Students and parents are often surprised to learn that the process of obtaining accommodations, such as assistive technology, in college and other postsecondary programs is very different than in K-12 public schools. This is because the legal requirements are different.
When a student leaves the K-12 setting and moves on to higher education, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) no longer applies. Instead, civil rights laws for people with disabilities, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, regulate how postsecondary programs must accommodate the needs of students with disabilities.
In higher education, the student is responsible for contacting the appropriate program at the school to identify themselves as a student with a disability and to request necessary accommodations. The student must also provide paperwork that documents his or her disability. If the student does not identify him or herself as a student with a disability in need of accommodations, the college is not obligated to provide accommodations to the student.
Usually the school’s disability support office can help students through the process of arranging necessary accommodations. To ensure that colleges provide reasonable and appropriate accommodations, the student may be asked to supply the school with documentation such as a list of accommodations that have been used successfully in the past or a recent IEP from high school.
It is a good idea for the student to request accommodations prior to each school term rather than waiting until they find it difficult to complete the coursework. A student who needs books and other instructional materials in alternative formats, such as audio, large print, or Braille, should request these items early enough so that the material is ready when classes begin.
Although colleges may provide assistive devices as reasonable accommodations, they are not required to and may not provide the most sophisticated technology available. It is acceptable for a college to provide different technology than what the student prefers or is familiar with.
The availability of accommodations in higher education settings often varies, depending on the college or program the student attends. The following table provides a sampling of common accommodation options for areas in education. It is not intended to be comprehensive.
|Extended test time||Audio books||Computer or portable word processor||Interpreter for people who are hearing impaired|
|Allowing breaks during test taking||Large-print or Braille materials||Electronic spell checker & dictionary||Assistance with note taking|
|Low-distraction testing environment||Screen magnifiers||Speech recognition software||Digital recorder|
|Repeating directions||Scan-and-read software and pens||Talking word processor||FM listening device|
|Oral testing||Computer Braille display||Graphic organizer software||Computer for taking notes|
|Allow use of computer or calculator||Colored overlays||Slant board||Real time captioning|
|Other reading services||Scribe|
|Alternative mouse device||Graph paper||Post-it notes||Digital recorder|
|Alternative keyboard||Calculation chart||Highlighters and highlight tape||Timers|
|Computer access software||Talking calculator||Index Cards||Talking watch|
|Voice recognition||Accessible math software||Day planner||Print or picture schedule|
|Personal data assistants||software for organization of ideas|
|Graphic organizer software||Voice output reinders for tasks, assignments, steps to tasks|
Tips for Transition Planning and Accommodations
1. Learn about the latest assistive technology options that could be useful to your son or daughter now and in the future by contacting PACER’s Simon Technology Center. For a listing of AT Resource Centers in your area, visit the Alliance for Technology Access Web site at www.ataccess.org. (PACER is an AT Resource Center)
2. Actively involve your son or daughter in the selection and set-up of any assistive technology they use. The youth should learn to manage their assistive equipment independently or feel comfortable directing support providers to assist with the set-up.
3. Involve your son or daughter in creating a student file for assistive technology and other accommodations that includes documentation of disability, accommodation needs, technology needs, technology emergency back-up plan, and contact information for repair services.
4. Start exploring postsecondary institutions with your son or daughter if he or she is interested in pursuing higher education. Talk with others to identify colleges that offer strong support programs for students with disabilities. Be sure to make an appointment with the disabilities support office to find out what kind of accommodations the school provides and whether they adequately meet your child’s needs.
Sharon, a first-year college student, has a learning disability that affected her reading and writing. In high school, all her books were on tape, she took her exams separately, and she was allowed extra time to complete them. Sharon did not to request accommodations when she began her first year of college because she felt she could manage without the additional support. At mid-semester, however, she had failed two mid-term exams, and she became concerned about passing her classes. Sharon decided to contact her school’s student services office to request accommodations she had previously received in high school. She also contacted her instructors and informed them of her disability and the accommodations she needed. As a result, Sharon improved her test scores and passed both of the classes she had been failing.