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The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 protect individuals with disabilities from discrimination and mandate the availability of accommodations to ameliorate the impact of the disability to afford equal access to education. For additional questions, contact the Offices of Disability Services at 847-735-5167 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
What is a disability?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 protect individuals with disabilities from discrimination and mandate the availability of accommodations to ameliorate the impact of the disability to afford equal access to education.
Students must meet the statutory definition of disability under federal law. In order to determine whether an individual is entitled to these protections, the Health and Wellness Center and the Learning and Teaching Center require objective evidence (documentation) that verifies that the individual’s condition fits the definition of “disability.”
The ADA defines disability as:
- a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual,
- a record of having such an impairment, or
- being regarded as having such an impairment.
A condition is considered a disability if it prevents or substantially limits the ability to perform a major life activity or significantly restricts the condition, manner, or duration in performing the major life activity as compared to the average person. The analysis of “substantially limits” is a comparative term to the average person in severity, impact, and duration. Generally, a condition must be substantially limiting for more than several months. A condition is not a disability if it results in mild limitations.
Disability documentation serves two primary purposes:
To establish the right to protection from discrimination.
Non-discrimination is an assurance that individuals with disabilities will not be excluded or provided lesser access to programs and activities based on assumptions rooted in stereotype or perception of ability that are not based in fact. Non-discrimination also provides freedom from harassment based on perceptions of disability.
Documentation needed for protection from discrimination based on disability without a request for accommodation can be quite brief. A diagnostic statement from an appropriate professional or a past history or recognition as a person with a disability could suffice as the basis for protection from discrimination.
To determine the accommodations to which the individual may be entitled.
Reasonable accommodations include modifications to policy, procedure, or practice and/or the provision of auxiliary aids and services that are designed to provide equal access to programs and services for qualified individuals with disabilities. Accommodations are reasonable when they do not fundamentally alter the nature of a program or service and do not represent an undue financial or administrative burden.
Laws and regulations that apply to K-12 education are designed to promote the success of students with disabilities. It’s important to note that the ADA and Section 504, which apply to college students, are designed instead to provide equal access to programs and services; success is not guaranteed.
Documenting a Disability: What to Include
Though documentation can vary by student, it should contain the following:
- Credentials of the evaluator – Disability documentation should be provided by a licensed or credentialed professional with relevant training and experience. The name, title, and professional credentials of the evaluator should be clearly stated in the documentation. Reports should be on letterhead, typed, dated, and signed. Disability documentation may not be provided by an individual who has a personal relationship with the student.
- Statement of diagnosis – Disability documentation should include a current diagnostic (DSM-IV, DSM-V, or medical) statement.
- Description of the diagnostic methodology – The documentation should include a description of the diagnostic criteria for the condition and the evaluation method used to render a diagnosis, including medical examinations, formal testing instruments, structured interviews, and observations. The dates of administration should be included, along with a history of the presenting symptoms.
- Description of the current functional impact of the disability – An evaluator should provide a comprehensive description of the impact of the condition on the student in an academic environment and other life settings, including the severity, frequency, and pervasiveness of the symptoms. This description should demonstrate that the student is substantially impaired in one or more major life activities. Documentation should be current.
- Treatment, medication, and prognosis – Documentation should describe the impact of medication and/or treatment and anticipated prognosis. If relevant, it should provide information about the cyclical or episodic nature of the condition.
- Accommodation recommendations – It is helpful for the evaluator to recommend accommodations or services that will address the functional impact of the condition. Accommodation recommendations should be directly connected to the limitations caused by the condition. If accommodations have been used in the past, the documentation should include a description of the accommodations and information regarding their efficacy.
Students may provide other documents from their high schools, such as IEPs; however, while these additional documents can provide useful information, they alone may not constitute sufficient documentation.
Documentation should not be:
- a handwritten diagnosis on a prescription pad,
- a handwritten note from a patient file,
- a document from a member of the student’s family or from someone with a personal relationship with the student,
- a self-evaluation,
- a research article, or
- a letter from another college or educational institution that lists the condition and previously-granted accommodations without also providing other documents that meet the above guidelines.
If you have any questions about whether or not the documentation you have will meet these outlined needs, please don’t hesitate to contact us. Any costs associated with documenting a disability, including providing additional information that we request, will be borne by the student.