Making the Transition to College
In order to be effective self-advocates, students need to be informed about disability-related legislation. It is especially important to know about the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (especially Section 504) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 as well as the differences between them and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1990. In addition, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) of 1974 protects the confidentiality of student records, which is very important for students with disabilities and their families to understand.
IDEA, Section 504, and ADA: Understanding the Differences
High school students with disabilities must understand their rights under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (which guarantee the civil rights of persons with disabilities) and how these differ from the rights and services they received under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
Under IDEA, which is the legislation that guarantees a free appropriate public education and governs the provision of special education services to students with disabilities in elementary and secondary schools, the school is responsible for: identifying students with disabilities, providing all necessary assessments and for monitoring the provision of special education services. These special education services, which are described in detail in a student's Individualized Education Program (IEP) and Individualized Transition Plan (ITP), could significantly alter the requirements of the "standard" high school academic program.
Requirements for high school diplomas may be changed under IDEA, as well. For example, dependent on their particular disabilities, some students' programs of study under IDEA may not include certain language, mathematics, or science courses that are usually required courses for a diploma.
However, IDEA does not apply to higher education. Colleges and universities do not offer "special" education. Under Section 504 and the ADA, colleges and universities are prohibited from discriminating against a person because of disability. Institutions must provide reasonable modifications, accommodations, or auxiliary aids which will enable qualified students to have access to, participate in, and benefit from the full range of the educational programs and activities which are offered to all students on campus. Examples, which may assist students with learning disabilities, include but are not limited to:
- use of reader, scribe for exams
- extra time to complete exams
- print material in alternate format (E-Text, Braille, Enlarged)
- notetaker in the classroom
Decisions regarding the exact accommodations to be provided are made on an individualized basis, and the college or university has the flexibility to select the specific aid or service it provides, as long as it is effective. Colleges and universities are not required by law to provide aides, services, or devices for personal use or study.
Unlike elementary and secondary schools, postsecondary institutions are not required to design special academic programs for students with disabilities. Postsecondary institutions are required to provide accommodations so qualified students with disabilities will have equal access to the regular academic program. After equal access is provided, it is the student's responsibility to demostrate their abilities. Section 504 and the ADA do not require postsecondary institutions to alter their requirements for either admissions or graduation.
Understanding the Changes in Level of Responsibility
Students with disabilities need to know that the level of responsibility regarding the provision of services changes after high school. As mentioned above, throughout the elementary and secondary years, it is the responsibility of the school system to identify students with disabilities and to initiate the delivery of special education services. However, while Section 504 and the ADA require postsecondary institutions to provide accommodative services to students with disabilities, once the student has been admitted to a college or university it is the student's responsibility to self-identify and provide documentation of the disability. The college or university is not required to provide any academic accommodations until the student takes the following two steps.
The enrolled student must "self-identify." That means the student must go to the Access Center, Auraria Library, Suite 116 to request accommodationsand follow the established procedures for becoming approved for accommodations.
The student must provide acceptable documentation of his or her disability. (See Simple 3-Step Process).