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While schools are required to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified students and bear the costs, schools are not required to provide accommodations that would fundamentally alter the nature of a program, lower or waive essential academic requirements, or result in undue financial or administrative burdens. — Milani, 1996, p. 4Autism is a Legally Recognized Disability There is no question, according to longstanding federal laws, that autism is a recognized disability. Autism is mentioned specifically in the following education-related laws:
Title II (Section 202) of the ADA requires universities make their facilities, programs, services, and activities accessible to the disabled. The ADA interprets information technology and related communication as part of the aids and services that must be reasonably accommodated for the needs of disabled students. — Bradbard and Peters 2010, p. 12The complication for parents and students is understanding that a university does not have to offer the same level of supports K12 schools typically offer. This is because IDEA and similar legislation applies only to K12 and disabled students, up to age 21, receiving services from K12 schools.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires a balance between “the need to give effect to the statutory objectives and the desire to keep section 504 within manageable bounds.” — USDC Alexander v. Choate (1985)Laws and regulations normally apply to an employer, not necessarily employees. For example, a waiter cannot be sued for not accommodating a blind diner, but the restaurant could be sued. However, and this is important, the rights of disabled students are protected by regulations that mention instructors specifically. A professor at a university is considered responsible for his or her classroom. This now includes online courses.
Section 508 could be interpreted as applying to individual faculty members who are an integral part of such [publicly funded] universities. Thus, individual faculty members could be held liable (or responsible) for complying with the legal mandates of Web accessibility for the individual Web sites they create and use for instructional purposes. — Bradbard and Peters 2010, p. 2-3Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act FERPA, and some state laws, limit the sharing of information between disability services, instructors, and parents. As a professor, I cannot discuss a student’s disability with another professor without a clear and necessary purpose. I also cannot discuss an adult student with his or her parents. There are all manner of complications with FERPA, including a struggle to determine when it is necessary to violate confidentiality to ensure safety.
A school plan such as an IEP (individualized educational plan) or a 504 plan is insufficient documentation in and of itself but can be included as part of a more comprehensive evaluative report. — Student Disability Services, University of San FranciscoUniversities typically offer no assistance at all when a student needs to re-qualify for services. Why would a university require re-evaluation? Isn’t a school psychologist’s letter sufficient? It turns out, a “school psychologist” is not the same as a “psychologist” in many states.
School psychologists’ training does include study in education and special education, but compared to clinical psychology, there will likely be less emphasis on psychopathology and long-term therapy. Most states will only license private practice at the doctoral level, while most states credential school psychologists at the specialist level (60 graduate semester credit master’s degree). — National Association of School Psychologists, 2011 (http://www.nasponline.org/)The testing for eligibility can be expensive and is rarely available via insurance. Many insurance policies that do cover testing and diagnoses of disabilities will not cover a non-essential test that is only for the purposes of college accommodations. If a teen was diagnosed four years ago, the admitting college can still demand newer diagnostic results. Most insurance will not cover this.
A student requesting reasonable accommodations must provide appropriate documentation and then participate in an assessment interview. The guidelines for documentation of physical and learning disabilities will be provided in the interest of ensuring that evaluation reports are appropriate to document eligibility and support requests for reasonable accommodations. Staff from Disabled Student Services are available to consult with students and evaluators regarding these guidelines.
The University does not provide nor pay for services rendered to meet the above documentation requirements. In order to ensure that services and accommodations are matched to the student's changing needs, students must provide documentation that is no more than three years old. This may require that students undergo reevaluations if their previous evaluation was more than three years ago. Comprehensive testing is not required for a reevaluation. A student need only be retested for his/her previously diagnosed physical or learning disability. The issue of what specific retesting is required is left to the discretion of the student's physician or other qualified evaluator. — Robert Morris University, PAThis policy is roughly the same at most institutions of higher learning. However, the written policy can be waived. For example, RMU often allows a letter from a physician to substitute for re-evaluation if the original testing is within five years of university admissions. Schools are flexible — never assume they will not work with a student and his or her family.
[It] is the responsibility of post-secondary students to identify themselves as having a disability, provide documentation of their disability, and request accommodations and services. — GAO, 2009, p. 5Only as an example, RMU, like most institutions of higher education, reminds students of this legal responsibility in the student handbook and on the RMU Student Services website:
It is the student's responsibility to distribute the accommodation sheets to the appropriate instructors as soon as possible. Failure to distribute accommodation sheets may cause delay in the provision of services. The student must also keep a copy of the accommodation sheet for his/her records and deliver a copy of this form to his/her academic advisor. — Robert Morris University, PABasic Services of a Disability Specialist If a disabled student has to be a self-advocate, what does a disability specialist do? The DS expert helps students navigate the requirements of the institution — and every college or university is different.
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