Four Steps to Get Disability Accommodations for College Students

Four Steps to Get Disability Accommodations for College Students.

Do you know how to get disability accommodations for college students? Being familiar with the process will make it much easier. If you are thinking about requesting reasonable accommodations for a hidden disability from the college disability services office, the process can seem vague and confusing. The information you need from the college may not even be readily accessible or you may not know who to ask or where to look.

High school counselors and special education staff may not know how to guide you as they may be lacking the same information. So, that seems to leave a student with little to go on and almost nowhere to look.

This article will break it all down for you, so you can make the right choices when you request accommodations.  Requesting accommodations is a big deal and the more informed you are, the better the decision you can make.


The first thing I’d advise is to drop the K-12 mindset. All that you’ve learned either as a parent or student about the IEP or 504 process needs to empty from your mind. Why? College is not K-12. I’m not saying that to be a member of captain obvious team. I say it because it’s true. K-12 is under IDEA and a completely different section of 504.

College is under the ADA and section 504 (yes, there are other laws to deal with but that’s another article). 504’s subsection E is specific to college and postsecondary training. The IDEA ends at graduation too. What this means is your IEPs and 504 plans expire at high school graduation. they are no longer relevant. All that you learned during that time is great for K-12, but it doesn’t help for college. You must learn a whole new system, process, and purpose.

K-12 Versus College

Another difference is that K-12 was all about success. College and the ADA/504 are all about equal access. So, there may be some things on the IEP that are success-oriented that won’t be approved for college. In K-12, the school is responsible for identifying students. In college, the student has what is called the right to self-disclosure. The student is responsible for disclosing that they have a disability and want accommodations.

When my son was having his IEPs for junior and senior year, this was the only thing mentioned in those meetings. His IEP didn’t mention any of the information this article contains. Personally, I think it should’ve, but that’s a whole other rant. For college, requesting accommodations is all on the student initiating the process. Which is a very different process than an IEP. I write about that in another blog post, The Interactive Process: This Is Not An IEP Meeting. Reading it will help you understand the process better.

The process is only there to ensure students have access. Success is up to them. In addition, the college accommodations process is also an eligibility process. Read that again. Once you ditch the K-12 mindset you can embrace the college eligibility process.

The Process to Get Disability Accommodations for College Students

Step 1: Locate the Accessibility Office Information

As you shift your mindset, there are some steps to take to prepare for making the request. These steps should be done early while still looking at colleges to attend. For each school you are thinking of attending, identify each school’s Office of Disability Services (ODS). It may be called something different at each school. Here’s how to find it.

Go to the school’s main web page. In the search box, try different terms like disability accommodations, accessibility office, and (insert your disability) accommodations. That’s not an exhaustive list so try other related terms.

Once you find the web page for the office responsible for processing accommodation requests, look for some specific information and make note of each. List where the office is located on campus, who to contact and their email if possible, any forms needed, and where and how to submit them.

Read the documentation requirements specific to your disability and make note of when you can apply. For most schools (and I can’t speak to all of them), it’s common to allow students to apply for accommodations after students are accepted.

Four Steps to Get Disability Accommodations for College Students

Step 2: Follow the Process to Apply

Once you are accepted and know when you can apply, you can start the process. Know that each student needs to disclose to the right office. Since you’ve already done the homework for that. This step is easy. You can expect to fill out a form that asks for simple demographic information, your disability, and what accommodations, like extended time for tests, you are requesting. Consider it an application process. 

Along with the forms, you’ll need to supply documentation the school is requesting for your disability. If your documents do not match the school’s requirements, or you only meet them partially, contact the ODS staff and ask if they make exceptions and how they handle these situations.

After you submit the forms and documents, you’ll be speaking to the ODS staff about your request and the reasons you need the accommodations.

Step 3: Meet with the ODS Staff

The meeting with ODS staff has several things that need to be determined in order to be found eligible. ODS staff need to determine if a disability is present first. Then, they help you identify the functional limitations present due to the disability. ODS staff will look at this information and determine if there is a significant impact on any major life area and determine the barriers present.

ODS staff will then look at the accommodations requested and determine if there is a connection to the impact of the disability and if the requested accommodation eliminates the barrier. It’s a lot to determine and it places a lot of emphasis and significance on the student’s self-report. 

For some that is not an issue, but I’ve found that for those with learning disabilities, it can be more difficult. ODS staff will also determine if the requested accommodation is success or access oriented, poses a safety threat, or is a fundamental alteration.

Step 4: Important Questions to Ask

At the end of the meeting, I suggest you start asking the following questions to make sure you know what your responsibilities are and how to use your accommodations.

How are instructors informed?

What are the procedures for testing accommodations?

Where is the testing center?

What do I need to do for next semester to get accommodations for those classes?

There are other questions to ask but this should be a good start to the conversation. Just know what your next steps are and what to expect of yourself and others involved.

 This is the process to get disability accommodations for college. It’s a lot in a short time frame. Being prepared is the point of it. If you know what to expect, and have the right mindset, you can navigate this process for each school a student applies to, and I highly recommend that you do so for each school. If you are a parent of a student who is already in school or a current college student, I advise you to go through

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. Nothing should be construed as legal advice. If you need legal advice consult a lawyer. Although I am a therapist, I’m not your therapist. Any accommodations mentioned may or may not fit for your specific disability needs. All the information contained is for educational and informational purposes only.


Knowing the process to get disability accommodations for college students is only one part. Here are two resources to help you organize and keep track of all the information.

If you need to keep on track and not forget anything, I’ve created a simple, FREE checklist to help guide you. It’s called the College Accommodations Checklist. So, if you found this article helpful, the checklist is the cliff notes version. Easy to follow and with everything you need to guide you through the process and not miss anything. You can get your free checklist by clicking the blue title above.

Knowing the process and following the checklist is only the first part. Your student will need to know about their disability and be able to speak about it to the accessibility staff. This is where my Advocacy Transition Program comes in. Click the button below to learn more.