Disability Accommodations for College Students: Education Law Attorney in North Carolina

Protecting the rights of college students with disabilities includes obtaining reasonable accommodations and addressing discriminatory actions. Qualified individuals with disabilities enrolled in colleges and universities are protected against discrimination under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. A qualified individual with a disability is one who meets the required standards for admission or participation in the educational program or activity with or without reasonable accommodations.

The requirements of colleges or universities include:

  • Changing academic requirements, for example extending the length of time permitted for the completion of degree requirements;
  • Allowing students to use necessary assistive technology to access the curriculum, for example, approving the use of a tape recorder, even if there is a general rule prohibiting tape recorders in classrooms;
  • Altering the method of evaluating students' academic achievement, for example assessing a student who cannot use her hands with an oral exam, rather than a written exam;
  • Providing students with auxiliary aids and services, including note takers, taped texts, interpreters, and adapted equipment; and
  • Providing accessible housing at the same cost as provided to nondisabled students.

Colleges and universities may refuse to provide accommodations only if the accommodation would create an undue financial or administrative burden, fundamentally alter the academic program, or if the accommodation is of a personal nature.

One major difference between elementary/secondary school and higher education is that when the student is enrolled in college, college students bear the burden of disclosing their disability and requesting accommodations from the school. Colleges and universities do not have an affirmative obligation to identify students with disabilities.

Some examples of discrimination based on disability include:

  • Denying a qualified student with a disability admission to a university because of the student's disability;
  • Excluding a qualified student with a disability from a specific course or course of study because of the student's disability;
  • Refusing to provide a qualified student with a disability with accessible housing when the university provides housing to nondisabled students; and
  • Counseling qualified students with disabilities towards more restrictive career options than nondisabled students with similar interests and abilities.

Academic dismissal, unless related to a student's disability, is outside the scope of our practice.