Federal law defines disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. It is important to note that a condition in and of itself does not necessarily constitute a disability. The degree of impairment must be significant enough to substantially limit one or more major life activities (e.g. walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, working, or taking care of oneself).
Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides that “No qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity.” This is federal civil rights legislation. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 provides that “No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States, as defined in section 706 (20) of this title, shall, solely by reason of his or her disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits or, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” Again this is federal civil rights legislation. The Rehabilitation Act impacts recipients of federal funds.
With both of these civil rights laws there is shift from entitlement under IDEA or P.L. 94–142 to eligibility. This shift means that students are responsible for disclosing disability needs and making requests for services. The university does not develop IEP's and 504 plans but Disability Support Services will work individually with a student in order to develop a plan of action and address any access concerns. The ADA does not equal a guarantee of success, but students can expect more of an equal opportunity to do the same work as their peers.
Reasonable accommodations level the playing field for qualified individuals with disabilities by minimizing the functional limitations of an individual in a given task. Such accommodations permit students with disabilities the opportunity to learn by removing barriers that do not compromise academic standards. Examples of reasonable accommodations include a blind student receiving materials in an accessible format, a student with a physical disability requesting a note taking due to difficulty writing, or a deaf student who needs a sign language interpreter in the classroom.
Recent and comprehensive documentation about the current functional impact of the disability in a university setting is required in order to determine whether reasonable accommodations can be designed and which specific accommodations can be provided. The student is responsible for submitting this documentation. All documentation will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis and students may be required to provide additional documentation. Students may be required to furnish periodic reevaluation to support continuing accommodation needs depending on the nature of the disability and documentation received. If a disability is a physical or sensory impairment of an unchanging nature, e.g., blindness or congenital deafness, documentation does not need to be updated.
Once documentation is received, students are responsible for follow-up with the director of Disability Support Services (DSS). Please note that sending documentation to the DSS office does not constitute a formal request for services. Students must undergo a registration and intake process with DSS to initiate the accommodation process. Through registration and intake, students will meet with the director in order to discuss documentation and reasonable accommodation requests. The Director will advise the students of any specific documentation needs or other requirements during the process.
Disability Support Services works with students to promote and develop self–advocacy skills. College students are responsible for managing their own education, understanding their functional limitations and requesting necessary accommodations for their disability. Self–advocacy skills are critical because it is the student who will approach instructors, staff, students and ultimately employers to request reasonable accommodations.
The first step is for a student to contact Disability Support Services (DSS) and register. This registration process includes an intake in which a student and the director discuss disability as it relates to the academic environment.Students must provide documentation of their disabilities. It is the job of the DSS director to determine whether or not the student is eligible to receive the requested accommodations based on the documentation. Once a student is eligible for services, an explanation of how the accommodation process works is provided, including detailed information on how to request accommodations each semester. Students are then asked to provide their class schedules to our office in order for us to produce accommodation letters, which they will later deliver to their faculty. DSS tells students that these letters are a communication tool between the student and the faculty member, and that it is important to talk with their faculty about their accommodations needs.
If the accommodations are not working for a student, it is the student’s responsibility to talk about it with the faculty or come back to DSS to discuss his or her concerns. DSS recommends that students identify and request accommodations during the first two weeks of class.
There are two offices at American University that provide disability support. Disability Support Services (DSS) provides services to students with physical, medical, or psychological disabilities. The Academic Support Center (ASC) is the office on campus responsible for assisting students with learning disabilities or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). In addition to the broad range of services, students may also request reasonable accommodations at the university based on current documentation of a learning disability or ADHD from a qualified professional. Students are encouraged to identify themselves to the ASC as soon as possible once enrolled. Once classes begin, a student can meet with a counselor who can work with the student to determine reasonable accommodations for each class. Additionally, the Academic Support Center offers specialized services to further support students.
The university complies with the federal law, Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA) which protects the privacy of students' access to educational records and limits access to those records to anyone other than the student. Each record may include academic and non-academic information for college students. Therefore, information in the Disability Support Service records about a student’s disability and accommodations, if any, is treated as confidential. With a student’s permission, the director may consult with faculty and staff about the individual needs of a student. The most common type of communication is with a student’s current professor or academic advisor. Once Disability Support Services has disclosed information about a disability, the recipient of that information also has a responsibility to protect confidentiality.
In order to protect a student’s right to privacy and to help a student develop a productive relationship with the Disability Support Services (DSS) director, our interactions with students in the DSS office are confidential. Therefore, if your son or daughter would like us to be able to communicate directly with you, he or she must give us written permission to do so. It is important for you to discuss expectations around the communication process with your son or daughter. Before contacting the DSS director, we encourage parents to first speak to their son or daughter about the conversation that they plan to have. It is our policy to discuss all communication about a student, whether with a professor, advisor, or parent, with the student. The student is our client. We are sensitive to the varying relationships between parents and students and will do our best to support productive communication. It is, of course, important to keep the lines of communication open between all involved parties and we encourage students to communicate directly with their parents.