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The Benefits of Disclosing a Disability to College Staff

A student attending a post-secondary institution is not entitled to the same level of academic support to which he or she was entitled throughout their elementary and high school years. Students are no longer entitled to a Free Appropriate Public Education (“FAPE”). The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) does not offer protections to students attending a post-secondary institution. Accommodations in place pursuant to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (“Section 504”), will not automatically transfer to the post-secondary environment. Legal protections do, however, exist in the post-secondary environment for qualified studentswith disabilities who choose to notify the appropriate staff at the post-secondary institution of their disability.

At the post-secondary level, the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and Section 504 continue to protect students with disabilities from discrimination and require equal access to education for all students. Specifically, the ADA prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in the educational setting. Section 504 ensures that students with disabilities who meet the same admission requirements as non-disabled peers are not denied access to post-secondary education on the basis of having a disability. Section 504 also requires the provision of reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals. Significantly, neither the post-secondary institution itself, nor the individual professors, are responsible for identifying a student with a disability, communicating with counselors, administrators or parents on a student’s behalf or working to develop appropriate accommodations necessary to facilitate the educational success of a student with a disability. Rather, the post-secondary student is personally responsible for notifying the institution and individual professors about his or her disability and working with appropriate staff to obtain necessary reasonable accommodations. Because post-secondary students are not required to disclose a disability to a post-secondary institution, a student with a disability should disclose his or her disability in advanceof the school year in order to obtain reasonable accommodations.

Given that post-secondary institutions may not prohibit admission on the basis of disability for a student who otherwise meets the admission requirements, it is highly beneficial for a student with a disability to disclose that disability. Post-secondary institutions provide support for qualified students who seek assistance through disability support services. Most post-secondary institutions have a designated Disability Services Coordinator who is responsible for making sure that the institution remains in compliance with federal disability laws. The Coordinator also facilitates communication between faculty and qualified students, helps ensure that the institution provides reasonable accommodations and can assist a qualified student with the resolution of issues or complaints related to perceived discrimination on the basis of his or her disability. Unfortunately, a post-secondary institution can only provide accommodations to those students who seek them, if you know a student with a disability planning to attend a post-secondary institution, encourage them to reach out to the Disability Services Coordinator to ensure appropriate services are provided!


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