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Disability Services

Student Life

Preparing for College

Collage photo of students working in art and science

Helpful to Know

The differences between the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), its amendments (ADAAA), and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

 IDEA (K-12)

Section 504/ADA/ADAAA 

Rights Guaranteed by Law Free, appropriate public
education (FAPE) in the
least restrictive
environment (LRE) for
qualified children. 
Prohibits exclusion from participation
and the denial of benefits of a
program or service provided by a 
college that receives federal funds.
Eligibility Every child is entitled to
FAPE, so long as they have a
qualifying disability under
Students must be "otherwise
qualified" to enter college (i.e. meet
admissions requirements), without
consideration of disability.


School is responsible for
finding all children within
its residential boundaries
("Child Find") and
evaluating them free of 

Students must self-identity by
disclosing their disability to the
University. Universities are not required to assess for disabilities. 
Services Determined by the
Individualized Education 
Plan (IEP) team, and include
curriculum modifications
and special services.
Student identifies needs and barriers
and together with Disability Services,
develop accommodations.
Accommodations that equalize
opportunity for participation are
required, substantial modifications to
curriculum and lowered standards are
not required. 
Role of Parents

Parents hold education
rights and are guaranteed
the opportunity for 
"meaningful participation"
in decision-making.

College students over 18 are
considered adults. Parent consultation
is not required, and by law, university
staff must obtain student consent 
prior to speaking with parents. 
Appeals Process Right to due process
through Office of 
Administrative Hearings. 
College grievance procedure, then file
a complaint with the USDOE Office for 
Civil Rights. 


The transition from high school to college is full of novelty and can be both exciting and at times, challenging.

Parents, Counselors, Teachers and Students with disabilities may use this list as a reminder of helpful skills and necessary steps to take as a high school student with a disability progresses toward college.

  1. Check to see that your psychological testing is up-to-date before graduation. IDEA mandates review of evaluations at least every 3 years. If you can be retested in high school, the evaluation documentation may qualify you for accommodations in college, professional exams, and possibly graduate school.
  2. Obtain all special testing records before high school graduation. Submit a written “records request” to your school or school district requesting copies of all education records, including special education or Section 504 plan related evaluations, assessments, and plans. Colleges, as well as vocational rehabilitation offices, request these records to assist in providing special services to students.
  3. Make contact with the local Department of Rehabilitation Services or Office of Vocational Rehabilitation before graduation. Vocational Rehabilitation offers a variety of services to eligible students with disabilities such as vocational assessment, job placement, financial support, etc.
  4. Continue to hone your study skills. In addition to high school assistance, consider special study skills/ programs offered at community colleges, private agencies or individual tutoring.
  5. Parents/Caregivers: Help students increase their independent living skills. Help them to manage their own checking accounts, do their own laundry, clean, do some cooking, etc. If the student will live away from home this is especially important.
  6. Parents/Caregivers: Encourage part-time jobs, volunteer positions, or internships. These are helpful to improve socialization skills, as well as give a better understanding of work situations and expectations.
  7. Parents/Caregivers: Make sure students have a good understanding of their particular disability. They should know and be able to articulate their strengths and weaknesses, as well as what compensating techniques and accommodations work best for them.
  8. Parents/Caregivers: Encourage students to be their own advocate. A good first step is to encourage them to discuss their disability and needed accommodations, if any, with their regular high school instructors. Most colleges will expect students to advocate for themselves.
  9. Get information on special exam arrangements for SAT and/or ACT tests. Students may qualify for accommodations such as extended time or readers for these tests.
  10. Contact the Disability Services Office at the colleges where you are interested in applying. Get information on the services and support they have available.

Adapted from: Carol Sullivan, Counselor for LD, North Virginia Community College, Annandale, Virginia; and the staff of HEATH Resource center, One Dupont Circle, NW, Washington, DC 20036. Shawn Kuba