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How to Access Educational Accommodations in College

Transitioning to college for the first time can be a challenging time for anyone, especially in the first few weeks of classes.  Between the adjusted living arrangements, the classroom environment, and the differences in learning expectations, many students are bound to feel overwhelmed.  Students who received educational accommodations under Section 504 of the Americans with Disabilities Act or through an IEP under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) have a responsibility to request educational support on their own behalf through the college.  

While in high school, educators were responsible for ensuring that students with disabilities had access to fair and reasonable educational accommodations for learning.  In college, the responsibility to gain access to these services falls explicitly on the student.  Colleges are not obligated to identify students with a disability. They are bound against discriminating against those that do.  In general, the services students have access to in college will vary from college to college. Students should not expect to have such things as a case manager assigned to them or a resource classroom.   

The U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) protects the civil rights of students with disabilities.  Publicly funded schools are required to follow the requirements under Section 504 of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.   

Students should plan to visit the Office of Disability Services during Student Orientation or within the first week of scheduled classes.  

Whether the student had an IEP or a 504 plan in high school, the student may request certain educational accommodations from the college. This should be done as soon as possible so that students do not test without support. Every college or university should have an office that manages the student’s access to accommodations.  In many schools, the office is called “Disability Services” or something similar.  Keep in mind that due to privacy laws (both HIPAA and FERPA apply), your high school will not be able to request these services or even send documentation to the college on your behalf.    

Incoming students should take a copy of their most recent 504 plan or IEP to this office for review.  The college may ask for additional documentation, verifying your disability.  This could be a medical report, a psychological evaluation, or test results. You may have to obtain updated information if your medical information is too outdated for the college.  Every college has a different standard for documentation.  Additionally, you may have to sit for an intake interview so that the college can review which accommodations are available and appropriate for you.    

Students should not expect the college to match the accommodations listed in their most recent 504 or IEP.

Examples of testing accommodations that students may receive in college include the following: preferential seating; small group testing; extended testing time; large print testing; braille print testing; a sign language interpreter for testing directions; frequent breaks during testing; and alternative response options. Examples of educational accommodations that students may receive in college include the following:  a reduced course load, the use of recording devices, and voice to speech typing.   Most colleges offer free tutoring to all students and many offer personal counseling services upon request as well.  

The key is self-advocacy

Set aside some time in the first week of classes to think about what you will need in order to achieve success.  If you need something – just ask.  Colleges have a vested interest in your success, however, they need you to speak up for yourself if something is not going well.  If you have a classroom need, start with asking your professor.  If you have a need that spans multiple classes, revisit the Office of Disability Services.  Be sure you have a thorough understanding of your disability and your needs so that you can maximize the assistance offered by the college.  While the Office of Disability Services may inform your professors of your approved accommodations, you may have to remind each of your professors, depending on how many students they have in each class.  Remember to also plan for your needs outside of the classroom such as medication management, therapy, and physician appointments.  If you are going away from home, ask your current providers about transferring services to those closest to your college as needed.   If you are feeling overwhelmed by this process, the professionals at My College Planning Team are here to help.  

Julie Bortoli Headshot

Julie L. Bortoli, MA, NCC, LPC, has been a school counselor in the southwest suburbs for 16 years. She has 23 years of counseling experience in total, with prior experience as a school based probation officer and a counselor at a homeless shelter.

Julie earned her BA degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago, a MA in Political and Justice Studies from Governors State University and a MA in School Counseling and Guidance from Lewis University. A life-long learner, Julie continues her education to maintain NCC and LPC licenses.

Throughout her years as a counselor, Julie has assisted countless students with their post-secondary plans and the college admission process. Julie has a passion for helping students find their purpose at an affordable, yet challenging university.

Having served as the ACT testing coordinator for over ten years, Julie currently collaborates with the Junior-Senior group guidance planning team and is the school liaison to Joliet Junior College. Presently, Julie is helping students with medical conditions obtain academic accommodations.

Julie enjoys speed walking, tandem bike rides and beach days. Julie also serves on the board of her local community pool and racquet club. She resides in Naperville with her three children.

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