Accessible Education Office (click to go to home page)
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1350 Massachusetts Avenue
The Richard A. & Susan F. Smith Campus Center, Fourth Floor
Cambridge MA 02138
tel: 617-496-8707 - fax: 617-496-1098 - tty: 617-496-3720

Serving Harvard College and GSAS Students
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ABOUT OUR OFFICE: Frequently Asked Questions

Registering with AEO

Confidentiality Residential Life Transportation FAQs for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students Miscellaneous Policies

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Registering with AEO

I have a disability but I don't want anyone to know. My parents are pushing me to sign up with your office. I just want to "wait and see" how things go.

AEO recognizes the need for privacy and respects a student's desire not to register. However, we do encourage students to register in advance if there is any possibility that they may need to request accommodations in the future. When accommodations are approved, AEO gives the student letters to give to the Faculty that outline appropriate accommodations. Faculty does not get information about your disability - only the accommodations for that disability. Remember that you can be approved for accommodations and choose not to use those accommodations.

If a student realizes that he or she is in trouble a few weeks before an important exam, our office could not guarantee to provide appropriate accommodations in time for the exam (although every effort would be made on the student's behalf). Our clinical consultant will review current documentation of a disability. All clinical documentation is kept confidential. Regardless of the extent of the history of the disability and how it has been accommodated, documentation needs to conform to our Clinical Documentation Guidelines.

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What if I have an injury or illness, but I'm not "disabled"?

Although students with temporary illness or injury are not considered disabled by the law, they are nonetheless often in need of accommodations similar to those provided to students with disabilities in order to maintain their academic program with minimal interruption.

These students are encouraged to consult with appropriate deans or tutors, Accessible Education Office, and their Disability Coordinator as soon as possible. Students requesting any services intended for those with disabilities, including accessible transportation, must be prepared to present current clinical documentation before accommodations can be considered.

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Why do I have to meet with someone in your office to receive an accommodation?

Impersonal documents do not give the whole picture of a student or what academic services are appropriate, if indeed the student is eligible. A personal interview helps our staff assess what the best services or accommodation should be and also provides a time for open discussion and a chance for the student to pose questions that may not arise until speaking one on one in a personal setting.

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Why can't you let my parents handle this stuff? (I'm busy with school, sports, etc.)

There are several reasons why we insist upon your seeking out your own accommodations. First, you are the one seeking the accommodation and only you can best describe what you need. Second, we want to encourage you to be an advocate for yourself. Third, your clinical records are considered private, even from your parents. We expect you to know and understand what is in your records and to be able to work with us to find the best accommodation for you.

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When will I know if I have an accommodation?

Once you submit documentation, you may want to call 617-496-8707 to make sure that we have received it and that everything is in order. You may prefer writing to our e-mail address at AEO@fas.harvard.edu. You will need to schedule an interview with an AEO staff member. At that time we can give you a better idea as to the status of your request(s).

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I've always gotten accommodations before. Why do I have to resubmit documentation now?

Our office is committed to making the most appropriate accommodation for a disability. Current clinical documentation helps us to ensure that the most appropriate accommodation is being given. Sometimes the functional limitations or a disability can change. In addition, the policies and laws governing other educational settings may differ.

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Confidentiality

What is your policy on confidentiality?

Harvard University will not release any information regarding an individual's diagnosis or documentation without his or her informed written consent or under compulsion of legal process. Any information released will be on a "need-to-know" basis, except where otherwise required by law. Furthermore, in order to safeguard the confidentiality of individuals with medical disabilities, evaluators may withhold or redact any portion of the documentation that is not directly relevant to the University's criteria for establishing a rationale for the requested accommodations as long as the remaining information substantiates the presence of a disability and all documentation criteria are met.

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Who will know what my accommodations are?

Once accommodations are approved, students are given Faculty Letters to distribute to professors and other teaching Faculty. In addition, the General Education Office receives a copy of undergraduates' letters, as does the appropriate Freshman Dean or Resident Dean.

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What do I do if my professor wants to know what my disability is?

You are under no obligation to tell the professor what your disability is and you only need to give him/her the letter from AEO stating what you will need for accommodations for the course. If a professor insists on questioning you, please refer him/her to our office and we will restate our policy of privacy to them. Disclosure is ALWAYS a personal decision.

However, be aware that no response at all by you may only increase curiosity and sometimes appear to challenge your credibility. You may want to consider practicing a response to inquiries from others which both satisfies a "need-to-know" and conforms to your privacy standards.

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Residential Life

My housing lottery is this week and I want an exemption because of my disability. What should I do?

Notices about housing lottery exemptions generally go out several months in advance of housing lotteries. While our office will make every effort to consider your request, please note that late applications make it difficult to review and implement exemptions before the lottery takes place. For more information please see Residential Life.

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I have ADHD and would like my own study area.

We encourage you to speak with future roommates about setting up designated study times and agreed upon rules for studying. You may find that scheduling time for yourself in the library may prove helpful to minimizing distractions while you study. Learning about your roommates' habits in advance will help you to find solutions to studying appropriately. Remember that even those without learning disabilities need an appropriate learning environment where distractions are minimized or where rules about playing music, etc. are beneficial. For example, roommates can agree in advance to use headphones during study hours or late at night to minimize disturbances by other roommates. Housing accommodations, in general, are not granted on the basis of ADHD or learning disorders.

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I have allergies to perfumes and deodorants and would like my own room to avoid roommates who use these products.

Students are not housed on the basis of environmental allergies. When you receive your roommates' assignment notification you will have the opportunity to discuss with them directly their use of scented products.

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I have severe food allergies and want to be housed near University Health Services.

While we do not automatically house people based on food issues, we do take these concerns seriously. Students are urged to have conversations with roommates and friends who frequent their living areas to alert them of the life-threatening danger of these products to you. Some students have chosen to put notices on the front door of their suite or room. Should there be an exposure, immediate transportation to UHS will be provided. We urge you to carry the appropriate medical devices, including bracelets listing allergies and epi pens in case you accidentally come into contact with food allergens. We strongly encourage students to make early contact with the Director for Culinary Dining, Martin Breslin, who can work to ensure that proper dietary needs are met. Mr. Breslin can be reached by e-mail at martin_breslin@harvard.edu or by phone at 617-496-6704. Mr. Breslin welcomes the opportunity to meet with students and their parents during opening weekend and is available for consultations by appointments. Feel free to contact him directly if you would like to discuss any dietary concerns.

AEO staff is available to speak with you about anticipating difficult conversations or situations involving your allergy.

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Transportation

I hurt my leg. How do I get around campus?

To be able to register to use the Daytime Van Service you will need to have the University Health Service send us a referral form documenting your injury. The form will state how long you will be able to use the Daytime Van Service. The van use can be extended with new UHS documentation. If you were seen outside of UHS, you need to have your clinician fax a typewritten letter (on letterhead) to AEO at 617-496-1098 stating your injury, the extent of your limitations and how long you are expected to have such limitations.

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What do I have to do to book rides with the Daytime Van Service?

You need to call 617-495-0400 to book your rides with the Daytime Van Service. You are able to book your rides up to a week ahead. If you do not need your scheduled ride we ask that you call and cancel it in order to give other riders a slot.

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I need a ride right now! Why won't the van service give me one?

The Daytime Van Service makes every effort to accommodate students but serves an ever-fluctuating number of students, staff and facutly members. Remember that there are many other riders who have scheduled rides up to a week in advance. You may need to travel earlier or later than you like in order to make it to your destination. Your patience is appreciated. Booking (and keeping) regular van rides makes life easier for you and your fellow passengers. Let the dispatcher know when you are not using a time slot by calling 617-495-0400.

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FAQs for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students

Can I request interpreters or CART services for my visit to Harvard University, campus tour, meeting or class visitation?

Yes. If you are not a current student, but are planning an official to visit Harvard University and wish to request interpreting or CART services, please call (617) 496-3720 v/tty or e-mail jody_steiner@harvard.edu for more information. It is recommended that requests for services be placed WELL IN ADVANCE of your visit.

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Does AEO have FM Systems to loan to students during the academic year?

Yes. AEO has FM Systems from Phonic Ear. At the beginning of each semester, a loan agreement must be signed and the system returned, intact, at the end of class or exam period.

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I have a hearing loss that usually does not affect me, but I am struggling to understand the professor in one of my courses. What can I do?

There are many reasons students with a hearing loss struggle to understand course lectures. AEO is available to help you determine the best approach for getting clear information. It is important that you come in to the office EARLY in the semester to consider your options for enhancing your ability to understand the course lectures. We strongly recommend that you not continue to struggle until you are behind in the course.

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I have a hearing loss and my class is showing a video. I am concerned I will not understand the video. Is it possible to get a closed captioned version?

Yes. Call AEO with the name of the video, name of the course, and the name and phone number/e-mail of the course head AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE in the semester. Our staff will contact the professor or head teaching fellow to discuss getting a captioned version available for you. In the event a captioned version is not available, we can hire CART services or have a transcript of the spoken portions of the film produced.

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I have a hearing loss and want to participate in sports and extra-curricular activities while I'm at Harvard. Can I get the services of interpreters or CART reporters for events outside of a regular class?

Yes. If you use sign language, you can request Nationally Certified interpreters through the AEO for sports and extra-curricular activities. If you do not use sign language, you may be able to request CART services. Please make an appointment with the Coordinator of Services for Deaf students at AEO to discuss your needs.

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Miscellaneous Policies

Why is my professor being resistant? (I gave him my letter of introduction this morning and the exam isn't until tomorrow.)

Students have the responsibility to approach professors or other teaching Faculty early in the term with their letters of introduction in order that appropriate accommodations can be provided in a timely fashion. To ensure you receive your accommodations we strongly recommend giving Faculty at least 2 weeks of lead time to provide your accommodation.

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My clinician recommends that I avoid certain types of classes. Is this permissible?

Students with disabilities are required to fulfill the same academic requirements as other students.

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What if I run out of copies of my letter to Faculty?

You need to contact AEO at 617-496-8707 or AEO@fas.harvard.edu and our staff will send you additional copies of your letters.

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Why do I have to keep submitting documentation for my RSI when I've told you that this is a long-term condition?

RSI can improve or worsen with time. It is important that you seek medical guidance over the course of the academic year so that your clinician can determine what is working and what isn't working. Like any medical condition, monitoring helps us to determine the most appropriate accommodations for you. Our policy is that you should be seen by your doctor every term in order to receive accommodations.

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Why can't you just provide me with a long-term typist for my career here at Harvard for my repetitive stress injury?

Our office wants you not only to receive temporary accommodations but to help you when you leave Harvard. We encourage students with long-term RSI conditions to think ahead and begin using voice-recognition software as soon as possible to alleviate their condition. A candidate who can demonstrate that he/she can fulfill job requirements with the use of voice-recognition software will improve his or her chances of finding a job in spite of RSI.

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Whom do I contact if there is an error on my final exam schedule?

You need to contact the FAS Exams office at fasexams@fas.harvard.edu or 617-495-1542.

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Why can't I take my test with accommodations in the same room as everyone else?

Accommodations that require extended time for exams or the use of a computer require separate room accommodations for many reasons. The most essential reason, however, is one of fairness and of causing as little disruption for everyone involved.

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