Jessica Huddleston M.A.
A basic fundamental objective of education is to provide individuals access to knowledge and opportunity to pursue academic goals. For individuals with disabilities, this fundamental objective can present as a challenge with many obstacles. The 504 section of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 were enacted in an attempt to remediate the difficulties individuals with disabilities face due to discrimination from inferences regarding their abilities. The 504 Section of the Rehabilitation Act states, "This civil rights law prohibits recipients of federal funds from discrimination on the basis of disability. It provides that no otherwise qualified individual with a disability shall, solely by reason of such disability, be excluded from, denied the benefits of, or subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance." (Office of Special Education, 2009). Additionally, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 further expanded civil rights protection to individuals with disabilities. Explicitly, "This civil rights law extends the Section 504 prohibition against discrimination to public and private entities, regardless of whether they receive federal funds," (Office of Special Education, 2009). The ADA also stipulates that individuals with disabilities should be provided reasonable accommodations to reflect an individual's wealth of knowledge and not the functional limitations related to their disability, (Department of Justice, 2000). Reasonable accommodations may be implemented for employment, education, or public settings and accommodations are frequently requested for standardized testing such as the ACT, SAT, GRE and licensing exams. Unfortunately, this act does not explicitly define "disability" or "reasonable accommodation." The ADA does provide that a disability can be a physical or mental impairment that substantially interferes with at least one major life activity. However, it does indicate that employers and institutions, such as colleges, must provide accommodations unless it can be shown that the accommodations impose an undue burden (Elliott, Arnold, Brenes, Silvia & Rosenquist, 2007).
Although reasonable accommodations are not defined, there are practices that are widely accepted and others imposed by legal precedence. Accommodation means that the standard practice is adapted to accommodate the individual's needs, and testing accommodations refer to an adaptation in testing procedure to meet the needs of the individual with a disability. Reasonable is often a point of contention for individuals requesting accommodations but its implication is that the accommodations will be within reason and prevent overly burdensome expectations of the granting body. Due to the U.S. court of Appeals, two recent cases have set such precedence, Amir v. St. Louis University (1999) and Stern v. University of Osteopathic Medicine and Health Services (2000). These cases have resulted in the expected link between the individual disability and type of accommodations provided. It is expected that accommodations will be logically related to the functional limitation of the individual's disability (Ranseen, 1998). This legal expectation of a logical link between services and accommodations was imposed as an attempt to clarify the length to which accommodations are reasonable and to prevent accommodations from ultimately modifying the educational tools (Cope, 2005; Barkley, Murphy, & Kwasnik, 1996). It is also expected that the accommodations are implemented to assist in overcoming a disability or "level the playing field" for individuals with disabilities. Unintentionally giving the individual with a disability an unfair advantage is hopefully avoided but there is a concern this may occur. Accommodations are not intending to reduce the challenge of the task, but to make it fair by removing obstacles that are not directly related to the task at hand (Ranseen, 1998).
Academic and testing accommodations are the most commonly requested accommodation and can require the individual requesting accommodations to search or obtain copies of evaluations or records from their past. Accommodations for students can be grouped into four classes; adjustment in timing or scheduling, flexibility in method of material presentation, changes in setting or location, and method of response. For an individual to be granted these accommodations, they must provide documentation that details their disability and the necessity for each accommodation. Individuals requesting accommodations must provide the necessary documentation to the testing or educational body that details their disability and why accommodations are required. If the student is requesting time and a half due to a learning disability, they should provide documentation of their diagnosis, accommodations they have received in the past, and how these accommodations were helpful. It is important for individuals to understand that the accommodations being requested should be viewed as a crutch or assistance, not as an edge, and as such only accommodations necessary should be requested. When requesting accommodation services, individuals are best to request the services they received in the past or services that could assist in overcoming a particular obstacle. If what is needed to "level the playing field" is requested with the appropriate documentation, the odds improve that time and effort would be saved for the accommodations to be granted. Additionally, it is critical that the person requesting accommodations generally know what documentation is required for each organization from which accommodations are being requested (Fuller &Wehman, 2003).
Requirements for requesting accommodations vary based on the organization. Each organizations' accommodation policy should be reviewed to ensure that all requirements are met, what documentation is needed, and in what format. Additionally, the forms used and types of documentation required will vary based on the policy requirements and the individual's disability. It is generally expected that the documentation that is provided should be current. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or learning disability documentation is often considered current if the last evaluation and documentation is within the last five years, but there are exceptions to this general rule. For other mental health disorders the documentation may need to be as current as within the last 6 months. Individuals requesting accommodations must also understand that it is their responsibility to obtain the up to date evaluation and provide the information to the organization or institution from which they are requesting services. If an updated evaluation is being sought for accommodations documentation, then it is critical to seek a clinician that is knowledgeable about the necessary information needed, and the requirement involved.
Barkley, R., Murphy, K. and Kwasnik, D. (1996). Psychological Adjustment and Adaptive Impairment in Young Adults with ADHD. Journal of Attention Disorders, 1,41-54.
Cope, D. (2005). Disability Law and Your Classroom. Academe Online, http://www.aaup.org/AAUP/pubsres/academe/2005/ND/Feat/cope.htm, 8/16/11
Elliott, H., Arnold, E., Brenes, G, Silivia, L. and Rosenquist, P. (2007). Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Accommodations for Psychiatry Residents. Academic Psychiatry,31(4), 290-306.
Fuller, W. E. & Wehman, P. (2003). College entrance exams for students with disabilities: Accommodations and testing guidelines. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation,18(3), 191-197.
Ranseen, J (1998). Lawyers with ADHD: The Special Testing Accommodation Controversy. Professional Psychology. 29 (5) 450-459.
Office of Special Education, (2009). Protecting Students with Disabilities; Frequently Asked Questions about Section 504 and the Education of Children with Disabilities. US Department of Education. http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/504faq.html; Accessed August 31, 2011.