K-12 Accommodations vs. Post-Secondary Accommodations

November 9, 2018 | Lydia Parenteau, 2018 AAPD Summer Intern

Approximately 87.1% of disabled students will graduate high school; 57.6% of disabled students will attend college and of those, only 18.0% will graduate (1). To compare with non-disabled students, 91.9% will graduate high school, 71.9% will go to college, and of those who go, 32.2% will graduate (2). So the question becomes why there is such a discrepancy between disabled and non-disabled students when it comes to attending and graduating college. To try and answer that, one needs to look at the different processes, laws, and statutes to receive accommodations in K-12 vs. post-secondary schools.

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), adolescents with disabilities qualify for an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). This is a way for these adolescents to receive services through their school district to help accommodate their needs. Individualized Education Plans for high school students have a “transition” section for the student. Within this section, the student talks with whoever is filling out the IEP (usually a school counselor) about how to transition into adulthood. Such things as employment, post-secondary education/training, community participation, and living arrangements are discussed.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires school districts to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) (3). Examples of some accommodations that come from IEPs are getting two sets of textbooks, a set for in the classroom and a set for at home; having speech therapy classes; being allowed to use the elevator instead of the stairs; having longer test times; having someone else take notes for you; using a laptop instead of handwriting class notes; and the list goes on. In theory, every public school district will give the appropriate accommodations to disabled students without the students needing to advocate for themselves.

Post-secondary schools are required to provide appropriate academic adjustments as needed in order to ensure that they are not discriminating against students’ disabilities. The schools also need to provide accessible housing accommodations that are comparable to non-disabled students, at the same cost. To get these “appropriate academic adjustments” each school has different sets of requirements. For example some schools will require documentation from a medical doctor, psychologist, or other qualified diagnostician; other schools will require you to describe your disabilities and based on your academic adjustments will require additional paperwork (4).

Once a student meets with disability services office, they then have to advocate their academic adjustments to their professors (5). Sometimes, these professors will not comply with the student’s adjustments, other times professor will give the student a hard time about the adjustments, and there are some professors who will be accommodating from the beginning (6). However, the academic adjustments may not be the problem for some students, rather that their post-secondary school has non-accessible buildings or overall non-accessible campus.

Overall the statistics given at the beginning of this post are not entirely based on the differences of K-12 and post-secondary accommodations. There are other factors, such as socio-economic class, race, healthcare, and support systems. However, going from a system where the school is keeping track of your needs, to a system where you have to self-advocate and it may not be well-received, can be jarring.

As the statistics show, students with disabilities are more likely to drop out or not even go to post-secondary education. Knowledge is power, in order for disabled people to have more power in society, first we need more knowledge.


* * *

Lydia Parenteau is a 2018 AAPD Summer Intern. She interned with the U.S. Department of Energy.


(1) Maslow, G. R., Haydon, A., McRee, A.-L., Ford, C. A., & Halpern, C. T. (2011). Growing Up With a Chronic Illness: Social Success, Educational/Vocational Distress. Journal of Adolescent Health, 49(2), 206-212. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2010.12.001

(2)  Id.

(3) Department of Education, “ Students with Disabilities Preparing for Postsecondary Education: Know Your Rights and Responsibilities”, September 2011, available at: https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/transition.html, last visited: 4 August 2018.

(4) Id.

(5) nside Higher Ed, “Dropping the Ball on Disabilities”, 2 April 2014, available at: https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/04/02/students-disabilities-frustrated-ignorance-and-lack-services, last visited: 4 August 2018.

(6) Id.

Vanguards of Afterthoughts

September 19, 2017 | Max Soh, 2017 AAPD Summer Intern

As people with disabilities, we face barriers daily – a building that has only steps to its entrance, presenting barriers for people in wheelchairs, an event with information necessary for participation only in print materials, presenting barriers for the blind, videos and websites with audio but no captioning, presenting barriers for the deaf, teachers and professors arranging their curriculum where the sole means of excellence is measured through how long a student can sit through a three hour lecture or how much a student participates in class, presenting barriers for those with various forms of psychiatric disabilities – and the list goes on.

Yet, I would like to inform you that these examples, along with many others, are more than just barriers, these obstacles constantly send a message to us that says “people with disabilities most likely will not be in this space”.

When a company builds its entrances without the presence of ramps, when event planners disseminate information on the nights’ events solely through print pamphlets or brochures, when a web developer takes into consideration what may be rendered as effective design solely on the basis of what may be counted as aesthetically or audibly pleasing, when teachers only recognize the brilliance of a student through how much he or she participates in class, it is equivalent to me as a person of color being offered the phrase “we only serve white people” over and over again.

As a person of color, I do not and will not tolerate it if someone denies people of color rights and opportunities whether implicitly or explicitly, whether interpersonally or systemically, and as a person with a disability, it deeply troubles me that on a daily basis, people with disabilities (whether physical, psychiatric, mobile, developmental, or otherwise) are denied not just their rights, but their opportunities, and no, it makes no difference whether this denial is made through ableist rhetoric, through the absence of universal design, or through silence on the part of those in power.

Inclusion must be a priority of all who seek to better society for every single person. However, lest we fall into a notion that inclusion is merely a headcount of diverse individuals, I would like us to venture beyond diversity. Our very notion of how we orientate towards achievement and progress must be completely transformed to orientate around the marginalized. To simply endorse diversity without inclusion and to simply tout inclusion through measuring how many different individuals one has in a population is as some including myself have noted, to add color to a black and white film with a bad script – though the film might appear “enhanced”, it is the same film, it is still the same actors reading the same lines, following the same plot, and ultimately arriving at the same ending.

It is simply not enough to see how we may “accommodate” those with disabilities, we must reinvent our infrastructure and the very core functions of our institutions to include disabilities and minorities from the get go. In other words, instead of creating a new innovation around the majority, and then think (or in most cases scramble) to “accommodate” individuals with disabilities and other minorities, we must create our innovations around everyone (including the disabled and other minorities) so that every single person may have opportunity.

And lest one thinks such a model of inclusion is not feasible, we are not left without models to follow. The work of organizations such as AAPD, whom I have had the honor of meeting this summer, along with others provide us with tools and platforms to continually improve upon. I stress the word continually, for equity is never a state of completion but rather an on-going process of nurturing inclusion.

For those of us with privilege and power, we do ourselves a disservice when we ignore those in the minority in our innovations, planning, designs, and teaching because privilege is often invisible to those who have it, and in this lies the irony of privilege.

It is often said that progress can only be made when we find common ground; however, I would like to challenge us that progress can only begin when we embrace difference, more specifically, when we learn that our best innovations and measures of progress will only arrive when we learn to learn from afterthoughts, from those who have been told (whether implicitly or explicitly) time and time again that they do not fit in, and that they should not be in spaces where the majority reside not because of anything they have done or failed to do but because of what society thinks they cannot do before society has even met them.


* * *

Max Soh is a 2017 AAPD Summer Intern. This summer he interned with the Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD).

Our Sponsors