College Students with Disabilities: Rights and Obligations

Page content

The Differences between High School and College

For students with disabilities, the requirements that apply through high school differ from those that apply in college. A child with a disability, for example, is guaranteed the right to free and appropriate public education (FAPE) under Section 504. A college or university, however, is not required to provide FAPE. Colleges are obligated to provide necessary and appropriate academic accommodations to prevent discrimination on the basis of disability. If colleges provide housing to nondisabled students, they must also provide comparable, convenient, and accessible housing to students with disabilities. Personal attendant services will not be provided by the school to college students with disabilities.

If admission requirements are met, a student cannot be denied admission to a college or university due to a disability. A student does not have to disclose a disability. If academic accommodations, or accessible facilities, are required, though, a disability must be disclosed.

When and How to Disclose a Disability

When students need an academic accommodation due to a disability, they are responsible for meeting a college or university’s requirements to prove the disability. Postsecondary schools often require documentation from a medical doctor, psychologist, or other qualified diagnostician. A student will want to obtain this documentation as soon as possible because some accommodations take more time to arrange. The documentation may include a diagnosis of the current disability, the date of the diagnosis and how it was reached, the professional’s credentials, and how the disability affects academic performance. The documentation should provide enough information for the school and the student to decide on appropriate academic accommodations.

College students with disabilities have the responsibility of paying for new evaluations, if needed, to document disabilities and need for academic accommodations. Funding may have to be obtained to pay for a professional evaluation. If a student is eligible for state vocational rehabilitation agency services, he or she may qualify for an evaluation at no cost.

Academic Accommodations

Students should work with the college or university to identify an appropriate academic accommodation. Although college students with disabilities can ask parents to join them, they should not expect postsecondary schools to invite parents to participate in the process. In fact, students must give consent to allow schools to share information with parents.

Appropriate academic accommodations must be based on a student’s disability and individual needs. Academic accommodations may include modifications to academic requirements to ensure equal educational opportunity and can include:

  • priority registration
  • reduction of a course load
  • substitution of one course for another
  • recording devices
  • sign language interpreters
  • note-takers
  • extended time for testing
  • adaptive hardware or software for use on school computers.

Students should remember that postsecondary schools are not obligated to lower or waive essential requirements. If a specific academic accommodation is requested, the school may offer that academic accommodation or an alternative if it would also be effective. If unexpected results from an accommodation occur, students should inform the school as soon as possible, Waiting until the course or activity is completed may be too late.