In addition to the normal course load, students with disabilities often have the added burden of advocating for themselves to get the support they are entitled to by law. As a 2022 case at Caltech demonstrates, schools sometimes fail to provide students with these accommodations.
Without necessary accommodations, a student may not be able to continue at the university of their choice, may have to limit their educational or career goals, or even be unable to complete the necessary classes for a degree. If you have a disability and your school is not offering you needed accommodations, knowing your rights and how an experienced legal team can help you negotiate the process is crucial.
Caltech, one of the most selective universities in the United States, also reports that approximately ten percent of its students are registered with the office that handles accommodations for students with disabilities. One of these students is Riley Brooker, a Caltech student from the United Kingdom.
Brooker has been diagnosed with ADHD, autism, fibromyalgia, anxiety, and depression. When she began to have seizures in April 2022, she requested a change to mandatory attendance policies. The school refused to allow an exception.
In response, Brooker wrote an article detailing her experiences for the school paper. A piece written by a member of the administration accompanied hers.
As of August 2022, Brooker is living off-campus and working on a Title IX complaint against Caltech. The experience has worsened her anxiety and depression. She says that she is unable to return to the United Kingdom for her safety.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, colleges and universities are required to provide “reasonable accommodations” to students with disabilities.
In Brooker's case, she and the Caltech administration disagreed on what constituted reasonable accommodations. Brooker had requested that, due to her seizures, she be excused from mandatory attendance and in-class assignment policies. Caltech disagreed.
In an open letter in the school paper, a member of the administration explained that the school's view was that such accommodations should not “lower or substantially modify essential program requirements.” In Brooker's case, the school believed her requests would materially alter the course requirements.
The school had offered to pay for Brooker to fly back to the United Kingdom or to provide a loan to enable her to rent an apartment. She refused, and fellow students raised enough money for her to rent an apartment near the school's Pasadena, California campus.
One of Many
Brooker's case isn't unique. The pandemic has highlighted the lack of support for students with disabilities. “Reasonable” can be interpreted in a variety of ways, and schools can argue that an accommodation places an undue financial or administrative burden on the school.
One advantage of hiring a law firm that specializes in student rights and student defense is that they're familiar with the wide range of accommodations made for students across the country. An experienced legal advisor can work with your school to find a compromise that allows you to continue your education with minimal disruption. Contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or online.