Determining Essential Requirements

Essential Requirements Defined

Essential requirements are the core learning outcomes (including skills and knowledge) all students must demonstrate, with or without using accommodations, which are part of a larger interconnected curriculum related to a program or degree.

 Established Essential Requirements:

  • Clearly articulate the overall purpose of the course/program.
  • Identify required mastery of specific skills, knowledge, principles, and concepts.
  • Convey the framework used to set academic and program standards.
  • Ensure a fair deliberation when determining if a requested accommodation would be a fundamental alteration. 

Determining Essential Components of Courses or Programs

The following should be considered in defining requirements and expectations:


  • What is the purpose of the course?
  • What are the prerequisites or other background knowledge needed?
  • What core outcomes/expectations are stated on the syllabus and required of all students?
    • Specifically what skills, knowledge, principles or concepts must be mastered or demonstrated?
  • What are acceptable levels of performance on these measures?
    • Are there alternative measures to equally determine mastery?
  • What aspects/requirements constitute a significant component of the learning process?
    • Could an alternate requirement achieve the same result?
  • What methods of instruction are fundamental to the nature of the course?
    • Are any methods of instruction are non-negotiable? Do other sections use other methods of instruction? 

Programs or Degrees:

  • What skills or competencies will be needed within the field after graduation?
  • What are the requirements for licensing or professional accreditation?  

Flexibility in Instructional Methods or Assessment

Universities are not required to modify academic requirements that are essential to the instruction being pursued or directly related to a licensing requirement.  However, flexibility in instructional methods, assignments, or assessment maybe appropriate as a reasonable accommodation depending on the nature of the course and its requirements. Often-alternative opportunities are available for teaching and learning the information, the format of materials, skills etc. 

Determining if an Accommodation is a Fundamental Alteration

The Office for Civil Rights has provided the following guidance in determining if an accommodation request constitutes a fundamental alteration.

 In coordination with ODR, such decision should be made through a meaningful, informed, interactive and collaborative process on a case-by-case basis: 

  • by a group of people who are trained, knowledgeable and experienced in the area;
  • after consideration of a series of alternatives as essential requirements;
  • with a careful, thoughtful and rational review of the academic program and its requirements; and
  • consideration of a specific student.  

 The Office of Disability Resources (ODR) should be contacted if it is believed that an accommodation would fundamentally alter an essential requirement to a course or program to initiate the collaborative process.