Ten Most Commonly Asked Questions by Parents of College Bound Students with Disabilities 

1.   Will the disability accommodations provided in college be the same as those provided in high school?

It is important to know that colleges and universities provide accommodations under the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (as recently amended) and Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act. Neither act require postsecondary institutions to provide accommodations that fundamentally alter the essential requirements of a course, alter the core curriculum of an academic program, or provide assistance that is considered to be “personal” in nature. Therefore, it is feasible that some accommodations provided in high school may not be provided in postsecondary education. For a detailed explanation of the ADA and Section 504 as it pertains to college and university requirements, visit: http://www.lansing.cc.mi.us/odss/files/comparison_chart.pdf

2.   When should we make contact with the college disability support services (DSS) office?

Because the services provided by a DSS office can vary from minimal to extensive, it is important to determine whether the DSS office can meet individual student needs before the student enrolls in the institution. Students and parents are strongly encouraged to visit the DSS office as early as their junior year in high school. Each college visit should include a scheduled meeting with the campus DSS office for a detailed investigation of its service offerings.

3.   Is my child’s written Individualized Education Program (IEP) sufficient to establish college eligibility for disability support services?

An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is a function of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a K-12 special education statute that applies to public K-12 schools. The IDEA does not apply to postsecondary institutions. Thus, the IEP, while helpful in establishing a history of using accommodations, does not apply in the postsecondary setting. Colleges will typically require more detailed information of the disability to determine eligibility for accommodations--information that usually far exceeds what exists within the IEP. For an example of the most common documentation requirements for students with disabilities seeking college accommodations, visit resources for test takers with disabilities at http://www.ets.org/.

4.   Should my son or daughter disclose their disability on the college admission application?

College admissions applications are generally prohibited from asking students if they have a disability; however, whether to disclose the existence of a disability is a personal decision that should be considered carefully. For example, if a student has overcome significant odds and achieved academically, disclosing the disability in a personal statement highlights their record of accomplishment and could be a benefit. If electing to disclose, the goal is to highlight your academic strengths, not your weaknesses. Whether you choose to disclose or not, postsecondary institutions are not required to waive or lower its admission criteria because a student has a disability.

5.   Are there existing scholarships specifically for students with disabilities?

Colleges and universities typically offer scholarships for students meeting a wide variety of criteria and characteristics, including disability status. Check with both the college’s office of financial aid and scholarship, as well as the DSS office to inquire as to what is available. Many national organizations serving individuals with disabilities also offer scholarships and thus, parents and students should contact these organizations directly for specific information.

6.   Will my son or daughter’s disability qualify him/ her for a single residence hall room?

As with all accommodation requests at the postsecondary level, qualification for a single residence hall room will be evaluated on an individualized basis. Students should make their request known to the DSS office before they enroll. The exact nature of the student’s disability and the resulting impact on both the student and the potential roommate(s) will be one of the determining factors.

7.   Will the DSS staff have expertise in my child’s disability?

The professional training and background of the DSS office professional staff can vary immensely from campus to campus. Some may have specific training in certain disability areas, such as learning disabilities, cognitive disorders, mental health disorders or physical disabilities, while others may have a generalist background in such fields as counseling, education, or social work to name a few. When investigating the service offered by the DSS office, do not hesitate to inquire about the expertise, training, and credentials of the professional staff.

8.   Are private tutors available?

The U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights has been consistent in its findings that tutoring is a “personal service” and therefore, postsecondary institutions are under no obligation to provide it. On most college campuses however, some form of tutoring will be available. Students with disabilities will have access to existing tutoring services on the same basis as other students. Some campuses with comprehensive DSS models may indeed provide specialized, private professional tutoring for students with disabilities, although there may be a fee associated with this specialized service.

9.   Will the college keep me informed of my child’s academic progress?

Colleges and universities view enrolled students as adults and will generally place limits on divulging personal information of its students, even if the parents are footing the bill. Further, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) restricts some of the information the college and DSS office can share with parents without written permission from the student. Therefore, parents should assume that neither the DSS office nor the college will release information relating to a student’s academic progress. For a detailed explanation of FERPA, visit http://www.ed.gov/offices/OM/fpco/ferpa.

10.   Is there a centralized resource that can provide me with detailed information on the DSS offices throughout the country as we begin the college selection process?

There are a number of publications that provide an overview of the DSS offices of colleges and universities throughout the country. For example, The K & W Guide to Colleges for Students with Learning Disabilities and Attention Deficits Disorders and The Peterson’s Guide to Colleges for Students with Learning Disabilities, are great resources. Information provided in these guides will generally include the number of students with disabilities served, the accommodations and services available, and name and contact information of the DSS office. These guides are wonderful starting points but, as in shopping for a house, a pictorial overview should not take the place of an in-depth, inside tour. T2C college coaching services can help guide you through that tour by providing helpful suggestions regarding what to look for.

By Dr. Kendra Johnson, as printed in the 9th and soon to be released, 10th editions of the K & W Guide to Colleges for Students with Learning Disabilities or Attention Deficit Disorder (Random House/Princeton Review). ©Copyrighted