Frequently Asked Questions

If there are any questions that are not answered below, please contact SDS at 410-516-4720 or [email protected].

Prospective and Newly-Admitted Students

Is there a special Admissions process for students with disabilities?

Students should follow the same application process as any other student. However, the decision regarding disclosure of the disability at the time of application is up to the student. If a student chooses to disclose, it may done in a number of ways. Some students choose to write about the disability, while others submit documentation along with the application. We encourage prospective students to contact the Student Disability Services directly when considering Johns Hopkins University. Communication with SDS is confidential and independent of the Admissions Office and academic departments.

What type of documentation do I need?

There are specific guidelines concerning documentation that students need to follow depending on the disability. What is important to consider is that the documentation needs to be current, needs to show significant impact on at least one major life activity such as seeing, walking, hearing, thinking, learning etc. The documentation needs to include a report, summary of the findings, a diagnosis, and suggestions for accommodations.

What types of accommodations does Johns Hopkins provide for students with disabilities?

Each student with a disability is invited to meet with a representative from the Student Disabilities Office to review documentation and discuss accommodations based on the disability and need. Some standard accommodations include brailed or recorded materials, sign language interpreters, note taking services, reading services, extra time on exams, physical access, and assistive technology. Additional accommodations and services will be determined on an individual need.

What other services are available?

It is important to ask about other support services. The university provides tutoring and study skills assistance for all full-time undergraduates, and special advising for both full-time undergraduate and graduate students with disabilities. In addition, some students can benefit from counseling support or the health center. Again, it is important to ask about the availability and location of these services.

What do I do if I have special housing needs?

Incoming students reach out to Student Disability Services (SDS) and submit their documentation to SDS only. Further, students should notify the Housing Office that they are working with SDS and that accommodated housing has been requested.

Returning Students should specify their needs to Housing as soon as possible. It will be necessary to provide documentation to SDS and evidence of the need for alternative housing before any decision is made. Limited alternative living facilities are available.


Is assistive technology available at Johns Hopkins?

Yes, assistive technology is available through SDS at no charge to the student.

Are services available for graduate students, medical students or post-doc students?

Yes, services are available for any qualified individual with a disability. All students are eligible for services again depending on the documentation and need. SDS provides services for graduate students and post-doctoral students in the full-time programs in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences and the Whiting School of Engineering.

Current Students

Does Johns Hopkins give unlimited time on exams?

No, we do not give unlimited time on exams. However, based on the disability and the need for exam accommodations, extra time may be appropriate. The amount of time is typically 1½ times but some students may receive double time depending on the situation.

How do I get a note taker?

Usually, note takers are paid and are other students who are in your classes. What is important is to start this service as early as possible in the semester so as to not get behind. Request note takers from SDS.

If one of my accommodations is a recorded textbook, where do I go to get these books?

Johns Hopkins University uses Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic as its primary source for recorded materials. However, if the materials are not available through this source, then materials are scanned in-house or obtained from publishers, and can be read aloud by computer software. SDS will loan software and CD players to the student free of charge although students are encouraged to purchase their own. Students may request a reader at times if the situation warrants it. Again, it is important to register as soon as possible with SDS so that this service can be implemented by the beginning of a semester. Without notice ahead of time a delay may occur in the distribution of the materials.

What if I need a sign language interpreter?

It is important to request interpreting services in a timely manner. Typically, Johns Hopkins contracts out for an interpreter and there are a number of universities within this area using the same agencies. Contact SDS as early as possible.

Can I take a reduced course load?

For some students with disabilities, this is a suggested accommodation. It is important to discuss this with the advisor and SDS for appropriate advice.

Faculty and Staff

What is a disability?

An individual with a disability is defined as any person who:

  • Has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities (including walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, working, caring for oneself, or performing manual tasks),
  • Has a record of such an impairment, or
  • Is regarded as having such an impairment.

What is meant by ‘is regarded as having such an impairment’ in the definition of disability?

For example, a person with a facial disfigurement may not have an impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities, but others may regard him or her has having one due to how he or she appears.

Isn’t ‘disability’ and ‘handicap’ the same thing?

A “disability” is a condition caused by accident, trauma, genetics or disease that may limit a person’s mobility, hearing, vision, speech, or mental function. A person may have more than one disability.

A “handicap” is a physical or attitudinal constraint imposed upon a person; for example, stairs, narrow doorways, and curbs are handicaps imposed upon people with disabilities who use wheelchairs.

What is a reasonable accommodation?

A reasonable accommodation is a modification or adjustment to a course, program, service, job, activity, or facility that enables a qualified individual with a disability to have an equal opportunity to attain the same level of performance or to enjoy equal benefits and privileges as are available to an individual without a disability. Some common academic accommodations include extended time on tests, use of peer note takers, use of computer with spell check, and provision of sign language interpreters.

How does a person become eligible to receive accommodations?

To become eligible, a person must have a documented disability and inform the SDS office that he or she is requesting accommodations based on that disability.

Who determines the accommodation?

The SDS office determines the accommodations using:

  • documentation of the disability from qualified professionals provided by the student,
  • information gathered from an intake process, and
  • information from University personnel regarding essential standards for courses, programs, services, job, activities, and facilities.

The determination of reasonable accommodations considers the following:

  • classroom or physical barriers
  • the array of accommodations that might remove the barriers;
    whether or not the person has access to the course, program, service, job, activity, or facility without accommodations; and
  • whether essential elements of the course, program, service, job, activity, or facility are not compromised by the accommodations.

Won’t providing accommodations on examinations give an unfair advantage to a student with a disability?

“Accommodations don’t make things easier, just possible; in the same way eyeglasses do not improve the strength of the eyes, they just make it possible for the individual to see better. Accommodations are interventions that allow the learner to indicate what they know. Without the accommodations, the learner may not be able to overcome certain barriers.” (Samuels, M. 1992 – Asking the Right Questions. The Learning Center, Calgary) Accommodations are designed to lessen the effects of the disability and are required to provide fair and accurate testing to measure knowledge or expertise in the subject. Careful consideration must be given to requests for accommodations when the test is measuring a skill, particularly if that skill is an essential function or requirement of passing the course, such as typing at a certain speed or turning a patient for an x-ray. In such cases, please contact a DS coordinator for guidance.

The purpose of academic accommodations is to adjust for the effect of the student’s disability, not to dilute academic requirements. The evaluation and assigning of grades should have the same standards for all students, including students with disabilities.

For many test-takers, the most common accommodation is extended time. In specific circumstances, students may also require the use of readers and/or scribes, a modification of test format, the administration of examinations orally, or an alternative time for testing. For out-of-class assignments, the extension of deadlines may be justified, especially if the student is relying heavily on support services (readers for term papers, etc.).

What do I do when a student discloses a disability?

Ask for the Instructor’s Letter from the student; this letter describes the accommodations that faculty are legally mandated to provide. During an office hour or at another convenient time, discuss the letter and the accommodations with the student. Students MUST present a letter from DS to receive accommodations. If the student does not have a letter, he or she should be referred to the appropriate DS office to request services. The DS counselors will determine the appropriate accommodations after reviewing documentation of the disability provided by the student.

What if a student doesn’t tell me about a disability until late in the semester?

Students have a responsibility to give instructors and DS adequate time to arrange accommodations. DS Coordinators encourage students to identify early in the semester. Instructors can help by announcing in class and in the syllabus an invitation for students to identify themselves early in the semester: “Any student who may need an accommodation due to a disability, please make an appointment to see me during my office hours. A letter from Disability Services authorizing your accommodations will be needed.”Once a student has identified to the instructor and requests disability-related accommodations authorized by DS, the University has a legal responsibility to make reasonable attempts to accommodate the need, even late in the semester. There is no responsibility to provide accommodations prior to identification; for example, allowing the student to re-take exams with extended time.

Can I review the student’s documentation of the disability?

SDS is the office designated to receive and interpret documentation of the disability. SDS coordinators certify eligibility for services and determine accommodations. Disability information is confidential and students are not required to disclose this information to instructors.

What if I suspect that a student has a disability?

This is a very delicate topic and needs to be approached with the utmost sensitivity. Students will range in their comfort level of discussing this topic. The most important thing to do is to meet with the student and discuss your concerns. Oftentimes, it is helpful to ask open-ended questions to begin the discussion.

  • “I have noticed that you are struggling with X, please elaborate if you have found this to be a problem in your other classes? or
  • What types of academic struggles did you experience in high school or at a prior institution?”

Usually, students will open up and share their experiences which will give you some feedback as to whether or not they have sought help for similar issues in the past.

If they have, it would be appropriate to refer the student to SDS at this point. However, if the student does not reveal indicative information about having a disability, we would encourage you to use your best judgment in what you say.

If comfortable and it seems appropriate, you may want to mention that SDS has services that may be helpful for the student (if in fact the student has a disability) and that SDS can refer the student to a provider that can further investigate these concerns.

Typically, you want to avoid saying that you think he/she has a disability as this can be off-putting to the student and sometimes even inaccurate; rather, use words like “academic concerns” and “struggles” when referring to the issues you have experienced with the student.

Each situation will be different so if you or the student are unsure or have further questions, please contact SDS and we can discuss the situation with the student in more detail.

If the student has never been evaluated for a learning disability and/or Attention Deficit Disorder/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, the SDS office will provide a list of local resources where the student may be screened or tested. Some of the resources offer a sliding fee schedule.

What if a student with a disability is failing?

Treat the student as you would any student who is not performing well in your class. Invite the student to your office hour to discuss reasons for the failing performance and what resources the student may use to improve. Encourage the student to see a SDS coordinator to discuss some additional strategies to improve his or her grades. Contact the SDS counselor who initialed the Instructor’s Letter to discuss any additional concerns.

What if a student with a disability is often absent?

Talk with the student to discuss your concerns that absences are affecting class performance. Remind him or her of your policy on class absences. Determine with the student whether the missed work can be made up and make arrangements with the student to do so. Refer the student to the SDS coordinator if too much classwork has been missed.

What is a note-taker?

A note-taker is usually another student in class who agrees to provide copies of lecture notes taken during class. The note taker uploads notes within 48 hours of the class to our online accommodation management system (AIM).

How can I assist a student with getting notes?

The Instructor’s Letter will document the need for note takers. Students who cannot take notes or have difficulty taking notes adequately due to the effects of their disability can be accommodated in a number of ways including: allowing them to tape record lectures, assisting them in obtaining an in-class volunteer note-taker, and providing them with an outline of lecture materials and copies of overhead transparencies.

What should I do if a student who is deaf or hard of hearing shows up in my class without an interpreter?

In the unlikely event that a student shows up for the first day of class without an interpreter, the student should be referred to SDS. SDS will then attempt to schedule an interpreter or work with the student to rearrange his or her schedule into classes where an interpreter is already provided.

Who is responsible for requesting an interpreter?

Students requiring an interpreter for class must make the request to SDS at the appropriate office. For outside class requirements, such as field trips or other assigned activities, as well as office hours, students should request the interpreter SDS at least two weeks ahead of time or more, depending on the event. SDS cannot guarantee an interpreter when requests are made less than two weeks before the event.

Do I need to alter my teaching style with an interpreter present?

Interpreters are professionals who facilitate communication between hearing individuals and people who are deaf or hard of hearing. The role of the interpreter is similar to that of a foreign language translator: to bridge the communication gap between two parties. Some adaptations in presentation style may be helpful when using a sign language interpreter. The interpreter will let you know if you need to slow down your rate of speaking or if they need you to repeat any information. A desk copy of the book is especially helpful for the interpreter when the class is using examples or doing exercises from the text. Please realize that if students are looking at the interpreter, they cannot be reading a book, writing, or taking notes; a pause for the students to finish their task may be required before continuing the lecture.

What can I expect if there is an interpreter in my classroom?

Interpreters are bound by the code of ethics developed by the National Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, which specifies that interpreters are to serve as communication intermediaries who are not otherwise involved.

  • When an interpreter is present, speak directly to the deaf or hard of hearing person rather than to the interpreter, and avoid using phrases such as “tell him” or “ask her.”
  • Speak normally, noting that there may be a lag time between the spoken message and the interpretation.
  • When referring to objects or written information, allow time for the translation to take place. Replace terms such as “here” and “there” with more specific terms, such as “on the second line” and “in the left corner.”
  • In a conference room or class environment, the deaf student and interpreter will work out seating arrangements, with the interpreter usually located near the speaker.
  • Inform the interpreter in advance if there is an audiovisual element in a presentation, so arrangements can be made for lighting and positioning.
  • In sessions that extend longer than one hour, the interpreter may require a short break to maintain proficiency in interpreting.

What should I do if my class needs to evacuate the building due to an emergency?

  • Students should let you know at the beginning of the semester if they will need assistance during an emergency.
  • Students who are blind or have low vision may need a “buddy” to assist them exit the building.
  • Some students with head injuries or psychiatric disabilities may become confused or disoriented during an emergency and may also need a “buddy.”
  • Students who use wheelchairs should NOT use the elevator but should wait for Security to safely assist them to exit the building. Security has the schedules of students who will need emergency evacuation. To prevent injuries, instructors or other untrained personnel should NOT attempt to evacuate a student who uses a wheelchair. Please wait for trained emergency personnel.

What if a student has a seizure in my classroom?

SDS encourages students with seizure disorders to inform their instructors about what should be done if a seizure occurs during class time. Some students request that Security be called immediately, others request action as listed below. Seizures happen when there is a sudden electrical discharge in the brain. Each individual has a unique reaction. A seizure can result in a relatively slight reaction, such as a short lapse in attention, or a more severe reaction known as a grand mal, which involves convulsions. Seizure disorders are generally controlled by medication, so the possibility of a seizure in the classroom is rare. If one does occur, the following actions are suggested:

  • Keep calm. Ease the student to the floor and open the collar of the shirt. You cannot stop a seizure. Let it run its course and do not try to revive the student.
  • Remove hard, sharp, or hot objects that may injure the student, but do not interfere with his or her movements.
  • Do not force anything between the student’s teeth.
  • Turn the student’s head to one side for release of saliva. Place something soft under the head.
  • Make sure that breathing is unobstructed, but do not be concerned if breathing is irregular.
  • When the student regains consciousness, let him or her rest as long as desired.
  • To help orient the student to time and space, suggest where he or she is and what happened.
  • Speak reassuringly to the student, especially as the seizure ends. The student may be agitated or confused for several minutes afterward.
  • Don’t leave the student alone until he or she is clearheaded. Ask whether you can call a friend or relative to help him or her get home.
  • If the seizure lasts beyond a few minutes, or if the student seems to pass from one seizure to another without regaining consciousness, contact the Campus Safety and Security office. This rarely happens, but when it does, it should be treated immediately.