Letters from Counselling & Disability Services ("CDS")

Guide for Faculty

September 2011

CDS provides support services to students with and without disabilities. Please note that letters formally labeled as a ‘letter of accommodation’ pertain solely to students with diagnosed disabilities and come from a Disability Service– not from Personal Counselling Services.

1) Letter of Accommodation: Only students with a diagnosed disability and who are registered with one of the Disability Services receive this letter. The students are instructed to deliver the letter to each of their Course Directors early in the term. If Course Directors receive a letter of accommodation from a student (it will name the student, the disability counsellor at CDS, and reference the human rights code) they need to make every effort to accommodate the student.

Please read thoroughly and keep this letter in a safe place and make sure that you or your TA’s keep track of all such letters, preferably noting the date you received it. These letters will state the recommended classroom and exam accommodations that are meant to "level the playing field" for students with disabilities; in other words, to allow students to demonstrate their mastery of the course content without being "penalized" for their disability.

If a Course Director does not accommodate, it is the Course Directors’ responsibility (and subsequently the university’s if any complaints are brought forward by the student to a human rights tribunal claiming discrimination on the basis of disability) to demonstrate that accommodating the student would actually undermine academic integrity. For example, the Course Director refuses to administer an oral test for someone because s/he thinks the student needs to be able to write the answers; or the Course Director won’t allow a student to have an open-book format because s/he believes the material must be memorized; or the Course Director specifies that all students must participate in group work and if they cannot, they forfeit the grade for participation. In other words, Course Directors are responsible for justifying why the selected method of evaluation is an essential core requirement for the course/degree. According to human rights legislation, one is justified in denying academic accommodation only if the accommodation truly undermines the essential core requirements of the course/degree. If you are confused about how to accommodate students fairly, feel free to contact the counsellor named on the letter and discuss ideas with them. At times, determining appropriate academic accommodation may require a discussion with the student, the disability counsellor from CDS, and the faculty member.

2) Letter of Support: This is different from an accommodation letter and has no legal basis. It is aimed at letting you know with the student’s consent, that there are extenuating circumstances that might affect the student’s performance. You are not obliged to do what is being suggested in the letter. It is a suggestion that the CDS counsellor (whether that be a counsellor in Personal Counselling Services, in Learnng Skills Services or in one of the Disability Services) and the student are asking you to consider. This letter may be written by a personal counsellor with whom the student has been meeting to resolve any number of distressing issues. The student may, or may not, have a diagnosed disability; this letter is not an "official" letter of accommodation – it is a request being made by a counsellor who has knowledge of the student’s situation.

3) Form Letter: There is a third type of letter that may be provided by CDS to a student – usually after having met only once for an initial consultation with a personal counsellor. Course Directors often ask for some sort of documentation indicating that there was an issue in the student’s life that prevented him/her from showing up to write a test or submit an assignment on time. They may send the student to CDS to get that documentation. The student presents at CDS for either a 'crisis' session (if s/he tells us the situation is urgent) or for a regular initial consultation. The student asks us – usually at the end of the session - for a letter to support whatever request s/he is making of the Course Director/TA. The letter that we provide to students in these instances is a form letter stating that they met with us on a particular day and that we cannot verify their story. The wording is something like "As my interaction with this student consisted of a brief intake interview, it is not possible to determine the veracity of the information provided to me at this time." The letter is simply a confirmation that the student came to see us and took part in one session; in these circumstances, we can neither confirm nor deny the claims of the student nor are we saying that we support the student’s request.

When students come to us for the sole purpose of getting a letter of support rather than to deal with their counselling-related issues, they take up the time that could be spent attending to a student who is in need of psychological assistance. Our wait times are often long and having students who are not already clients come to us ‘for a letter’ makes those times longer and does nothing to help the student.

Since the counsellor may be even less familiar with the student than the faculty member, we actually discourage faculty members from sending students to CDS for this type of “documentation”; rather, the course instructor should make his/her own determination of the veracity of the student’s situation and take action as deemed appropriate. However, please do continue to send students to us for counselling regarding emotional/psychological issues that are troubling them or getting in the way of their academic performance.

NOTE: If you are confused about the content of any letter that you receive from CDS, please contact the counsellor who signed the letter. If you are still confused or concerned, please contact the Executive Director of CDS.