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.

People Need to See Us Voting

October 21, 2018 | Beth Finke

I lost my sight in 1986 to a rare condition called retinopathy. By then I’d already voted twice, in national elections, as a fully-sighted person.

Struggling to adjust to blindness, I was determined not to lose my ability to vote – not just casting a ballot, but the act of voting itself.

People who are blind are guaranteed the right to vote by law. The National Voter Registration Act, the Voting Rights Act, the Help America Vote Act, and the federal Rehabilitation Act.

Friends who are blind suggested I vote absentee, but for me, there’s no substitute for the feel of a voting device in your hand, the sound of your vote actually registering.

My first blind vote was in 1988, when we still voted using a punch card. My husband Mike joined me in the booth, selected the candidates for me, and placed my hand on top of the stylus so I could physically punch the ballot on my own.

In a subsequent election Mike was away on business. I made it to the polls myself, but quickly discovered how much assistance I’d need without him. Two judges – one Democrat, one Republican – crowded with me and my Seeing Eye dog into the tiny polling booth. I didn’t bother asking them to put my hand on the stylus so I could punch the card myself, just allowed a third-party to vote for me with a second third-party to witness. Yes, I cast a ballot, but it sure wasn’t private. Everyone in the room heard exactly who I was voting for.

News of new text-to-speech software spread quickly through the blind community in the mid-2000s. The software translates the candidate selections on the ballot into spoken choices; a special keypad enables voters who are blind to choose our candidates by touch, with the selections confirmed by voice again before the ballot is cast. We could finally vote independently — and privately.

I live in Chicago, and the city sponsored free trainings at Chicago public libraries. I spent many hours at our local branch getting a feel for the machines and practicing with the buttons on the handheld device. When I arrived at the polling station in 2008 the technology was in place. Only problem? No one could operate it. There’d been no training of staff in the sequences needed – enabling the software, activating the audio, even finding the headphones that ensure privacy of selection. So backwards in time we went. Once again my husband Mike had to sign an affidavit, accompany me to the booth, read the candidates’ names out loud, and hear my choices in response, as did everyone else within earshot. The same scenario repeated in 2012 during the national elections.

Next month we again have a national election of great import, and again, my hopes are raised that I’ll be able to exercise the same basic right that sighted people do – to vote in private without public assistance. Millions of Americans with disabilities share this ambition. People need to see us out there voting. We can’t let others forget about us. In the not-too-distant past people with disabilities did stay home, not just on voting day, but perpetually. We can never go back to those days, and voting publicly is one way to ensure we don’t.


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Beth Finke teaches memoir-writing classes in Chicago and is developing a short online course to help others lead memoir-writing classes using her methods. A recipient of a Writing Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, Beth’s latest book, “Writing Out Loud: What a Blind Teacher Learned from Leading a Memoir Class for Seniors” chronicles the challenges and rewards of her decade-long adventure helping older adults write their stories.

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