Resources for Disabled Students

Rights and Responsibilities

The following information is adapted from Students with Disabilities Preparing for Postsecondary Education:  Know Your Rights and Responsibilities, a publication from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights.  Last revision:  March 2007.  To order a full copy online, go to or read the full copy at

Note:  The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is another federal law that applies to the education of students with disabilities.  It 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 postsecondary schools.

Following each section, information is provided as to what to expect from Colorado State University.

Here's what you need to know...

The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) enforces Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability.  School districts and postsecondary schools (e.g., colleges) in the United States are subject to one or both of these laws, which have similar requirements.  Although both school districts and postsecondary schools must comply with these same laws, the responsibilities of postsecondary schools are significantly different from those of school districts.  Below are questions and answers that provide specific information to help a student with a disability be successful in transitioning from high school to college and/or in negotiating the support available at a college or university.

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

Yes.  Section 504 and Title II protect elementary, secondary and postsecondary 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 disabilty, 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 high school, a college or university is not required to provide FAPE.  Rather, a postsecondary school is required to provide appropriate academic adjustments, often referred to as accommodations, as necessary to ensure that it does not discriminate on the basis of disability.  In addition, if a college or university provides housing to nondisabled students, it must provide comparable, convenient and accessible housing to students with disabilities at the same cost.

The federal mandates of Section 504 and the ADA require Colorado State University to provide equal access without discrimination based on a person's disability.  It does not ensure any student will graduate, or for that matter receive an education, but only that a student will have the opportunity to benefit from and participate in any program or activity for which a student is qualified.   Each student is held responsible for the learning process.

Other important differences are addressed in the remaining questions.

May a postsecondary school deny my admission because I have a disability?

No.  If a student meets the essential requirements for admission, a postsecondary school may not deny admission simply because the student has a disability.

CSU does not discriminate in admission decisions based on a person's disability.  However, it may be advantageous for a student applicant to explain how the presence of a disability has impacted his or her education thus far and how the student has been able to be successful.  This factor may be important in the overall holistic evaluation of an applicant's qualifications.

Do I have to inform a postsecondary school that I have a disability?

No.  However, if a student wants a school to provide an academic adjustment, the student must identify as having a disability.  Likewise, a student should let the school know about a disability to ensure that accessible facilities will be available and assigned.  In any event , the disclosure of a disability is always voluntary.

If a student feels an accommodation will be needed in order to complete or participate in any activity sponsored by CSU, it is imperative that those needs be conveyed to the appropriate entity.  For example, to participate in Orientation, admitted students are asked if any accommodations will be necessary based on a disability.  This information is then used to ensure that appropriate measures are taken to provide access.  For most academic accommodations, the entity to notify is RDS.

What academic adjustments must a postsecondary school provide?

The appropriate academic adjustment must be determined based on a student's disability and individual needs.  Academic adjustments may include auxiliary aids and modifications to academic requirements as 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 residence halls, a TTD for a student's room; and equipping school computers with screen-reading, voice recognition or other adaptive software or hardware.

RDS provides many of the accommodations listed above including priority registration, sign language interpreters, and extended time for testing.  Once a student's need is made known to RDS, a memo outlining the approved accommodations is provided for a student's instructors as some accommodations will need instructor cooperation and participation.  Housing and Dining Services usually provides specific accommodations in residence halls.  Accommodations affecting a student's academic program are negotiated with the student's advisor and their specific college.  The Assistive Technology Resource Center also provides assistance in accessing computers and the electronic environment.

In providing an academic adjustment, a college or university is not required to lower or effect substantial modifications to essential requirements.  For example, although a school may be required to provide extended testing time, it is not required to change the substantive content of the test.  In addition, a postsecondary 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, a university or college 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.

A student with a disability at CSU is expected to meet all the requirements needed to graduate in a given program of study.  While substitutions of courses may be appropriate, essential courses of a major are usually not negotiable for substitution.  Waivers generally are not acceptable for any requirement unless there is a substantially documented need.  However, if the waiver fundamentally alters the academic program, it is not appropriate as an accommodation.  While CSU does not provide services of a personal nature, RDS can assist a student in locating appropriate resources.

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

A student must inform the school that he or she has a disability and needs an academic adjustment.  Unlike a school district, a postsecondary school is not required to identify a student as having a disability or assess that student's needs.

A student with a disability is not known to CSU unless he or she self-identifies and that identification is made known to RDS.  Accommodations are not automatically provided unless the appropriate entity (RDS) is aware of the need.  RDS is the only entity that collects information about students with disabilities.   Since self-identification as having a disability is a personal disclosure, this information is kept confidential by  RDS.  While RDS collects aggregate data on students with disabilities, personal information is not shared without the student's permission and/or on a need to know basis according to federal guidelines (FERPA).

A postsecondary school may require a student to follow reasonable procedures to request an academic adjustment.  The student is responsible for knowing and following these procedures.  Postsecondary 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 Web sites.  Many schools also have staff whose purpose is to assist students with disabilities.  If a student is unable to locate the procedures, the student should ask a school official, such as an admissions officer or counselor.

To be recognized as a student with a disability at CSU, a student must come in and meet with an accommodations/advocacy specialist in RDS.  This 'registers' the student as a student with a disability at CSU.  Students must provide appropriate documentation to verify the presence of a disability (or have a self-evident disability).  RDS accommodations/advocacy specialists will confirm the disability and determine if the student is eligible for accommodations.  It is up to the student, however, to choose whether or not the accommodations will be implemented.

When should I request an academic adjustment?

Although a student may request an academic adjustment from a postsecondary school at any time, the student  should request it as early as possible.  Some academic adjustments may take more time to provide than others.  The student should follow a school's procedures to ensure that the school has enough time to review the request and provide an appropriate academic adjustment.

The sooner a student comes to RDS, the better.   In general, accommodations are not provided retroactively so it is important a student requests accommodations prior to the time they may be needed.  The determination of eligibility for accommodations requires a student to first meet with an appropriate RDS professional staff member (usually a specialist).  If a specific type of accommodation is needed, the student may need to be referred to another department on campus before the accommodation is provided.  Examples of the types of accommodations that take at least a week or more to implement include sign language interpreters and print in alternative format.  Alternative testing accommodations must be scheduled at least 7 days prior to the exam.

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

Generally, yes.  A school will probably require a student to provide documentation that shows he or she has a current disability and need an academic adjustment.

RDS requires documentation that verifies the presence of a disability from someone who is qualified to make that determination (or diagnosis) and who is not related to the student.  Students with visible disabilities may not be required to provide documentation.  For more specific details on CSU documentation guidelines go to Documentation Guidelines.

What documentation should I provide?

Schools may set reasonable standards for documentation.  Some schools require more documentation than others.  They may require a student 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 the current disability; the date of the diagnosis; how the diagnosis was reached; the credentials of the professional; how the disability affects a major life activity; and how the disability affects academic performance.  The documentation should provide enough information for student and the school to decide what is an appropriate academic adjustment.

Although an individualized education program (IEP) or Section 504 plan, if the student has one, may help identify services that have been effective, it generally is not sufficient documentation.  This is because postsecondary education presents different demands than high school education, and what the student needs to meet these new demands may be different.  Also in some cases, the nature of a disability may change.

Depending upon what a IEP or Section 504 plan provides, CSU may accept this documentation as a means to verify the existence of a disability.  However, it generally is not sufficient to determine whether or not an accommodation is needed.  That assessment will involve a discussion between the student and RDS specialist.  An accommodation must be consistent with the type of known disability.  RDS may also request additional documentation if needed.

If the documentation that a student has does not meet the postsecondary school's requirements, a school official should tell the student in a timely manner what additional documentation is needed.  The student may need a new evaluation in order to provide the required documentation.

Who has to pay for a new evaluation?

Neither the student's high school nor a postsecondary school is required to conduct or pay for a new evaluation to document a student's disability and need for an academic adjustment.  This may mean that the student has to pay or find funding to pay an appropriate professional for an evaluation.  If the student is eligible for services through a state vocational rehabilitation agency, the student may qualify for an evaluation at no cost.  To locate a state vocational rehabilitation agency through the following Web page:

CSU offers screenings for a variety of learning disabilities through its Learning Assistance Program to enrolled students.  Any fee-paying student is eligible for these screenings free of charge.  However, a student may need to go through a more formal diagnostic assessment to verify the presence of any particular disability or condition.  Local diagnosticians are available in the community and may offer a discount for the assessment.  For more information, contact the Learning Assistance Program.

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

The school will review a student's 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 the student has requested a specific academic adjustment, the school may offer that academic adjustment or an alternative one if the alternative would also be effective.  The school may also conduct its own evaluation of a student's disability and needs at its own expense.

A student should expect the school to work with him/her in an interactive process to identify an appropriate academic adjustment.  Unlike the experience in high school, however, the student should not expect the postsecondary school to invite  parents to participate in the process.

Once enrolled, students are considered adults and responsible for their own behavior, including the process of learning.  When encountering difficulty, a student should expect to deal with CSU officials directly in resolving the difficulty.  Parents are not generally expected to intervene and therefore, may not be given much authority in decisions affecting their student.

What if the academic adjustment we identified is not working?

The student needs to let the school know as soon as possible that the results of an accommodation are not what is expected.  It may be too late to correct the problem if the student waits until the course or activity is completed.   The student and the school should work together to resolve the problem.

No accommodation can be a substitute for the learning process.  Therefore it is necessary to determine what works as well as what does not work for any student to determine other accommodations.  A student needs to notify RDS as soon as he/she is aware that an accommodation is not effective.  Often other strategies may need to be developed to ensure a student has an equal opportunity to benefit from or participate in a particular course or activity.  However, the possibility always exists that an effective accommodation is not available for any given situation.

May a postsecondary 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.

CSU does not charge any student for accommodations.  However, students may need to provide for the cost of other services on campus as would any other student.

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

Practically every postsecondary 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.  A student may contact this person for information about how to address these concerns.

If a student encounters discriminatory behavior on campus, the first place to start is to report it to one of the RDS specialist.  If the situation is not resolvable, the student will be referred to the Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO).  This department is responsible for the university's compliance to non-discrimination laws and regulations.  A student may file an informal or formal complaint that will be investigated by the OEO.

The school must also have grievance procedures.  These procedures are not the same as the due process procedures with which a student may be familiar from high school.  However, the postsecondary school's grievance procedures must include steps to ensure that a student may raise 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 needed to start the grievance process.  Often, schools have both formal and informal processes.  If a student decides to use the grievance process, she/he should be prepared to present all the reasons that support the request.

If a student is not satisfied with the service provided by RDS, the first person to see is the RDS director.   If the problem is not resolved, the student is encouraged to consult the OEO for further investigation.  RDS abides by decisions granted by OEO.  General grievance procedures are available on the OEOWebsite: Office of Equal Opportunity.

If a student is dissatisfied with the outcome from using the school's grievance procedures or she/he wishes to pursue an alternative to using the grievance procedures, a student may file a complaint against the school with OCR or in a court.  To learn more about the OCR complaint process from the brochure How to File a Discrimination Complaint with the Office of Civil Rights, contact OCR at the addresses and phone numbres below, or at

If more information about the responsibilities of postsecondary schools to students with disabilities is needed, read the OCR brochure Auxiliary Aids and Services for Postsecondary Students with Disabilities: Higher Education's Obligations Under Section 504 and Title II of the ADA.  To obtain a copy, contact OCR at the address and phone numbers below, or at

To receive more information about the civil rights of students with disabilities in education institutions, contact OCR 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.  Email:  Web site:



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