Five Steps To Get Disability Accommodations In College


Last Updated on July 28, 2022 by Michelle Ball

By Michelle Ball, Sacramento California Expulsion, Special Education, sports/CIF, College, Education and School Attorney/Lawyer for Students since 1995

Once a student transitions from high school to college, their world changes.  If they were a special education student with an IEP (Individualized Education Program) in their high school, they will not be anymore.  They may try to muddle through college without supports, and eventually may fail or drop out if they do not obtain some form of reasonable accommodations for their disabilities in college. But, what steps do students need to take to obtain disability accommodations at their college?

STEP ONE:  The first thing which a student who suffers from a disabling condition must do is NOTIFY the college they have a disability, preferably in writing.  In the college catalog or handbook, there is likely listed a disabled student services or other office to contact, which is in charge of setting up reasonable accommodations for disabled students.  So, step number one is to contact that office to start the process.  If possible, this should be done even before starting classes, to ensure accommodations are in place when the student enters their first class.  However, even if classes have started, the student may still request accommodations for their disabilities.

STEP TWO:  Next, the college student must complete and return the forms which will likely be provided by the college disability office, and provide EVIDENCE (medical documentation) that the student suffers from a disability that impacts a “major life activity.”

STEP THREE:  The student then needs to ensure that either they or the office they are working with, provides the information to each of the student’s professors.  Professors can sometimes be resistant to student disability plans, so if the student finds the plan is not being implemented or they are being treated differently, they need to go back to the disability office to seek help with enforcement.

STEP FOUR:  Tweaking the plan in place periodically will be important as needs can change depending on the class or setting.  Students with disabilities are not entitled to as much as they may have been in high school, but reasonable accommodations cover a vast array of supports, such as extended time on tests, note takers, testing in a separate location, technological supports, and many other useful items.  Not all students are entitled to the same thing and what will be provided will depend on the individual student’s needs.

STEP FIVE:  If the disabled student cannot get reasonable accommodations, for example their professors will not implement them, and/or the college is refusing to provide them what they need, the student can attempt to resolve the matter internally via the college’s own discrimination complaint process.  

If the student does not want to file internally or their internal complaint is not successful, the student may also want to review potentially filing a discrimination complaint outside the college.  For public colleges, complaints may be filed with the United States of Education, Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights. For private colleges, students would want to review filing with the United States Department of Justice.  Time limits are in place for all filings so the student should submit complaints as soon as possible and should make themselves aware of all filing deadlines.

If you know a student in college who is having difficulties connected to their disabilities, please pass this on to them as lack and/or provision of reasonable accommodations can make the difference between the student completing or failing college.  With no college, their career choices may be more limited and their whole life may be altered for the worse for simple lack of reasonable accommodations in college.