The transition to college can be a stressful time for all college-bound students and their parents. This transition is even more stressful for college-bound students with disabilities and their parents, who face the loss of protections afforded by the Individuals with Disabilities Act (“IDEA”). No legislation exists which entitles a student to the same level of academic support offered in elementary and high school. Although colleges and other post secondary institutions such as vocational schools and career programs are not required to provide students with a Free Appropriate Public Education (“FAPE”), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (“Section 504”) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) continue to prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability and ensure equal educational opportunity. Generally speaking, the responsibilities of post-secondary institutions towards a student under Section 504 and the ADA differ from the responsibilities imposed by those same laws on primary and secondary schools. For the first time in a student’s academic career, the student, rather than the post-secondary institution or even his or her parents, has the ongoing responsibility of requesting and designing his or her own accommodation plan. A student with disabilities must contact the post-secondary institution’s disability services coordinator, who can facilitate communication between the student and faculty, ensure that the student receives reasonable accommodations and assist the student with any complaints of disability-related discrimination.
Once a student discloses a disability to a post-secondary institution, that institution must work with a student to provide reasonable accommodations in a timely fashion. However, the institution may require documentation establishing the disability, how the disability may affect the student’s academic performance and recommending accommodations. As previously noted, the accommodations must be reasonable and allow the student equal educational opportunity. Examples of academic adjustments which a post-secondary institution may be required to provide include, but are not limited to, equal physical access to structures, the provision of communication services, and testing accommodations. If an institution fails to provide such reasonable accommodations, the student may file a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education or in a court of law.
If you are a student with a disability who is college-bound or who is currently attending a post-secondary institution, it is critical to make sure you are aware of your rights and are receiving the reasonable accommodations to which you are entitled under the law.