Transition Information for Students with Disabilities

Are there differences between K-12 and college level service goals?

In K-12...Service goals are focused on success. This focus allows the school district and the individual teachers to make modifications to programs to promote the success of the individual student including altering the course, tests and providing waivers/substitutions.

In college...Service goals are focused on equitable access to programs and services. 

Are there differences in the laws that govern K-12 verses college environments?

In K-12...Legal support comes through The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and some applications of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. In addition, legislation says all children have the right by law to go to school. IDEA provides a list of disabilities and includes specific learning disability.

In college...Legal support comes from Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendment Act (ADAAA). Education beyond the high school level is not a right as defined by law. Students must meet certain admissions criteria defined under ADA as "otherwise qualified". Legislation ensures that no otherwise qualified person is discriminated against.

Both K-12 and colleges use an IEP or 504 Plan, right?

In K-12...Environments utilize an IEP or 504 plan and may have a very formalized process.

In college...Environments have no specific formula for plans. Accommodations can be addressed formally or informally depending on the nature of the student's needs. Each post-secondary institution can establish guidelines for how accommodations are addressed to ensure equitable access for students with disabilities.

The school knows I have a disability and will tell me what I have to do, right?

In K-12...Schools have designated special education personnel and in many case a team of individuals who work with students. They are required to identify students with disabilities and provide appropriate education. While guidelines may vary from one state to another, there are also expectations regarding evaluation and re-evaluation.

In college...It is the student's responsibility to seek out accommodations and follow their school's identified process for obtaining services. While many colleges will reach out to students who indicate some type of disability, institutions are not required to identify students with disabilities. Many post-secondary institutions have a designated person or office that addresses disability related services. Post-secondary environments have no responsibility for evaluation or re-evaluation to determine accommodations.

What supplementary or personal services are schools required to provide?

In K-12...Schools provide many supplemental and personal services such as tutoring, personal care attendants and personal aids and devices. School districts must provide rehabilitation counseling, medical services, personal aides, social work and other services as needed in the school day.

In college...College-level institutions provide physical, academic, and program access. Related services of a personal nature are the responsibility of the individual or family. Many institutions offer free supportive services such as tutoring or writing support to all students. Such tutorial services, if offered, are provided to students with disabilities in the same manner as students without disabilities. Some post-secondary institutions can offer referral lists for personal care attendants, aides and devices, though colleges are not required to provide attendants, individually prescribed devices, readers for personal use or study, or other devices of a personal nature. Institutions may choose the specific methods and auxiliary aids to be supplied to a student so long as those methods and aids provide equal opportunity (e.g. a student may want a specific type of software, however, the school can choose similar software that addresses the same objectives). Institutions may not charge students for necessary physical, academic, or program accommodations; however, if they offer specialized support programs, additional costs may apply.

Who leads the way for accommodations?

In K-12...Accommodations are generally led by the teacher or parent/guardians. The student may be included but does not hold the primary responsibility. The parent or guardian is the primary advocate. Students learn about their disability, the accommodations they need, and ways to become a self-advocate.

In college...Accommodations are led by the student. The student is responsible for contacting the appropriate personnel, providing documentation and following up with staff. This approach is generally considered a team effort between the student and disability services. In most cases, the student also speaks directly with the individual instructors to coordinate accommodations. While parents can be a resource, they do not have a lead role in post-secondary accommodations.

Since I have a disability, does that mean I don't have to take standardized tests?

In K-12...Testing is governed by the state in many cases. It is up to the local school to make determinations regarding accommodations and, if applicable, arrange waivers for required standardized testing.

In college...Institutions can require some form of standardized tests as part of the admissions requirement. They can also set a minimum test score requirement. However if a student self-identifies as a student with a disability, the school cannot use such scores as the sole criteria for admission. In addition schools cannot deny admission because a student took the test under non-standard conditions, i.e. with accommodations.

Who is responsible for enforcing the laws?

In K-12...IDEA is basically a funding statute, enforced by the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services in the U.S. Department of Education.

In college...Institutions can require some form of standardized tests as part of the admissions requirement. They can also set a minimum test score requirement. However if a student self-identifies as a student with a disability, the school cannot use such scores as the sole criteria for admission. In addition schools cannot deny admission because a student took the test under non-standard conditions, i.e. with accommodations.

Who is protected under the law?

In K-12...A "person with a disability" includes "any person who (i) has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more of such person's major life activities; (ii) has a record of such an impairment, or (iii) is regarded as having such an impairment."

In college...A "qualified person with a disability" is defined as one who meets the requisite academic and technical standards required for admission or participation in the post-secondary institution's programs and activities.

What is the impact of the law on colleges?

Colleges and universities receiving federal financial assistance must not discriminate in the recruitment, admission, or treatment of students. Students with documented disabilities may request modifications, accommodations, or auxiliary aids which will enable them to participate in and benefit from all postsecondary educational programs and activities. Postsecondary institutions must make such changes to ensure that the academic program is accessible to the greatest extent possible by all students with disabilities.

Under the provisions of Section 504, universities and colleges may not:

  • limit the number of students with disabilities admitted;
  • make preadmission inquiries as to whether or not an applicant is disabled;
  • use admissions tests or criteria that inadequately measure the academic qualifications of disabled students because special provisions were not made for them;
  • exclude a qualified student with a disability from any course of study;
  • limit eligibility to a student with a disability for financial assistance or otherwise discriminate in administering scholarships, fellowships, internships, or assistantships on the basis of disability;
  • counsel a student with a disability toward a more restrictive career;
  • measure student achievement using modes that adversely discriminate against a student with a disability; or
  • establish rules and policies that may adversely affect students with disabilities.

Why is documentation required?

Documentation is required to substantiate a disability and identify current functional limitations associated with the post-secondary environment. Generally speaking, documentation must include a diagnosis of the specific disability from a qualified professional with supporting information, and rationale for the requested accommodations based on the functional limitations of the specific disability.

The statement of disability, or diagnosis, provides the proof of disability. However, each college or university has the right to review documentation and determine individual accommodations and services. Previous provision of service, or lack of it, does not guarantee or preclude services in a post-secondary environment

What constitutes proof of need for services?

For students with learning disabilities, colleges generally look for testing that has been completed within the past three years. They look for a standardized measure of general intelligence, preferably the WAIS-R, results of academic achievement tests, results of specialized testing in perceptual processing and motor skills, as appropriate, a case history, and a description of previously accessed accommodations and recommendations for accommodations at the college level.

For a student with a physical or mental disability, documentation ideally includes diagnosis, prognosis and medications.

How will the parent or guardian's role be different?

In K-12...The parent or guardian has access to the student's records and participates in the accommodation process. The parent advocates for the student.

In college...The parent or guardian does not have access to student records unless the student provides written consent. The student advocates for self.