Handbook for Parents of Students with Disabilities
This handbook is directed primarily toward parents of students with disabilities; however, we hope that it is equally useful to high school teachers, counselors, and students. It introduces some of the legal and philosophical changes that occur for students with disabilities upon graduation from high school and entrance into Pennsylvania College of Technology.
Once students turn 18 years old, they are legally an adult, responsible for their own actions and decisions. As they leave secondary school to enter college, fundamental changes occur with respect to their education as people with disabilities. Students attending public schools have, for the most part, a legal entitlement to an education, regardless of a disability. They must also receive their education in a least restrictive environment possible.
In college, students have a civil right to have access to their education. The fundamental principle at work is the assumption of integration and that students, not the institutions, are responsible for themselves.
We hope this handbook will help you better understand some of those distinctions and provide tips on how best to support your son or daughter in college.
Review the Transition to Postsecondary Education Chart to see the primary differences in student rights and responsibilities between secondary and postsecondary education.
What is the difference between entitled to education and right to equal access to education?
Unlike elementary and secondary schools, postsecondary education offers access to rather than entitlement to academic programs. In 1975, Congress passed the Education for All Handicapped Children Act. This act, commonly known as Public Law 94-142, provided that any child with a disability was “entitled to a free and appropriate education” in public school systems. Fundamentally, 94-142 and its successors (including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1990 and IDEA Improvement Act of 1997 and 2004) said that public schools would determine what was most appropriate for your son or daughter’s education. They were then required to provide that education.
At the postsecondary level, the rules have changed. Public Law 94-142 and IDEA no longer apply, including the required IEP (Individualized Education Plan/Program) and 504 Plans.
In 1990, Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act. Modeled on section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, ADA is a civil rights law. It prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability as long as the person is otherwise qualified. In the case of public-funded colleges and universities, ADA affirms the right of a student with a disability to a level playing field.
This means that Pennsylvania College of Technology must ensure access to all students who are otherwise qualified. Access means much more than ramps, elevators, and wide parking spaces. It also means access to information and technology. Therefore, Pennsylvania College of Technology must make reasonable accommodations for students’ disabilities in order that they may be able to demonstrate their ability. However, civil rights laws and reasonable accommodations are in no way intended to guarantee success. At most, students can expect a more equal chance to do the same work as their peers.
Can a postsecondary institution deny my son or daughter admission because of a disability?
No. If your son or daughter meets the essential requirements for admission, a postsecondary institution may not deny admission simply because of a disability.
What is meant by reasonable accommodations?
Reasonable accommodations are made in order to level the playing field for qualified individuals with disabilities. As much as possible, accommodations are designed to minimize the functional limitations of an individual in a given task. These adjustments permit students with disabilities the opportunity to learn by removing barriers that do not compromise academic standards. Examples:
- Students who are deaf cannot hear class lectures. Provision of sign language interpreters as an accommodation gives students who are deaf access to the information discussed in the classroom at nearly the same time it is presented. Students who are deaf are also provided with note-takers, even though the lectures are interpreted. This is because it is virtually impossible to follow a signed lecture and take notes at the same time.
- Students with learning disabilities may be accommodated in a variety of ways, depending on the limitations of their particular type of learning disability.
- Students who are blind are accommodated by receiving printed materials in an alternate format such as audio CDs or in Braille.
- Students with mobility limitations, such as wheelchair users, may request that classroom locations be moved if the classroom is not accessible on a ground floor or by an elevator.
In providing an accommodation, the College is not required to lower or effect substantial modifications to essential requirements. The College does not have to make modifications that would fundamentally alter the nature of a service, program, or activity or would result in undue financial or administrative burdens. Also, the College does not have to provide personal attendants, individually prescribed devices, readers for personal use or study, or other devices or services of a personal nature, such as tutoring and typing.
Who will manage my son or daughter’s educational services?
Your son or daughter is ultimately responsible for managing his or her own education, understanding functional limitations, and requesting necessary accommodations.
As adults, all students go through a process of learning about themselves. They develop the skills of self-determination, including confidence to advocate for the things they need in order to thrive and achieve.
Disability Services strives to promote this kind of self-knowledge. It is in the development of these skills that Disability Services can best guide students with disabilities in their educational growth. These skills are critical, because it is the students, not Disability Services, who will approach instructors and other staff to request the accommodations that are reasonable for them to receive. These are the skills all students need when they leave college and move successfully into their chosen careers.
I understand the philosophy now, but what is the process, or how does Disability Services work?
The following applies to most students who register with Disability Services. Specifics vary depending on the student's disability, functional limitations, and accommodations requested and provided.
- Student identifies oneself in a timely manner when an accommodation is needed and presents current, comprehensive documentation of disability. [Eligibility & Documentation Requirements]
- Disability Services verifies the student's disability and the functional limitations that result. Medical or psychological records are used in this process. Individualized Education Programs (IEP) or 504 Plans are NOT adequate to demonstrate the functional limitations of a disability. In some cases, Disability Services may determine that the documentation provided is too old to be considered accurate. If the documentation is too old, Disability Services will recommend that the student obtain current assessments. This must be done by the student and at the student's expense.
- Disability Services reviews the documentation and determines if the student is eligible for accommodations. Disability Services will notify the student if the documentation is complete or if additional information is needed.
- If the documentation is complete, Disability Services meets with the student (typically the first week of classes) to discuss the appropriate accommodations and how to access the accommodations.
- Disability Services completes an Accommodation Request Form for the student to give to his/her instructors. The Accommodation Request Form introduces the student to the instructor and informs the instructor that the student is registered with Disability Services and is eligible for specific accommodations. The student is responsible for giving the Accommodation Request Form to his/her instructors.
Disability Services recommends that students identify and request accommodations with plenty of advanced notice to ensure their accommodations will be there when they need them.
How has my role as a parent changed?
At the postsecondary level, both parents and students experience a transition. A parent's role shifts to a subtle hand of guidance when it comes to the process involved in the student's education. Encourage the student to take responsibility for academic concerns and limitations. Both the parent(s) and student should acknowledge the disability and the limitations that stem from it. This will allow the student to identify areas in which he/she should consider accommodations to level the playing field. It will also make it easier for the student to convey his/her requests for accommodations to instructors or anyone from whom he/she may seek assistance. Encourage the student to register with Disability Services where he/she will be coached on how to proceed in obtaining reasonable accommodations.
Why doesn't Disability Services provide LD assessment?
Neither the Americans with Disabilities Act nor Section 504 make it obligatory for institutions of higher education to evaluate and assess students with disabilities or suspected disabilities. In the logic of civil rights, students must assert and claim their right to equal access. The burden of proof is not on the institution. Student must identify themselves as a qualified person with a disability and be prepared to provide the documents that verify that claim.
Is my son or daughter automatically registered with Disability Services if we sent his/her last IEP to Admissions?
No. Remember 504 Plans and IEPs from high school have no weight in higher education. They cannot be used to verify a student's disability for civil rights purposes. Each student must contact Disability Services to begin the process of verifying his/her disability. Disability Services actively works to communicate services to prospective and currently enrolled students in an effort to encourage them to utilize all services that they may be eligible to receive. Documentation verifying a disability should not be sent to the Admissions Office; it should be sent directly to the Disability Services Office..
What do you mean you cannot disclose any information to me about my son or daughter's services?
Once students, whether they are 18 years old or not, enroll in a postsecondary institution, they become the sole guardian of all records maintained by that institution. Under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1976 (FERPA), students have the right to access their own records upon written request. The parent or guardian does not share that right. This means that parents do not have legal access to their student's grades, transcripts, or any information concerning the services being provided through Disability Services. This information is confidential. However, we understand that students may wish to share educational information with parents and guests. Students wishing to grant access to their educational records to parents and/or guests can do so through the Parent/Guest access option on the Student Information System (SIS). The only time a student's record may be disclosed without written consent would be to comply with a subpoena or in an emergency situation where the health and safety of the student or another individual is threatened.
We've talked about academics, but what about my son or daughter’s living situation?
Pennsylvania College of Technology's on-campus housing is readily accessible to and usable by students with many disabilities. Reasonable accommodations will be made to students with disabilities whose limitations require them.
Disability Services hopes this handbook has been helpful in preparing you and your student for the transition to college.
Adapted, with permission, from:
- Students with Disabilities Preparing for Postsecondary Education: Know Your Rights and Responsibilities from U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, May 2004
- Toto, I Have A Feeling We’re Not In High School Any More by Dan Burke from The University of Montana-Missoula Disability Services for Students, 2003