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Disability Rights - College vs. High School Disability Rights

Understanding Differences in Disability Rights in High School and College


Updated November 18, 2010

Understanding Disability Rights

Disability Rights in High School vs. College

Big changes await as your child with a disability readies for college. Among them will be a change in disability rights. In public schools, your child's disability rights are governed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. In college, the major legislation affecting disability rights is the Americans with Disabilities Act. Learn about the major differences between the two laws and how they affect your child's disability rights.

Roles in Disability Rights

College brings a whole new perspective on life and on disability rights for both you and your child. Probably the most jarring aspect for parents is the fact that in the eyes of the law, your role is no longer to be your child's representative. Your child is no longer seen as the "child" but as an adult student charged with making his own decisions and being responsible for his own learning. In public schools, parents are a part of IEP meetings and have decision-making input into what services the student will receive and how they will be delivered. In college, there is no IEP meeting, there is no team of professionals dedicated to developing individualized services for your student, parents may or may not be invited to participate in any communication, and your adult student now has the right to include or exclude you. This prospect terrifies many parents, and justifiably so. Does this mean you can have no influence at all in what happens with your student's future? No. It does mean, however, that the way you achieve that influence changes. Learn what you can do to influence decision making in your student's disability rights in college.

Disability Rights to Services

Disability rights to services are another significant change between public school and college for your student with disabilities. In public schools, your student was individually evaluated at the school's expense. An IEP was developed annually with your input and consent for services. She may have received supportive related services such as occupational, physical, or speech therapy at public expense. She had available a range of services from working in a regular classroom with the support of a trained special education teacher or aide to services in a special education classroom with a low number of students to adults. Her instruction was based almost entirely on her individual learning goals as agreed upon in the IEP.

In college, there may be no individual evaluation. There is no IEP. There are no related services provided by the college, (though your child may continue to qualify for those services if medically necessary under other programs outside the college system.) There is no range of services available beyond some remedial offerings that vary from college to college. Instruction will not be individualized, and instructional standards will not be changed based on your student's individual needs. So what is left? Reasonable accommodations.

Reasonable accommodations are actions taken or accommodations provided to minimize the impact of your student's disability on his ability to participate in college. Reasonable accommodations are not changes in course content or course standards. Instead, reasonable accommodations are intended to "level the playing field" between disabled and non-disabled students. Reasonable accommodations may include options such as extended time for test-taking, use of a reader or scribe, assistive technology, oral reports instead of written reports, or alternate forms of class projects. In college, determining what is reasonable is mostly at the discretion of the student's professors and disability resource professionals. In determining what accommodations are reasonable for your student, available diagnostic information will be used; previous IEPs may or may not be reviewed; and your student's input will be considered. The goal of any accommodation is to allow the student to participate and access the program without altering the essence of the program.

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