How College Differs from High School

In the Law

Elementary and secondary education (through high school) is governed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which guarantees students a free and appropriate public education. After they graduate from high school, students and their parents need to be aware that IDEA no longer applies.

In all postsecondary education, including Gallaudet University, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 require access to programs and services, and auxiliary aids and services to ensure effective communication, but do not mandate a free and appropriate education.

In the Documentation

Approval for support services will be based, at least in part, on the documentation that the student provides. It is both important and necessary that the student discuss with OSWD necessary support services and why they are needed. Decisions about qualification for support services are made by OSWD who decide on appropriate accommodations.

Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), familiar from prior years, are no longer in force and may only be used as a general guideline for services. Documentation under Section 504 plans must state a specific disability to be considered as guidelines for support services as well. Documentation may include diagnostic test results, clinical assessments, IEP, Comprehensive Individualized Assessments (CIA), medical documentation, speech and language evaluations, and vocational rehabilitation documentation.

In the Services Provided

Students should not expect that the services and curriculum modifications provided in high school will be automatically provided at the university level. The university has the right to approve or deny services requested by the student which are not reasonable or which constitute an undue burden.

In addition, it is important to know that colleges and universities are not required to modify or waive courses or program requirements, although course substitutions may be considered as an academic adjustment where appropriate. An "otherwise qualified" student should have completed the necessary prerequisite college preparation courses in high school and should be ready to continue with reasonable support.

In the Advocacy

In high school, school personnel are required to seek out students with disabilities and help them to receive a free and appropriate education. During high school, the student's parent or guardian is legally responsible for making decisions about the student's education.

In contrast, universities are not required or expected to seek out students with disabilities. It is the student who is responsible for making all disclosures and contacts, not the student's parents or guardian. It is the student who is in charge of all educational decisions.

The Decision to Disclose

The student may choose to disclose a disability on a university application, but the student is not required to disclose a disability. Disclosure may help explain deficits in an application that may be a direct result of a disability.

In the past, students have found that disclosing a disability has generally helped obtain acceptance for an application. Regardless, the student must consider disclosing a disability and registering with OSWD once on campus if the student will be seeking accommodations.

This section is adapted from the pamphlet, "Preparing for College: Options for Students with Learning Disabilities", Association on Higher Education and Disability, Columbus, Ohio; 2010.