Students with disabilities cannot and should not be denied the right to pursue a post-secondary education. Recently, more and more students are making the decision to move forward with their education beyond high school. It is important for these students to understand their rights at a post-secondary institution and know how those rights differ from the rights they have in high school. Students should also understand the responsibilities of the colleges to which they are applying.
In elementary, middle and high school, districts are required to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to each child with a disability within their district. The school must identify the needs of each student with a disability and provide appropriate learning and educational tools to those individuals.
Colleges and other post-secondary institutions such as trade schools are not required to identify the needs of their students. They may not legally discriminate against a student with disabilities and must make appropriate academic adjustments in order to avoid discrimination. They are also required to provide housing that is comparable to that provided to all other students. However, they are not required to work proactively to address a student’s needs.
One of the most important rights afforded to students that wish to pursue higher education is that no student may be denied admission because of a disability. As long as a student meets the school’s essential requirements for admission, a disability cannot be cause for denial of admission.
If a student believes that they may need their college to make certain arrangements to meet their needs, then they have the right to request an academic adjustment. Academic adjustments include things like priority registration, reducing a course load, providing note takers or sign language interpreters, providing extended time for testing and equipping school computers with screen-reading.
Each college should have reasonable procedures for applying for an academic adjustment. It is important to inquire about the application process and submit your request as soon as possible. Since post-secondary institutions are not required to identify a disability, students and their parents must take care to ensure the appropriate steps are taken. Schools may not charge for this application process.
If a student believes that he or she is facing discrimination at college, there are several ways to address the issue. Colleges are required to provide a staff member who coordinates the school’s compliance with the law. This coordinator should be available to students who wish to have their concerns addressed.
Colleges must also have a procedure for a student who believes they are being discriminated against to file a grievance. As a last resort, if the student is not satisfied with the outcome of the grievance process, they may file a complaint against the school with the Office of Civil Rights or through the courts.
Pursuing a college education can be both exciting and frightening. Students who face the challenge armed with knowledge of their rights will have the tools they need to help them succeed in their pursuit of higher education.