We are here to help qualified students with disabilities succeed through equal access to education and academic activities at Gallaudet University. OSWD approves accommodations for students with disabilities guided by the Americans with Disabilities Act. We work to create a welcoming and productive experience that reflects a barrier-free environment with equal access to quality education.

Students who wish to receive accommodations from OSWD start by filling out a three-part form. Students also are required to provide medical documentation about their disability, which OSWD reviews to determine eligibility.

Students may apply for services and request accommodations at any time during their academic career at Gallaudet. We encourage students new to Gallaudet to start this process well before their first term begins. Once students are accepted for services, they talk with an assigned coordinator to discuss possible accommodations. Disability-related information is strictly confidential and handled the same as other medical information.

OSWD provides many possible accommodations that include:

  • Extended time for taking exams and quizzes in a distraction-reduced environment;
  • Extended time to complete homework assignments;
  • Notetaking services for classes;
  • Class materials and textbooks in alternative formats;
  • Interpreting services for DeafBlind students.


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...



Karen Terhune

Manager, Office of Students With Disabilities

Rachel Bass

Accommodations Coordinator

Jeffrey Shaumeyer

Office of Students With Disabilities Coordinator

Edwin Martinez

Accommodations Coordinator


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!”.

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.
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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Contact Us

Office for Students with Disabilities

(202) 250 - 2059

(202) 448 - 7259

9:00 am - 5:00 pm
9:00 am - 5:00 pm
9:00 am - 5:00 pm
9:00 am - 5:00 pm
9:00 am - 5:00 pm

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