Using Your 504 or IEP Accommodations in College – Part I



Hi, I’m Sumaiya Olatunde, educational consultant and advocate for H2D Counseling. Today, I’m discussing disabilities and college.

You may feel like you’re the only student with a disability, but many other students at your school have similar and different abilities and disabilities. According to the U.S. Department of Education, 31% of post-secondary students have a specific learning disability – this includes undergraduate and graduate school. (1) So, you’re not alone. The reason you may be unaware of other students with learning disabilities is because everyone’s confidentiality is protected.

In this and my next podcast, I’ll go over legal terms like “appropriate documentation” and “reasonable accommodations,” and I’ll give you key points to remember for college and grad school. The focus will be on learning disabilities and public education, however, much of this information may apply to other disabilities as well as private schools. Legally, there are several important differences in the way that laws are applied to K-12 schools versus colleges and universities. Today, I will focus on high school, and next time I will cover post-secondary education.

I’ll start with a brief introduction to the laws involved. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 which is also referred to as IDEA, Title II of the American Disabilities Act of 1990 or ADA, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 all apply to students in grades K-12. (2, 3) Together, these laws mandate that K-12 public schools are responsible for serving students with disabilities. At this educational level, the burden is on schools more so than students and families for testing students and providing services. Your high school is financially and legally responsible for testing and evaluating you, and for developing and implementing an IEP, or Individualized Education Plan, or a 504 accommodation plan depending on your evaluation results.

Having an IEP or a 504 plan in high school depends on the level of disability. An IEP falls under the IDEA and is for students who meet the requirements for Special Education. The IDEA requires K-12 schools to provide specialized services and interventions for students with special needs and disabilities. (2, 4) A 504 plan falls under the ADA and is for students who need general accommodations and supports to perform to their capabilities. (3)

Many of the legally mandated educational services and interventions provided in K-12 schools don’t transfer to to colleges and universities. The laws that are relevant to your college or graduate school are Section 504 and Title II of the ADA. These laws are based on your civil rights rather than educational rights, and prohibit discrimination on the basis of a disability. (3) Your college or graduate school is only required to provide “appropriate accommodations” in order to avoid discriminating against you, and to ensure that you are afforded equal access and opportunity. (3, 4)

Another significant difference in college is that more of the responsibility for obtaining appropriate accommodations lies with you. Your school and your parents no longer lead this process. As the student, you are required to request specific accommodations that you need and to provide the proper documentation to support this request. To do so, you must go to the Disability Services Office to start this process, otherwise nothing will be done on your behalf.

Additionally, the documentation that you had in high school may not be sufficient for your college. If you’re required to obtain new or additional evaluations to document your disability, the procedural and financial responsibility for this process falls on you. (3) At the post-secondary level, your school is not legally obligated to conduct or pay for an evaluation; however, there is no cost for your accommodations once they have been approved.

Next time, I will go into more depth about appropriate documentation and reasonable accommodations in college and graduate school. I’ll also provide some tips on transitioning to college for those with disabilities.

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