Working With a Student Who Has a Disability

According to the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act, "The term 'disability' means, with respect to an individual- a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual."

Numerous court rulings since the advent of the ADA have interpreted and refined the definition of disability. The legal difference between a disorder and a disability lies in the meaning of “substantially limits a major life activity” (such as attending college.) Effective treatment of many disorders or conditions mitigates the effects, so an individual is not substantially limited. For example, an individual who is legally blind may wear glasses and, subsequently, attain nearly normal vision; therefore, that person is not considered disabled. Likewise, an individual may have a diagnosis of anxiety disorder but may take medication that effectively controls the symptoms, so the individual does not have a substantial limitation and does not have a disability. Another individual may have the same diagnosis, but his or her symptoms are not effectively mitigated, so that individual would qualify as disabled under the ADA.

Disabilities recognized under the Americans with Disabilities Act

Conditions that may be covered include

  • learning disabilities such as dyslexia or dyscalculia
  • psychiatric disabilities such as depression or PTSD
  • attention deficit hyperactive disorder
  • chronic health impairments
  • a mobility impairment
  • a seriously injured hand, knee, head, etc.
  • a severe visual impairment
  • a hearing impairment

What is considered a disability at the University of Puget Sound depends on the condition's severity and its current impact on the learning process.


Discussion of and/or documentation of a disability are confidential. Relevant materials such as test results or psychiatric reports are kept in a confidential file in the office of Student Accessibility and Accommodation. Such information is not part of a student's general university file. Instructors are not informed of a student's disability without the student's written permission.

Declaration of a disability is not necessarily a request for accommodation.