Transition from High School to College for Students with Disabilities
Different Laws Apply
There are significant differences in laws that govern primary and secondary public education and the laws that govern postsecondary education. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) applies only to primary and secondary public education. Under IDEA, high school special education program procedures apply primarily to a precise list of disabilities such as "specific learning disability." In postsecondary institutions, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires accommodations be made on a case-by-case basis according to an individual’s current functional impairment.
IDEA requires the development of an Individual Education Plan (IEP) or 504 Plan for students with disabilities. In high school, students who use wheelchairs may be considered under a part of legislation known as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and may be referred to as 504 Plan students. Colleges or universities are not required to create an IEP or 504 Plan. The accommodations and services designated in a high school IEP or 504 Plan are not automatically transferred to the college or university.
|Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)||Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973|
|Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Subpart D)||Americans with Disabilities Act|
|Americans with Disabilities Act||Civil Rights Restoration Act|
|Civil Rights Restoration Act|
Eligibility for special education services in high school is diagnosis driven (i.e., the student must be diagnosed as having one of eleven specified conditions). Eligibility for reasonable accommodations in postsecondary institutions is driven by severity of the impairment’s impact on a major life activity (i.e., a mental or physical impairment that significantly limits a major life activity).
At CF, students with disabilities must register with the Access Services if they want to request accommodations, and they must provide verifying documentation such as psycho-educational test results, medical documents and doctor’s statements. The documentation must verify the disability, describe the extent of the impairment and provide information, which verifies the need for specific accommodation.
High School vs. College Responsibilities
In high school, the school has these responsibilities:
- Identify students with disabilities and prepare an IEP or 504 Plan.
- Provide assessment of learning disabilities.
- Classify disabilities according to specified diagnostic categories.
- Involve parents or guardians in placement decisions.
- Provide certain non-academic services.
- Place students in programs where they can benefit (in any way) subject to placement committee and parent participation and approval.
- Structure a large part of the student’s weekly schedule.
- Modify educational programs.
- Provide a free and appropriate education.
- Provide appropriate services by the school nurse or health service.
At post-secondary level, the college has these responsibilities:
- Protect a student’s right to privacy and confidentiality.
- Provide access to programs and service which are accessible to persons without disabilities.
- Inform students of office location and procedures for requesting accommodations.
- Accept and evaluate verifying documentation.
- Determine, based on the documentation, that a mental or physical impairment causes a substantial limitation of a major life activity.
- Determine whether a reasonable accommodation is possible for a student who is otherwise qualified for participation in the program or service.
- Make reasonable accommodations for students who meet the above qualifying criteria.
- Inform students of their rights and responsibilities.
Postsecondary institutions are not required to:
- Reduce or waive any of the essential requirements of a course or program.
- Conduct testing and assessment of learning, psychological or medical disabilities.
- Provide personal attendants.
- Provide personal or private tutors. Tutoring services normally available to persons without disabilities must be accessible to persons with disabilities who are otherwise qualified for those services.
- Prepare an Individual Education Plan for a student with a disability.
Student Responsibilities in College
In college, the student has these responsibilities:
- Self identify or disclose their disability to the designated office for disability services if they want to receive accommodations. At College of Central Florida, this office is called Access Services.
- Obtain and provide documentation such as psycho-educational test results, or a physician’s report. The documentation should verify the disability, describe the extent of the impairment, and provide information that supports the need for specific accommodation.
- Take specific action to request those accommodations for their disabilities.
- Act as independent adults and use appropriate self-advocacy strategies.
- Arrange their weekly schedules.
- Contact their instructors to activate and adopt accommodations for each class.
- Arrange for and obtain their own personal attendants, tutoring and individually fitted or designed assistive technologies.
Successful Transition from High School
Every year more students with disabilities are going from secondary programs to 2- or 4- year colleges. Too often students with disabilities are unprepared to meet the challenges of attending college because they think the services they received in high school will automatically follow them in college. Some specific things special educators and parents can do to help the students prepare for a successful transition include:
- Don't wait until the student's senior year to start planning for the transition!! Begin in the freshman or sophomore year, or as soon as the student expresses an interest in attending any postsecondary program, by discussing options available and making campus visits. At CF the Access Services office staff can explain to potential students what is expected and what they can do to prepare.
- Any student expressing interest in any postsecondary education or training should be referred to the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. Even though not all students with disabilities are accepted as clients of DVR of Division of Blind Services (DBS), it is worth the student's time to try for DVR assistance.
- It is important that psychoeducational and psychological testing data are current. This will help the student with learning disorders, ADD or ADHD, TBI, cognitive or developmental disorders qualify for services at the postsecondary level. Also, it is in the student's best interest if the evaluator administers the WAIS-R. The WAIS-R provides more detailed information about the student's processing skills and abilities.
- Help students become strong self advocates. This includes helping the student understand his individual disabilities. A student should understand and be able to communicate his strengths and weaknesses, what compensation strategies and accommodations have been used in the past and which ones he thinks he will need at the community college. At the postsecondary level it is the student's responsibility to start the process for the provision of services and accommodations.
- Help the student develop good study skills and habits.
Cover topics such as listening and notetaking, preparing for exams, test taking strategies, time management and organization.
- Encourage students to become computer literate. The student should learn basic keyboarding skills and a word processing program. It is to the student's advantage to be comfortable with a computer.
- Get students with reading disabilities registered with and using talking book services like Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFB&D).
- College students must structure and plan their own study time; colleges do not set up study periods or provide for time to do homework in most classes.
- Professors and classes may differ regarding attendance requirement, scheduling assignment due dates and exams. The student must study each professor’s syllabus for each class.
- Students in colleges and universities are considered adults, with the privacy and confidentiality protections provided by federal legislation Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). College teachers and staff cannot talk with parents and guardians about a student's academic activities as is typical in primary and secondary school.
A valuable publication from the Office for Civil Rights on transition issues is Students with Disabilities Preparing for Postsecondary Education: Know Your Rights and Responsibilities available from http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/transition.html.