Transition Resources

Students with Disabilities Preparing for Post-secondary Education


"More and more high school students with disabilities are planning to continue their education in post-secondary schools, including vocational and career schools, two-and four-year colleges and universities.  As a student with a disability, you will need to be well informed about your rights and responsibilities as well as the responsibilities that post-secondary schools have toward you.  Being well informed will help ensure that you have a full opportunity to enjoy the benefits of the post-secondary education experience without confusion or delay.

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in the U.S. Department of Education is providing the information in this pamphlet to explain the rights and responsibilities of students with disabilities who are preparing to attend post-secondary schools.  This pamphlet also explains the obligations of a post-secondary school to provide academic adjustments, including auxiliary aids and services, to ensure that the school does not discriminate on the basis of disability.

OCR enforces Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (Title II), which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability.  Practically every school district and post-secondary school in the United States is subject to one or both of these laws, which have similar requirements.

Because both school districts and post-secondary schools must comply with these same laws, you and your parents might believe that post-secondary schools and school districts have the same responsibilities.  This is not true; the responsibilities of post-secondary schools are significantly different from those of school districts.

Moreover, you will have responsibilities as a post-secondary student that you do not have as a high school student.  OCR strongly encourages you to know your responsibilities and those of post-secondary schools under Section 504 and Title II.  Doing so will improve your opportunity to succeed as you enter post-secondary education.

The following questions and answers provide more specific information to help you succeed.

As a student with a disability leaving high school and entering post-secondary education, will I see differences in my rights and how they are addressed?

Yes.  Section 504 and Title II protect elementary, secondary and post-secondary students from discrimination.  Nevertheless, several of the requirements that apply through high school are different from the requirements that apply beyond high school.  For instance, Section 504 requires a school district to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to each child with a disability in the district's jurisdiction.  Whatever the disability, a school district must identify an individual's education needs and provide any regular or special education and related aids and services necessary to meet those needs as well as it is meeting the needs of students without disabilities.

Unlike your high school, your post-secondary school is not required to provide FAPE.  Rather, your post-secondary school is required to provide appropriate academic adjustments as necessary to ensure that it does not discriminate on the basis of disability.  In addition, if your post-secondary school provides housing to non-disabled students, it must provide comparable, convenient and accessible housing to students with disabilities at the same cost.

Other important differences you need to know, even before you arrive at your post-secondary school, are addressed in the remaining questions.

May a post-secondary school deny my admission because I have a disability?

No.  If you meet the essential requirements for admission, a post-secondary school may not deny your admission simply because you have a disability.

Do I have to inform a post-secondary school that I have a disability?

No.  However, if you want the school to provide an academic adjustment, you must identify yourself as having a disability.  Likewise, you should let the school know about your disability if you want to ensure that you are assigned to accessible facilities.  In any event, your disclosure of a disability is always voluntary.

What academic adjustments must a post-secondary school provide?

The appropriate academic adjustment must be determined based on your disability and individual needs.  Academic adjustments may include auxiliary aids that are necessary to ensure equal educational opportunity.  Examples of such adjustments are arranging for priority registration; reducing a course load; substituting one course for another; providing note takers; recording devices, sign language interpreters; extended time for testing and, if telephones are provided in dorm rooms, a TTY in your dorm room; and equipping school computers with screen-reading, voice recognition or other adaptive software or hardware.

In providing an academic adjustment, your post-secondary school is not required to lower or effect substantial modifications to essential requirements.  For example, although your school may be required to provide extended testing time, it is not required to change the substantive content of the test.  In addition, your post-secondary school does not have to make modifications that would fundamentally alter the nature of a service, program or activity or would result in undue financial or administrative burdens.  Finally, your post-secondary school does not have to provide personal attendants, individually prescribed devices, readers for personal use or study, or other devices or services of a personal nature, such as tutoring and typing.

If I want an academic adjustment, what must I do?

You must inform the school that you have a disability and need an academic adjustment.  Unlike your school district, your post-secondary school is not required to identify you as having a disability or assess your needs.

Your post-secondary school may require you to follow reasonable procedures to request an academic adjustment.  You are responsible for knowing and following these procedures.  Post-secondary schools usually include, in their publications providing general information, information on the procedures and contacts for requesting an academic adjustment.  Such publications include recruitment materials, catalogs and student handbooks, and are often available on school Websites.  Many schools also have staff whose purpose is to assist students with disabilities.  If you are unable to locate the procedures, ask a school official, such as an admissions officer or counselor.

When should I request an academic adjustment?

Although you may request an academic adjustment from your post-secondary school at any time, you should request it as early as possible.  Some academic adjustments may take more time to provide than others.  You should follow your school's procedures to ensure that your school has enough time to review your request and provide an appropriate academic adjustment.

Do I have to prove that I have a disability to obtain an academic adjustment?

Generally, yes.  Your school probably will require you to provide documentation that shows you have a current disability and need an academic adjustment.

What documentation should I provide?

Schools may set reasonable standards for documentation.  Some schools require more documentation than others.  They may require you to provide documentation prepared by an appropriate professional, such as a medical doctor, psychologist or other qualified diagnostician.  The required documentation may include one or more of the following:  a diagnosis of your current disability; the date of the diagnosis; how the diagnosis was reached; the credentials of the professional; how your disability affects a major life activity; and how the disability affects your academic performance.  The documentation should provide enough information for you and your school to decide what is an appropriate academic adjustment.

Although an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or Section 504 plan, if you have one, may help identify services that have been effective for you, it generally is not sufficient documentation.  This is because post-secondary education presents different demands than high school education, and what you need to meet these new demands may be different.  Also in some cases, the nature of a disability may change.

If the documentation that you have does not meet the post-secondary school's requirements, a school official must tell you in a timely manner what additional documentation you need to provide.  You may need a new evaluation in order to provide the required documentation.

Who has to pay for a new evaluation?

Neither your high school nor your post-secondary school is required to conduct or pay for a new evaluation to document your disability and need for an academic adjustment.  This may mean that you have to pay or find funding to pay an appropriate professional to do it.  If you are eligible for services through your state vocational rehabilitation agency, you may qualify for an evaluation at no cost to you.  You may locate your state vocational rehabilitation agency through this Department of Education Web page:

Once the school has received the necessary documentation from me, what should I expect?

The school will review your request in light of the essential requirements for the relevant program to help determine an appropriate academic adjustment.  It is important to remember that the school is not required to lower or waive essential requirements.  If you have requested a specific academic adjustment, the school may offer that academic adjustment or an alternative one if the alternative also would be effective.  The school may also conduct its own evaluation of your disability and needs at its own expense.

You should expect your school to work with you in an interactive process to identify an appropriate academic adjustment.  Unlike the experience you may have had in high school, however, do not expect your post-secondary school to invite your parents to participate in the process or to develop an IEP for you.

What if the academic adjustment we identified is not working?

Let the school know as soon as you become aware that the results are not what you expected.  It may be too late to correct the problem if you wait until the course or activity is completed.  You and your school should work together to resolve the problem.

May a post-secondary school charge me for providing an academic adjustment?

No.  Furthermore, it may not charge students with disabilities more for participating in its programs or activities than it charges students who do not have disabilities.

What can I do if I believe the school is discriminating against me?

Practically every post-secondary school must have a person - frequently called the Section 504 Coordinator, ADA Coordinator, or Disability Services Coordinator - who coordinates the school's compliance with Section 504 or Title II or both laws.  You may contact this person for information about how to address your concerns.

The school must also have grievance procedures.  These procedures are not the same as the due process procedures with which you may be familiar from high school.  However, the post-secondary school's grievance procedures must include steps to ensure that you may raise your concerns fully and fairly and must provide for the prompt and equitable resolution of complaints.

School publications, such as student handbooks and catalogs, usually describe the steps you must take to start the grievance process.  Often, schools have both formal and informal processes.  If you decide to use a grievance process, you should be prepared to present all the reasons that support your request.

If you are dissatisfied with the outcome from using the school's grievance procedures or you wish to pursue an alternative to using the grievance procedures, you may file a complaint against the school with OCR or in a court.  You may learn more about the OCR complaint process from the brochure How to File a Discrimination Complaint with the Office for Civil Rights, which you may obtain by contacting us at the addresses and phone numbers below, or at

If you would like more information about the responsibilities of post-secondary schools to students with disabilities, read the OCR brochure Auxiliary Aids and Services for Post-secondary Students with Disabilities; Higher Education's Obligations Under Section 504 and Title II of the ADA.  You may obtain a copy by contacting us at the address and phone numbers below, or at

Students with disabilities who know their rights and responsibilities are much better equipped to succeed in post-secondary school.  We encourage you to work with the staff at your school because they, too, want you to succeed.  Seek the support of family, friends and fellow students, including those with disabilities.  Know your talents and capitalize on them, and believe in yourself as you embrace new challenges in your education.

To receive more information about the civil rights of students with disabilities in education institutions, contact us at:

        Customer Service Team
        Office for Civil Rights
        U.S. Department of Education
        Washington D.C. 20202-1100
        Phone:  1-800-421-3481
        TDD:  1-877-521-2172


        Web site:

You may be familiar with another federal law that applies to the education of students with disabilities - the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  That law is administered by the Office of Special Education Programs in the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services in the U.S. Department of Education.  The IDEA and its Individualized Education Program (IEP) provisions do not apply to post-secondary schools.  This pamphlet does not discuss the IDEA or state and local laws that may apply.

This publication is in the public domain.  Authorization to reproduce it in whole or in part is granted.  The publication's citation should be:  U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, Students with Disabilities Preparing for Post-secondary Education: Know Your Rights and Responsibilities, Washington D.C. 2005."