B.2 FAQs: The Admissions Process

1. Are students with disabilities entitled to changes in standardized testing conditions on entrance exams for institutions of postsecondary education?

It depends. In general, tests may not be selected or administered in a way that tests the disability rather than the achievement or aptitude of the individual.4 In addition, federal law requires changes to the testing conditions that are necessary to allow a student with a disability to participate as long as the changes do not fundamentally alter the examination or create undue financial or administrative burdens.5 Although some institutions of postsecondary education may have their own entrance exams, many use a student's score on commercially available tests. In general, in order to request one or more changes in standardized testing conditions, which test administrators may also refer to as "testing accommodations"6, the student will need to contact the institution of postsecondary education or the entity that administers the exam and provide documentation of a disability and the need for a change in testing conditions. The issue of documentation is discussed below. Examples of changes in testing conditions that may be available include, but are not limited to:

  • Braille;
  • Large print;
  • Fewer items on each page;
  • Tape recorded responses;
  • Responses on the test booklet;
  • Frequent breaks;
  • Extended testing time;
  • Testing over several sessions;
  • Small group setting;
  • Private room;
  • Preferential seating; and
  • The use of a sign language interpreter for spoken directions.

2. Are institutions of postsecondary education permitted to ask an applicant if he or she has a disability before an admission decision is made?

Generally, institutions of postsecondary education are not permitted to make what is known as a "preadmission inquiry" about an applicant's disability status. Preadmission inquiries are permitted only if the institution of postsecondary education is taking remedial action to correct the effects of past discrimination or taking voluntary action to overcome the effects of conditions that limited the participation of individuals with disabilities.

Examples of impermissible preadmission inquiries include: Are you in good health? Have you been hospitalized for a medical condition in the past five years? Institutions of postsecondary education may inquire about an applicant's ability to meet essential program requirements provided that such inquiries are not designed to reveal disability status. For example, if physical lifting is an essential requirement for a degree program in physical therapy, an acceptable question that could be asked is, With or without reasonable accommodation, can you lift 25 pounds? After admission, in response to a student's request for "academic adjustments,8" reasonable modifications or auxiliary aids and services, institutions of postsecondary education may ask for documentation regarding disability status.

3. May institutions of postsecondary education deny an applicant admission because he or she has a disability?

No. If an applicant meets the essential requirements for admission, an institution may not deny that applicant admission simply because he or she has a disability, nor may an institution categorically exclude an applicant with a particular disability as not being qualified for its program.9 For instance, an institution may not automatically assume that all applicants with hearing or visual impairments would be unable to meet the essential eligibility requirements of its music program. An institution may, however, require an applicant to meet any essential technical or academic standards for admission to, or participation in, the institution and its program.10 An institution may deny admission to any student, disabled or not, who does not meet essential requirements for admission or participation.

4. Are institutions obligated to identify students with disabilities?

No. Institutions do not have a duty to identify students with disabilities. Students in institutions of postsecondary education are responsible for notifying institution staff of their disability should they need academic adjustments. High schools, in contrast, have an obligation to identify students within their jurisdiction who have a disability and who may be entitled to services.

5. Are students obligated to inform institutions that they have a disability?

No. A student has no obligation to inform an institution of postsecondary education that he or she has a disability; however, if the student wants an institution to provide an academic adjustment or assign the student to accessible housing or other facilities, or if a student wants other disability-related services, the student must identify himself or herself as having a disability. The disclosure of a disability is always voluntary. For example, a student who has a disability that does not require services may choose not to disclose his or her disability