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Assistance for the Disabled Student: Getting the Help You Need

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A student with a disability needs to be well informed of their rights and responsibilities. Schools also have responsibilities when it comes to the education of disabled students.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (Title II) prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability. Almost all postsecondary schools are subject to one or both of these laws.

These laws mean that your school is required to provide appropriate academic accommodations as necessary to ensure that it does not discriminate on the basis of disability. If your school provides housing to non-disabled students, it must provide comparable, convenient, and accessible housing to students with disabilities at the same cost. You also cannot be denied admission to a school simply because you have a disability.

Disclosure of a disability is entirely voluntary. However, if you require an academic accommodation or want to ensure you are assigned to accessible facilities, you must identify yourself as having a disability.

Most colleges have an office that provides support services to students with disabilities. They can advise you of the process of requesting an accommodation. It is wise to request accommodations as early as possible. You should follow your school’s procedures to ensure that your school has enough time to review your request and then provide an appropriate accommodation. Generally, a new request must be made each semester.

Your school will require documentation that shows you have a current disability and need an academic accommodation. The required documentation may include one or more of the following: a diagnosis of the disability, the date of the diagnosis, how the diagnosis was reached, the credentials of the professional, how your disability affects a major life activity, and how the disability affects your academic performance.

After receiving the required documentation, your school will review your request and determine the appropriate accommodations. The accommodations granted depend on your type of disability and your individual needs. Some examples of possible accommodations include: priority registration, reduced course loads, course substitution, note taking, interpreter services, extended time to complete assignments and tests, and various adaptive technologies. Let the school know immediately if an accommodation is not helping. Adjustment may need to be made.

If you ever feel that your school is discriminating against you, you have options. Most schools have a person that coordinates the school’s compliance with Section 504 and Title II. You can contact this person for information about how to address your concerns. The school will also have a grievance procedure for complaints. Filing a grievance ensures that you can raise your concerns fully and fairly and provides for the prompt resolution of your complaint.

As a student with a disability, you may face expenses that other students won’t encounter. When you apply for financial aid, inform the financial aid administrator of your disability-related expenses. Ask about and research scholarships that may be available for students with disabilities.

In college, you will be the one who is responsible for identifying and requesting support services. This means knowing your disability well and being able to convey your needs in a responsible manner. Most colleges prefer working directly with the student rather than with their parents. Self advocacy is essential.

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