Strengthening the Foundation

  • October 30, 2015

Accommodations in Post-Secondary Education

by Juli Gallup

College is a whole new ballgame. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act’s (IDEA) obligations to provide a free and appropriate education do not apply to post secondary institutions. However, all post secondary schools who accept federal funds (such as student aid) are obligated to provide reasonable accommodations under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA). The types of accommodations are different and it becomes critical to know the differences between the obligations of a public school and those of a college/university or training program.

When your child turns eighteen, educational rights transfer from the parents to the young adult. Parent involvement comes at the invitation of the student. (Parents, however, do retain the right to pay the bill!) Any other information you would like the school to release to you will require your child’s written consent.

With this timeline in mind, we finished Zac’s last college tour in July 2011. After visiting a variety of schools in Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Missouri, it was time for Zac to make a choice. He decided on a medium sized private school with good reputation and excellent academic supports for his first choice and a large state university with an autism specific support program in another state as his backup plan.  Applications were mailed and Zac soon learned that he was accepted at both! It was clear, though, that his heart was set on his first choice, so we started the process of setting up his accommodations there. Below is a description of our process that might guide yours. 

The first step: contact the academic support office and ask what information they need in order to provide accommodations. We wanted to make sure that Zac’s accommodations would be ready on his first day of class. This particular university accepted a private evaluation that had been completed the summer of 2010.  Depending on their policy, other schools may require copies of a student’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and documentation that is more extensive. After sending all required documentation, we set up a meeting this past March with the director of the program to discuss Zac’s needs.

The program director took the time to share with Zac about the services the university provides for all of their students as well as those who receive services through the Academic Support Office. Services at Zac’s school include tutoring, peer mentoring, counseling services, extended time on tests, help with class registration and scheduling, assistance with time management, help with navigating the change to a college environment among others. Once his options were provided, Zac had the opportunity to voice what he thought he needed to be successful in college. This discussion helped us arrive at an agreement.

Zac agreed to access all of the supports available to him at college during his freshman year. We also agreed that I will be a part of his team while he is on college. If our family resources were going to help get him through school, I felt it was very important for me to know he was doing his part to be successful in college by using his supports and services. My role is limited to only asking if he is using all of his supports. Zac has a team of people working with him at the school to help him with the day-to-day; I just need to know he’s keeping his part of the bargain. We will revisit the agreement at the end of the school year and reassess what he needs before he starts his sophomore year.

Here are some other things to consider that helped Zac and I in the college process:

Access Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) services while your child is still in high school

  • Whether or not your child has a specific employment goal in mind, VR may be able to provide some valuable resources for your child. If you are told that they will not provide services because your child is not out of school, go ahead and submit the application. If VR does not respond in a timely manner, call DLAC’s Client Assistance Program at 800.342.1660 for help. Zac will not be receiving VR services since he does not have an employment goal…yet.

Review accommodations request for SAT, ACT, Advanced Placement Tests

  • Ensure accurate information along with the supporting documentation from outside support professionals are sent. Schools typically have someone designated to request accommodations for these tests, but that does not mean that they are knowledgeable about putting together a packet of information that will be successful. In Zac’s case, the information in the original packet sent to the testing company was incorrect and incomplete. Once the proper information was provided along with two letters from professionals working with Zac and the inaccurate information removed, the testing company approved the accommodations in less than two weeks. When Zac took the test in June with accommodations, the results were dramatic and resulted in a full tuition scholarship for his freshman year.

Communicate to your child that you believe in their ability to be successful

  • I think this is, perhaps, the most important part of the process. Being the parent and advocate of a child with a learning difference is exhausting. Sometimes it feels like a constant fight – with schools, family members, and even our children!  While I shared most of the concerns, I also believed that Zac needed to hear the message that I was confident he had what it took to go to college and be a success. I felt my job was to find the options based on his strengths, abilities, and challenges and then provide him the opportunity to develop the skills needed to be successful.  

On August 17, Zac and I made our way to start his college experience. We unpacked boxes and set up his dorm room. He met his roommate and other guys living in his dorm. We met with the director of the Academic Support Program to ensure that all of his supports were ready. While I was at meetings telling parents to quit being helicopter parents and that it’s time to let go of our kids, Zac was making new friends at the incoming freshman activities.

I’ve been asked if it was hard.  Honestly, not really. My son is making all his hopes and dreams  a reality through dillegent self-advocacy and other people can too. It’s good, all good.


Disability Rights Tennessee (DRT) is a nonprofit legal services organization that provides free legal advocacy services to protect the rights of Tennesseans with disabilities.

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