Have you or your child completed the transition out of high school and are now navigating the world of college accommodations with a disability? One of the hallmarks of New Jersey K-12 education law is the affirmative duty of school districts to seek out and identify students with disabilities to provide them with appropriate support and ensure access to their education. Annual IEP and 504 Plan meetings attended by the student’s parents, teachers, related service providers, school administrators, and often the family’s attorney, are designed to keep individualized services tailored for that student from year to year so they are always progressing toward their academic goals. The promise is that if your child is struggling, they will be found and helped.
Those experiences stand in stark contrast to the burdens faced by disabled students entering college and in need of college accommodations. IEPs and 504 Plans end on the last day of high school in New Jersey, but disabilities remain. Students must be prepared to navigate a brand new system, where school-led planning and services are no longer available, and self-advocacy takes center stage. A New Jersey education lawyer can help you prepare for this shift.
Not only will students be responsible for selecting appropriate courses, keeping themselves organized, managing their time, completing assignments, navigating the campus, and communicating with their classmates and professors, they must know how to self-identify as a student with disability, document their disability properly, access student disability services, secure appropriate college accommodations, and enforce their legal and educational rights in every classroom and lecture hall. The earlier these skills are developed, the better off New Jersey students will be, as similar issues will follow them into the workplace. This is where an education lawyer’s guidance can help.
College students with disabilities are protected by federal and state civil rights laws, specifically the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504). These laws require that individuals with disabilities be provided reasonable accommodations if they disclose their disability and request academic adjustments. This means that it is up to the student to share information about their disability to make sure they receive the college accommodations they need. Colleges are not required to identify students as having a disability or to assess their needs, and they will likely have procedures in place that students are required to follow to obtain accommodations. The student is also responsible for finding out what those procedures are by looking online or in student handbooks or by seeking out an admissions officer or other college staff member to request the information. Students must be prepared to discuss the accommodations they anticipate needing and the reasons why they need them. They must have the tools to describe how their disability impacts their learning.
Colleges are required to provide accommodations to qualified students with disabilities unless doing so would result in a fundamental alteration of the program or would result in undue financial or administrative burdens on the college. An education lawyer can ensure that they provide appropriate academic adjustments necessary to ensure that they do not discriminate against disabled students by denying them access to programming. These protections extend to the application and admissions process as well as housing. A college cannot have eligibility requirements that omit people with disabilities. If an applicant meets the essential requirements for admission, then admissions decisions may not be based on an applicant’s disability. Applicants also cannot be required to disclose their disability on the application. Regarding housing, if a college provides housing to nondisabled students, it must provide comparable, convenient, and accessible housing to students with disabilities at the same cost.
If you need help navigating the world of college accommodations, reach out to an attorney who can explain your rights and the process of self-disclosure on a college campus.