Transitioning from High School to College: What every student with disabilities should know

If you are a student with a disability, you have rights at a post-secondary institution such as a college or university. It is important to be well informed about those rights, and to also understand that you play a critical role in advocating for yourself. This document is provided to give you an overview of your rights and responsibilities as you transition from high school to college. Much of the information here comes from the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights.

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504), and the Americans with Disability Act of 1990 (Title II) are the laws that govern how students with disabilities are to be treated. These laws state that post-secondary institutions cannot discriminate against students with disabilities, and also specify that institutes of higher education are required to provide accommodations to students with disabilities.

How is getting accommodations in college different from high school?

The laws referenced above prohibit discrimination of students with disabilities at any level of their educational pursuits. However, the laws require some actions on the part of elementary and secondary schools that are not mandatory for post-secondary institutions. Most notably:

  • Public elementary and secondary schools are required to identify the educational needs of all students. Post-secondary institutions are not required to recognize the needs of students. It is the responsibility of the student to inform the college or university that s/he has a disability. You are not required to disclose your disability, but if you want to have accommodations for that disability you have to reveal information about your condition.

  • In elementary and secondary school, school personnel often do testing and make observations to substantiate the existence of a student’s disability. This information is typically reflected in an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). When requesting accommodations at the post-secondary level, IEP’s are not sufficient evidence of a disability. Post-secondary students may be required to obtain additional testing (at their own expense), and are likely to be required to have documentation from a healthcare provider who can make a formal diagnosis and provide other helpful information.

  • Elementary and secondary schools often make substantial adjustments to their curriculum for students with disabilities. For example, they may reduce class workload for a student with a disability or give him/her a different version of a test. Post-secondary institutions cannot make changes to course requirements or examinations. They cannot fundamentally alter the nature of an academic program or activity.

  • In elementary and secondary school, teachers and school administrators are responsible for arranging everything a student with a disability needs. When attending a post-secondary institution, a student who wants accommodations has to follow procedures to initiate and maintain accommodations. For example, at Barry University, students who have the accommodation of extra time for testing have to inform the Office of Accessibility Services and their professor whenever they want to take a test with extra time.

  • In elementary and secondary school, parents of students with disabilities are usually the people who meet with educators and administrators to talk about accommodations. At the post-secondary level, the student (not his/her parent) is responsible for engaging in the interactive process necessary to arrange for accommodations.