The laws affecting college students with disabilities and the process of obtaining assistive technology in college are completely different from the K-12 world. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is not in effect in higher education. Colleges have no legal responsibility to identify students with disabilities or involve parents in decision making. Parents are often surprised to learn that there are no IEP’s in college! Rather, in higher education the relevant law is a civil rights law – it protects people with disabilities from discrimination in admission to college and participation in college activities. The two federal laws that provide this protection are section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (originally passed in 1973, with subsequent re-authorizations), and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (passed in 1990). The ADA states: “No otherwise qualified individual with a disability shall, solely by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs. or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity.”
In other words, a disability cannot be grounds for excluding a person from college, an academic program, a class, a residence hall, or a college activity, if the person is qualified. Documentation from a professional determines qualification at the higher education level.
Again, learning that the IDEA does not apply to higher education and that college students have a much greater responsibility if they are to receive accommodations (and parents have a greatly reduced role) is often a shock for students and their parents. Unlike the IDEA, which under its “zero reject” policy, guarantees an education to all school-aged children, regardless of ability, the ADA protects only those individuals who meet the stated qualifications of a college or program. The phrase “otherwise qualified”in the ADA means that only those people who are able to meet the technical and academic qualifications for entry into a college, program, or activity are protected by the ADA. This means that although colleges are required to make what are called minor academic adjustments, they are not required to make substantial modifications to their curricula or course requirements. A good example of how this differs from the K-12 world is although a reasonable accommodation may be extended time on tests and/or a distraction-free environment for testing, the law does not require colleges to modify the contents of an exam. Another example is that colleges are not obligated to provide students with disabilities more intensive tutoring services than they provide to non-disabled students.
DSU Disability services requires “recent documentation of the disability from a professional qualified to make a diagnosis.” Recent refers to 3-5 years. Qualified to diagnose refers to MD, Psychologist, Psychometrist, per the type of disability. The main documentation needed is the actual diagnosis, on letterhead with signature. Recommendations can be listed if the professional desires. Psychologists and Psychometrists typically add testing and results to the diagnosis.
The intent of the laws that require universities to make accommodations for students with disabilities is to ensure that these students have an equal opportunity to learn and to ensure that they are not discriminated against on the basis of their disability. It is the purpose of the accommodations plan to accomplish these goals without compromising the academic integrity of the university or individual class. Responsibility for the success of services for students with disabilities belongs to all involved.
Students requesting accommodations due to a disability have the following responsibilities:
- Identify themselves to the ADA Coordinator to initiate the accommodations process
- Provide the ADA Coordinator with recent documentation of the disability from a professional qualified to make a diagnosis ( In most cases the documentation of the disability should be no more that three years old)
- Request specific, approved accommodations from professors in a timely manner
- Maintain academic requirements of the university
- Per federal guidelines: Re-request every term you wish to receive accommodations
Faculty members have the following responsibilities:
- Include a statement about self identification in class syllabi and refer students who disclose disabilities to Disability Services
- Meet with students who have an accommodations plan to discuss how the accommodations can best be provided
- Cooperate with the ADA Coordinator in providing the approved accommodations
- Participate in executing the accommodations plan
- Professors are not expected to provide accommodations without an accommodations plan, provide accommodations not on the plan, or offer make up work for the time prior to the accommodations plan
The ADA Coordinator has the following responsibilities:
- Maintain a file which contains appropriate documentation for each student who had identified him/herself as disabled
- Schedule and participate in accommodations planning
- Keep both faculty and students informed about issues concerning disabilities
- Assist professors in providing approved accommodations when requested
- Refer students to other programs for assistance as appropriate
- Provide tutoring and counseling assistance to students
- Cooperate with state and local agencies in providing services to students with disabilities
For more information, please contact Disability Services at 662-846-4690.