College disability documentation problems

Documentation: Five Most Frustrating Problems

If you find college disability documentation problems frustrating, you are not alone. The accessibility staff is too. Learn why.

As a former disability professional, it was common to have certain issues arise. Most of the time they could have been avoided but there are times when it’s no one’s fault but the school system. Yes, schools do a lot, but they also cause a lot of issues. It’s frustrating wanting to help but having these common barriers arise that stop the process in its tracks.  Everything comes to a grinding halt. Sometimes I could adjust.

My questions would change or shift to a functional interview style. However, the issues that can and could be prevented were persistent, especially with those with learning disabilities. It’s hard to give a student the accommodations they may need when the information I’m getting makes that difficult. Here are my top five pet peeves from my perspective as a disability professional. Oh, and BTW, these are common issues at most college disability offices.

The student never read their evaluation.

This is a big one and the most common issue. Students have never even looked at their evaluation for their learning disability. For most, the first time they looked at it was when their parent gave it to them if the parent could find it. Even then, students didn’t look at it. At best, a cursory look was done just to make sure their name was on it, but nothing further.

Why would a student look at it? It’s a bunch of numbers and words. For most, it makes your eyes glaze over, but this is information directly about the disability. It explains it quite well and you don’t have to read the whole thing (although for some it may be very useful). A student can just read certain parts and get a comprehensive view of their learning issues.

Think of it this way. If someone told you they had a book about your life that explained all the strengths, deficits, reasons for you having some difficulties, and ways to address those difficulties so those issues would be a lot less would you be interested in reading that book? I would. It would make things easier.

Don’t have a copy of the evaluation.

UGH! I cannot tell you how many times this happened. The student would show up only to have the IEP. The IEP didn’t give a summary of the evaluation either. So, I’m left with a list of accommodations and nothing to explain why those accommodations are there and make sense.

For disability professionals, evaluation is the key that unlocks everything a student may need. Without it some schools may grant some basic accommodations like extended test time, but nothing more. It gets more complicated because not every school will do that. Why? A student may need more than just the basics. Parents and students need to be prepared for this (see the link below to the college services planner. I’ll help you navigate this issue for the schools your student is looking at.)

It’s common to have a student get some accommodations and then return later in the semester to request more accommodations or modify an existing one. Cannot do that if the eval is missing. Even if it can be obtained, the student is going to wait until professional staff can read it and see if the request is reasonable. That takes some time. Meanwhile, the student is still struggling and doesn’t have what they need.

Think of it like this. You have a migraine and don’t have the medication you need. You also can’t drive and have to wait for someone to pick up the medication at the pharmacy. How would you cope, deal with, and still do school under those circumstances? AND It can be avoided. Get the eval.

Don’t understand what is in the evaluation even if you have it.

Well, at least two of the issues are gone. The student has it and reads it. However, it’s complicated information. Without assistance, the understanding is going to be very basic. At times, that’s all that’s needed. For some, it requires more explaining. Good. Get the explanation and have it in a manner that is meaningful for you as a student. That may require asking your special education teacher, school counselor, or adviser. It’s critical.

I have met very few students who have had a good understanding of their learning disabilities. Some do, and most don’t. How is a student going to explain what they need when they don’t understand why they need it? Most importantly, students will get an accurate picture of their issues, which are most likely permanent.

Statistics show that about 70% of students with learning disabilities think they no longer have a learning disability after graduation from high school (NCLD). It does explain the low number of students with learning disabilities asking for accommodations in college. That statistic needs to change. This is one way to do it.

The evaluation is so far out of date it’s useless.

This is one of the college disability documentation problems that can be avoided, but only with systemic change. A student and parent cannot make this occur. Only the school and/or school district can. Some school districts will only reevaluate if there are other accommodations that are being requested. Good luck. The internet is filled with IEP horror stories. If you have never thought about it from a disability professional perspective, you may want to keep reading.

An evaluation that was done in fourth grade gives some indication of the issue, back in fourth grade. What’s relevant now? No clue. It could be similar, the same, or very different. Who knows? What we do know is that needs to change as students get older. What accommodations are reasonable?

That’s going to rely on the student report, but that can be problematic due to a lack of self-awareness. I’m hoping all the student wants is extended test time and distraction reduction, because that may be all they are getting.

It also leads to the next frustration.

School districts not updating evaluations by senior year.

There is a common issue with documentation requirements. Evaluations need to be dated within the last three years. Why? It’s a recent description of the issues. We can use this for all it’s worth. The initial request and anything that comes after. The evaluation from fourth grade is useless. It provides a history of a disability and that’s it. The student choosing to go to college is already at a disadvantage due to their learning disability. Not having a recent evaluation further complicates the issue which can be avoided.

Schools can identify which students are going into post-secondary learning or training. They choose not to. Schools can update the evaluation by the student’s senior year for those identified. They choose not to. What do they choose to do? Push the problem onto colleges and make it the colleges’ fault that they are asking for good information by which to make good decisions. The student’s academic life is on the line and K-12 kicks the can to someone else. Nice.

For more information on how to advocate in the wrong way and blame someone else, read my article on the RISE Act. You can read it here.

Further (and this is what really irks me), advocacy groups blame colleges for the evaluation issue. WOW! I admire the guts it takes to do that and with a straight face, but it’s BS. College documentation requirements for learning disabilities are there for a reason. Should there be some flexibility? Yes, but let’s get one thing clear. Higher ed did not make this problem. K-12 did. Higher ed is just trying to cope with a problem someone else created and won’t fix.

College Disability Documentation problems: What can be done?

These are some of the main issues that cause a lot of frustration. I know part of the ADA amendments says it should not take much effort to decide what accommodations are reasonable. The law does not account for these issues and these five issues occur a lot. There are more issues than that. It’s not a perfect system. Yet, most of the ones I mentioned can be avoided. It takes some effort, but it is worth it.

Self-advocacy works. Not only does the student understand themselves and be able to speak with clarity about their learning disability, but also, it gives the student vital information that can help others. For example, we know that dyslexia runs in families. If one student knows this and can speak about their dyslexia, they can look for those signs in their own children. That student just changed the future of that child. That child can get the evaluation, services, and self-awareness earlier, with fewer problems, and less stigma. I think that’s what we all want.

I hope this helps outline some of the main issues of college disability documentation problems and helps you anticipate and mitigate them, if possible.

A FREE resource to help you navigate the accommodations request process. Take the mystery out of it and get clear on what you need.

To help you with your college decision, I’ve put together a college services planner so you and your student can look at all the services for each college they are interested in attending. All the information is in one spot so you and your student can make the best decision about which school is the best fit for your student’s needs.