mother on phone

Reasons Disability Staff Cannot Answer Some of Your Questions.

I know the pressure and worry about accommodations and making sure your son or daughter gets what they need. As a parent of a son with specific learning disabilities and dyslexia, I worried about the same thing. I get it. It takes a lot of willpower not to take over the process and get it done. I understand that if it gets done, that is just one less thing about which to worry. You may have some common questions: are the accommodations from high school going to be offered? What other accommodations do schools have? What accommodations could get approved? Do you have X accommodation for X disability?  Logical and understandable questions. So, how come it seems disability staff give you the run-around or cannot answer a few simple questions? As a former accessibility coordinator, here’s my answer.

mother on phone

You are not the one with the disability requesting accommodations.

This responsibility goes solely to your son or daughter, but you’re the one making the phone call and sending the email. I’ll give you the same advice I gave my son. I said, “I know that this is your process, your accommodations, your transition. Don’t procrastinate too much and ask me for help if you need it.” I said this to emphasize his responsibility for his own unique educational needs, and that disability staff cannot do anything based on a parent’s request. It has to be the student; otherwise, nothing gets done. Disability staff may reply with an email telling you this and giving some other instructions and information, but the request needs to be heard directly from the student for the process to begin. Any discussion that is not with or from the student is a waste of your time and ours.

 There is no list of accommodations from which to choose.  

It’s common to have a parent ask, “what accommodations are available?” or “Is X accommodation possible?” The honest answer is, “anything that gives your son or daughter access is possible.” What a parent is asking is wanting assurance that their child will have what they need. However, there is no method to ensure what is required unless students follow the interactive process for the school. The disability services office cannot determine what to put on an accommodation letter for class without the student following and completing the interactive process. Staff needs to determine first if it is a disabled student. That cannot happen in a brief phone call.

Whatever your experience is with IEP meetings, the interactive process meetings are drastically different. The interactive process is how disability staff find out what your child needs and how they need it. It is a vital aspect of the interactive process to identify the major life activities affected by the disability and to figure out what accommodations to provide. The interactive process is about as close to collaborative as you can get. Disability staff want and need to hear directly from the student about their disability. Disability staff hearing a student’s description of their disability is the crucial reason for being prepared for this process and knowing about your disability. The information students disclose to disability staff will determine what accommodations, such as extended time for tests, are needed for equal access.

Accommodations are derived from the interactive process. Disability staff will not know what is needed or how unless they discuss it first with the student. Disability staff does not choose from a set menu of hidden accommodations and is only known to disability staff with a secret password and handshake. It’s not like that at all. Don’t worry. Parents are often invited into that meeting as your perspective is essential and can add to the information needed. Know that your child needs to inform staff that this is ok; otherwise, you won’t be there. 

Discussing any accommodation may be a legal minefield.

Let’s face it. Parents shop around for the best deal for their kids, and accommodations are no different. I call it accommodation shopping. I have no issue with it at all. I think it’s excellent advocacy as I have had some students state they specifically chose or did not choose a school based on what accommodations were given. It’s an intelligent thing to do, but these students went through each school’s interactive process. In my experience, the parents who are asking the questions above have not.

Parents need to understand that any discussion about accommodations can risk being a legal nightmare, and disability staff wants to avoid this like COVID-19. Your frustration with vague answers and generalities, however understandable, does not trump the disability staff’s obligation to following processes that ensure the school is doing its obligation under the law. After all, it is about civil rights governed by the ADA and section 504 of the rehabilitation act. Further, legal issues have happened before to some schools. Disability staff learns of those cases, which help guide processes to be better and more legally sound. Being legally sound is why many disability offices will not entertain questions about specific accommodations before the interactive process is initiated. To a parent, it may seem like a simple question about extended time. To college disability services staff, it is not simple at all.

If you’ve read through the article, I think it clarifies that your questions and concerns are valid. However, I hope you’ve also heard clearly that the responsibility needs to shift from you as a parent to your son or daughter. I hope it also gives you an inside view of why disability staff may have a hard time answering your questions about specific accommodations for your child. I think knowing the perspective of disability staff gives you a view that is unique and beneficial. After all, since accommodations focus on the student (where it should be), parents and others outside of disability services offices have a one-sided picture. Now, I hope it’s complete.