The University of Texas-Pan American
Disability Services
April 21, 2014
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Physical Disabilities

What determines a Physical Disability?

Any physical disability or systemic illness is considered to be in the medical domain and requires expertise of a physician, including a neurologist, physiatrist or other medical specialist with experience and expertise in the area for which accommodations are being requested. The diagnostician must be an impartial individual who is not a family member of the student.

The following guidelines are provided to assist the Disability Services office in collaborating with each student to determine appropriate accommodations. Documentation serves as a foundation that legitimizes a student's request for appropriate accommodations. Recommended documentation includes:

  • A clear statement of the medical diagnosis of the orthopedic/mobility disability or systemic illness,
  • Documentation for eligibility must reflect the current impact the physical disability or systemic illness has on the student's functioning (the age of acceptable documentation is dependent upon the disabling condition, the student's request for accommodations, and the current status of the student). Therefore, disabilities that are sporadic or degenerative may require more frequent documentation,
  • A summary of assessment procedures and evaluation instruments used to make the diagnosis, including evaluation results and standardized scores if applicable,
  • A description of present symptoms that meet the criteria for diagnosis,
  • Medical information relating to the student's needs to include the impact of medication on the student's ability to meet the demands of the postsecondary environment,
  • A statement of the functional impact of limitation of the disability on learning or other major life activity and the degree to which it impacts the individual in the learning context for which accommodations are being requested. Further assessment by an appropriate professional may be required if co-existing learning disabilities or other disabling conditions are indicated. The student and the Disability Services office (DS) collaboratively determine appropriate accommodations.

The above information should be provided in a typewritten report, signed by the evaluator, on professional letterhead bearing the name, license number and professional credential of the evaluator.

Documentation must also meet the General Documentation Requirements.

I use a wheel chair, isn't it obvious I have a disability; why would you ask for more documentation?

Yes, we do realize that it would seem obvious that a person in a wheelchair has a disability. But federal law requires us to document and have a standard policy for every accommodation we afford. Furthermore, even though someone uses a wheelchair there are always different reasons why, and we need to know the specifics of each accommodation request so that we can ensure our accommodations are justified and appropriate.

I get around just fine without the help of your office why would I want to register?

Thanks to the accessibility of our campus at UT Pan American, many students with mobility problems or otherwise have not had to come to our office to request accommodations, so they have not felt the need to register with our office. However, if one does not disclose his or her disability to our office by registering and providing documentation, the university is under no obligation to provide any accommodations beyond the usual building codes. For instance, say your class is moved to an area that for some reason is very inaccessible for you or not accessible at all, unless you have registered with the Disability Services office (DS), you might not be able to have the class moved to an accessible location.

Furthermore, many disabilities are changeable regarding their severity. For example, you may have a seizure disorder that becomes suddenly worse during a semester, unless our office knows about the condition because you have registered, your professors are not obligated to excuse your absences or possibly allow you an incomplete. Faculty and staff have been informed to refer students to us if they have questions about a disability related matter. So please, don't take a chance on not registering with our department. No you don't have to, but you never know when you'll need our advocacy or support.

What sorts of accommodations are usually afforded to persons with physical disabilities and how do I get them?

Accommodations are adjustments to the environment provided to "level the playing field" with respect to the current functional limitation of an enrolled student. Accommodations are determined on an individual basis. The documentation must provide evidence of deficiencies that justify putting the accommodation into place. Examples of physical accommodations vary greatly; some frequently afforded ones are ADA dorm rooms, disability parking, tardiness leniency, locating of classrooms in accessible areas, help finding a volunteer note taker or scribe.

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