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.


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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.

Speed Tests: How Teachers Can Make or Break Special Education

October 12, 2018 | Adam Fishbein, 2018 AAPD Summer Intern

Author’s Note: Some names have been changed in this post to protect the privacy of those individuals.

I leaned over my elementary school desk, intent on finishing the speed test before time ran out. “Time’s up! Pencils down! Hands face down on your desk!” said my first-grade teacher Mrs. Smith. For a moment, her words didn’t register. “Adam, pencil down!” she yelled, storming over to my desk. I watched in shock as she promptly snatched the pencil out of my hands, pulled the test off the tabletop, and ripped it in half.

When I got off the bus that day, I said to my mother, “I hate Mrs. Smith. She ripped up my test.” My mom was shocked. That night, she called the teacher and asked if what I told her was true. Mrs. Smith denied it and said I must’ve been confused. My mother believed her at first. Then, at a Parent Teacher Organization meeting the next day, another parent came up to her and said her son had been upset the previous day about the same thing.

My mother did some digging and confirmed through multiple other parents that Mrs. Smith had, in fact, ripped up my test and lied about it. My parents were furious. They confronted her and she, again, lied right to their faces. Then, after my parents left, she said to the class, “You know I didn’t rip up Adam’s test.”

There are a few glaring problems with this scenario. First, a teacher should never lie to a parent about what happened in their classroom. This action breaks the crucial trust that parents put in their child’s teachers when they send them off to school every day. The second problem is that Mrs. Smith was not following my Individualized Education Plan (IEP), which said I wouldn’t have to take timed tests because of my processing delay. An IEP spells out any supports, accommodations or specialized instruction a special education student in public school needs to succeed. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), teachers and administrators are required to implement the plan. However, an IEP is only as effective as the teacher’s willingness to follow it.

Fortunately for future students, Mrs. Smith retired several years ago. However, I’m sure there are many others like her. My parents advocated for me and I was switched to a different class for the rest of first grade, but this story has stayed with me to this day as a reminder of why I want to spend my career improving the lives of people with disabilities. With a rate of 1 in 5 Americans with disabilities, this population is the largest marginalized minority group in our country and the most underrepresented. Providing equal opportunity in education from a young age is one of the best ways we can improve the lives of people with disabilities. That starts with hiring teachers who will advocate for the individual needs of all students, no matter how difficult it may be, and firing the teachers who do not have students’ success as their top priority.


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Adam Fishbein is a 2018 AAPD Summer Intern. He interned with the National Center on Learning Disabilities.

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