Students & Disabilities

Click here for a worksheet on how High School and College Accommodations Differ for Students with Disabilities

The Law

AHEAD: Association on Higher Education and Disability (www.ahead.org)

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 states: No otherwise qualified person with a disability in the United States…shall, solely by reason of…disability, be denied the benefits of, be excluded from participation in, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.

Under Section 504, Colleges & Universities May Not

  • Limit the number of students with disabilities admitted
  • Make pre-admission inquiries as to whether an applicant is disabled
  • Use admissions tests or criteria that inadequately measure the academic qualifications of disabled students because appropriate modifications were not made for them
  • Exclude a qualified student with a disability from any course of study
  • Limit eligibility of a student with disability for financial assistance or otherwise discriminate in administering scholarship, fellowships, internships, or assistantships on the basis of disability
  • Counsel a student with a disability toward a more restrictive career
  • Measure student achievement using modes that adversely discriminate against a student with a disability
  • Establish policies, practices or procedures that may adversely affect students with disabilities

To Inform or Not to Inform

Students with Disabilities Brochure: U.S. Department of Education (2007)

  • Students DO NOT have to inform the post-secondary institution if they have a disability. However, if the student wants the school to provide an academic adjustment, they must identify themselves as having a disability.
  • A disability cannot be considered during the admission process unless a student requests that their application be given special consideration.
  • A post-secondary institution cannot deny a student admission if they meet the requirements simply because they have a disability.

What Documentation is Needed?

Schools vary as to what they require. A school may require a student to provide documentation prepared by an appropriate professional, such as a medical doctor, psychologist or other qualified diagnostician. Although an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or Section 504 plan may help identify services that have been effective for the student, it generally is not sufficient documentation.

What is Required in the Documentation

The required documentation may include one or more of the following:

  1. a diagnosis of the student’s current disability
  2. the date of the diagnosis
  3. how the diagnosis was reached
  4. the credentials of the professional
  5. how the student’s disability affects a major life activity
  6. how the disability affects academic performance

What Accommodations Might a College/University Provide?

AHEAD: Association on Higher Education and Disability (www.ahead.org)

A college or university has the flexibility to select the specific aid or service it provides, as long as it is effective.

Accommodations may include:

  • providing readers for blind or learning disabled individuals
  • providing qualified interpreters and note takers for deaf and hard of hearing students
  • providing note takers for students with learning disabilities
  • allowing extra time to complete exams
  • permitting examinations to be individually proctored, read orally, dictated, or typed;
  • changing test formats (e.g., from multiple choice to essay)
  • using alternative forms for students to demonstrate course mastery (e.g., a narrative tape instead of a written journal)
  • permitting the use of computer software programs or other assistive technological devices to assist in test-taking and study skills

How to Prepare for Post-Secondary Education

Students with disabilities who know their rights and responsibilities are much better equipped to succeed in post-secondary education.

  1. Make sure your testing is up-to-date and obtain copies of your records
  2. Learn about your disability–specific description of your disability, academic and personal strengths and weaknesses, what support did you receive in high school
  3. Learn how to be a self-advocate–become knowledgeable and comfortable about describing your disability so you can advocate for yourself with faculty.
  4. Be able to answer the following two questions: In college, I think I will need help in the following areas…. and I would benefit from the following classroom modifications…
  5. Be organized
    • Set realistic goals and priorities for coursework
    • Keep one calendar with all relevant dates, assignments and appointments
    • Make notes of any question you might have so that they can be answered before the next exam
    • Estimate how long a given class assignment will take, generally planning on two hours outside of class for every hour in class; build in study breaks

Successful College Students:

  • Manage their time effectively
  • Make connections
  • Choose courses carefully (with advising!)
  • Seek assistance through supportive people
  • Use problem solving and learning strategies
  • Focus on abilities rather than weaknesses
  • Employ effective social skills in a variety of settings
  • Take responsibility for themselves


A great website that provides a list and links to schools that have specific programs for Learning Disabled Students can be found by clicking here.


  • K&W Guide to Colleges for Students with Learning Disabilities or Attention Deficit Disorder. By Marybeth Kravets, MA, and Imy F. Wax, MS.


Questions to Ask an Admission Counselor

Questions to be Ready to Answer When Visiting a College

Association on Higher Education and Disabilitywww.ahead.org
Council for Exceptional Childrenwww.cec.sped.org
Council for Learning Disabilitieswww.cldinternational.org
Learning Disabilities Association of Americawww.ldanatl.org
National Center for Learning Disabilitieswww.ncld.org