Office of Disability Services


A Guide for Students with Disabilities and their Parents
( printable Transition Handbook .pdf )

IDEA vs. Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 504 and the Americans with Disabilities Act ADA

The transition from high school to college can be a very difficult process for students with disabilities. The laws governing college/university education are different from those governing K-12 and so is the accommodation process. Students with disabilities who received accommodations in high school should be aware that colleges/universities do not necessarily provide the same accommodations set forth in their IEP or 504 Plan. What follows is an explanation of the differences between IDEA (governing K-12) and 504/ADA (governing post-secondary education).

High schools must:

  • (1) Identify students with disabilities.

  • (2) Provide assessment of learning disabilities.

  • (3) Involve parents in decision-making.

  • (4) Provide non-academic services.

  • (5) Structure the student’s weekly schedule.

  • (6) Modify educational programs.

  • (7) Prepare Individual Education Plans (IEPs).

  • (8) Provide a free and appropriate education.

  • (9) Help each student reach his/her potential.

Post-secondary institutions must:

  • (1) Protect the student’s right to privacy and confidentiality (this includes conversations with parents).

  • (2) Provide access to programs and services that are offered to non-disabled students.

  • (3) Make information available to students regarding office locations and procedures for requesting accommodations.

  • (4) Evaluate documentation.

  • (5) Determine whether the student’s disability substantially limits the ability to read, write, learn, hear, speak, sleep, breathe, walk, or see. Substantially Limits means unable to perform a major life activity, or significantly restricted as to the condition, manner, or duration under which a major life activity can be performed, in comparison to the average person or most people. (Jane Jarrow, 1992)

  • (6) Determine whether a student is otherwise qualified, with or without accommodations, and whether reasonable accommodations are possible.

  • (7) Provide reasonable accommodations. The college is only responsible for providing accommodations that allow the student to perform to the ability of the average person. This does not mean the average Muhlenberg student.

  • (8) Provide reasonable and equal access to generally available programs.

  • (9) Make reasonable classroom adjustments that do not alter the integrity or essential components or technical standards of a course or program.

  • (10) Take care that off-campus facilities also comply with Section 504 and ADA.

  • (11) Inform students of their rights and responsibilities.

Post-secondary institutions are not required to:

  • (1) Reduce or waive the essential requirements of a course or program.

  • (2) Provide disability assessment.

  • (3) Provide personal attendants.

  • (4) Provide tutorial support beyond what is available to all students.

  • (5) Prepare IEPs.

  • (6) Ensure a student reaches his/her maximum potential.

  • (7) Keep parents informed.

The student is responsible for:

  • (1) Disclosing his/her disability to the appropriate office and providing documentation in a timely manner. The college has the right to establish its own documentation policy and timeline.

  • (2) Acting on his/her own behalf as independent adults. It is the student’s job to advocate for himself/herself, not the parent’s.

  • (3) Discussing classroom and testing accommodations with instructors in accordance with college policy.

  • (4) Arranging for personal attendants or specially designed assistive technologies.

*Some of this material was borrowed from North Carolina State University’s Disability Services Office.

Important Things to Remember:

(1) In high school, students with diagnosed disabilities are entitled to specific services and accommodations. In college, the severity and degree of functional impact of the disability is taken into consideration when determining whether accommodations are appropriate—a diagnosis alone does not determine eligibility. Also, these accommodations are intended to provide access, not ensure success.

(2) Students who attend college are considered to be adults, protected by the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). College staff cannot talk to parents about confidential information, including academic activities. Parents need to talk to the student directly. Students act as responsible adults when disclosing disabilities and requesting accommodations.

(3) Documentation requirements are different at every school. It is the student’s responsibility to know and understand the college’s documentation policy. Documentation should be current, verify the disability, describe the extent/severity of the impairment, provide information on the functional impact of the disability, and offer college appropriate recommendations.