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Communication and Self-Advocacy Resources

Conversation Starters

Conversation Starter: First Meeting with an Instructor

Think about your specific accommodations beforehand so that you're prepared to express you needs to your professor.

"Hi, my name is (insert your full name) and I'm in your (insert class and course number) class. You signed an accommodation letter from the Office of Disability Services, and I would like to talk to you about my accommodations."

Conversation Starters: Self-Disclosing Your Disability

In order to be successful, students may choose to disclose their disability with faculty, classmates, roommates, supervisors, social groups, advisors, etc. Typically, when disclosing your disability, it is best to focus not on the condition itself but how the condition impacts your education and what you need in order to be successful.

  • Scenario A: A student with ADHD is meeting with their instructor about getting a reduced-distraction testing location.  They might say: "When I'm in a full classroom taking a test, I have difficulty tuning out some of the sounds that other students can, like papers shifting, throats clearing, etc. A separate testing space will allow me to focus on the test and perform to my best ability."
  • Scenario B: A student with a learning disability is registering for classes with an advisor who suggests they take a 17-credit load.  They might say: "It takes me longer than other students to get through reading material. I want to do well this term, so I think we should look at 12-15 credits and mix up classes so that I have some that don't require a great deal of reading."
  • Scenario C: A student who uses a wheelchair is in a group whose members have proposed meeting in a non-accessible location.  They might say: "That building doesn't have a ramp for me to get into it. How about we meet at the library instead?"

Conversation Starters: Communicating with Group Members

"Hello, my name is (insert your name) and I am assigned to work with you on the group project in (insert class name). In order for our project to go smoothly, there are a few things I'd like to share with you about my working style."

  • "I communicate better in writing and would like to provide my comments by e-mail."
  • "I tend to be a perfectionist and might need encouragement to say, 'Good Enough.'"
  • "I have difficulties with public speaking and would prefer to be assigned duties other than a spokesperson."
  • "It might take me a few minutes to respond to your questions. I'll appreciate your patience."
  • "I struggle to hear in noisy environments and might need you to repeat some things."
  • "I can't follow a conversation if more than one person is speaking at the same time."
  • "I can be sensitive to noise, lights, or smells. I work best in a quiet, distraction-free environment. Perhaps we could reserve a group study room in the library?"

Email Templates: Requesting a Meeting with an Instructor

  • Template A:

Dear (insert professor's title and name),

I am contacting you to set up a meeting to discuss the accommodation letter you recently signed from the Office of Disability Services. I plan to stop in during your office hours (insert day your professor has office hours). Unfortunately your office is not physically accessible to me. Can we find an alternate space to meet?

  • Template B:

Dear (insert professor's title and name),

I am contacting you to set up a meeting to discuss the accommodation letter you recently signed from the Office of Disability Services. Unfortunately, I have class during your office hours, so I am hoping we can find an alternate time to meet. I am free all day Thursday and after 12 pm on Friday. What time works for you?

Email Template: Requesting Extra Help

Dear (insert Professor title and name),

I am experiencing difficulties understanding and being able to complete the assignment for (insert class name and course number) that is due (insert due date). Would it be possible to meet with you during your office hours on (insert date) so I can receive some additional help?

In the meantime, are there other resources you could recommend that might help me understand the material better?


(Insert your name)

Communication Tips

Many factors affect communication in the classroom including the professor’s speaking style, classroom setting and type of class. The following suggestions are designed to help you get the most out of the classroom experience:

  • Meet with Your Professors.  It is recommended that you meet with each of your professors before the semester begins, or as early as possible in the semester, to clarify any accommodations you may need in class.  It is also helpful to meet with your professors regularly throughout the semester to discuss any communication issues that may arise.
  • Seating.  In many classes you may choose to sit in the front row.  However in some classes you may prefer to sit in the second or third row in order to observe classmates and the dynamics of the class environment.  Take these options into consideration on the first day of class so that you can select the seating location that best fits your needs for lecture and classroom participation.
  • Classroom Discussion.  If you are enrolled in a class that includes discussion or participation, talk with the professor about a seating arrangement that will match your communication needs.  For example, the most effective arrangement for group discussion is a circle or semi-circle.  Discuss your needs with the professor any time the seating arrangement in the class does not meet your needs.
  • Lighting.  If you rely on an interpreter or on speech reading, it will be important for you to have adequate lighting during slide presentations or videos.  Be sure to communicate this need to your professors early in the semester so they can make lighting modifications if necessary.
  • Questions and Comments.  You may want to ask each of your professors to repeat comments or questions made by other students in class so you can be sure you heard or understood what was being said.  This can be done very discreetly and usually benefits other students in class.

Self-Advocacy Resources

12 Self-Advocacy Tips

  1. Look Interested.  Professors like nothing better than to see alert and engaged students seated front and center in their classes.  Even if they're usually too polite to mention it, professors do notice students who sit there yawning or looking bummed out—or, worse yet, openly texting or reading E-mail.  If you look as if you're following, actively taking notes, and showing an interest in the material, you'll stand out from the huddled masses.
  2. Say Hi to the Professor when [They Enter] the Room.  It may seem obvious but consider sometime how few students do it.
  3. Ask a Question.  Most professors regularly interrupt their presentations to give students a chance to ask questions.  And when they do, they're hoping for some kind of response, not the apathetic silence that often reigns.  Your question will light up your professor's day.  Make sure it's a question about the material, not one of these much-hated questions:  Will this be on the test?  Could you repeat what you just said for the past 15 minutes?  Bonus points will be given to you if your question demonstrates an understanding of material presented in an earlier class.  Your professor will think, "Wow—a student who came to class and actually remembers something from last week!"  Also good is if your question shows an acquaintance with the reading.  Your professor will think, "Wow—someone is actually poring over that dull-as-nails textbook I assigned!"
  4. Put in Your Two Cents' Worth.  Another way professors break up the class is by asking questions.  At times, running a class discussion can be like pulling teeth, especially for those professors who think they should not make a move until the student has moved first (like a game of chess, with the professors playing "black").  So, perk up with a question when the professor comes in asking, "Does anyone have any questions?"  Do not take this as a green light to dominate every class or to ask whatever question comes to mind, no matter how trivial or irrelevant.  If you do either of these, you'll become a major thorn in your professor's side, as well as incur the wrath of your fellow students.
  5. Continue the Conversation Outside Class.  You will surely get on your professor's good side if you approach him or her out of class to talk about issues raised in class.  Usually the best venue for this discussion is during office hours, but some professors have time to chat before or after class.  Keep in mind that the more you can display your interest in the course material for its own sake (rather than for the sake of a good grade on the paper or test), the better.  If you are shy, an e-mail to the professor following up on some issue raised in class can also do the trick.
  6. Volunteer First.  You have a golden opportunity to earn your prof's affections if you are the first to volunteer when your professor is dividing up tasks for later in the semester—for example, seminar presentations, debates, or discussion leaders.  Some professors even give special breaks on the grading for those brave enough to step up to bat first.
  7. Join the Team.  Some professors offer students the opportunity to work with them on a joint research project or do an internship with them.  This can be one of the best ways to forge a great relationship with your professor and to gain valuable training in your field.  If no research or internship opportunities are available, at least see if you can take a small class or seminar with some professor you would like to work with.
  8. Ask the Professors What They're Working On.  Most professors have spent many years working on a research project.  And there's almost nothing professors like to talk about more than their research.  But it's a rare student who thinks to ask the professor about it.  This is something that'll surely set you off from the crowd.
  9. Participate in Departmental Activities.  Professors will take note when they see you at departmental events, such as outside lectures, colloquia, or meetings of the departmental student club.  Your participation shows you really care about the field.  Professors are suckers for that sort of thing.
  10. Alert Your Professor to Current Events Related to the Class.  Bringing in a newspaper item or report from the Web that has relevance to the course is a sure-fire way to win approval from your professor.
  11. Congratulate the Professor on an Achievement.  If you read on your college's website that your professor just published a book, won an award, or got tenure and/or promotion, it's a very nice thing to offer congratulations.  We all like our accomplishments to be recognized, even professors.
  12. Tell Your Professor You Like the Class.  Students rarely realize that professors worry about how a class is going and would desperately like to hear that students are enjoying the class.  Look for an occasion during which you can slip in, in a casual but sincere way, that you like the class.  It would be a special touch if you could come up with some specific thing about the class that you are enjoying, but even a general expression of appreciation would surely be welcome.  It's one thing to compliment a professor and another thing to lay it on too thick.  Once you start sucking up, the professor realizes it's more about you trying to get a good grade than about his or her being a good professor.


University College Office of Strategic Initiatives (n.d.). 12 Tips. Retrieved from:


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