Video & Transcript: Disability Rights for College Students
Hi, I'm Stephanie Woodward with Disability Details giving you the details about disability rights, access, and life. Today we're talking about disability rights for college students.
Going off to college is a scary and exciting time for everybody but it can be especially scary and exciting for students with disabilities who may be advocating for their rights for the first time on their own. So this video is meant to give you a quick tutorial about some disability rights that you should know about as college students.
So there are three laws that you should be aware of just as a primer. The first is the Americans with Disabilities Act which I'll be calling the ADA. The second is Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act which I'm going to call Section 504, and the third is the Fair Housing Amendments Act which I'm just gonna call the Fair Housing Act and I'm really gonna focus on the Americans with Disabilities Act in Section 504 today but in the future I will make a video specifically about housing for college with disabilities where we'll go into a deeper dive on the Fair Housing Act as well because housing for college students with disabilities is pretty critical and important in order to get your education.
The ADA a makes it illegal to discriminate against people with disabilities in public and private sectors and that includes in higher education which means public and private universities cannot discriminate against students with disabilities however the ADA does have an exemption for religious entities which means if you go to a school that is strictly a religious school then they may be exempt from the ADA. Section 504 prohibits any entity receiving federal financial assistance from discriminating against individuals with disabilities. Since most higher education institutions somehow accept federal financial dollars, most higher education institutions do fall under Section 504 and are required to follow 504 meaning they cannot discriminate against students with disabilities because they accept federal funding and this does include religious schools. So if you go to a religious school that accepts financial funding including federal financial aid then they would be subject to Section 504.
So how do you know if you're covered by these laws? How do you know if you're covered by the ADA or Section 504? You're covered if you're considered a qualified individual with a disability. The term individual with a disability is a specific term that is defined in the ADA and I'm not gonna go over that I'm gonna go over the term "qualified." The term qualified means that you're capable of completing the college program with or without reasonable modifications or reasonable accommodations.
What are some examples of discrimination under the ADA or Section 504? Discrimination can include denying admission to students with disabilities on the basis of their disability, steering a student with a disability down a more restrictive career path, excluding a disabled student from specific courses, and failing to provide reasonable accommodations and auxiliary aids which could be in the course work, in the classroom settings, in the physical environment, and can include interpreters or other forms of accessible communication.
So what are some examples of reasonable modifications or auxiliary aids? There really isn't a specific list of accommodations the student can request I can give you a few examples but you really should think about what is going to work best for you.
So some examples can include a student who uses mobility aides requesting a table be put in the classroom instead of using a desk, not assessing penalties for spelling errors for students with dyslexia, providing materials and Braille or electronic format for students with vision disabilities, allowing course substitutions, providing qualified sign language interpreters, note-takers, and allowing for extra time on exams.
How do you get an accommodation?
Schools are only required to provide accommodations for students that they are aware have disabilities and are in need of accommodations so you must make your school personnel aware of your disability and formally request your accommodations. Each school is different, so you would want to look into how your school does things, but as a general rule I would say you should start with contacting your school's Disability Services Office. If your school does not have a Disability Services office, I recommend talking to the Dean of Students or your academic advisor. When you make your request for an accommodation I strongly recommend that you make your request in writing and include the following:
1. identify yourself and identify that you are person with a disability.
2. identify how your disability affects you in school. 3. identify the accommodation that you need 4. identify how this accommodation will help you.
At the close of your accommodation request you should include a deadline that you expect to receive or response to your request. Your deadline should be reasonable such as within one to two weeks unless this is something that is urgent in which case you may want to expedite your deadline and if you don't receive a response within that time that you listed in your request then you should treat that lack of response as a denial and immediately begin the appeals process. And I'll get deeper into the appeals process a little bit later in this video but let's take a minute to talk about documentation.
Should you need documentation in your reasonable accommodation request? Maybe.
Each school is different and each request is different. If your disability is obvious and your request is obviously related to your disability then I would recommend no you do not need to submit documentation with your request. For example when I was in law school, I specifically requested that I be assigned to classrooms that were all fully accessible. There were some classrooms that had wheelchair lifts to get in and while wheelchair lifts do technically make the classroom accessible, they're also incredibly loud and I never wanted to be in a situation where I was running late to class and had to take a very loud machine in order to get into the classroom and disturb the rest of the class. Or what if I just had to go to the bathroom in the middle of class? I would have to disturb the entire class just to get in and out of the room. So my disability was obvious, my request was obviously related to my disability, therefore I did not submit documentation of my disability with my request. However, there are some situations where a disability is not obvious or where the specific accommodation and how it relates to the disability is not obvious and in those cases documentation may be required. For example, if a student has dyslexia and needs extra time for tests, that is not a disability that is obvious so a school may request documentation in order to demonstrate the disability and the need for that extra time.
If your school does request documentation ask exactly what documentation they'll need. A school can request proof of the disability and the need for an accommodation but the school cannot request so much documentation that it becomes overly burdensome and prevents a student with a disability from actually ever receiving the reasonable accommodation.
What happens if your school refuses to provide you with a reasonable accommodation or discriminates against you in some other way you have multiple options your school discriminates against you or refuses to provide you with a reasonable accommodation. First you can appeal within your school. Second you can file a complaint with the Department of Education or the Department of Justice. Or third, you may consider filing a lawsuit.
In order to appeal within your school you have to figure out what your school's internal appeals process is. You may want to look to the student handbook to find out what the grievance procedures are. I recommend filing your complaint as soon as possible but no later than 180 days from when the denial or the discrimination occurred. When you file your complaint include all of the details that you can: include the times, the dates, the locations, the people that you spoke with, the things that were said, the discrimination that occurred, include any witnesses, also include any documentation you may have such as emails.
To file a complaint with the Department of Education or the Department of Justice you first have to determine which entity is appropriate for your complaint. The Department of Education investigates Title II complaints under the ADA and Section 504 complaints, whereas the Department of Justice investigates Title III complaints under the ADA. So if you go to a state school then you'll probably want the Department of Education but if you go to a private school then you'll probably want the Department of Justice. To file a complaint with either of them go to their websites to find the complaint forms. The Department of Education does have a 180 day time limit so be sure to file that complaint as soon as the discrimination occurs.
The third option is filing a lawsuit and if you want to consider filing a lawsuit you first want to find an attorney that would best represent you. To find that attorney, you first want to gather the same information that you would want to put in that complaint so all the details such as times, locations, when the discrimination occurred, any documents that you have, this will help you bring that case to the attorney and really discuss what happened. There are time limits to filing lawsuits and these are called statute of limitations so be sure to reach out to an attorney in a timely manner if you want to consider filing a lawsuit. And nothing can prohibit you from doing all three of these things at the same time. You can file a grievance, file a complaint with the Department of Justice or Department of Education, and reach out to an attorney all at the same time. Is there anything you can do to protect yourself from discrimination? Yes, the first step is to know your rights so you've done a great thing by just learning a bit more today. But another great thing you could do is always have good documentation. Take notes when you have meetings about your access or accommodations. Write down when, where, and who you're talking to. Keep copies of emails and correspondence. keep copies of accommodation requests that you submit. If you experience access issues that you can record on video or in pictures or in writing, do so. This information can help you if you experience discrimination in the future.
I hope this video has been helpful for you and if it has please hit that like button below and also consider subscribing for more videos about disability rights, access, and life. I'll see you next time.
© Stephanie Woodward, 2020. All rights reserved.