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How Disability Services Differ Between High School and College

As you make the transition from high school to college, you will find the world of services and accommodations for students with disabilities dramatically different. One of the first changes you will see is that colleges are not permitted to ask if you have a disability when you apply for admission. Once admitted, it is your responsibility to identify yourself to the office that handles disability services as a person with a disability to receive accommodations. At Angelo State University, that office is the Student Services Office, located in Room 203B of the Hardeman Student Services Building.

Below is information about several important pieces of federal legislation that you need to understand.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

IDEA is a federal law that governs special education delivery for children ages 3-21 (or until high school graduation). An Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is developed by the educational team for each child and indicates how a child’s education will be individualized in order to best serve him or her. The focus of IDEA is to ensure that students are successful in the K-12 system.

Section 504

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a law that protects students from discrimination based on their disabilities. Subpart D of the act applies to grades K-12, and Subpart E applies to postsecondary institutions. A 504 Plan is developed when a K-12 student needs certain accommodations and modifications to either the physical space in the school or the learning environment. However, a 504 Plan indicates that there is no need for special education (if there were a need for special education, the student would have been given an IEP as discussed above).

It is very important to understand that IEPs and 504 Plans do not suffice as adequate documentation to accompany a student to a postsecondary institution since both are required under laws that do not apply once the student attends college. Although students are covered under Section 504 once they get to college, it is a different subpart, as noted above. While IEPs and 504 Plans are sometimes helpful to colleges in determining appropriate reasonable accommodations, they are insufficient as the sole forms of documentation of a disability.

Section 508

The Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998 covers access to federally funded programs and services. The law strengthens section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and requires access to electronic and information technology provided by the federal government. Federal agencies must ensure that this technology is accessible to employees and members of the public with disabilities to the extent that it does not pose an “undue burden.” Section 508 speaks to various means for disseminating information, including computers, software and electronic office equipment. It applies to, but is not solely focused on, federal pages on the Internet. It does not apply to Web pages of private industry.

Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA)

The ADA is a federal civil rights law designed to provide equal opportunity for people with disabilities. While legislation for K-12 persons with disabilities is focused on student success, the ADA, as it applies to the college environment, is focused on making sure that students with disabilities have access to the various programs, services and activities of the university. That is not to say that colleges are not interested in student success, and most provide a wide array of academic support services that are designed to help all students perform at their highest level. It does mean that the federal laws that may have required certain accommodations in K-12 are different than the ones for colleges and universities. The ADA ensures equal access and opportunity and also protects persons with disabilities from discrimination. While the ADA does require colleges to make reasonable accommodations to allow a student to fully demonstrate his/her level of learning and to fully participate in the college experience both in and outside of the classroom, the ADA does not require colleges to provide special educational services, therapies or curriculum modifications that fundamentally alter the nature of the academic course or the major program of study.

Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA)

The ADAAA retains the ADA’s basic definition of “disability” as an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, having a record of such an impairment or being regarded as having such an impairment. However, the ADAAA expands the definition of “major life activities” by including two non-exhaustive lists:

  1. The first list includes many activities that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has recognized (such as caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning and working) and adds activities that include eating, sleeping, lifting, bending, reading, concentrating, thinking and communicating.
  2. The second list includes major bodily functions, such as the immune system and normal growth and digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine and reproductive functions.
Major Differences Between High School and College Disability Services
  High School College
Applicable Laws
  • IDEA
  • Section 504 (D)
  • Rehabilitation Act
  • Section 504 (E)
  • Rehabilitation Act
Required Documentation
  • Individual Education Plan
  • School provides evaluation at no cost to the student
  • School conducts evaluations at prescribed intervals
  • Varies depending on the disability
  • IEP and 504 Plans are not sufficient; must include the testing on which the requested accommodations are based
  • Student must get evaluation at own expense
  • Student generally not required to be re-tested after initial documentation approval unless additional accommodations warrant more documentation
Student Role
  • Student is identified and supported by parents/teachers
  • Primary responsibility for accommodations belongs to the school
  • Student must self-identify at designated office
  • Primary responsibility for accommodations belongs to the student
Parent Role
  • Parent has access to student’s records and participates in accommodation process
  • Parent advocates for the student
  • Parent does not have access to disability-related records unless student provides written consent
  • Student advocates for self
Curriculum and Instruction
  • Many schools modify curriculum and/or alter pace of assignments
  • Use multi-sensory approach
  • Weekly testing, mid-term, final, and graded assignments
  • Attendance taken and reported
  • Not required to modify curriculum
  • Tend to rely on lecture. May or may not use multi-sensory approach
  • Student is responsible for attending class
  • Some schools modify tests
  • Grades may be modified based on the quality of the curriculum
  • Grades reflect the work submitted