Disability & Higher Education FAQ

Federal law requires that no (otherwise) qualified person with a disability shall be denied a benefit or opportunity or excluded from participation solely on the basis of that disability. An individual with a disability is qualified if, with or without reasonable accommodation, she/he meets the same eligibility requirements and standards of behavior and performance demanded of anyone else.

Can a student’s disability be used in the determination of college admission?
No, federal laws protect qualified students from being denied admission on the basis of disability. If a student meets the essential requirements for admission, a postsecondary school may not reject her/his application because she/he has a disability.

However, if  students would like to learn more about the college or university services for students with disabilities, they may be able to discuss this with school personnel prior to admission depending on that school’s policies.

Once accepted or enrolled, are students required to disclose their disability to their college or university?
No, if the student is not requesting any special services or accommodations, she/he may keep this information private.

What does a college/university have to do for its students with disabilities?
Colleges and universities may not discriminate on the basis of a student’s disability. They must ensure that their academic and non-academic programs are accessible to students with disabilities within reason. They can do this by providing support services and accommodations for the classroom, housing, and extra-curricular activities.

What is an accommodation?
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Subpart E) describes  an accommodation in postsecondary education as an “appropriate academic adjustment”.

Are services and accommodations automatically provided for students with disabilities in college?
No, services and accommodations are not automatically provided for students with disabilities in college. A college or university does not necessarily know that a student has a disability when she/he enrolls and cannot provide services and accommodations until the student follows the policies that the school has set in place to govern the provision of such services and accommodations. The student must self-identify and follow the necessary procedures upon enrolling at that particular college or university.

Are services and accommodations from high school or the workplace duplicated?
Though previous service or accommodations are considered, the college/university must use its own criteria to determine what the college/university will allow within the structure of the respective institution. It cannot be assumed that because a student received services or accommodations at work or a previous college/university that she/he will continue to receive them.

Who decides if the service or accommodation requested is reasonable?
The college/university decides on a case-by-case basis whether the requested service or accommodation is safe, feasible, and within the academic requirements. If a request from a student with a disability is deemed “unreasonable” by the college/university, it is not considered discriminatory.

What is defined as “unreasonable”?
A request for services or accommodations may be considered “unreasonable” if it 1) poses direct threat to the health and safety of others; 2) substantially alters an essential element of the curriculum or the manner in which services are provided; and/or 3) poses an undue financial or administrative burden on the college/university.

What can be done if a request for services or accommodations is deemed “unreasonable”?
Though the college/university reserves the option to deny the request, it should not be the end of the discussion. Ideally, administrators, faculty, other staff (including disability support staff), and the student will collaborate to come up with alternative ways to allow access for the student with a disability.

U.S. Department of Education Questions & Answers