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Office of Disability Support Services Faculty Handbook

Psychiatric Disabilities

General Information

"Mental disorders are common in the United States and internationally.  An estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older -- about one in four adults -- suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. When applied to the 2004 U.S. Census residential population estimate for ages 18 and older, this figure translates to 57.7 million people."

The onset of major mental illness is often between the ages of 18-25, when young people are beginning the development of their adult lives. During this time, young adults are making career choices, receiving an education, developing relationships from which to create a social network, and learning their rights and responsibilities within their communities. The onset of mental illness disrupts this process. Once it is disrupted, it is extraordinarily difficult to recreate these circumstances.

Returning to postsecondary education provides a means to revisit these developmental tasks and regenerate lost opportunities. In reality, as many as 8 out of 10 people living with mental illness can effectively return to normal, productive lives if they receive appropriate treatment.

There is a growing awareness that people with mental illness and the resulting psychiatric disabilities are entitled to the same rights as all other people in our country. However, laws against discrimination do not automatically translate into equal opportunities for all. The struggle to attain a reasonable standard of living and full participation in the community for most people with psychiatric disabilities has been a long, arduous and often unsuccessful one. Although advances have been made in treatment and rehabilitation, and deinstitutionalization has occurred, the services needed to integrate people fully into the community are for the most part not yet in place. Particularly neglected have been students seeking opportunities in the field of higher education.


Attitudinal Barriers To Serving Students
With Psychiatric Disabilities

One barrier to serving students with psychiatric disabilities is the stigma surrounding mental illness.

A second barrier to serving students with psychiatric disabilities may be a perceived lack of knowledge about where or how to serve these students.

These attitudinal barriers need to be acknowledged. Through information and experience they can be overcome. Reasonable accommodation by definition is a removal of barriers to participation.

There have been few precedents set in assisting reasonable accommodations for persons with psychiatric disabilities.


Suggested Classroom Accommodations
for Students with Psychiatric Disabilities

Information regarding Instructor Memos

Specific accommodations will need to be individually tailored because these students will vary depending on the type and degree of their impairment. Usually a combination of adaptive methods is the best approach.

  • Extended time for exams.
  • Change of location for exams to a distraction free environment.
  • Note taking assistance and NCR (carbonless paper) paper. Paper may be obtained in ODSS. If a student requires a note taker, it is the student's responsibility to provide the instructor with the carbonless paper. The instructor is to ask for a volunteer without disclosing the student's name, thus maintaining confidentiality. Arrangements to pick-up the notes from the instructor are to be made by the student. 
  • Use of tape recorders.
  • Seating arrangement modifications.
  • Beverages allowed in class due to thirst from medications.
  • Provision of Incomplete (I) grade rather than a Failure (0) if relapse occurs.
  • Tutoring in course materials.


Test Adaptation and Administration
for Students with Psychiatric Disabilities

  • Extended time for taking tests in a quiet place. Tests must be scheduled in advance.
  • When and where appropriate, utilize Reader Services to administer tests. Discuss testing arrangements early in the semester.
  • Utilize a scribe/reader to record any answers for a test that cannot be marked by the individual.

Tips for Positive Communication
with Students with Psychiatric Disabilities

  • Faculty and staff are encouraged to contact ODSS for aid in the provision of accommodations for students with psychiatric disabilities.
  • It is appropriate that instructors request the assistance of the Public Safety Office to manage students who exhibit disruptive behaviors.


Office of Disability Support Services at Lansing Community College

Disability Support Services
Gannon Building - StarZone
Phone: (517) 483-1924
Additional contact information »