Disability Services for Current Students

Obtaining accommodations

Upon reasonable request, the Office of Disability Services in the Office of Student Affairs will provide academic accommodation to qualified students with a documented disability to facilitate equal access to the learning environment. Qualified students are responsible for identifying themselves and making all requests for accommodations known to the Office of Disability Services in a timely manner. Such reasonable accommodations and adjustments are made available in accordance with Section 504 of the Federal Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Accommodations may vary with individual students and their particular disabilities.

Reasonable academic accommodations depend upon the nature and severity of the student’s documented disability. Eligibility for academic accommodations does not necessarily imply that a particular accommodation must be granted if it is deemed unreasonable and other suitable techniques are available. Reasonable academic accommodations are determined on a case-by-case basis and should not alter academic standards in any way or cause undue burden to the University.

Click here for the Testing Center Examination Student Form

Click here to complete the Accommodation Notification Form.

Common accommodations provided to students include:

  • Alternate exam arrangements (extended time, alternate location, alternate format, computer for essay exams)
  • Readers and scribes for exams
  • Textbooks provided in an alternate format
  • Note-taking services
  • Clinical or non-classroom academic-based accommodations
  • Advanced class registration
  • Assistance with spelling and grammar

Qualifying for services

You must document:

  • An impairment that substantially limits a major life activity
  • The current impact of your impairment
  • How it affects your ability to function in an academic setting
  • A rationale and an objective basis for the accommodations you request

Documentation details:

  • Documentation of a disability must be current and comprehensive. Review documentation guidelines (pdf)
  • Eligibility guidelines and accommodations might differ from your high school or other colleges you have attended
  • An Individualized Education Plan or 504 Plan alone is not sufficient documentation
  • Documentation should be submitted only after you’ve been admitted to Northwestern

Accessing services

To receive services, registration with the Office of Disability Services is required. If this is the first time you are requesting accommodations, documentation of your disability will be requested.

The process below describes in detail how services can be accessed for all students with known or suspected disabilities. We encourage students to start the process as early as possible. However, students can initiate the process at any time during the semester.

  1. The student with a known or suspected disability who anticipates that she or he will need accommodations in class, schedules an appointment with the Disability Services Program Manager.
    To schedule an appointment, contact:
    Office of Student Affairs
  2. At this initial meeting, the student will be asked to provide documentation of their disability. If the student does not have the appropriate documentation, the Disability Services Program Manager will provide a Documentation Guidelines (pdf) form. If a student is meeting with the Disability Services Program Manager for the possible presence of a disability, the Disability Services Program Manager will work with the student to identify a list of referrals for assessment.
  3. The student and Disability Services Program Manager will discuss the anticipated demands of the courses and the needs of the student and develop a plan for accommodations.
  4. The Disability Services Program Manager sends a copy of the accommodation letter to student’s instructors and the student sets up a meeting with the instructor to discuss his or her needs based on the accommodation letter.
The Office of Disability Services views all materials pertaining to a student’s disability as confidential. All disability information for each student including documents and correspondence are considered confidential. Access to this information is on a need-to-know basis and only to assure appropriate accommodations. Student information can be released to faculty members, staff or advisors who are currently working with a student, as this does not disclose the nature of disability.
Written materials
All written materials obtained by the Office of Disability Services are:
  • Used to verify the disability and plan for appropriate accommodations.
  • Maintained in individual files and kept in a secure location available only to staff working at the Office of Disability Services.
Accommodation letters
Accommodation letters prepared by the Office of Disability Services for instructors do not give specific information regarding a disability. The memos explain that the student has a disability and that the Office of Disability Services has documentation to support the student’s need for reasonable accommodations.
Release of information
Disability-related information may be released on a legitimate need-to-know basis within the university community only when there is a compelling reason for disclosure regarding some specific aspect of the confidential information, such as providing an appropriate accommodation.
Release of records
The Office of Disability Services does not release disability-related documentation or records. Students are advised to keep copies of any documentation provided to the Office of Disability Services for their own records or obtain copies of documentation from the original sources

In emergencies, for hospitalizations, or if there’s a risk of harm to self or others, it might become necessary to disclose the disability to outside parties. A student’s file can also be released by court order or subpoena.

Students’ rights and responsibilities

Student rights:

  • Equal access to courses, programs, services and activities offered through Northwestern
  • Equal opportunity to learn and to receive reasonable necessary accommodations
  • Confidentiality of records and communication except where disclosure is necessary to arrange accommodations, required by law, or authorized by the student
  • The ability to self-determine whether to seek disability services and whether to disclose disability-related documentation and information
  • All rights and privileges afforded other students at Northwestern

Student responsibilities:

  • Meet qualifications and maintain university standards for courses, programs and activities
  • Self-identify as having a disability; seek information and assistance in a timely fashion
  • Document how the disability limits participation in courses, programs, services and activities
  • Follow University procedures for obtaining reasonable accommodations and services
  • Contact the Office of Disability Services with problems or concerns as they arise
University rights and responsibilities


  • Identify and establish essential functions, abilities, skills, knowledge requirements, and standards for courses, programs and services on which to evaluate students
  • Request and receive, through the Office of Disability Services, current documentation that supports requests or accommodations and auxiliary aids and services)
  • Deny requests that lack sufficient documentation
  • Refuse unreasonable requests that would create an undue burden on or fundamentally alter a program, course or activity of Northwestern


  • When requested, provide information in accessible formats
  • Evaluate students on their abilities, not disabilities
  • Provide reasonable accommodations and services in courses, programs, services and activities
  • Maintain appropriate confidentiality of records and communication except where permitted or required by law or when the student requests that such information be shared
  • Work together with students, faculty and staff to resolve problems or concerns in the accommodation process