ADA Grounds for Relief

Disability Rights in Education. College and university students who face academic probation, academic dismissal, course incompletes, late course withdrawals, and other academic administrative challenges may have grounds for relief if disabilities are impacting their education. The federal Americans with Disabilities Act and its special protections apply to public and private college and university educational programs, as the ADA National Network summarizes. Students, not just employees, can claim and enforce rights under the Act. If your college or university is adversely affecting your educational access and academic performance because of your disability, then you should find relief under the Act. You will likely need the representation and advocacy of a skilled and experienced academic administrative attorney if your school shows reluctance to recognize and respect your ADA rights. Such reluctance is unfortunately widespread among instructors and academic administrators. Get the help of an academic administrative attorney to enforce your ADA rights.

ADA Disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act has a limited but powerful reach, based on core principles, definitions, and provisions. Under Titles II and III of the Act, public and private colleges and universities, as places of public accommodation, must provide equal access to students with disabilities, even if access requires reasonable accommodation. To qualify for accommodations, a student must have a disability, which the Act defines as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment.” Although underlying physical and mental diseases and conditions like diabetes, respiratory disease, and orthopedic injuries can cause or contribute to disabilities, the Act doesn't focus on the disease or condition. The Act's definition of disability instead requires proof of substantial impairment, like loss of sight, hearing, or ambulation. The medical or congenital causes of the impairment don't matter directly. The impairment is what matters.

Example Disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act does not list qualifying physical or mental impairments. Nearly any reduced function that substantially limits one or more major life activities could thus qualify as an impairment. The inability to use one's paralyzed legs is a classic ADA disability. But hidden medical conditions like diabetes can also produce ADA disabilities if the condition produces an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. Major life activities can include, among other things, caring for oneself, doing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working. College and university students do a lot of those activities, especially learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, and communicating. Many impairments can qualify for ADA accommodations at colleges and universities. If you face a dispute with your college or university over whether your condition qualifies as an ADA-protected impairment, and requires the school to provide reasonable accommodations, including relief from its academic policies, then consult an academic administrative attorney.

Reasonable Accommodations. Under the ADA, a college or university need only provide reasonable accommodations to students with qualifying disabilities. Citing a U.S. Department of Education publication, the American Psychological Association explains that reasonable accommodations in educational institutions are “modifications or adjustments to the tasks, environment, or way things are usually done that enable individuals with disabilities to have an equal opportunity to participate in an academic program or a job.” Reasonable accommodations are not just handicap ramps, wider bathroom stalls, and lower sinks granting physical access to buildings and equipment. Reasonable accommodations can also include “changes that enable a student with a disability to perform the essential functions of the academic program….” Those changes could include certain forms of relief from academic policies. If, because of a disability, you face academic issues like probation, dismissal, course incompletes, and late course withdrawal, and your school is not cooperating in providing reasonable accommodations, then consult a skilled and experienced academic administrative attorney.

Example ADA Accommodations. Disability accommodations can take almost any form. Colleges and universities may provide not only ramps, lifts, elevators, and other building access but also braille or assistive listening devices, sign language interpreters, and access for service animals. Colleges and universities tend to recognize and offer the more-common forms of accommodation more readily on student request than unusual or unique forms. According to one national disability-rights advocacy organization, other common forms of accommodations at colleges and universities include:

  • time-and-a-half, double, or other extended exam time
  • laptop computer use for quizzes, tests, and exams
  • calculator use for quizzes, tests, and exams
  • audio recordings of classes using school or student equipment
  • reduced course loads, but without financial aid relief
  • priority course registration
  • note-taking services or copies of classmate notes
  • textbooks in audiobook or large print format
  • voice recognition software
  • text-to-speech programs

The same national disability-rights advocacy organization lists these additional but uncommon forms of disability accommodations at colleges and universities, ones that may be harder to obtain:

  • additional time to submit class papers and projects
  • course waivers and substitutions
  • alternative exam formats such as oral rather than written exams
  • training in adaptive technology
  • help with study skills and time management
  • learning specialists
  • disability mentoring programs
  • disability support groups

ADA Accommodations Process. Just because you applied to your college or university and gained admission doesn't mean that you have qualified for ADA accommodations. It doesn't matter whether you have an obvious disability, such as the need for a wheelchair or to use sign language and text due to hearing loss, or a hidden disability, like limited vision or an injured and weak back. You still need to notify the school and apply for ADA accommodations. Under the ADA, colleges and universities may not inquire into disabilities to make admissions decisions. Your college or university will ignore any disability information until it admits you. You must then notify its ADA office if you require ADA accommodations. The application process typically begins with an online form request. Your school's ADA officers will then likely interview you to determine your specific needs for accommodation. Under ADA law, schools must follow a flexible, interactive process to resolve questions over your accommodation needs. You and your school may also refer to expert examinations, consultations, and recommendations for appropriate accommodation resources, equipment, practices, and methods.

Disability Documentation. Under the ADA, your college or university has the right to request and require appropriate documentation of your disability. You may have that documentation from high school or other studies, employment, or general healthcare. But your school may require more-recent documentation or different documentation of your ADA-qualifying disability. Because the ADA requires proving an impairment substantially limiting a major life activity, that documentation may be from medical, occupational, vocational, psychological, educational, or other experts. Expect to cooperate with reasonable documentation requests from your school. And ensure that you have the right expert providing the right diagnosis and documentation. If you get into a dispute with your school over the nature, date, form, or sufficiency of your disability documentation, then retain a skilled and experienced academic administrative attorney to represent you. Your academic administrative attorney may help you discern and provide the right documentation while advocating with your school's ADA officials.

Special Education in College. Don't confuse your college or university ADA rights with the rights grade-school students enjoy under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). IDEA rights include the well-known Individualized Education Plans or IEPs, and special disability support services that help disabled middle school, high school, and other grade school students progress. But as one disabilities advocacy organization articulates, IDEA rights do not apply in college and university programs. Don't expect to benefit from an IEP at college or university. IEPs don't exist there. Colleges and universities also don't generally have the same level of disability support services as grade schools must under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Equal access is the ADA benchmark, not IDEA IEPs and abundant IDEA support services. The distinction may be a fine one, but your case for academic policy relief and other ADA accommodations will need to make that distinction.

Confidentiality of Accommodations. You must obviously disclose the nature of your disability and details of its impact on your educational access to your school's ADA officials. That's the only way that you'll get accommodations. But your school's ADA officials shouldn't disclose your disability or accommodations beyond any necessity to see those accommodations implemented. Your instructors, for instance, need not necessarily learn of your disability unless your accommodations require your instructor to know. Classmates, too, need not know. You may, of course, disclose your disability to instructors and classmates if you wish. Disclosure may benefit you. But that choice should be yours. Your school's ADA officials will also ordinarily restrict their communications to the nature of your accommodations. They should not be disclosing the nature of your disability that warrants accommodations. Your disability is your business, not the business of others who have no need to know. If your school has breached your confidentiality in ways that are affecting your academic performance or educational rights, privileges, and access, then consult an academic administrative attorney.

Academic Policy Relief. While building access and access to educational services and resources may be your direct disability concern, your greater concern may be that you face academic dismissal or probation. Your school may have failed or refused to provide you with the accommodations necessary for you to complete and pass courses within the time and with the grades to keep you in good academic standing. If so, then you should find relief from your school's key academic policies. For instance, your school has a satisfactory academic progress (SAP) policy required under Section 484 of the federal Higher Education Act and 34 CFR 668.34. Your school's failure or refusal to accommodate your disability may have caused you to run afoul of the SAP policy's minimum grade point average or minimum progress standards. Under 34 CFR 668.34, though, your school should recognize special circumstances to relieve you from a harsh and unfair application of its SAP policy. Your retained academic administrative attorney can help you pursue the SAP appeal necessary for that academic relief. Your school's late course withdrawal policy and other academic policies should also offer an excuse for unmet ADA disability accommodations.

Follow ADA Appeal Procedures. To get relief from these academic policies, based on your ADA-qualifying disability, you must follow your school's ADA and academic appeal procedures. Following school procedures may require applications or appeals both to a civil-rights office responsible for ADA compliance and to academic administrators. The University of Kentucky, for instance, maintains an Office of Institutional Equity and Equal Opportunity responsible for the university's ADA compliance. ADA applications and disputes must ordinarily proceed through that office. But at the University of Kentucky, SAP appeals must go through a different Office of Student Financial Aid and Scholarships. Student requests for academic policy relief, including reinstatement, based on disability rights face especially complex procedures. Don't try to navigate these dual academic and disability-rights procedures on your own. Instead, consult and retain a skilled and experienced academic administrative attorney.

Academic Administrative Attorney Available. If your school has failed or refused to reasonably accommodate your disability, and that refusal threatens your academic dismissal or probation, then you need the aggressive and effective representation of a skilled and experienced academic administrative attorney. No matter your college, university, program, disability, level, or location, you may retain national academic administrative attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm to represent you. Attorney Lento has successfully represented hundreds of students nationwide in all sorts of educational programs, undergraduate, graduate, and professional. Attorney Lento's extensive experience has given him the necessary academic administrative knowledge, skills, and insight to do as your representation requires. Your education is worth getting the best available help to resolve your academic issue. Call 888.535.3686 or go online to tell attorney Lento about your case.