Accessible College: A Guide for Students with Disabilities, Part 2

About the Series

It’s never too early to start preparing for life after high school, and students with disabilities shouldn’t feel left out of that. Universities across Ohio and nationwide have options available to accommodate various student needs. This series will cover the process students and their families must undergo to prepare and apply for college, what to do once the student gets in, and various rights and recommendations for while they’re in school.

Still just preparing for college and not quite there yet? Check out the first resource in the series, Preparing for Postsecondary Education

You got in! Now what? Applicable Laws

Once a student gets in to a college, it’s important to know that some of the applicable laws and services change. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the law that helps the student get an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), is no longer applicable once the student graduates high school. The applicable laws now are Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).  

Section 504 Subpart E of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

You may already be familiar with Section 504 since Subpart D applies to K-12 schools and most students who qualify use this to create a 504 Plan. Subpart E, however, is the section pertaining to post-secondary schools and guarantees qualified disabled students the same opportunities to compete with their non-disabled peers. This includes prohibiting universities from discriminating against handicapped persons when it comes to admissions or receipt of financial aid. Section 504 applies to all universities that receive federal financial assistance whether they are public or private.

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990

The ADA is a federal civil rights law designed to provide equal opportunity for qualified individuals with disabilities. The ADA also prohibits discrimination on the basis of a qualified disability and ensures students have equal access and opportunity. The ADA is a complex law that consists of 5 sections called “titles.” Both Title II and Title III provide protections to college students.  Title II covers state- funded schools and is very similar to Section 504. Although Title III provides less protection for students than Section 504 or ADA Title II, it applies to all post-secondary educational programs, even if the school does not receive federal financial assistance.

What is protected?

As stated above, the main goal of these two laws is to ensure no student is discriminated against based on disabilities, especially when it comes to admissions and receipt of financial aid. All students must be given the equal opportunity to participate in courses, programs, and activities – including extracurricular activities. Two very important parts of the ADA and Section 504 regard housing and academic adjustments. The university is required to make modifications to its academic requirements “to ensure that such requirements do not discriminate” against handicapped students. This means that the school may change the length of time permitted to complete the degree (five years from a typical 4-year plan) or adapt the way certain classes are conducted. This section also includes testing accommodations and provides that universities must provide auxiliary aides such as readers, interpreters, and taped texts. If an institution provides housing to non-handicapped students, it must provide “comparable, convenient and accessible housing to handicapped students at the same cost as to others.” So if a student wants to live in the dorms on campus, the school must provide an adequate living accommodation suitable for a handicapped person.

For more information on Section 504 and the ADA, click here.

Important Things to Remember

Unlike during K-12, at the college level the student has to advocate for him or herself. This means the school will not seek out the student. The student should locate the school’s disability office right away and identify him/herself to request accommodations and provide documentation to support the need for accommodations. For a list of disability offices at universities in Ohio, click here. If a student needs certain test-taking accommodations, he or she must provide the disability office with a copy of their exam schedule – the school will not seek the student out.

This guide was developed as part of a project made possible by a Grant from the Ohio State Bar Foundation.  The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent those of the Ohio State Bar Foundation. 

Lead researcher/author: Tia Garcia, J.D. Candidate, 2019, Legal Intern