving a low grade to request accommodations and then expect the grade to be changed, or to be able to retake the course.
A disability, as defined under Title III of the “Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990” (ADA) as amended by the “ADA Amendments Act of 2008”, and Section 504 of the “Rehabilitation Act of 1973”, is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Disabilities interfere significantly with learning or with access to, or participation in, classes and campus activities. Examples include but are not limited to:
  • physical disabilities, such as those affecting mobility
  • learning disabilities (LD)
  • traumatic brain injuries
  • attention deficit / hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • low vision or blindness
  • chronic health conditions; chronic pain
  • psychological conditions such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder
  • deafness*
* Gallaudet University is a signing community, where American Sign Language (ASL) is the common language for teaching classes and other communications on campus. OSWD does accommodate deaf students when additional disabilities are present or special consideration is warranted; deaf students needing ASL accommodations will be referred by OSWD.
Student Questions

Students may disclose a disability and request accommodations at any point during their academic career at Gallaudet. To be considered for disability-related accommodations, students need to follow these steps:

  • Complete an “Applications for Services” form (eSign online, see “Forms” in the Quick Links).
  • Contact OSWD to schedule an initial appointment

During the initial appointment, students meet with an OSWD counselor to discuss the accommodations for which they were approved. The student will have a chance to ask any questions about their documentation and why they were approved or denied for any specific accommodations.

Students may request that their documentation be reconsidered if they were denied a specific accommodation, or they may request additional accommodations if they have new or updated documentation.

A student is “conditionally accepted” for OSWD services if OSWD determines that the student is likely eligible for services but medical documentation is inadequate or outdated (typically older than 3 years, depending on the disability in question).

“Conditionally accepted” students otherwise receive the same accommodations as other OSWD students, but usually have until the start of the next fall/spring term to remedy deficiencies in their medical documentation.

“Conditional acceptance” is also used for students with temporary disabilities who need disability accommodations, but whose condition may change significantly before the start of the next fall/spring term, and require a reassessment of their eligibility for accommodations.

Students have the right to:

  • Be certain that all disability-related information is treated confidentially,
  • Receive appropriate accommodations in a timely manner from faculty and OSWD,
  • Obtain full and equal participation in, and access to, academic courses, programs, services, and activities on campus, and
  • Appeal decisions regarding accommodations and auxiliary aids.

Students have the Responsibility to:

  • Meet the essential qualifications and institutional standards of Gallaudet University,
  • Disclose their disability to OSWD in a timely manner,
  • Provide appropriate medical, psychological, or psycho-educational documentation so that eligibility for OSWD services can be determined,
  • Inform OSWD of accommodations needs,
  • Inform OSWD immediately of any barriers that arise with a course faculty in securing accommodations,
  • Meet with faculty to discuss accommodations listed on the Faculty Accommodations Letter as needed,
  • Attend all classes as required, and
  • Meet all the course syllabus requirements.

Registering with OSWD does not absolve the student of responsibilities during the time it takes to assess eligibility and arrange accommodations and special services. The student may not use a disability as an excuse for not fulfilling the obligations and requirements of the course syllabus.

Students with disabilities requesting an academic accommodation should work with their assigned OSWD coordinator to determine appropriate accommodations that meet their needs and accommodate their particular disabilities.

Since the student possesses unique knowledge of their disabilities, they should be prepared to discuss the functional challenges they face in their classrooms and, if applicable, what has or has not worked for them in the past.

Students with disabilities are not required to pay any of the costs of accommodation services. The University is prohibited from charging students with disabilities more for participating in programs or activities than they charge any other student. The University also may not refuse accommodations based on non-availability or insufficiency of funds.

However, the University may meet its obligation by assisting students in obtaining reimbursement for their costs from an outside agency or organization, such as a state VR agency. The University may also provide alternate accommodations if they can demonstrate that providing a specific auxiliary aid or service would result in undue financial or administrative burdens on the institution’s resources.

If disability accommodations are not meeting the student’s needs, it is the student’s responsibility to contact OSWD as soon as possible; OSWD will work with the student to find suitable alternatives.
If OSWD finds that the student’s medical documentation is insufficient to determine eligibility for accommodations, OSWD staff will contact the student, generally by email, and let the student know what additional documentation the student needs to provide. Note that the student may need a new evaluation in order to provide documentation of a current disability.

Post-secondary institutions are not required to provide an academic accommodation if

  • The accommodation is not justified by a specific disability.
  • The accommodation would alter or waive essential academic requirements. For instance, the time extension for taking a test may be allowed for a student with a disability, but a request to change the test’s substantive content can be denied.
  • The academic adjustment would result in undue financial or administrative burdens for the institution.
  • Though public institutions are required to give primary consideration to the auxiliary aid or service that the student requests, they can opt to provide alternative aids or services
  • If the requested auxiliary aid or service would fundamentally alter the nature of a service, program, or activity and
  • The alternative aids or service is equally effective.

For example, providing a note-taker for oral classroom presentations and discussions might be a fundamental alteration, but making a video recording might be a suitable substitution.

Students with disabilities must attend classes in order to receive Note Taking Services assistance. Their accommodation does not excuse their absences.
Providing accommodations to a student with a disability does not guarantee academic success. The provision of accommodations levels the playing field, so students with disabilities have the same access to programs and activities as their non-disabled peers. Students with disabilities must be given the equal right to fail, as any other student, as part of their educational experience. Students experiencing academic difficulties are encouraged to contact their faculty members, academic advisor, and their OSWD counselor for assistance.
Prospective Students & Their Parents

Students with disabilities entering college need to be well informed about changes in their rights and responsibilities as well as the rights and responsibilities afforded by the University. A student who is well informed will help to ensure a full opportunity to enjoy the benefits of the post-secondary education experience without confusion or delay.

Future students with disabilities are encouraged to contact or visit the Office for Students with Disabilities in their junior or senior years in high school in order to find out more about disability services at the college level. If a prospective student visits campus, come by the OSWD office, too.

There is often a misconception by students entering college and their parents that post-secondary schools and school districts have the same responsibilities in providing reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities. While there are some similarities, the responsibilities of post-secondary schools are significantly different from those of school districts at the secondary level. Also, the responsibilities of students with disabilities are significantly different as well.

Students enrolled at Gallaudet University, who are over the age of 18, are considered adults, and their confidentiality is strictly protected. No information, written or oral, will be released to other persons, including parents, without the student’s written permission. OSWD understands the needs of parents regarding the emotional and educational condition of their children. Students may sign the “OSWD Release of Information Form” (on the “Forms” page) and allow OSWD to speak with parents. Signing this form is completely voluntary and students may revoke their permission at any time by notifying OSWD in writing.

There are several very important differences between Federal Disability Law that covers high school and that which the University is subject to.

In the Law

Elementary and secondary education (through high school) is governed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which guarantees students a free and appropriate public education. After they graduate from high school, students and their parents need to be aware that IDEA no longer applies.

In all postsecondary education, including Gallaudet University, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 require access to programs and services, and auxiliary aids and services to ensure effective communication, but do not mandate a free and appropriate education.

In the Documentation

Approval for support services will be based, at least in part, on the documentation that the student provides. It is both important and necessary that the student discusses with OSWD necessary support services and why they are needed. Decisions about qualification for support services are made by OSWD who decide on appropriate accommodations.

Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), familiar from prior years, are no longer in force and may only be used as a general guideline for services. Documentation under Section 504 plans must state a specific disability to be considered as guidelines for support services as well. Documentation may include diagnostic test results, clinical assessments, IEP, Comprehensive Individualized Assessments (CIA), medical documentation, speech and language evaluations, and vocational rehabilitation documentation.

In the Services Provided

Students should not expect that the services and curriculum modifications provided in high school will be automatically provided at the university level. The university has the right to approve or deny services requested by the student which are not reasonable or which constitute an undue burden.

In addition, it is important to know that colleges and universities are not required to modify or waive courses or program requirements, although course substitutions may be considered as an academic adjustment where appropriate. An “otherwise qualified” student should have completed the necessary prerequisite college preparation courses in high school and should be ready to continue with reasonable support.

In the Advocacy

In high school, school personnel are required to seek out students with disabilities and help them to receive a free and appropriate education. During high school, the student’s parent or guardian is legally responsible for making decisions about the student’s education.

In contrast, universities are not required or expected to seek out students with disabilities. It is the student who is responsible for making all disclosures and contacts, not the student’s parents or guardian. It is the student who is in charge of all educational decisions.

The Decision to Disclose

The student may choose to disclose a disability on a university application, but the student is not required to disclose a disability. Disclosure may help explain deficits in an application that may be a direct result of a disability. In the past, students have found that disclosing a disability has generally helped obtain acceptance for an application. Regardless, the student must consider disclosing a disability and registering with OSWD once on campus if the student will be seeking accommodations.

This section is adapted from the pamphlet, “Preparing for College: Options for Students with Learning Disabilities”, Association on Higher Education and Disability, Columbus, Ohio; 2010.

No. Post-secondary institutions do not have a duty to identify students with disabilities; students are responsible for notifying University staff of their disability should they need accommodations. Disclosure of a disability is at the discretion of the student. High schools, in contrast, have an obligation to identify students within their jurisdiction who have a disability and who may be entitled to services.
No. A student has no obligation to inform the University that they have a disability; however, if the student wants the University to provide an academic adjustment or assign the student to accessible housing or other facilities, or if a student wants other disability-related services, the student must identify themself as having a disability to OSWD. The disclosure of a disability is always voluntary.
Post-secondary institutions may set their documentation requirements so long as they are reasonable and comply with Section 504 and Title II. A student must provide documentation, upon request, that he or she has a disability, that is, an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity and supports the need for an disability accommodation. The “Request for Accommodations” form that OSWD uses indicates the type and extent of disability documentation generally needed to determine eligibility for accommodations. Please contact OSWD with further questions.
Institutions of postsecondary education are not required to conduct or pay for an evaluation to document a student’s disability and need for an academic adjustment, although some institutions do. If a student with a disability is eligible for services through the state Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Services program, they may qualify for an evaluation at no cost. Students with disabilities and educators can locate their state VR agency at Rehabilitation Services Administration. Click on “Info about RSA,” then “Resources,” then “State and Local Government Employment Resources,” then “Vocational Rehabilitation Offices.” If students with disabilities cannot find other funding sources to pay for necessary evaluation or testing for postsecondary education, they are responsible for paying for it themselves. At the elementary and secondary school levels, a school district’s duty to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) encompasses the responsibility to provide, at no cost to the parents, an evaluation of suspected areas of disability for any of the district’s students who is believed to be in need of special education or related aids and services. School districts are not required under Section 504 of Title II to conduct evaluations that are for the purpose of obtaining academic adjustments once a student graduates and goes on to postsecondary education.
Generally, no. An IEP or Section 504 plan may help identify services that have been used by the student in the past. But they are typically not sufficient documentation to support the existence of a current disability and need for an academic adjustment. Some of the additional documentation that can help support the existence of a current disability and the need for an academic adjustment in a post-secondary setting include assessment information and other material used to develop an IEP or Section 504 plan auxiliary aids and services. Also, a student receiving services under Part B of the IDEA must be provided with a summary of his or her academic achievements and functional performance that includes recommendations on how to assist in meeting the student’s post-secondary goals.
It is unlikely that students with the same disability would require the same accommodation. The law requires postsecondary education institutions like Gallaudet to determine appropriate academic accommodations individually for each student.
In contrast to high school students with disabilities who receive periodic monitoring and services from their high school counselors, special education teachers, and VR counselors, the disability coordinator at an institution of postsecondary education may contact such students only two or three times a semester. This is because there may be only one or two staff members to address the needs of all students with disabilities attending the institution. The disability coordinator evaluates documentation, works with students to determine appropriate services, assists students in arranging services or testing modifications, and deals with problems as they arise. Disability coordinators usually will not directly provide educational services, tutoring or counseling, or help students plan or manage their time or schedules. Students with disabilities are, in general, expected to be responsible for their academic programs and progress in the same way as nondisabled students are.

It depends. In general, tests may not be selected or administered in a way that tests the disability rather than the achievement or aptitude of the individual. In addition, federal law requires changes to the testing conditions that are necessary to allow a student with a disability to participate as long as the changes do not fundamentally alter the examination or create undue financial or administrative burdens. Examples of changes in testing conditions that may be available include:

  • Braille;
  • Large print;
  • Fewer items on each page;
  • Tape recorded responses;
  • Responses on the test booklet;
  • Frequent breaks;
  • Extended testing time;
  • Testing over several sessions;
  • Small group setting;
  • Private room;
  • Preferential seating; and
  • The use of a sign language interpreter for spoken directions.
Generally, institutions of postsecondary education are not permitted to make what is known as a “pre-admission inquiry” about an applicant’s disability status. Pre-admission inquiries are permitted only if the institution of postsecondary education is taking remedial action to correct the effects of past discrimination or taking voluntary action to overcome the effects of conditions that limited the participation of individuals with disabilities. Examples of impermissible pre-admission inquiries include:
  • Are you in good health?
  • Have you been hospitalized for a medical condition in the past five years?
Institutions of postsecondary education may inquire about an applicant’s ability to meet essential program requirements provided that such inquiries are not designed to reveal disability status. For example, if physical lifting is an essential requirement for a degree program in physical therapy, an acceptable question that could be asked is, “With or without reasonable accommodation, can you lift 25 pounds?”.
No. If an applicant meets the essential requirements for admission, an institution may not deny that applicant admission simply because they have a disability, nor may the University categorically exclude an applicant with a particular disability as not being qualified for its program.

Contact Us

Office for Students with Disabilities

Karen Terhune

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