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Center for Student Services
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January 17, 2024

Welcome Faculty!

CASS partners closely with faculty to support students with disabilities at Caltech.

This page provides information and resources to help with common student accommodations and guidance on how to implement them to ensure fairness and equity.

Please feel free to reach out to CASS at any time if you have questions about this process, concerns about an individual student with a disability, or would like guidance - we are here to help!


Accommodations are adjustments designed to eliminate or reduce access barriers to the college environment for students with disabilities. They are not intended to provide an academic edge or advantage. Reasonable accommodations are determined through an interactive process with the student and CASS and are based on a student's functional limitations related to their disability. Faculty will also be consulted in the interactive process when appropriate.

If you have questions about implementing any approved accommodation, or if a student is requesting an unapproved accommodation, please feel free to reach out to CASS.
Note: Students may register for accommodations at any time while they are at Caltech, but completed registration requests may take up to 30 days to process. Approved accommodations are not retroactive, meaning that they will not apply to any tests, assignments, absences, or other situations prior to when the student was approved by CASS.

Examples of Common Accommodations

Adaptive lab equipment refers to specialized tools and technology designed to accommodate the unique needs of students with disabilities in laboratory settings. The purpose of these adaptations is to ensure that all students can fully participate in hands-on learning experiences regardless of their physical or cognitive abilities. For instance, adaptive lab equipment may include tools with enlarged grips or tactile features for students with dexterity challenges. It can also encompass technologies such as screen readers or magnification devices for students with visual impairments, allowing them to engage with and comprehend lab materials effectively.

In a chemistry or biology lab, for example, adaptive equipment might involve modified lab stations with adjustable height or accessible controls, facilitating participation for students with mobility impairments. The provision of adaptive lab equipment aligns with the principles of inclusive education, promoting an environment where students with disabilities can actively engage in laboratory work, conduct experiments, and contribute to the learning community alongside their peers.

Alternative formats of materials refer to alternative ways of presenting information beyond traditional printed text or standard lecture formats. This accommodation is designed to ensure that students with disabilities have equal access to educational content. Common alternative formats include but are not limited to audio recordings, electronic text, braille, and tactile graphics. By providing materials in alternative formats, educational institutions aim to cater to the diverse needs of students with disabilities, allowing them to receive and engage with information in a way that best suits their individual requirements.

For example, a student with a visual impairment may benefit from receiving course materials in an electronic text format that can be read using screen-reading software or converted into braille. Similarly, students with learning disabilities or attention-related challenges might find audio recordings helpful as an alternative to traditional written content. The goal of offering alternative formats is to create an inclusive learning environment where all students, regardless of their abilities, can fully participate and comprehend the course material. This accommodation aligns with the principles of universal design, promoting equal opportunities for education for everyone.

Assistive technology encompasses devices, tools, or software designed to help individuals with disabilities perform tasks that might be challenging due to their impairments. Examples of assistive technology include screen readers, text-to-speech software, speech recognition tools, adaptive keyboards, and other specialized devices. These technologies are customized to meet the specific needs of students with disabilities, empowering them to access educational materials, participate in classroom activities, and engage in academic tasks more effectively.

Some students may need to be able to briefly step out of class on occasion beyond the standard breaks allotted for your class. The purpose of this accommodation is to inform instructors of this possibility, so that students are not penalized for participation or otherwise given undue attention.

Students, for their part, are asked to leave and returning from breaks as quietly as possible.

If you have concerns that a student approved for this accommodation is taking excessive classroom breaks, or taking breaks in a disruptive manner, please do not hesitate to reach out to CASS.

Distraction-reduced testing environments aim to create a setting for students with disabilities that minimizes external stimuli during exams. This accommodation is designed to help students who may be sensitive to distractions perform at their best. It may involve providing a separate, quiet room for testing, noise-canceling headphones, or scheduling exams during less busy times. The goal is to establish an environment where students with attention-related challenges, anxiety disorders, or sensory sensitivities can more effectively focus on their exams without being hindered by environmental factors.

For students whose disability impacts their ability to complete timed assessments within the standard time limit, accommodations such as extra time, breaks, or minor deadline adjustments may be reasonable in order to provide them with an equitable opportunity to demonstrate their full abilities and knowledge.

Approved additional time accommodations are usually given as a percentage - e.g. 25% (time and 1/4), 50% (time and 1/2), 75% (time and 3/4), or 100% (double-time). In very rare circumstances, additional time beyond double-time may be reasonable.

Breaks are intended to allow students to step away from their assessment for a period of time to rest and recover, and are considered "stop the clock." There are no strict time limits for such breaks, but students are informed they are not to study or do any other work during their break time, and that they are expected to complete their assessment within the same 24-hour period they began.

In practice, because most tests at Caltech are in a take-home format, students are responsible for keeping track of their time and following the guidelines of their accommodations as part of their honor code agreement.

Students are responsible for planning their schedules so that they can submit their completed tests within the same deadline as the rest of the class. Having accommodations does not automatically necessitate any adjustment to test submission deadlines; however, if a student has several exams due the same week (such as midterms or finals) and is approved for significant test accommodations, CASS may, in consultation with faculty and the student, approve a small adjustment of the testing deadline on a case-by-case basis.

In rare cases when a timed assessment is conducted in person, additional accommodations, such as a reduced-distraction environment may be needed. While CASS does not typically provide proctoring services, please feel free to reach out to us if you have any concerns about proctoring an accommodated test and we will be happy to work with you to figure out a solution.

Some students may require additional support with taking notes due to their disability. In the past, this was most commonly accommodated through peer notetaking. In recent years, Caltech and many other post-secondary schools have shifted to digital tools, such as apps and software that allow students to audio record lectures, as well as color code, transcribe, take snapshots of the whiteboard, and organize their notes more efficiently.

The most commonly used notetaking tool currently used by students at Caltech is the Notability iPad app, which can simultaneously record audio while a student is handwriting their notes using a digital pencil onto the tablet. After class, students can go back to their notes, and by tapping on a word they wrote, play back the audio in that timeframe. Other notetaking tools used by students may include audio recording/transcription apps such as Otter or Glean, voice memo apps on smartphones, or Livescribe pens.

Students approved for audio recording lectures are permitted to use such tools/apps in class, but must first sign a notetaking agreement with CASS prohibiting the sharing of their recordings, and requiring them to erase the recordings once they have completed your class.

In rare cases when a student is unable to use digital notetaking tools, CASS may approve a peer notetaking accommodation. If needed, we may reach out to faculty to identify students in classes who may be interested in volunteering as peer notetakers.

For classes being delivered via Zoom, CASS highly recommends that faculty turn on the automatic transcription feature. For assistance with Zoom transcription, please contact Caltech Academic Media Technologies.

For students whose disability may flare up unexpectedly and severely to the point where they may be unable to attend a class session, this accommodation provides a reasonable number of excused absences. If a student needs to use this accommodation, they should email the faculty and any other relevant instructional staff before, or shortly after the missed class session. CASS should be CCed, and the message should specify that this request is due to a disability-related exacerbation (no details are necessary).

Whenever possible, please provide the student with an opportunity to make up any work or obtain notes/slides from the missed class.

CASS does not have a strict limit on the number of absences a student may miss per term, but as a very general rule of thumb, if a class has required attendance and meets twice a week, up to three excused absences (beyond whatever you allow in your syllabus) may be reasonable.

If you are concerned that a student registered with CASS is missing an excessive amount of class, or falling behind on material due to absences, please reach out to us.

For students whose disability may flare up unexpectedly and severely to the point where they may not be able to do much work for a day or longer, this accommodation provides reasonable extensions on assignments. If a student needs to use this accommodation, they should email the faculty and any other relevant instructional staff before the deadline to request an extension. CASS should be CCed, and the message should include the following information:

  • That this request is due to a disability-related exacerbation (no details are necessary)
  • How much of the assignment they have completed so far
  • When they expect to be able to turn in the completed assignment

Reasonable extensions typically fall into the 3 to 5 day range; students requesting longer extensions should first contact CASS.

This accommodation is not intended to allow students to catch up on prior missed work, or in cases when a student has a lot of work due all at once and has not sufficiently planned ahead.

Preferential seating in classrooms or labs is an accommodation offered to students with disabilities who may benefit from a specific seating arrangement. The aim is to improve the student's learning experience by placing them in a spot that enhances their ability to engage with educational content. For instance, a student with a hearing impairment might request seating near the front of the class to better hear the instructor or use lip-reading techniques. Similarly, a student with attention-related challenges might find it helpful to sit in a less distracting location, like near the front or away from high-traffic areas, to enhance focus on the lesson.

It's important to note that students themselves should determine the preferred location for their seating arrangement. This allows for a personalized approach, ensuring that the accommodation aligns closely with the individual needs of each student.

Real-time captioning, also known as live captioning, involves translating spoken words into written text in real-time during a live event or presentation. This accommodation is especially beneficial for students with hearing-related disabilities, providing instant access to spoken content as it happens. Real-time captioning can be delivered by a stenographer or through speech recognition technology, enabling students to follow lectures, discussions, or any spoken communication in real-time. It enhances accessibility, ensuring that individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing can actively engage in live communication within educational settings.

American Sign Language (ASL) is a visual language used by the Deaf community, employing hand movements, facial expressions, and body language to convey meaning. ASL is a distinct and complete language with its own grammar and syntax. For students who are deaf and fluent in ASL, having access to interpreters or instructional materials presented in ASL is crucial for effective communication in various academic contexts. Both real-time captioning and ASL are examples of accommodations that contribute to creating an inclusive learning environment, allowing students with hearing-related disabilities to fully participate in educational experiences.