Whether a requested accommodation would fundamentally alter an essential requirement of a course or program will generally need to be determined on a case-by-case basis. The goal is to separate out general expectations and what has always been done from what are the truly essential objectives and components of the course or program. Methods of instruction and assessment can be examined to determine how information is taught and what alternative opportunities are available for teaching and learning the information, the format of materials, skills etc. Flexibility in achieving outcomes may be appropriate depending on the nature of the course and its requirements.
Before a formal determination can be made as to what constitutes a fundamental alteration of an essential major requirement, the University must take into consideration, among other factors, that decisions regarding essential requirements be made by a group of people who are trained, knowledgeable and experienced in the area, through a careful, thoughtful and rational review of the academic program and its requirements, and that the decision-makers consider a series of alternatives for the essential requirements, as well as whether the essential requirement in question can be modified for a specific student with a disability. Every program is different, but factors to be considered in determining whether a standard is essential include the nature and purpose of the program; the relationship of the standard to the functional elements of the program; whether exceptions or alternatives are permitted; whether the standard is required in similar programs in other institutions; whether the standard is essential to a given vocation for which the program is preparing students; and whether the standard is required for licensure or certification in a related occupation or profession.
Once an institution complies with these standards, the courts and OCR accord the decision reached by the institution substantial deference. The University must therefore comply with these standards prior to finding that any requirement is essential and that accommodations will therefore not be granted to students in meeting that requirement. Furthermore, if it is determined that a requested academic adjustment would result in a fundamental alteration, the University must then consider whether there are alternative academic adjustments that could accommodate a student without fundamentally altering the course.
Universities are not required to modify academic requirements that are essential to the instruction being pursued or directly related to a licensing requirement. However, flexibility in instructional methods, assignments, or assessment may be appropriate as a reasonable accommodation depending on the nature of the course and its requirements. Often-alternative opportunities are available for teaching and learning the information, the format of materials, skills etc.
- Implementing Reasonable Accommodations in the Classroom
- Test Accommodations Guidance
- Working with Sign Language Interpreters During Classroom Instruction
- Lecture Recording Guidance
- Fundamental Alterations and Determining Essential Requirements
- Making Course Material Accessible