MODULE GOAL: To provide students with a basic knowledge and understanding of the services and accommodations typically offered by colleges and universities.
Colleges and universities have very different responsibilities than high schools in responding to the needs of students with disabilities. Specifically, colleges have far less responsibility. For example, high schools are responsible for identifying students having disabilities whereas in college it is the student's responsibility to come forward and to provide documentation of an existing disability. In high school, teachers may modify the curriculum and alter assignments to meet the student's needs. In college, students are expected to complete all assignments and components of the curriculum. Because the responsibilities of a college are very different from a high school, it is very important for students to know the services and accommodations their chosen college will provide to them. Students need to understand the role of a college DSS (Disability Support Services) office and what questions to ask when applying to various colleges. This module will help students know "what to know and what to ask".
Several questions are important as you think about the accommodations that you may need. These are:
- What is the role of the disability support services (DSS) program in postsecondary education?
- How will a DSS program determine if I am eligible for services?
- Does one department or program provide all services?
- Does one department or program provide all services?
- Is there a special admission process for students with disabilities?
- What are other types of accommodations a college might provide?
- What if I have a disability affected by physical barriers in the environment?
- Will colleges treat me differently because of a disability?
What is the role of the disability support services (DSS) program in postsecondary education?
The role of the DSS program is to ensure equal opportunity and equal access but not necessarily to ensure a student's success in college. Accommodations and services are provided to ensure students have equal access and an equal opportunity to be successful. DSS programs coordinate services for students with disabilities, provide assistance to faculty and staff on how to effectively work with students, provide technical assistance to the entire campus on creating a welcoming and accessible environment and provide inquirers with information and referral on disability-related issues.
For more information see: Students with Disabilities Preparing for Postsecondary Education: Know Your Rights and Responsibilities
How will a DSS program determine if I am eligible for services?
At the postsecondary (after high school) level, students have the right not to be identified as disabled. For this reason, students must take the initiative to contact and request academic accommodations. To qualify for disability services, students are required to provide diagnostic documentation from a licensed clinical professional familiar with the history and functional implications of the impairments. Disability documentation must adequately verify the nature and extent of the disability in accordance with current professional standards and techniques, and it must clearly substantiate the need for all of the student's specific accommodation requests.
Sample College Documentation Policies:
To find more: Google "college disability documentation policy"
Does one department or program provide all services?
A disability can affect many aspects of a person's life: housing, transportation, education, work, recreation, etc. Colleges may elect to respond to the needs of a person with a disability at the point of contact (decentralized) or they may identify a single source through which all contact should occur (centralized). For example, adaptive computing hardware and software may be integrated into the information technology facilities or there may be a special adaptive lab for individuals with disabilities. Some colleges charge one program, typically the Disabled Student Services office, with addressing any issue relating to disability; other colleges distribute responsibility throughout various campus departments.
- The role of the DSS program is to ensure equal opportunity and equal access, but not necessarily to guarantee your success.
- Colleges may either elect to respond to the needs of a person with a disability at the point of contact (decentralized) or they may identify a single source through which all contact should occur (centralized)
- Once you have located a college of interest, contact the disabled student services office and ask what disability-related documentation you will need to provide in order to receive accommodations at that school.
- Also, ask about typical accommodations and services they provide to students with disabilities similar to yours.
Is there a special admission process for students with disabilities?
If you meet the essential requirements for admission, a college or university may not deny your admission simply because you have a disability. However, a college is not expected or required to modify its entrance requirements to accommodate an applicant. Colleges may alter entrance requirements if they chose to; some do, most do not.
Neither the ADA nor the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504) requires a university to waive entrance requirements, including math and foreign language, that the university rationally concludes would alter an essential part of its academic requirements. However, some colleges will honor waivers or substitutions provided by high schools.
Sample Voluntary Consideration Process:
OPTIONAL DISCLOSURE OF A DISABILITY
The University of Utah is committed to providing equal access to students with a disability. If you feel your high school or college performance has been impacted by a diagnosed disability, you may contact the Center for Disability Services for assistance. You will need to provide documentation of your disability. You may also request consideration of your disability in the admissions process by writing a statement to admissions briefly explaining the impact of your disability. For information about the services available to students with a disability and the documentation required, please visit our website at http://disability.utah.edu/ or call (801) 581-7200 (Voice/TTY). The process is voluntary and confidential.
What do I need to know about college entrance examinations?Pre-college examination (e.g., SAT, PSAT, ACT) scores may be important for acceptance into the college of your choice. Appropriate accommodations can help you demonstrate your abilities to their fullest when taking an exam. If you earn a lower score than you feel capable of, ask if you can re-take the exam.
Colleges are not expected or required to modify their entrance requirements to accommodate an applicant, but they can if they so choose.
- Refer to the Module on College Application Process for more information.
- Talk to a school guidance counselor or a teacher about accommodations for college entrance exams (i.e., SAT, ACT).
- Talk with the Disabled Student Services Coordinator at the colleges you are considering.
- Visit: The College Board "Services for Students with Disabilities for information on SAT accommodations.
- Visit: Educational Testing Services "Test Takers with Disabilities".
- Contact the colleges and/or universities you are considering and ask if there is a special process or consideration for admission.
- If you have had a substitution or waiver of an academic requirement, ask the college if they will recognize and accept that as an accommodation.
What are the instructional accommodations available for students with disabilities at postsecondary institutions?
The following are the types of accommodations typically available at colleges and universities:
- Alternative testing: permits students with disabilities to take exams with their disability minimized to the greatest extent possible while not fundamentally altering the intent of the exam or lowering the program standards of the university. Test accommodations may include additional test time, alternative test formats (e.g., large print, audio or Braille), or the use of adaptive equipment (word processors, electronic spelling checkers, text enlargers).
- Note taking: students whose disability limitations include hearing loss or deafness, coordination/motor limitations, and some types of psychological or learning disabilities, may be eligible for note taking services. Note takers may volunteer or be paid and are usually students enrolled in the course.
- Document conversion: (also known as alternative media) course materials in alternative formats including audio, Braille and enlarged text.
- Sign Language: simultaneous conversion of spoken language to sign language and vice versa.
- Oral: using silent oral techniques and natural gestures, transliteration of a spoken message from a person who hears to a person who is deaf or hard-of-hearing.
- Cued Speech: a visual communication system - mouth movements of speech combine with "cues" to make all the sounds (phonemes) of spoken language look different.
- CART (Computer-Assisted RealTime Captioning): the instant translation of the spoken word into English text performed by a CART reporter using a stenotype machine, notebook computer and realtime software.
- Registration Assistance: priority registration enables students to register earlier than their usual registration time in order to provide equal access to educational programs. Some colleges have eligibility criteria based upon a specific functional limitation; others provide it regardless of need.
- Laboratory/Library Assistance: assistance in a library or laboratory when a student cannot directly access physical space, equipment or resources.
- Information Technology Access: access to electronic information including hardware, software, websites, learning management systems, electronic reserves, computer labs, kiosks, etc.
- Reduced Course Load: authorization for a reduced course load permits a student to register for a course load that is less than full-time, while still being considered a full-time student. Students authorized for a reduced course load are entitled to all services enjoyed by full-time students, and should be considered to be full-time students for purposes such as housing, scholarships, academic honors, etc.
- Assistive Listening Devices (ALD): ALDs allow people who are hard of hearing to participate more fully in activities by increasing the volume of a desired sound, such as the soundtrack of a movie or the voice of an instructor, without increasing the loudness of background noises.
- Course Substitution/Waiver: neither the ADA nor the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504) requires a university to provide course substitutions that the university rationally concludes would alter an essential part of its academic program. A university can refuse to modify academic degree requirements, even course requirements that students with learning disabilities cannot satisfy---as long as it undertakes a diligent assessment of the available options. However, providing a course substitution in foreign language for students with demonstrated language disabilities may be a reasonable modification to academic requirements. Colleges may provide course substitutions, even waivers, as an accommodation, but they are not required to do so. (Elizabeth Guckenberger, et al., Plaintiffs v. Boston University, et al., Defendants, 974 F.Supp. 106 U.S. District Court, Massachusetts, 96-11426-PBS, August 15, 1997)
- Seating: some students, for example those using a wheelchair or having a hearing loss, may need to sit in specific areas of the classroom in order to lip read an instructor, see the blackboard or sit comfortably. Adjustable tables and/or ergonomic chairs may also be provided in some circumstances
- Understand your accommodation needs.
- Colleges differ in the types and/or level of services provided.
- Identify the services and accommodations you might want to request in college.
- Talk with the Disabled Student Services Coordinator at the colleges you are considering and, assuming you meet the eligibility criteria, ask if those accommodations will be available to you.
Examples of Academic Accommodations:
What are other types of accommodations a college might provide?
In addition to accommodations within the instructional setting (i.e., classroom), students may need access to programs and activities throughout the college. These are referred to as co-curricular programs and activities. Co-curricular essentially means everything outside of the standard academic curriculum. This includes admissions, financial aid, registration, housing, intramural sports, student organizations and government, fraternities and sororities, athletics, counseling and health services, academic skills and tutoring centers and more.
The college has an obligation to ensure students with disabilities have an equal opportunity and equal access to all co-curricular activities and programs. Colleges can accomplish access to co-curricular programs and activities either centrally through a DSS program or by distributing responsibility throughout the various departments.
What if I have a disability affected by physical barriers in the environment (i.e., steps, curbs)?
Colleges have an obligation to ensure buildings, classrooms, restrooms and other facilities are accessible to people with disabilities. Access requirements can be founds at: http://www.access-board.gov/adaag/html/adaag.htm. In addition to removing physical barriers, colleges must ensure there are adequate paths of travel, appropriate accessible parking, proper signage, and articulated emergency evacuation procedures.
Is there anybody else out there like me?
Actually, yes. Visit the National Disabled Student Union, an association made up of, and for, college students with disabilities.
- Colleges have an obligation to ensure all programs and activities, including curricular and co-curricular, are accessible to students with disabilities.
- Colleges must follow access requirements developed by the federal government for buildings and physical areas (i.e., walkways, parking lots).
- If you need an environment free of physical barriers, try to visit the campus you hope to attend and see for yourself if you can maneuver successfully.
- If you are unable to make a campus visit, ask for an "access map" or search the college website for information on physical accessibility.
- Ask the Disabled Student Services Coordinator at the colleges you are considering if you can be put in touch with other current students having similar access needs.
Will colleges treat me differently because of a disability?
No. In the past, educational institutions from elementary through post secondary schools often segregated students with disabilities requiring "special" services and education. Currently, many colleges attempt to modify the environment rather than change or accommodate the individual. This idea is called universal design (UD). UD is the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design. (Ron Mace, Center for Universal Design, North Carolina State University)
The goal of UD in postsecondary education is to create environments where having a disability is neutral. Individuals are able to participate in curricular and co-curricular activities and programs without the need for special adaptation or accommodation.
Universal design applied to education is called "Universal Design in Learning" (UDL). UDL mirrors the universal design movement in architecture and product development. Think of speakerphones, curb cuts, and close-captioned television-all universally designed to accommodate a wide variety of users, including those with disabilities. More information can be found here.
Embedded features in products that help those with disabilities eventually benefit everyone. UDL uses technology's power and flexibility to make education more inclusive and effective for all.
- Examples of universal design in a learning environment are:
- Encourages contact between students and faculty
- Develops reciprocity and cooperation among students
- Encourages active learning
- Gives prompt feedback
- Emphasizes time on task
- Communicates high expectations, and respect diverse talents and ways of learning
Examples of a non-universally designed environment are:
- Specialized computer lab for students with disabilities rather than making the campus computer lab accessible.
- Specialized academic or career advising services rather than students with disabilities receiving advising from the established program or process.
- Courses taught by straight lecture, no peer interaction and only multiple-choice exams to evaluate learning.
- Colleges should create physical and learning environments designed to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design. This is called "universal design".
- Universally designed products, programs, activities and classrooms focus on the environment, not the individual and thus help eliminate the need for "special" services.
Ask the Disabled Student Services Coordinator at the colleges you are considering if the college has, or is, creating universally designed campus. If yes, ask for examples.
What would a universally designed course look like?
A class that is universally designed might include:
- A comprehensive syllabus with clearly identified course requirements, accommodation statement and due dates.
- Peer mentoring, group discussions and cooperative learning, rather than strictly lecture.
- Course content on line allowing students to "pick up" material that might have been missed in lecture
(Adapted from Fast Facts for Faculty, Ohio State University, US Department of Education under grant # P333A990046)
POSTSECONDARY (related to colleges, universities, and/or employment)
ASSESSMENT AND EVALUATION:
What should I know now that I have reviewed this module?
- The role of a college or university's DSS program is to ensure equal opportunity and equal access but not necessarily to ensure a student's success in college.
- Students have the right not to be identified as disabled and must take the initiative to contact and request academic accommodations and to provide diagnostic documentation from a licensed clinical professional.
- Pre-college examination (e.g., SAT, PSAT, ACT) scores may be important for acceptance into the college of your choice.
- A postsecondary school may not deny your admission simply because you have a disability; however, a college is not expected or required to modify its entrance requirements.
- Colleges provide accommodations and services for both curricular and co-curricular activities; however, how they do it varies from campus to campus.
- There are many types of curricular accommodations and you should become familiar with the ones that you may need.
- Colleges have an obligation to ensure buildings, classrooms, restrooms and other facilities are accessible to people with disabilities.
- Universal design (UD) is the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.
Now that you have read this module, you should have an understanding that the next phase of your education is going to be different. You are now responsible, not your parents, for advocating and arranging your own services and accommodations. Some colleges are more prepared than others at meeting the needs of students with disabilities. Your job is to find out if the college you want to attend can provide the level of services necessary for you to be successful. You should do the following:
Ask your high school counselor about:
- Transition programs that can help prepare you for college.
- Disability-related test-taking accommodations you may be eligible for on the PSAT's, SAT or ACT exams
- Research your rights and responsibilities. (www.disability.gov)
- Determine the type of services and support you expect from the college you will attend.
- Write down the questions you want to ask the disability services program coordinator.
- Obtain documentation from your school on the services you received (IEP, 504 Plan, etc.)
- Review eligibility requirements for accommodations on standardized exams (PSAT, SAT, ACT, etc.)
- Evaluate your ability to use computer technologies and consider your assistive technology needs.
- If you need an environment free of physical barriers, try to visit the campus you hope to attend and see for yourself if you can maneuver successfully.
- Go to college and enjoy!
Sample questions to ask when contacting a college regarding services and accommodations:
- What documentation do you require me to provide?
- What is your process and criteria for determining eligibility?
- Assuming I am eligible, what services might I receive?
- How many students with disabilities do you provide services to? (How many with my disability?)
- How many staff do you have? Is there anyone on staff with expertise in (describe your disability?)
- In addition to standard accommodations (testing, note-taking), do you provide any supplemental or additional services? For example, learning support programs including tutoring and study skill assistance.
- Is there any individual or unique assistance/review in the admissions process for a student with a disability?
- (If appropriate) How physically accessible is your campus? Is housing accessible?
- (If appropriate) Will the college accept my foreign language waiver from high school?
- Could you put me in touch with current students with disabilities attending your college?
This document made possible in part by the support of The HSC Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based foundation dedicated to expanding access and success in education beyond high school. HEATH is affiliated with The George Washington University Graduate School of Education and Human Development. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of The HSC Foundation. No official endorsement by the Foundation or of any product, commodity, service or enterprise mentioned in this publication is intended or should be inferred. Permission to use, copy, and distribute this document for non-commercial use and without fee, is hereby granted if appropriate credit to the HEATH Resource Center at the National Youth Transitions Center is included in all copies.