Just as every student with a disability is an individual with a unique personality and set of skills, it is important to understand that colleges are also diverse. While colleges and universities are required to comply with the same legal mandates how they fulfill that legal mandate is up to the institution. Today, the majority of colleges have some individual or office assigned the responsibility to work with students with disabilities. That office may be a general counseling center, the dean of students, an academic skills lab or a separate disability office. Not all postsecondary institutions provide exactly the same programs and services for students with disabilities nor do they provide those services in exactly the same way. Remember that you are shopping for a college. In a perfect world you would find exactly the match of services you want. Ours, however, is the real world. You have a list of needs and expectations and are looking for the college that can best meet your needs. It is important to know that the college you choose can offer the kinds of programs and support services that you requires to support your deficit areas—your strengths should be managed with minimal assistance.
This topic addresses one of the most fundamental differences between the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) for the K-12 system and Section 504 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (504/ADA) for the postsecondary level. The intent of IDEA is student success; the intent of 504/ADA is equal access to programs and services. This seems obvious, yet every year colleges face a disturbing number of parents who have been told that because the high school waived math or foreign language that the college will also waive these requirements. Other parents threaten lawsuits if we require their son or daughter with a learning disability to demonstrate writing composition skills. Others expect spelling to be completely disregarded because the high school did so. One parent threatened to sue the college if the student was required to take tests! Section 504 and the ADA require reasonable and appropriate accommodation NOT a wholesale disregard for academic standards! Both laws reinforce a college’s right to maintain its academic integrity. ADA’s regulations specifically state that a college need not grant an accommodation or modification that would constitute a fundamental alteration of the program.
OK. So what does that mean in real English? It means that students with disabilities in US colleges, with or without accommodations, are expected to demonstrate competence in written and spoken English. That competence might require a computer with specialized software or a textbook in electronic format. It means that a program like Architecture or Engineering will NOT waive or substitute math requirements that are essential to the program. It means that a student who wishes to become a medical transcriptionist cannot have spelling waived since there are huge differences between terms such as hyper and hypo conditions; however a student who is an art or design major might have the math or spelling waived.
Students, the first step in learning more about the college environment is to learn about the many differences between high school and college. CCDA has prepared the list below which summarizes some of those differences. Review the list and think about how these differences may impact your preparation for college and navigating the college system once you begin your college career.