Legal Rights of Students with Disabilities
Section 504 of the Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was the first legislation protecting individuals with disabilities by ensuring access to and non-discrimination in any programs/activities that receive federal assistance. “Section 504” dictates that reasonable accommodations, including academic adjustments, be provided to all persons with disabilities who participate in federally funded programs.
The Americans with Disabilities Amendment Act of 2008 (ADA, P.L. 101-336) extends protection to all persons with disabilities. The ADAA requires organizations to make reasonable accommodations for individuals who have known physical or mental disabilities and who are “otherwise qualified.”
Legal Definition of a “Disability”
A “disability” is defined as a mental or physical impairment that “substantially limits one or more major life activities.”. “Major life activities” include caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating and working. Impairments that substantially limit one major life activity do not need to limit other major life activities to be considered disabilities. Furthermore, the term includes the operation of major bodily functions, including functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, and digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine and reproductive functions.
The implications for persons who are seeking a college education are as follows:
- No quotas may be placed on the number of students with disabilities accepted into a program.
- No tests or other measures may be required for admission that have a disproportionate adverse impact on individuals unless they have been validated as a predictor of academic success in the education program or activity in question.
- Students with disabilities must be afforded equal opportunity to participate in and benefit from all post-secondary education programs, including education programs and activities not operated wholly by the participant.
- Programs and activities involving students with disabilities must be provided in the most integrated setting possible.
- In certain circumstances, modifications to academic requirements must be made to ensure that they do not discriminate against students with disabilities. This does not mean that standard fundamentals to a given program must be altered.
- Rules that limit a student’s ability to complete a course of study may not be unreasonably imposed.
- Schools must ensure that students with disabilities are not denied the benefits of, excluded from participation in, or otherwise discriminated against with regard to educational program or activity due to the absence of auxiliary aids.*
Financial and Employment Assistance
- Schools offering financial aid or Federal Work Study must do so in a non-discriminatory manner.
- Students with disabilities must have equal opportunity to participate in all physical education and athletic activities if otherwise qualified to do so.
- Counseling services, including academic, personal and career, must be provided in a non-discriminatory manner.
- Counselors may not direct qualified students with disabilities towards more-restrictive careers than they would other students with similar interests and abilities.
- The university must provide accessible, comparable and convenient housing.
- Organizations that receive significant assistance from the university must select members in a non-discriminatory manner.
*Although auxiliary aids are available, the university does not provide other devices or services of a personal nature.
Susquehanna Policies Regarding Students with Disabilities
Initiating a Request for Accommodations
Students with disabilities must request accommodations by submitting a request form to the director of disability services, Lesley Owens-Pelton, in a timely manner. Before they can be considered eligible for accommodations as a person with a disability they must also provide adequate documentation from a qualified professional.
Documentation is required for two purposes: to establish that the student is a person with a disability, and to establish that the student has a need for accommodations in order to have equal access. Specifically, documentation should demonstrate that the physical or mental disability(ies) currently create(s) a substantial functional limitation to a major life activity.
Adequate documentation will include the following elements:
- The documentation must be provided by a qualified and credentialed professional.
- The documentation must establish a current need for accommodations. An IEP or a 504 Plan used in high school does not qualify as adequate documentation. If necessary, additional information may be requested before accommodations can be determined.
- Documentation must also be comprehensive. It may include a psychological evaluation. This typically will include, at a minimum, a diagnosis, history, proof of conditional impact on major life activities and recommendations for accommodations. These should be specific to an adult residential educational setting.
Our efforts will always be governed by the best interests of our students; this implies maintaining standards that ensure fairness for all students. Thus in situations where documentation is insufficient, the director maintains discretion to grant “provisional” accommodations (e.g., until more adequate documentation can be provided) or to, provide minimal accommodations. This director can also defer accommodations until adequate and appropriate documentation is submitted.
Student Responsibilities Regarding Accommodations
Students must meet with the director of disability services or designee each semester to secure adequate classroom accommodations. Students are responsible for discussing classroom accommodations with their professors. These discussions must take place in a timely and appropriate manner (e.g. not the day before an exam).
The university will not change students’ grades if arrangements were not made to obtain accommodations. Housing and/or dining accommodations must be requested annually prior to housing assignments for the coming year. Requests for additional accommodations (e.g. an interpreter at a university event, accessible transportation to a university program off-campus) must be made in a timely fashion. We cannot guarantee that we can meet requests made with advance notice of less than five working days, although a reasonable effort will be made.
The director of disability services and designees at Susquehanna University are committed to protecting the confidentiality of students with disabilities as required or permitted by law. Any information obtained by Susquehanna University related to a student’s disability is maintained confidentially and is shared with designated faculty and administrative personnel on a “need-to-know” basis or after the student’s signed permission has been obtained. Ensuring effective provisions of accommodations and services may necessitate the director of disability services to disclose and discuss the student’s academic and disability information with the aforementioned administrative constituents. The director of disability services will disclose and/or discuss disability related information in compliance with requirements and regulations of law.
When confidential information (e.g. copies of an IEP or other psychological reports) is provided to staff members of admissions, residence life, financial aid or another office, that information will be forwarded to the director of disability services.
Substituting courses for core requirements is possible but is reserved for extreme situations that are thoroughly documented. In these cases, recommendations for a substitution of a major-field course may be made. Such recommendations require review and discussion with the relevant academic department.
Taking Less than the Traditional Full-Time Load
A typical course load is 16 credits; students taking 12 credits are considered full time. Recommendations that an incoming freshman or transfer student take 12 credits will be given to the registrar, academic dean and the student’s academic advisor. The student is responsible for ensuring that he/she is registered for the appropriate number of full-time credits.
A student who requests to be designated as a full-time student while enrolled for fewer than 12 credits must submit documentation to the director of disability services from a qualified professional that specifically addresses how this accommodation addresses an exact functional limitation. If, after reviewing such documentation, the request is determined to be reasonable, the director of disability services will notify the registrar, academic dean, vice president for student life and the student’s academic advisor. They will have the responsibility to ensure that the student has access to all the rights and privileges of any full-time student.
Students who disagree with an accommodation decision may appeal the decision by submitting a written statement of appeal to the director of disability services and the provost (for academic matters) or the vice president of student life/dean of students (for non-academic matters), who will make a final decision. An appeal must be submitted within ten working days of the initial accommodation decision. The appeal will be reviewed within five working days, and the student will be notified in writing of the decision by either the provost or the vice president of student life/dean of students. The initial accommodation decision will remain in effect until the appeal has been reviewed and a decision made.
Faculty or staff should direct questions or concerns regarding accommodation to the director of disability services.
As indicated in the documentation policy, documentation must be provided by a qualified professional that is comprehensive and addresses current functional limitations.
A qualified professional must have appropriate training, credentials, and experience to assess the specific disability. Therefore, the documentation must include credentials, licensure/certification information, and address/phone number of the evaluator. Evaluations and reports should be signed and on professional letterhead.
A reasonable time frame for a current evaluation will vary based on the condition being documented, depending on the degree of change associated with a diagnosed condition. Reports must address the current impact of the condition and any mitigating factors (e.g. auxiliary aids, medications). In some instances this may require a supplemental report prepared by a current health care provider.
A comprehensive evaluation/report will include:
- Relevant educational, developmental, psychiatric/psychological and/or medical history.
- Specific diagnoses; in the case of psychiatric disabilities, attention deficit disorder, and/or learning disabilities: this will be a Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) diagnosis.
- Information to substantiate the diagnosis.
- A description of the functional limitations resulting from the disability, that is, whether current symptoms substantially limit a major life activity.
- Recommendations for accommodations that are directly related to the functional limitations. These should be specific to an adult, residential, educational setting.
While an IEP may provide useful information about accommodations the student currently receives, it should be considered a supplement to documentation. The coordinator of disability services will contact the student for additional information if documentation is not adequate.
Securing documentation to diagnose learning disabilities can be a costly and lengthy process. The university does not pay for or offer assessments for learning disabilities. However, the coordinator may be able to offer referrals or guidance in selecting an evaluator.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. When should I notify Susquehanna about my disability?
Ideally, you should contact the Office of Disability Services (ODS) immediately after placing your deposit as an incoming student, or in the first two weeks of the semester if you are a returning student. This will allow the director to contact you and offer assistance in various areas of orientation at Susquehanna. Please keep in mind that if requests for accommodations are not made within a timely manner, faculty and staff may not be able to fully provide an accommodation and/or are not obligated to give accommodations.
Q: Who do I need to contact regarding my disability?
Requests for accommodations are given to the director of disability services. This office is located in Fisher Hall, Room 204. You may contact the director of disability services via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 570-372-4412. Documentation may also be sent by fax to 570-372-2778. All services are confidential.
Q. What is the process for obtaining accommodations at Susquehanna University?
To obtain classroom, housing, or dining accommodations at Susquehanna University, you must submit a Request for Accommodations form to the Office of Disability Services (ODS) along with documentation from a qualified professional, preferably within the first two weeks of the semester. Once the documentation is reviewed, the director will meet with talk with you to determine appropriate accommodations. A “Letter of Agreement for Accommodations” will be issued for each class in which you require accommodations. Read more under the accommodations section.
Q. How do I notify my professors about my accommodations?
After receiving a “Letter of Agreement and Accommodations” from the director, you will need to contact each instructor to arrange a convenient time to discuss your accommodations. Students are discouraged from handing their professors the letters after class with the expectation that the accommodation will be arranged without discussion. Upon agreement, you and the instructor will sign the letter. The letter is then returned to the director at which time a copy will be given to the student. The original copy will remain on file in the Office of Disability Services.
Q. What accommodations will I receive?
Accommodations are determined on a case-by-case basis depending upon the supporting evidence and recommendations given in the documentation. In all cases, accommodations may not be given unless there is proof that the disability/condition “significantly limits a major life function.” There must be a direct connection between the disability/condition and the accommodations being requested. If the documentation is incomplete or does not support your requests, further information may be needed. Accommodations will not be given if they alter the essential fundamental elements of a course. Some frequently used accommodations are: extended testing time, having test questions read aloud or taped, taking tests in a noise reduced environment, taking essay tests on a computer, tape recording lectures, having a note taker or a scribe and preferential seating.
Q. If I received a 504 accommodation or had an IEP in high school, will the same accommodations be provided?
Not necessarily. Although information contained in an IEP or a 504 Service Agreement may be helpful, you may not qualify for the same accommodations you had in high school, even if your situation is “otherwise unchanged.” The laws governing accommodations between high school and college are different. Therefore, what qualified you for accommodations in high school may not qualify you in college.
Q. May I appeal the decision that the director of disability services has made regarding my accommodations?
Yes. The director will do everything available to provide you appropriate access to accommodations, however, students who disagree with an accommodations decision may appeal the decision by following the appeals process.
Q. How will services for accommodating my disability change when I attend college?
There are many basic differences between the laws governing accommodations in high school and college. The major shift takes place in the area of independence. In college, you are expected to rely on your own self-advocacy skills to communicate with faculty and obtain accommodations. Faculty and staff expect to work with you, rather than your parents. In addition, the laws governing confidentiality make communication between faculty and parents more restrictive.
Q. Who do I contact if I need special housing accommodations?
You first start by completing a Request for Accommodations form from the Office of Disability Services (ODS). You will then be asked to complete a Housing Accommodations form. As with other accommodations, documentation must be provided from a qualified professional stating the reasons and recommendations for the accommodations. Once the forms and documentation has been reviewed you will be contacted by the director to discuss the request. If approved, you will then meet with the director of residence life to determine the best housing options available. Dining arrangements will be approved by the ODS and students are responsible for making arrangements with the food service personnel.
Q. Who should I contact if I need any special adaptive technology?
If you’re in need of special adaptive technology due to a disability, you will need to make this request to the director who will work with you to obtain the adaptive or assistive technology as soon as possible. If you are requesting books on tape/ e-texts, or special software such as speech to text or text to speech, it is important to contact the director as early as possible. Ideally, new incoming students should make their requests as soon as their schedule is finalized for the upcoming semester.
Q. If I had a foreign language waiver in high school will I get it at Susquehanna?
No academic requirements at Susquehanna University will be waived. However, students may be permitted to substitute courses, for example, in a foreign language. These cases are rare, however, and must be fully supported by qualified professionals in appropriate documentation.
Q. I think I may have a learning disability. How would I get evaluated to find out?
The Office of Disability Services (ODS) cannot provide testing to screen for a disability; however, there are alternatives that should be considered. ODS has no formal relationship with these outside agencies. Therefore, the scheduling of appointments, the fee structure, etc. are to be determined between the client and the agency.
Private Psychologist: This is often the quickest option. A resource to aid in locating private testing services is the yellow pages. Information can be found under “psychologist.” This type of testing may be covered under some insurance policies, so be sure to examine specific policies or contact your insurance agent and/or your medical doctor for a referral.
Vocational rehabilitation agencies are resources in each state that serve persons with disabilities. If you suspect you have a disability, check with a VR office for an assessment of your eligibility for services. Their evaluations of your eligibility for client services are free, but scheduling may be difficult.
Things to keep in mind when deciding on a testing option:
- Will your insurance (or your parents’ insurance) help out with fees?
- Have you compared costs of testing in the area?
- Have you checked to see if you have any previous record of a disability on file?
- Do you need a medical referral for testing?
- Are adult measures being used in your evaluation?
- Did you bring Susquehanna’s documentation guidelines with you to the testing center?