I recently emailed some folks on my email list and asked if there was a topic that they would like to hear about. One subscriber, Wendy, replied with her concern regarding not knowing what accommodations her child can request in college. Here’s my answer to a common parent question.
To summarize, Wendy is concerned about how to guide her student to request accommodations in college. Her overall question is ‘What accommodations can my student request for college?’ Her confusion is a common issue, and she indicated the two main reasons for it.
The person doing the assessment doesn’t know what accommodations to include for college, and college accessibility offices are guarded about what is available. Also, colleges want students to know what they need.
Wendy is not alone. Her concerns represent many parents out there. Parental confusion about what accommodations to request in college can be met with vague answers from accessibility professionals and a laundry list of recommendations from assessors that do not seem to fit for college.
It can be frustrating and even make you think that there’s some plot out there to deny students with disabilities access to what they need or make the process so vague as to deter students from applying.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
So, Wendy (and all the other parents who share your question), here’s my best attempt to explain the issues involved and how best to navigate them.
College Accessibility Staff are guarded for a reason.
There are several reasons accessibility staff can’t give you a list of accommodations available. I wrote a blog post called Reasons Disability staff cannot answer some of your questions. Just click the blue title to read it.
There are two main reasons for the staff not being very helpful here. First, it’s a legal minefield to engage in discussion of what is available or what fits your student when your student hasn’t been accepted to the school yet or hasn’t contacted the disability office to apply for accommodations, nor has engaged in the interactive process to determine what your student needs.
They simply can’t engage in that discussion at that time.
Second, accommodations are derived from the student and accessibility staff engaging in the interactive process, not a checklist. It’s a process to determine eligibility for accommodations. Here’s the blog post I wrote about to get parents and students prepared, The Interactive Process: This is not an IEP meeting.
”And colleges are guarded and want the student to know what they need. So it creates a disconnect…”
It’s not like going to a restaurant and ordering from a menu. It’s a process, and that process has two components: student input and documentation, and accessibility staff’s determination. Accessibility staff’s determination also has three parts: determine if a disability exists, determine the current substantial limitations, and determine what accommodations are reasonable to provide access.
It’s a process to answer what seems to be a simple question: what accommodations can my student have in college? The simplest answer is that the school will provide whatever accommodations are needed for access.
That’s a real answer and it’s not even vague. However, parents lack the background to know why this isn’t vague and lack the information needed to know why student input is vital to the interactive process.
Information on college ADA disability accommodations is lacking.
I agree with Wendy. Information about college accommodations is lacking. K-12 does not give you the information in any meaningful way.
This leaves parents and students attempting to navigate a new system with very few options to get comprehensive, accurate, and reliable information. (But Hey, you’re here so you’re in the right place)
I was much like you. I sat in IEP meetings and participated, but I had no clue about IDEA nor what I could or could not do, request, ask for, etc. I relied on my knowledge of accessibility from college. I thought access is access.
College is not high school. So, what you relied on for your IEPs and special ed services, does not apply to college in any manner. Just like my knowledge of accessibility didn’t help me much for my son when in high school.
I wish I had not been so blind. My point is to not rely on what you know from your IEP process or knowledge of IDEA. None of it applies to college. Make the transition. I failed to do it and it cost me and my son.
I’m certain if I had done any background, course, coaching, etc. in the IDEA and IEPs, my son’s experience would have been better. I regret that every day. I do not want the same experience for you.
To help, I have a short, 30-minute webinar that introduces you to college, the laws, accommodations, and student responsibilities. You can watch that here. Think of it like a parent and student orientation.
Who is responsible to know what ADA accommodations to request in college?
“I find that the neuropsychologists don’t know what accommodations you can ask for at colleges — they are focused on grade school/high schools. And colleges are guarded and want the student to know what they need. So it creates a disconnect.”
I hear this a lot. Yes, there is a disconnect, but it’s not on the part of the evaluator or the college. The disconnect is from the student. Let me explain.
It’s been my experience that students with learning disabilities do not know much about their disability nor how it affects them daily in and out of class. That’s the disconnect. However, there is no expert like the student.
Colleges are guarded for the reasons I explained and yes, they do want the student to know what they need. Why? It’s the student’s disability. No one else’s.
Read that again.
No one knows what the student experiences with their disability like the student. Yet, they also have to be aware and communicate it to others. The same goes for what accommodations are needed. The only one who can provide that information accurately is the student.
Evaluators will list a lot of accommodations and modifications at the end of the evaluation. It’s a laundry list of things that typically work for most students with that disability. It’s a good start but it’s only a start and the accommodations are only suggestions regardless of the educational setting.
The student is the one who needs to figure out which accommodations work, and which do not, when, and under what circumstances, and be able to explain that effectively. Even the ADA law indicates that the student is the one who needs to self-disclose, give the information, and documentation, and request accommodations.
It’s not the evaluator’s fault nor the college’s fault if a student cannot do that. I also hesitate to put all the blame on the student. They’ve never been trained nor had self-awareness or self-advocacy emphasized beyond the cliché, ‘speak up for yourself.’ Speaking up is difficult if a student is not self-aware first.
However, as an adult, it is their responsibility to be self-aware and self-advocate, and college is a great place to learn self-advocacy and experience it before they must enter the workforce and advocate there too.
If the student can do that, most of Wendy’s concerns disappear.
What accommodations can my child get in college?
Let me change that question to something that gets to the answer in a better way. What accommodations does your student use that are effective for their disability?
These are what your student should be able to state. If not it places the burden on the accessibility staff to figure out what fits and what doesn’t. There might be times when this is appropriate for accessibility staff. Not every request is straightforward.
If a student cannot state what accommodations work for them and explain why, it places the power on accessibility staff and takes the power away from the student. Again, it’s their disability. Power taken away is advocacy denied.
I’m all about student self-advocacy so anything that takes power away from the student is not something I support. Further, there is the risk that accessibility staff can get it wrong. I’d rather there be a discussion in collaboration with a self-aware, knowledgeable student. Much less risk and much less stress. Less stress means a better college transition.
Helpful resources for you.
Here are a few more resources that can help your student become more aware of what they need and how their disability impacts them. These resources can help prepare you to self-advocate in college and beyond.
First, my book Self-Advocacy for Higher Education: A Step-By-Step Guide to Preparing to Request Accommodations in College. This book does a lot of work in a short time. One of the things I don’t like is wasting time, this book delivers on that. Students get to increase their self-awareness of the impact of their disability, what they need, and how they need it. It transitions the main role of advocacy over to the student. Each step gets your student closer to this while the parents have a meaningful way to step back out of the main advocate role.
Second, I have a few podcasts that can help give additional background and support.
#15 Self-Advocacy Week Day 5: Students who don’t know how to self-advocate.
#13 Self-Advocacy Week Day 3: Parents afraid their student won’t be heard or supported correctly.
Upcoming podcast #20 Parent’s Guide to Understanding College Disability Documentation Requirements
Coming out May 3, 2023. I hope you tune in.
So, Wendy, this is my best answer to your concerns. I hope it was helpful for you.
If you found it helpful, please share the link with others who can benefit.