Faculty FAQs: College Accommodations

Q: What federal laws ensure that students with disabilities are not discriminated against but instead are given equal access to education at the post-secondary level?

A: The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. 

Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990:

Title II, Section 12132 states that “Subject to the provisions of this subchapter, no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity…” Public colleges and universities fall under this category.

Title III, Section 12182 states, “No individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation.” Public colleges and universities also fall under this category.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973:

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 states, “No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States, as defined in section 7(20), shall, solely by reason of his or her disability, be excluded from the participating in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance…” Since public colleges receive federal assistance and accept students who receive federal financial aid, Section 504 applies to college institutions.

Q: What is the definition of “disability”?

Under 504 and the ADA, a person with a disability is someone who:

    1. has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of such person's major life activities 
      • Major life activities include caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working.
      • Major life activities also include the operation of a major bodily function, including but not limited to, functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions.
    2. has a record of such an impairment, or
    3. is regarded as having such an impairment.

Q: What are some examples of disabilities?

A: There are many things that could be considered disabilities. Some examples are reading and writing disabilities like dyslexia and dysgraphia; math disabilities like dyscalculia; psychiatric disabilities such as depression and anxiety; physical disabilities such as paraplegia; disabilities from injuries such as traumatic brain injury, just to name a few. The list could go on, but in each case, the person with a disability is limited in one or more major life activities. At college, accommodations are meant to level the playing field in those areas of limitation.

Q: How does the college determine if a student has a disability and can receive accommodations?

A: The student must provide documentation of the disability. Documentation must verify that the individual is a person with a disability as defined in Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and 2010.  Eastern Iowa Community Colleges require that students with disabilities requesting accommodations provide adequate documentation from an appropriately credentialed professional.  Appropriately credentialed professionals may include but are not limited to: physicians, psychologists, audiologists or other licensed authorities as determined by the type of disability.            

Documentation must establish the need for accommodations in order for the individual to have full access to educational opportunities.

Documentation must be current. Currency is dependent upon the disabling condition, the current impact of the disability on the student, and the student’s request for accommodations.

Accommodations are set up through the office of disability services, and instructors are responsible for implementing the accommodations for students with disabilities in their classes. 

Q: If a student believes he/she has a disability, but has no documentation, can they receive accommodations?

A: No, a student must provide documentation of the disability in order to receive accommodations at the college level. The college is not responsible for obtaining testing for the student; the responsibility to get documentation lies with the student. However, if the disability is visible, such as in the fact that a person uses a wheelchair, documentation is not necessary.

Q: Do accommodations lower the standards of a class?

A: No, instructors are never required to lower academic standards or alter learning objectives for students with disabilities. All students, whether they have a disability or not, must meet the same educational standards. Accommodations don’t lower standards, but instead help provide equal access to educational opportunities. One example would be extending test time for a student who has dyslexia or a processing disorder because more time will be needed for the student to read and understand the information on the test. Overall, accommodations can alter how an assignment is completed, but they cannot alter what is being tested on.

Q: Do students who use accommodations get unfair advantages over other students?

A: No. Accommodations are meant to level the playing field—to offer equal access to educational opportunities. They do not provide students with an unfair advantage. A student with a disability is substantially limited in one or more major life activities, such as walking, seeing, thinking, learning, etc. Through accommodations, however, these barriers are removed or reduced.

Let’s look at this example: There is an EICC student who offers excellent insight to discussions during her class, and it is apparent she has mastered the content and even gone beyond what is required. However, although it is not visible, this student has a disability. Her reading and writing disability impacts her ability to spell words correctly. Therefore, on a handwritten short answer/essay test, the student’s answers are riddled with spelling errors, which makes it difficult to read. Without accommodations, this student may fail the test, based on spelling errors alone—even though she has mastered the ideas. However, by allowing this student to use the accommodation of a computer with spell check, the student is able to effectively display what she knows, instead of being graded on misspelling—one of the effects of her disability. 

Q: Can instructors deny a student an accommodation if they don’t believe it is fitting?

A: No, instructors cannot deny students the accommodations set forth by the Disability Resources Office. The student and the disability service provider (DSP) engage in an interactive process to determine accommodations based on the disability and its impact in the educational setting. Based on this documentation and discussion, along with knowledge of disability law, accommodations are put in place to allow students to have equal access to educational activities and opportunities. 

However, if you feel that an accommodation fundamentally alters an essential element of your course, please contact the DSP to discuss the matter. 

Q: I can’t find information on the letter of accommodation about what type of disability the student has. Can that information be shared with me?

A: The letter of accommodation will only provide a list of accommodations, not information about the student’s disability. Students may choose to disclose information about their disability to you, but it is not required. Please do not ask students what their disability is, as it is their right to keep that information private.

Q: How do I receive letters of accommodation? From the disability service provider or the student? By email or paper?

A: It is the student’s responsibility to provide you with the letter of accommodation. Once the disability service provider (DSP) and the student have set up accommodations, the DSP emails a PDF version of the letter to the student. The student then emails it to you, the instructor. It is a good idea to keep a digital folder on your computer with the letters of accommodation from your students, so that you can refer to them as needed.

Q: Can I talk openly to students about their accommodations during class time?

A: No, accommodations are confidential. Make sure you do not discuss students’ accommodations in front of other students. 

Q: What is the difference between special education at the K-12 level and accommodations at the college level?

A: The biggest difference is that there is no special education services at college as there are in high school. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is what drives accommodations/modifications at the high school level, and it is geared toward “success.” At the college level, accommodations are driven by the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the focus shifts from “success” to “access.” Modifications to assignments (such as a limited number of questions on a test or using notes on your test) are not allowed. The point of accommodations in higher education is to provide equal access. Success is up to the student. 

Q: Do English language learners qualify for accommodations because of their language barrier?

A: English language learners do not qualify for accommodations based on a language barrier since they do not have a disability as outlined in the Americans with Disabilities Act or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Of course, if an English language learner has a documented disability (not related to the language barrier), they could qualify for accommodations for that reason.