Disability Rights for College Students
By Stephanie Woodward
Wednesday, March 6, 2019
Going to college can be an exciting and scary transition for anyone, but especially for students who use wheelchairs. Picking the right college is not always easy, but making sure you know your rights so that you are not discriminated against on campus does not need to be hard!
First, there are two laws that all students with disabilities should know about:
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): makes it illegal to discriminate against people with disabilities in public and private sectors. The ADA prohibits public and private colleges from discriminating against people with disabilities. The ADA does not cover religious schools.
- Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504): prohibits “any program receiving federal financial assistance” from discriminating against an individual based on their disability. Since most colleges receive federal financial aid, either directly or indirectly, almost every college is covered. If a religious school accepts federal financial aid, then that school is covered by Section 504.
What are examples of discrimination under these laws?
- Excluding a wheelchair user from courses
- Failing to hold classes in wheelchair-accessible classrooms
- Denying admission to a student based on their use of a wheelchair
- Holding college-sponsored events in inaccessible locations
What are examples of reasonable modifications?
- Putting a table in a classroom instead of a fixed desk for wheelchair users
- Renovating a bathroom to ensure it is wheelchair accessible
- Allowing a student to park in a closer lot for access
- Changing the location of a class if it is an inaccessible location
How do I get an accommodation?
Begin with contacting your school’s disability services office. If your school does not have a disability services office, ask your academic advisor or the dean of students.
Make your request for an accommodation in writing and include the following:
- Identify yourself as a person with a disability;
- Explain how your disability affects you in school;
- Identify the accommodation that you need; and
- Explain how this accommodation will help you.
At the close of the letter include a reasonable deadline for the school to respond to your request, such as one to two weeks.
Will I need documentation to show that I need an accommodation?
Maybe. Each school is different and it may be a different process depending on the requested accommodation. For example, a wheelchair user may not be required to show any documentation if they are requesting that their classes be in accessible classrooms because it is obvious how this request relates to their disability. However, if a wheelchair user is requesting extra time on tests to allow for frequent bathroom breaks, it may be necessary to have medical documentation that shows the student’s disability causes them to use the bathroom more frequently, which is common for people with spinal cord disabilities.
Students who use wheelchairs can succeed in college, but it is important to know your rights and how to request the accommodations you need to succeed!
About Stephanie: Stephanie Woodward is a consumer advocate for Quantum Rehab® and works as a disability rights activist. She is the director for the Center for Disability Rights, an organization that hosts many events for the disability community. She has received many awards for helping communities become more accessible, as well as for her actions in fighting for the rights of disabled individuals as it relates to Medicaid and other support services. Click here to learn more about Stephanie.