Students With Disabilities

The Law: Service Differences between High School & College

Understanding the Differences in Federal Guidelines for Disability Services

Elementary and High School Students [K-12]

Disabled children in kindergarten through twelfth grade (K-12) are granted services by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and / or the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 504, Subpart D – Preschool, Elementary, and Secondary School.

IDEA ensures a free public education for K-12 children with disabilities by providing funding to states’ school systems. This education must be provided in a setting that is as non-restrictive as possible. IDEA defines 13 categories requiring the provision of special educational services at the K-12 level. Services must be delivered in a way that allows the disabled student to benefit meaningfully from the education provided. Services are provided to each student through an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). There is an extensive list of services to be provided, but the student is guaranteed only those services actually specified in the IEP. The individual student’s obligation under IDEA is simply to “do one’s best.”

College Students

For college students with disabilities, services are identified & regulated by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 504, Subpart E – Postsecondary Education.

ADA & Section 504 forbid colleges to discriminate against disabled persons who are otherwise qualified for both admission and participation in a college’s services. A disabled person is defined as “any person with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity.” Services must be delivered in a way that allows for “equivalent access” to the college’s services and programs. There is no mandate for formal plans (such as an IEP) for delivering services to disabled college students under these Federal regulations.

Services must be “reasonable accommodations and academic adjustments.” Examples of such accommodations are in-class note-takers, test accommodations, and offering advanced registration times. Personal aides, tutoring, and counseling are not mandated by Section 504 or ADA. However, colleges are required to make available to disabled students the same services provided to other students.

The college student’s obligations under these regulations are as follows:

  • Disclose the disability voluntarily & provide adequate supporting documentation
  • Cooperate with the College in the provision and use of reasonable accommodations
  • Attend classes and other appropriate educational activities as required
  • Make appropriate use of the accommodations granted
  • Notify professors or administrators promptly if there are any problems with accommodations

The College must provide to its disabled students accommodations that are reasonable in scope and implimentation. Accommodations provided to any student may change over time as needs and circumstances change.

Because college-level accommodations are not tied to a specific plan (such as an IEP) and because each student is unique, it sometimes turns out that accommodations do not provide initially the results expected. In such cases, some degree of experimentation (trial and error) – and cooperative give and take between student and the College – is necessary before the most reasonable accommodations can be identified.

The requirement to provide accommodations does not obligate the College to change its general academic standards, programs, or procedures, or to incur any undue administrative or financial hardship.

An excellent discussion of these regulations is available here:
The above notes were condensed from this website.