High School vs College for a Disabled Student


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If you are a disabled high school graduate you may be confused by the changes with which you are faced and unsure what to expect as you prepare for college. Realistically, the transition from high school to college requires a period of adjustment for all students since the academic demands are different in the two environments. However, the transition for students with disabilities requires special preparation in order to progress smoothly.

During the high school years, much of the responsibility for accommodating your disability fell to school personnel, and your parents served as your primary advocates. Even though you were required to participate in case conferences and the implementation of your Individual Education Plan (IEP) you may have felt more on the "sidelines." As you transition to college, your parents no longer serve as your primary advocates and you are asked to assume this role. It is important you understand you will be expected to seek out the services you need, provide adequate documentation of your disability, self-identify your need for accommodations, and follow-through with your assigned responsibilities in the accommodation process.

Some of the confusion surrounding the transition from high school to college for students with disabilities can be traced to the fact that colleges and high schools are governed by different laws. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is no longer applicable as students transition to college and IEP’s, mandated by IDEA, are no longer required at the college level. Even Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) has different provisions for colleges than were in place for K-12 schools. IDEA and Section 504 mandate K-12 schools provide assessments to identify students with disabilities; however, when students enter college they bear the responsibility for providing evidence of their need for specific accommodations.

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In addition, Section 504 does not require colleges to provide accommodations that will fundamentally alter the essential academic requirements of a course or field of study, such as modified tests, or which are for personal use or study, such as tutors, and only requires the provision of accommodations that are considered “reasonable.”


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