Important Information for Parents of Students with Disabilities and Learning Differences
When students reach the age of 18, they are considered full legal adults in most US localities. That means they are responsible for their own actions and decisions. As they leave secondary school to enter college, fundamental changes occur with respect to their education. Students with disabilities attending public schools have, for the most part, a legal entitlement to an education, regardless of a disability. They must also receive their education in the least restrictive environment possible. In college, students have a civil right to have access to their education. The fundamental principle at work is the assumption of integration and that students, not the institutions, are responsible for themselves.
What is the difference between entitled to education and right to equal access to education?
Unlike elementary and secondary schools, postsecondary education offers "access to" rather than "entitlement to" academic programs. In 1975, Congress passed the Education for All Handicapped Children Act. This act, commonly known as Public Law 94-142, provided that any child with a disability was “entitled to a free and appropriate education” in public school systems. Fundamentally, 94-142 and its successors (including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1990 and IDEA Improvement Act of 1997 and 2004) said that public schools would determine what was most appropriate for your son or daughter’s education. They were then required to provide that education. At the postsecondary level, the rules have changed. Public Law 94-142 and IDEA no longer apply, including the required IEP (Individualized Education Plan/Program) and 504 Plans. In 1990, Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act. Modeled on section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, ADA is a civil rights law. It prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability as long as the person is otherwise qualified. In the case of public-funded colleges and universities, ADA affirms the right of a student with a disability to a level playing field. This means that colleges and universities must ensure access to all students who are otherwise qualified. Access means much more than ramps, elevators, and wide parking spaces. It also means access to information and technology. Therefore, Penn State Behrend must make reasonable accommodations for students’ disabilities in order that they may be able to demonstrate their ability. However, civil rights laws and reasonable accommodations are in no way intended to guarantee success. At most, students can expect a more equal chance to do the same work as their peers. Learn more about the primary differences in student rights and responsibilities between secondary and postsecondary education.
Can a postsecondary institution deny my son or daughter admission because of a disability?
No. If the student meets the essential requirements for admission, a postsecondary institution may not deny admission simply because of a disability.
What is meant by reasonable accommodations?
Reasonable accommodations are made in order to level the playing field for qualified individuals with disabilities. As much as possible, accommodations are designed to minimize the functional limitations of an individual in a given task. These adjustments permit students with disabilities the opportunity to learn by removing barriers that do not compromise academic standards. Examples:
In providing an accommodation, the college is not required to lower or effect substantial modifications to essential requirements. The College does not have to make modifications that would fundamentally alter the nature of a service, program, or activity or would result in undue financial or administrative burdens. Also, the College does not have to provide personal attendants, individually prescribed devices, readers for personal use or study, or other devices or services of a personal nature, such as tutoring and typing.
Who will manage my son or daughter’s educational services?
Your son or daughter is ultimately responsible for managing his or her own education, understanding functional limitations, and requesting necessary accommodations. As adults, all students go through a process of learning about themselves. They develop the skills of self-determination, including confidence to advocate for the things they need in order to thrive and achieve. The Office of Disability Services(ODS) strives to promote this kind of self-knowledge. It is in the development of these skills that the ODS can best guide students with disabilities in their educational growth. These skills are critical, because it is the students, not the ODS, who will approach instructors and other staff to request the accommodations that are reasonable for them to receive. These are the skills all students need when they leave college and move successfully into their chosen careers.
What is the process, or how does Disability Services work?
The following applies to most students who register with the Office of Disability Services (ODS). Specifics vary depending on the student's disability, functional limitations, and accommodations requested and provided.
How has my role as a parent changed?
At the postsecondary level, both parents and students experience a transition. A parent's role shifts to a subtle hand of guidance when it comes to the process involved in the student's education. Encourage the student to take responsibility for academic concerns and limitations. Both the parent(s) and student should acknowledge the disability and the limitations that stem from it. This will allow the student to identify areas in which s/he should consider accommodations to level the playing field. It will also make it easier for the student to convey his/her requests for accommodations to instructors or anyone from whom s/he may seek assistance. Encourage the student to register with the Office of Disability Services where s/he will be coached on how to proceed in obtaining reasonable accommodations.
Why doesn't the Office of Disability Services provide LD assessment?
Neither the Americans with Disabilities Act nor Section 504 make it obligatory for institutions of higher education to evaluate and assess students with disabilities or suspected disabilities. In the logic of civil rights, students must assert and claim their right to equal access. The burden of proof is not on the institution. Students must identify themselves as a qualified person with a disability and be prepared to provide the documents that verify that claim.
Is my son or daughter automatically registered with Disability Services if we sent his/her last IEP to Admissions?
No. Remember 504 Plans and IEPs from high school have no weight in higher education. They cannot be used to verify a student's disability for civil rights purposes. Each student must contact the Office of Disability Services (ODS) to begin the process of verifying his/her disability. The ODS actively works to communicate services to prospective and currently enrolled students in an effort to encourage them to utilize all services that they may be eligible to receive.
What do you mean you cannot disclose any information to me about my son or daughter's services?
Once students, whether they are 18 years old or not, enroll in a postsecondary institution, they become the sole guardian of all records maintained by that institution. Under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1976 (FERPA), students have the right to access their own records upon written request. The parent or guardian does not share that right. This means that parents do not have legal access to their student's grades, transcripts, or any information concerning the services being provided through the Office of Disability Services. This information is confidential. However, we understand that students may wish to share educational information with parents and guests. Students wishing to grant access to their educational records to parents and/or guests can do so through various forms. Please visit this website: http://www.registrar.psu.edu/parent_info.cfm. The only time a student's record may be disclosed without written consent would be to comply with a subpoena or in an emergency situation where the health and safety of the student or another individual is threatened.
What about on-campus housing?
Penn State Behrend on-campus housing is readily accessible to and usable by students with many disabilities. Reasonable accommodations will be made to students with disabilities whose limitations require them.
Adapted, with permission, from:
Pennsylvania College of Technology. Handbook for parents of students with disabilities; Students with Disabilities Preparing for Postsecondary Education: Know Your Rights and Responsibilities from U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, May 2004; Toto, I Have A Feeling We’re Not In High School Any More by Dan Burke from The University of Montana-Missoula Disability Services for Students, 2003