© 2019 by Emily Haynes Law, LLC

Having a disability doesn't end at the end of high school. Many students with an IEP or 504 Plan go on to college and advanced degree programs. But just because that student is in college does not mean they don't need some kind of help. Approximately 11% of undergraduates have some sort of disability. These disabilities run the gamut: physical disabilities, learning disabilities, social/emotional disabilities; mental health disabilities, etc. This includes medical conditions that may be under control with proper diet and medication, such as rheumatoid arthritis. A disturbing trend is depression among college students. Unfortunately, some studies put the percentage of college students with severe depression at roughly 20%.

It is important to understand that every college can define equal access individually. It is therefore very important to know what is available on your specific campus. Research is the key to finding the right fit for you with your disability before selecting a college placement.

 

There is a huge difference between high school and college in what you are entitled to regarding services and accommodations. Anything that will fundamentally alter the nature of a program in college is not allowed. For example, you can't require a professor to accept an open book test when the syllabus calls for a closed book test, regardless of whether you have memory difficulties or not. Accommodations can't lower or substantially modify the academic program standards. For example, if you have a written expression disability most professors will not allow you to opt out of writing assignments or not have them counted. Finally, accommodations cannot be unduly burdensome, either administratively or financially, to the college. For example, a student may need to buy the textbook online if it is needed for her to access the textbook using text to speech. You don't get that text book for free, since all students have to buy textbooks.

 

Applying for accommodations is very different at the college level. For example, in high school the school had the responsibility to find out if you had a disability. This is called Child Find and is the law. Colleges do not have that responsibility. The student must to contact the office of disability services on campus and go through the process of requesting accommodations. I highly recommend that students not wait until they get into trouble and need help. It is much better to apply for accommodations right after receiving an admissions letter from the college. Remember parents, the student has to handle this.

You will need documentation to provide the college to show that you have a disability. Documentation of your disability should be less than 3 years old and ideally be current. Colleges may not accept your IEP, ETR or even your 504 Plan. They may, but it depends on the individual college. Generally, you have the responsibility to pay for the testing or evaluation, not the school. Check to see if the state of Ohio can help pay for that evaluation. For example, OOD (Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities) may help pay for the evaluation. If you develop a disability while in college, for example anxiety or depression, you can also register with the same type of documentation.

After providing the office with documentation, the student then works with a staff member to make a list of possible combinations. The office will then write up a letter for the student to give to professors listing the accommodations that student should have. The office will help you communicate with your professors, but this student has to be comfortable talking and asking professors for help. Use the office’s grievance procedures if your professors won't allow you to have the accommodations agreed upon by the office.

Most colleges require students to notify each professor about their accommodations, every single semester. Unfortunately, many students do not have the executive functioning or organizational skills to do this. Parents, your job can be to remind your student!

Learn time management and organizational skills. Everyone needs these, but those with disabilities need them even more.

Don't wait until an exam to get testing accommodations in place! There is nothing in the law that requires colleges to help you before you have gone through this process.

What doesn't an office of disability services do? That office does not offer counseling or tutoring or time management or executive functioning support. There may be other services at your college that offer these services. It is up to the student to find that out.

What can the student do to make life easier and accommodations more successful?

Make sure you're prepared for class. If you have to record a lecture because you have problems taking notes, make sure you've read the material in advance, so you can listen as well as possible. Go to office hours. Get to know the teaching assistants and get to know their professors. If you run into trouble later, they will be much more likely to help you if they've seen you take that initiative.

Research colleges before you go there. Just as you interview and take a tour of the campus, it is very important to go interview and research the office of disability services. Every college has different services available and some colleges may be better suited to students with your particular disability. Some colleges may even have a specific program set up for students with your particular disability.

When you go to the office of disability services make sure that you bring questions with you. If you're already a student with an IEP, these questions could be worked on during your high school process. For example, under the transition services in your IEP you could have a special education teacher work with you to figure out how to talk to colleges.