Ensuring access for students across all aspects of the Colby experience

An integral part of the Office of the Dean of Studies, Colby’s Office for Student Access and Disability Services works to ensure access for students across all aspects of the Colby Experience. We use an individualized collaborative approach to engage students in determining effective accommodations for the classroom, housing, and dining services. We continue this work with faculty to develop resources, skills, and supports to ensure equitable learning for all students. Finally, in collaboration with student groups and campus partners, we work to develop student-centered and responsive programming that recognizes and values disability as a vital part of the diversity of the Colby community.

Student resources and accommodations

We understand and respect that no two experiences of a disability are the same. For this reason, we focus on the barriers you face whether in a classroom, dorm or dining hall, rather than your disability as the deficit. By focusing on barriers, we can simultaneously support you in identifying accommodations, assistive technology, strategies and programs that are most appropriate for you as a learner while also creating a more Inclusive Colby.

How do I get accommodations?


Select the accommodations you require from the list below to learn more about what documentation is needed.


Submit the required forms to [email protected]


We will contact you to discuss next steps!

Resources for faculty and staff

We take a universal design approach in supporting faculty and staff in finding creative, seamless ways to increase access not just for students with disabilities, but all students. Find information on how to support students with disabilities as well as resources for supporting access both in and out of the classroom for all students.

Watch and Listen to a short powerpoint slide on understanding accommodations.

Unlike the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act which covers the protections of students with disabilities in education from pre-k to 12th grade, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and similar protections such as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, require that students notify institutions and individual professors of their eligibility. The purpose of accommodation letters is to provide this as well as the accommodations that a particular student may require. Accommodations are meant to ensure that students are not denied access to content, engagement in a class or unfair assessment that might conflate their disability with their understanding. However each student’s experience of their disability is as unique as a particular course, such that students may need to use all, some or none of their accommodations. This is why having a conversation with each student about their accommodations is key. For students, the requirement to tell professors, or “disclose” their disability is a recognized barrier to receiving accommodations and appropriate supports. Students are understandably fearful of being seen as not capable, asking for more than what is “fair” or being a burden to you (NCCSD Campus Climate and Students with Disabilities). For these reasons your interaction with students regarding their letters can significantly impact their views of themselves as competent and part of the Colby community. We ask for your support in helping students understand their disabilities as unique sources of knowledge that, when shared, support increased access for everyone. Below are suggestions for engaging in supportive conversations with students. Suggestions:

  • Presume Competence. Students with disabilities want to do their best and have experienced a great deal of doubt in their abilities and discrimination in their education thus far. They are more likely to not ask for what they need than to appear as though they are “asking for something more.”
  • Use language on your syllabus that encourages students to come speak with you. A welcoming invitation and conversation can dramatically impact a student’s performance. Example: I value disability as diversity in this classroom. Please come speak with me about your accommodations as early as possibly so that we can work towards your success.
  • Require each student with a letter to meet with you. While every letter has the same accommodations, whether they may need to use them in your class varies greatly on the content, class size, and instructional practices. They may or may not need to use all of them in your class.
  • Ask about their experiences. Students with disabilities have wonderful insight into effective practices as a result of their life experiences. They have been managing these processes for a long time and often have efficient ideas that increase your ability to support all students.
  • Try not to make decisions based on past negative experiences or fears of what might happen. While it is important to be thoughtful about the practices we choose, often, universal design approaches are more beneficial than not.
  • Share with your colleagues! There are so many good practices being used across the campus that reaching out to see what others are doing may be the easiest practice of all.

At Colby, we recognize that each individual experiences their disability in a unique way. We take an individualized approach to helping students identify the specific barriers they face and the most efficient accommodations to address those barriers. We also work closely with campus members to support students in developing the skills to work around barriers as they prepare for the future. Receiving accommodations is a three step process. First, students are asked to submit an official request with documentation from a health provider.They are then asked to meet with our Associate Director of Student Access and Disability Services to discuss their needs, identify barriers and potential accommodations, as well as campus wide resources and supports. Requests are then reviewed by a committee consisting of individuals with expertise relevant to the particular type of request to determine approval and next steps. Financial support is possible for eligible students. Our aim is to support students in understanding their disabilities as unique sources of knowledge that, when shared, support increased access for everyone. If you have a student that you feel might be helped by knowing more about the process of accommodations, please have them email us at [email protected].

Generally speaking students with disabilities face barriers across three aspects of a lesson/curriculum, accessing information, engaging with the information in class and demonstrating their understanding. To lessen the barriers students may face and increase the outcomes for all students, some pedagogical approaches are listed below. However your best resource for more ideas is the Center for Teaching and Learning! Accessing information: Outside of class, students are able to utilize assistive technologies as well as specific strategies to ensure that they access the information. However in class, due to a myriad of constraints, students typically struggle to retain accurate and complete representations of presented information. The following strategies have been shown to support access to information:  

  • Intentionally incorporating think time after explaining new material. Think time is simply stopping, asking students to take a minute to think about what’s been presented and then after a minute or two, allowing for questions.
  • Asking students to volunteer to recap what was learned during class prior and check in with a peer.
  • Using turn and talks to allow students to explain to each other what was explained when preseting new or complex ideas.
  • Allowing time for a question and answer session at the end of class.
  • Having students be responsible for preparing and teaching concepts using structures such as jigsaw.

Engaging with information: Small group activities and discussions are proven ways to help students clarify, strengthen and apply their new learning, however, many students benefit further from the use of scaffolds and structures. The following strategies have been shown to support engagement with information:  

  • Providing a goal for the group work or discussion that encourages collaboration of all voices such as a poster, online post, or information to be projected.
  • Structuring group work/ discussions with time at the start for each person to consider and jot down their thoguhts before working.
  • Asking students to share their processes for group work and discussions to both identify best practices and signal a valuing of cooperative learning.
  • Engage students in exploring their understanding by allowing them to chose a different mode such as drawing, singing or acting out a concept.
  • Using an active learning strategy.

Demonstrating understanding: Whether informally or not, getting an accurate sense of student understanding is key to supporting their development. The following strategies have been shown to support accurate assessment of student understanding:  

  • Asking students at the start of a section of content to determine what they think they will be asked to demonstrate in an exam and compare with a peer.
  • supporting recall by having short untimed low risk quizzes each week. Ask students to consider how they prepared, how much time they needed as a means to support meta cognition.
  • Have students submit summaries of information online on a regular basis. – Ask students to chose a peer to study with each week and share a question they had after each meeting.

Accommodations are a retrofit approach to ensuring access for students. They assume that the pedagogical approach can not be amended such that the only option is to accommodate the need of a student with a disability. As a result, accommodations often feel clumsy, and put the student in a position of choosing between what works and disclosing their disability status to the class. Here you will find information and suggestions for implementing accommodations that takes a Universal Design approach and allows for a more efficient and respectful approach to access. Our hope is that these ideas may spur creative solutions that reflect the unique needs of your course. If you or your department are interested in brainstorming possible options to a policy, please feel free to email us. Universal Design does not preclude the need for accommodations, but rather signals a recognition and desire to have all students included. Students may still need and ask for specific accommodations which can be facilitated by the Office of Student Access and Disability Services.

Extra Time on exams and in-class graded exams

Extra time on exams and in-class graded assignments is meant to allow students to demonstrate their understanding to their best ability. We encourage a universal design perspective that considers the role of time in an assesment. Below are options reflecting this perspective. Universal Design Suggestions:  

  • Allow extra time for all students. Note that legally extra time is in relation to what non-disabled students receive so we encourage you to use the Colby Test Center. In some cases, when the detailed process by which the length of an exam is determined is shared with the class, the universal design approach has been supported. Please speak with Kate Mclaughlin before making a final decision.
  • Incorporate strategies that support recall and engagement with information throughout the semester.
  • Consider alternatives to traditional timed, memory recall exams such as presentations, projects, group projects, portfolios or oral exams.
  • Consider the benefit of providing options used by students with physical requirements for all students.

To support facilitation of testing accommodations, please use the Colby Test Center request form.

Quiet, distraction-free, and/ or separate location

For many students, the barrier is in the physical classroom, whether as a result of the number of students or the particulars of an environment. By providing a quiet, distraction free and/ or separate location eliminates distractability during assessments. Separate location does not necessitate that the student be by themselves but rather it be different than the physical environment of the classroom which could be for a variety of reasons. Universal Design Suggestions:

  • Allow students to use noise cancelling headphones or listen to music.
  • Consider alternatives for exam protocols so as to reduce distraction, such as leaving belongings outside the classroom.
  • Consider alternatives to traditional timed, memory recall exams such as presentations, projects, group projects, portfolios or oral exams.
  • Allow students with distractibility the ability to be in an empty classroom nearby so that they are able to access you with questions and clarifications.

To support facilitation of testing accommodations, please use the Colby Test Center request form.

Use of a laptop for exams and other in-class graded assessments.

Use of a laptop for exams and in-class graded assessments is typically for courses that require long bouts of writing to demonstrate understanding. The Dean of Studies Office provides wi-fi disabled lap tops that are wiped of all information after each use. Please use the Colby Test Center request form to reserve a lap top. Universal Design Suggestions:  

  • Allow students to email recorded versions of their answers or oral examinations.
  • Allow students to use alternatives for written exams other than blue or green books.
  • Consider alternatives to traditional timed, memory recall exams such as presentations, projects, group projects, portfolios or oral exams.

Notes Assistance

Outside of class, students with disabilities are able to utilize assistive technologies as well as specific strategies to ensure that they access the information. However in class, due to a myriad of constraints, they typically struggle to retain accurate and complete representations of presented information. Perhaps unsurprisingly, students with disabilities are not the only students who fail to take accurate and comprehensive notes. This makes universal design approaches to note taking assistance the most beneficial of all. Universal Design Suggestions:  

  • Institute a course program, perhaps as part of participation, that asks students to volunteer for one week out of the semester to share their notes.
  • Ask students to choose a “notes” partner with whom to compare notes.
  • Upload ppts and/or abbreviated notes ahead of class.
  • Allow students to take pictures of diagrams and charts before erasing.
  • Allow students to use live scribe or another form of recording, with a contract to ensure privacy and protection.

Alternate and/or Audio Versions of Text

Alternate and audio versions of text refer to either e books, braille or audio versions of text to support students who are unable to access information via text. Similar to notes assistance, providing alternate and/or audio versions of text to all students can positively impact learning outcomes. Universal Design Suggestions:

  • Share information regarding free conversion sites in your syllabus. Sensus access is my favorite for pdfs and scanned chapters. Eariously is a Colby alum program that allows for audio versions of web based texts.
  • Recommend that students who would like to use an audio version email me and I will set up a bookshare account for them (this is open to all students).
  • Recommend students reach out to their personal librarians.
  • Work with the library to secure audio versions for your texts before the semester begins

Flexible Attendance and Due Dates

Many students manage symptoms of mental and physical health conditions that are unpredictable and often debilitating for short periods of time. These “flare ups” can impact class attendance or assignment completion. In response, these students are granted the flexible attendance/ due dates accommodation. Understanding that attendance is an integral part of a course, below you will find suggestions in line with Universal Design which asks us to consider alternatives that would support both the student in need of the accommodation as well as others. However, we’ve also included parameters of the accommodation that can support your conversations with students who receive this accommodation. Universal Design Suggestions:

  • Consider a sliding scale of due dates with parameters to offset your grading and support students who may need extensions for various reasons.
  • Implement check-ins with students to promote task completion. Perhaps a “buddy system” where students are asked to coach/check-in with each other.
  • Include in your syllabus a recognition that no one benefits from (or really wants) extensions along with resources for students to use such as their class dean, using a learning consultant, writing center, or tutor.
  • This accommodation is only as helpful as your communication plan. Set up a communication plan with the student at the start of the semester so that you are both clear as to the expectations.
  • Extended deadlines and absences are not replacements for procrastination. They presume that a student has been working on the task and has an appropriate amount completed. You can include in your communication plan that a student send what they have when asking for an extension. If they are unable to provide work, then it is appropriate to contact our office.
  • The intention is to support students but help them to not dig a whole they are unable to get out of…please reach out to their class dean and out office for any support.

Condition Specific Accommodations

While not as common, it is important to know that students may come with letters that contain information or specific requests that relate to their particular disability. Typically these are just to give you information, such as to explain a particular behavior that has often been misinterpreted as negative. These letters of information or requests provide wonderful opportunities to better understand and normalize the presence of disability within our communities. If you have any questions about a particular letter, please reach out to our office.

The Colby Test Center, located on the third floor of Miller Library, takes a Universal Design approach in supporting the Colby Community by providing proctoring for all students! Whether your students receive testing accommodations or require a faculty approved make up exam, the Testing Center provides proctoring while maintaining exam integrity. Submit a Colby Test Center Request Form here.

The Colby Test Center can be scheduled from 10-6 Monday-Friday pending proctor availability. Additional hours will be scheduled as needed during periods of high demand. Please allow us 5 business days to process your request. Once your form is submitted you will receive a confirmation within one business day. Exams and materials need to be sent or delivered to the Dean of Studies office by 5 pm on the business day prior to the exam. Faculty will be notified when exams are ready to be picked up in the Dean of Studies office in 107 Eustis.

Below are resources related to different topics around access. If you’d like to learn more or how to support access in your course, department or field, please email!


Lydia X.Z. Brown discusses the impact of ableist language and includes a list of commonly used phrases.

Barriers to Access: discusses the consistent barriers to inclusive education. While focused on k-12, this site has incredible resources and ideas for including all students in the classroom.

Accommodations versus Access:

Disability Acts is terrific blog by people with disabilities. In this entry, the difference between accommodations and accessibility is discussed.

Universal Design In the Higher Education Classroom:

CAST talks Universal Design for Learning. CAST includes an array of resources to support leaning about and implementing UDL in your classroom.

Universal Design across the Campus:

University of Washington DO-IT program focuses on the use of Universal Design Principles across campus and includes, resources, checklists and other materials to support the increase of access for everyone.

Report A Barrier

Know of a barrier on campus? Have an idea for increasing access at Colby?

The Dean of Studies Office

Colby College, Student Life
5300 Mayflower Hill
Waterville, ME 04901-8853

P: 207-859-4000
[email protected]