Simply Fair

Accessibility accommodations

Accessibility accommodations ensure equal opportunity for students when barriers prevent them from independently determining the course of their studies.

What are accessibility accommodations?

Providing individual accessibility accommodations does not give preference to a student, but is instead a way to help achieve integration and ensure equal opportunity for them. Universities have been given the task of creating accessibility—when entering buildings, during teaching or in communications. Because optimal accessibility is usually difficult to realize in the real world, or can only be realized gradually over time due to historical preservation and fire safety requirements and the general financial constraints affecting universities, appropriate measures, such as accessibility accommodations, must be provided wherever accessibility is not or cannot be guaranteed for everyone. Accessibility accommodations are measures provided to ensure equal opportunity by compensating for difficulties during a student’s studies and examinations due to impairments. Instead of being provided to everyone, they are designed individually based on the student’s situation and depend, for example, on the effects of the impairment and the field of study concerned.

© Volker Lannert

As a student with a disability or chronic illness, you therefore have a right to pursue your studies without discrimination and with equal opportunity and therefore have a right to accessibility accommodations that are intended to just offset (no more, but also no less) the disadvantages due to your specific health condition that make your studies more difficult. You must nevertheless be able to acquire the skills and qualification targets required by the applicable examination regulations and provide proof of this by taking examinations, i.e. the form and conditions for acquiring the skills and course assessments can be modified, but the course objectives themselves must still be achieved.

Studying with disabilities manual from the Deutsches Studentenwerk

Eligibility and conditions

When deciding whether an accessibility accommodation can be granted, the qualification target (competence target) specified in the examination regulations or module description must first be examined. If there is any possibility at all for the person to achieve a qualification target, there is room for an accessibility accommodation. Based on examination law, there are therefore two basic conditions for granting an accessibility accommodation:


Impairment or disability

Existence of a long-term (lasting at least 6 months and not completely curable) health impairment or disability.


Disadvantages during studies

Existence of a resulting specific disadvantage or specific (study) difficulty (“performance deficit”) related to a specific required achievement.

  • An accessibility accommodation must be granted if these conditions are satisfied.
  • Then all that is required is to perform an assessment to determine the measures required to compensate for the student’s individual disadvantages.
  • Measures are to be chosen to compensate for the disadvantage as completely as possible compared to the situation of students without impairments.

Legal framework

As a rule, all students must be able to acquire the skills and qualification targets required by the applicable examination regulations and prove this by passing examinations. In the case of students with disabilities or chronic illnesses, however, the form and conditions for acquiring the skills and course assessments can be modified, although the course objectives themselves must still be achieved.

Examination conditions are only to be modified to the extent required, without qualitatively simplifying the academic requirements being tested. The compensation measures must not overcompensate for the disadvantage caused by the disability, thereby privileging the disabled or otherwise disadvantaged candidate compared to other candidates.


Compensation for disadvantages is an important instrument for creating equal opportunities for students with disabilities. Currently, a growing number of students with chronic somatic and mental illnesses are denied the right to compensation for disadvantages with reference to a so-called personality-defining permanent condition. The legal opinion of Prof. Dr. iur. Jörg Ennuschat deals with the topic "Compensation for disadvantages for students with disabilities in examination situations". It discusses the current case law, presents the legal development of ensuring participation for people with disabilities in higher education and outlines building blocks for a realignment of the practice of examination law.

Needs assessment

Students repeatedly experience impairment-related obstacles when completing the coursework and examinations required (such as written examinations, seminar talks or term papers) during their course of studies. Students with health impairments have the opportunity to arrange for an accessibility accommodation that modifies time or formal requirements. An application for accessibility accommodations will, however, only be successful if the student discloses his or her impairments to the examination board, examination office, examiners or other authorized parties, clearly describes the effects and provides the reasons, proof and supporting documents required in his or her individual case.

Individual counseling by the Disability Representative and/or responsible subject-specific study advisory service is strongly recommended before the application is submitted, as it can increase the probability that you will be granted accessibility accommodations.

Frequently asked questions about the needs assessment

As a rule, it is not the diagnosis itself that is important for each individual student, but instead the resulting effects that make the individual student’s studies more difficult. Since health impairments can have very different effects, any accessibility accommodations must also be individually examined and specified in detail. You should therefore consider in advance—if necessary after consulting with your attending medical specialist together with the Disability Representative and possibly also the responsible department—which specific modifications you require in the examination procedure.

In many cases, in addition to an application for accessibility accommodations, measures for organizing your studies (e.g. individual study schedules) that you can implement yourself or discuss in advance with the applicable subject-specific study advisory service can also help adjust the pace and workload of your studies to your personal capabilities. It is generally not a problem if this results in an extension of the (standard) period of study. Even BAföG recipients can apply for an extension of the maximum funding period if they need more time for their studies, e.g. due to illness.

However, to prevent any misunderstandings or misinterpretations (e.g. due to frequent absences), it is advisable to have a “one-on-one” discussion as soon as possible with the teacher responsible for the module to clarify the support possibilities and solution options for your specific situation. You should also be understanding if the teacher displays any uncertainty, as they seldom have the expertise to be familiar with the different health conditions and needs. The more openly you talk about how your health impairment makes your studies more difficult and explain your needs, the easier it will be for people to understand your situation and be prepared to provide the best possible support.

Nevertheless, the same principle applies here. You don’t have to provide a diagnosis. You decide what you want to disclose yourself.

Examples of modified coursework and examinations

© Hans-Peter Gauster, Unsplash

A variety of measures are generally possible for implementing an individual accessibility accommodation. These measures depend on the specific health impairment and how it makes studies more difficult and must be capable of compensating for these individual disadvantages. Due to different needs and subject-specific factors, it is not possible to define generally binding standards for examination modifications.

In particular, the degree programs leading to state examinations are subject to specific requirements that could limit the choice of accessibility accommodations.

Possible forms of accessibility accommodations

The following can be extended:

  • Writing time provided for written examinations
  • The preparation time for oral examinations
  • Preparation time can be extended by the time for breaks that are individually required or actually occur
  • Preparation time for term papers and theses

The length and/or location of individual coursework and examinations can be changed by:

  • Dividing an examination into parts
  • Extending the time between individual coursework and examinations
  • Involving the student when examination dates are set (e.g. not immediately before or after certain therapeutic measures)

The type of examination can be changed by:

  • Changing a written examination to an oral examination and vice versa
  • Changing a practical examination to a theoretical examination and vice versa
  • Allowing an individual examination instead of a group examination
  • Using a text-to-speech system or extra large font to present the examination text, or providing a laptop with adjustable font size to present it (e.g. for students with visual impairments)
  • Adding a written component to oral examinations (e.g. for students with hearing and speech impairments)
  • Providing special height-adjustable office furniture (e.g. for students with physical impairments)

An exemption from the regular attendance requirement explicitly specified for courses in the applicable examination regulations, e.g. in linguistics, is possible if it is possible to compensate for the lack of attendance in some way.

Necessary aids can be allowed, such as a

  • Braille display
  • Reading lamp/magnifying glass
  • Computer/laptop with special software (e.g. for students with visual impairments in the examination room of the Representative for Students with Disabilities or Chronic Illnesses)
  • Assistance services (e.g. sign language interpreter, writing assistance, accompanying assistance person or dog)
  • Providing modified (examination) documents (e.g. large font)

The student can take the examination in a separate highly accessible room with its own supervision (e.g. in the examination room of the Representative for Students with Disabilities or Chronic Illnesses).

Please note

  • These accessibility accommodations must not affect the assessment of coursework or examinations and must not be included in course assessments, diploma supplements or certificates.
  • Providing compensation by means of a notional improvement of an examination grade or by not including a grade when determining module or overall grades (often referred to as grade protection) is not permitted.

Application and procedure

The following information is intended to provide assistance and general guidance for the application procedure. Ultimately, however, the responsible examination authority independently determines the organization, deadlines and processing, so it is advisable to consult with the applicable examination office or degree program management before submitting an application.

The attached sample of an application for accessibility accommodations was prepared by the Representative for Students with Disabilities or Chronic Illnesses and provides non-binding guidance, unless the applicable examination authorities provide their own forms.

© Pixabay von Pexels

The application for accessibility accommodations is to be submitted

  • by the student concerned;
  • stating his or her name, address and student ID number;
  • as soon as possible BEFORE the applicable examination dates (i.e. around 6 weeks before, so that the examination authority has sufficient time to examine the measures and the responsible department has sufficient time to implement them);
  • in writing (i.e. by letter, possibly also by email depending on the examination office requirements)
    > Students in the Faculty of Arts can use its online form for submitting the application;
  • including the required supporting documents

to the responsible examination authority.

It is recommended that the following be included in the application:

  • A brief and as specific as possible description of the health impairment(s) and the resulting effects that make your studies more difficult (The diagnosis, including the ICD10 code, is subject to data protection and does not have to be disclosed.)
  • Clear statement of the reasons why you require the examination conditions to be modified
  • Indication/list of the individual measure(s) needed, with an explanation of why and to what extent they are suitable as an accessibility accommodation for you

The examination office or examination board then decides, at its discretion with due care and diligence, whether the requested accessibility accommodation is necessary, suitable and appropriate to create equal opportunity examination conditions.

Please inform the Disability Representative without delay if your application for accessibility accommodations is rejected or modified by the responsible examination authority, so that you can reach agreement on further steps or measures (e.g. filing an objection).

The following supporting documents are to be included with the application for accessibility accommodations:

A current (not older than 6 months) specialist medical certificate from the attending specialist or (registered/authorized panel) psychotherapist that confirms your information in medical terms (that can, however, by understood by a medical layperson) and approves or recommends the requested measure(s), possibly with a recommendation for the scope of the accessibility accommodation (e.g. 20% extension of the writing time provided, 5/10/15-minute break after each … minutes of the examination, etc.).

Information letter to help with the specialist medical certificate

Diagnostic tests (e.g. for reading and writing difficulties/dyslexia/dyscalculia) should not be more than 5 years old and should be related to your studies as far as possible.

If an extension of the writing time is requested, the specialist should specify the amount by which the writing time is extended in more detail (e.g. 20%/30%/50% extension, 5/10/15-minute break after each … minutes of the examination, etc.) and provide concrete reasons for this.

A severe disability ID card can also be included, if available, but does not have to be provided for an accessibility accommodation and also frequently does not provide sufficient evidence of the specific disability that is relevant to the examination.

Please note

  • The diagnosis, including the ICD10 code, is subject to data protection and does not have to be included in the application or specialist medical certificate.
  • The supporting documents are included to make the application credible and provide guidance for the examination authority but are not binding for the examination authority. The applicable examination board or examination office decides, at its discretion with due care and diligence, whether the requested accessibility accommodation is necessary, suitable and appropriate to create equal opportunity examination conditions.
  • These accessibility accommodations must not affect the assessment of coursework or examinations and must not be included in course assessments, diploma supplements or certificates.



Appointments must be made in advance
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