Study requirements that apply to all students across the board can, however, put students with disabilities and chronic illnesses at a serious disadvantage. To offset some of the additional difficulties and impediments students face, we provide academic adjustments. They are crucial instruments for promoting equal opportunity and helping students to overcome existing barriers for studying, researching and teaching. Academic adjustments do not alter the quality of work required, nor do they give these students an unfair advantage.
Who can take advantage of these academic adjustments at the university?
All students who experience difficulties in carrying out their studies due to individual disabilities, learning impairments or chronic illnesses. The German legal definitions of disability and chronic illness are:
"People are disabled if their bodily function, mental capacity or psychological health are very likely to digress more than six months from the typical conditions for their age and, therefore, impair their participation in society." (§ 2 para. 1 German social code (SGB) IX)
This definition includes chronic, i.e. prolonged diseases, as well as diseases with an episodic course (e.g. /psychological illness, epilepsy, cardiovascular diseases). It covers visible and invisible impairments and so-called learning disabilities, such as dyslexia and dyscalculia.
What are possible academic adjustments for special needs?
Academic adjustments can reduce additional hurdles for students at admission to the university, during their studies and when completing their performance assessments. They may be granted in a single circumstance or permanently. They should always be verified and assessed for the individual requirements of the corresponding student.
Examples of academic adjustments for performance assessments:
- extra time to complete tests, essays or theses (e.g. for students with dyslexia, motor impairments, concentration loss due to illness, ADD (attention deficit disorder), Asperger’s syndrome, etc.)
- rest breaks during examinations (e.g. for students with visual impairments and those suffering from concentration impairments due to medication, etc.)
- individual working space during examinations (e.g. for students with concentration impairments due to illness, Asperger’s syndrome, etc.)
- splitting performance assessments into several exam components
- personnel or technical assistance when taking examinations (e.g. sign language interpreters)
- alternate examination forms (e.g orally instead of in writing, an individual exam rather than a group exam, term paper instead of a presentation)
Examples of academic adjustments over the course of study:
- sound and video recordings of classes
- alternative dates to fulfil mandatory attendance requirements (e.g. for students with chronic illnesses)
- lecture notes and handouts for preparing and reviewing class material
- modified internships
How do I request an academic adjustment?
To request an academic adjustment, you usually must:
- submit an informal written request along with
- a medical certificate.
The certificate may be signed by therapists, specialists or general practitioners. In some cases, a medical certificate from the in-house physician is required. Diagnostic tests (e.g. for students with dyslexia) should not be older than five years. The application and the medical certificate should contain the following:
- important information about the illness,
- the resulting specific impediments for your studies and
- recommendations for individual academic adjustments.
A diagnosis must not be provided in either document. The documents should be submitted to the responsible director of the departmental administration or the relevant examination office.
Important: Please request academic adjustments before the respective deadlines - applications for academic adjustments for performance assessments must be submitted in due time!
According to nationwide surveys from the German National Association for Student Affairs, about 8% of students have impairments that make studying difficult. Nevertheless, only a few of those affected request academic adjustments often for fear of facing special treatment, stigma or suspicion of abuse and/or being labelled unsuitable to study.
As a teacher, please work to counteract these fears, ensure transparency in circumstances requiring academic adjustments and inspire courage in those students who need it the most! Academic adjustments can remove additional hurdles and allow students with disabilities and chronic illnesses to complete their studies more carefree and successfully.