As within U.S. communities and national populations, an array of disabilities is present among students in post-secondary educational programs. Although each individual’s disability is unique, four categories of disabilities have been determined for documentation and discussion purposes. These categories are:
Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD/ADHD)
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is normally a chronic disorder with an early onset, which affects multiple domains of functioning, and is best understood as profound impulsiveness, or the relative incapacity to keep from responding to whatever seems most interesting or rewarding at the moment. Essential criteria for consideration include onset, consistency, pervasiveness, severity, and the “ruling-out” of other psychiatric or learning disabilities through a comprehensive psycho-educational assessment.
Learning Disabilities (LD) are a heterogeneous group of disorders manifested by significant difficulties in the acquisition and use of listening, speaking, reading, writing, reasoning, or mathematical skills. LD documentation must include a complete psycho-educational assessment, with all subtests and standard scores reported for both aptitude and achievement.
Psychological/psychiatric disorders are mood and anxiety disorders including depression, bipolar disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Documentation involves establishing the credibility of the diagnosis, the severity of the impairment, and the suitability of recommended accommodations.
Physical Disabilities are grouped into five categories according to the affected organ or body system:
- Miscellaneous (diabetes, asthma, Crohn's disease, etc.)
Functional impairment may include mobility, manual dexterity, information retrieval, communication, and endurance.
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 – This Act is intended to eradicate discrimination against certain protected groups, to "level the playing field" so that everyone has the same access and opportunity, unhindered by prejudice. This anti-discrimination law is a civil rights act, not an entitlement program, and is outcome-neutral. Deficits must be judged relative to the average level of performance within the general population.
Comprehensive – Through the use of psycho-educational testing or other means of verifying the nature and extent of a disability, the documentation or evaluation report should include the following six components: (1) evidence of the existing impairment, (2) background information, (3) relevant testing, (4) specific diagnosis, (5) explanation for ruling out alternative diagnoses, and (6) an integrated summary.
Current – Evaluation and reported results must have been completed within the past three years. The report(s) should address the disability being presented by using methods that are current to the professional practice.
Diagnostic evaluation – Depending on the disability, a diagnostic evaluation may include: an initial interview; history; psycho-educational, neuropsychological, or range of motion testing; identification of DSM-IV TR or DSM 5 criteria; statement of consideration regarding a differential diagnosis; clinical summary; and recommendations for accommodations. [Documentation Requirements]
Functional limitations – What is it about the disability that causes limitations for the student in an academic environment? This determination involves an analysis of: (1) the nature and severity of the impairment, (2) the duration of the impairment, and (3) the permanent or long-term impact of the impairment.
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1975 – This Act entitles children (K-12) with disabilities to a Free and Appropriate Education (FAPE) that allows for achievement in a least restrictive environment. The Act mandates funding to identify children with significant problems, and provides them with appropriate services to facilitate successful learning.
Post-secondary educational setting – Post-secondary education is schooling beyond the mandatory requirements of K-12. Higher education is mandated by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. Procedures and requirements vary significantly between IDEA and ADA/Section 504.
Psycho-educational assessment – A battery of tests administered by a qualified professional are conducted to rule out alternate or co-morbid diagnoses for ADD, ADHD, psychological disorders, and learning disabilities. The test selection varies based on the suspected disability. The testing is comprehensive, meaning that it consists of both aptitude testing and achievement testing with subtest scores included in the evaluation report. [Psychological Disabilities]
A list of area psychologists who administer psycho-educational testing is available in Disability Services.
Qualified professional – A qualified professional is a diagnostician who has extensive training in the disability areas for which the testing is being done, and direct experience in the diagnosis and treatment of an adult population.
Reasonable academic accommodations – Reasonable accommodations are based on: (1) the nature of the specific "functional impairment," and (2) the educational or testing environment in which the individual will be functioning. Academic accommodations are task-specific and are meant to eliminate or reduce the impact of the impairment on a particular activity. Assistive devices or adaptations serve to ease the impact of the disability on a particular activity. Examples may include ramps, curb cuts, use of a word processor and /or spell checker, opportunity to tape record lectures, use of a note taker, having extended test time in a distraction-free environment, etc.
Substantial impairment – A substantial impairment is one or more interferences, to a large degree, in a major life activity that prevent or severely restrict an individual from doing activities that are of central importance to daily life. As defined by the EEOC, "An individual is not substantially limited in a major life activity if the limitation does not amount to a significant restriction when compared with the abilities of the average person."