What Services Should Colleges Offer to Students with Disabilities?

Posted by Josh Young on 9 March 2017 |

disability services offeredAccording to the most recent statistics made available, roughly 11 percent of undergraduate students reported having a disability of some kind, including learning disabilities, sensory impairment and physical limitations.

To protect these students and ensure that they receive access to higher education, the U.S. Department of Education established the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) whose job it is to enforce Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the American with Disabilities Act of 1990. When applied to education, these rules prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability, and place expectations on colleges and universities to offer additional support to students with disabilities.

These regulations apply to most institutions of higher learning and are mandatory for any state-run colleges and universities. Private or religious schools, however, may be exempt unless they receive any form of federal funding, such as accepting students who receive federal financial aid for their tuition. If they do, those schools must also comply with the prescribed guidelines.

What Are the Responsibilities of Your Campus?

Auxiliary aids

Per the ADA, your campus is required to provide "appropriate auxiliary aids and services" in a timely manner to any disabled student who requests support. Some of the more commonly requested aids are:

  • Note takers
  • Readers
  • Recording devices
  • Sign language interpreters
  • Screen readers
  • Voice recognition software
  • Braille printers
  • Specialized gym equipment

Your campus is expected to deliver these aids during class periods; however, you are routinely not obligated to provide them during the student's private study time. For example, you would need to offer a reader for a blind student during their morning Economics class, but you are not required to provide one for their Economics study group later in the afternoon.

However, for any services that your campuses offers to the general student body (such as free tutoring), you will need to make these tools available. Similarly, you must provide disabled students with the necessary auxiliary aids to locate and obtain library resources.

Academic Adjustments

Beyond auxiliary aids and services, you may need to provide further academic adjustments. These adjustments should cater to the unique disability of each student and may take the form of:

  • Offering priority registration
  • Reducing coarse loads
  • Ignoring penalties for spelling errors on papers or exams
  • Allowing students to substitute one course for another
  • Providing extended time for testing

While the intent of these adjustments is to accommodate the needs of the student, your school is not expected to lower or substantially modify the essential requirements for any course or degree program in a way that would compromise its integrity or that would place an undue administrative or financial burden on your organization.

You are also exempt from delivering any individually prescribed devices or services of a personal nature, such as attendants or tutors.

Housing

If your school offers dormitories or other campus housing for students, you need to make "comparable, convenient, and accessible" housing available to students with disabilities as well. And these facilities must be offered at the same cost.

Equal access

Your campus cannot deny admission to any student on the grounds of their disability. Similarly, your school must provide auxiliary aids and services to all disabled students, whether or not they are U.S. citizens. Support must also be provided to students who are merely auditing courses and are not actively involved in a degree-granting program.

Similarly, your campus cannot levy higher costs to students with disabilities for participating in extra-curricular programs or activities.

Support

In addition, your campus will need to provide a designated contact -- frequently identified as the Section 504 Coordinator or the ADA Coordinator -- that students may approach with questions or concerns regarding their requests for academic adjustments and auxiliary aids.

Your school should also have in place documented grievance procedures that seek to provide any complaints with a prompt and equitable resolution.

Conclusion

Ultimately, the goal of these requirements is to help your school provide disabled students with the same quality and access to higher education that you offer to all of your students. By better serving this community, you can create a richer, more diverse campus that benefits all of your students.

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