This overview will answer the following questions:
- What should I consider when requesting a review of my disability accommodations at college?
- What is an ombud?
- How does the American Disabilities Act (ADA) apply to university students?
Just like disability services at all various education levels, the services you receive at college may not be what you expected or what you need. While this is frustrating to have to deal with, there are ways to make sure your needs are being met.
When you’re at university, you may find there are mainly two types of issues that arise when it comes to disability services. The first one is that a professor is not following the accommodations disability services provided you. The second is that the accommodations you received from disability services are lackluster. For both of these problems, a good first step is making an appointment with disability services to discuss your concerns.
Making an appointment with disability services
Although it may be hard to believe sometimes, disability services are there to help you and not make your experience at university more difficult. If you want to meet with disability services because a professor is not following accommodations, here are some recommendations.
- You should write down which accommodations are not being followed.
- You should bring exam results if you think they are representative of accommodations not being well followed.
- You should ask the person meeting with you what their recommendations are.
- You should ask if the person at disability services could speak to your professor or go with you to talk to that professor.
If you’re concerned you may come across as someone who is tattling on your professor, remember: You are advocating for your rights. If you are not happy with your accommodations, and you think they should be adjusted, here are some recommendations about what you should bring and do during this meeting.
- You should bring an updated doctor’s note which would suggest which accommodations you need.
- You should bring any exam results if you think they are representatives of subpar accommodations.
- You should bring another advisor, perhaps an academic advisor, who can help advocate for you if you need help during this meeting.
If you are unhappy with how these meetings go, you should consider going to an ombudsman at your university.
What is an ombudsman?
An ombudsman is an independent party who investigates claims impartially. Most universities have an Office of the Ombuds, where you can find someone to investigate any complaints you have about the disability services you are receiving.
The services ombudsman offers vary per university. Here is an example of what services the Office of Ombuds offers at Boston University:
- Listen to you and discuss your concerns.
- Answer your questions or refer you to someone who can.
- Explain how University policies or procedures work.
- Help you identify options or obtain information to help you resolve a problem.
- Mediate a dispute or facilitate communication among people in conflict.
- Recommend changes to policies/procedures that appear outdated or problematic while
- maintaining confidentiality.
- Refer you to the appropriate office should you wish to file a formal complaint.
- Identify trends or patterns of complaints or problems that might be systemic.
- Provide other forms of assistance to help you resolve a problem informally.
Ombudsman cannot force disability services to follow their recommendation, but they can offer guidance and advice. They can also offer feedback on whether the university is acting in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
American Disabilities Act at the university level
Like for people in primary and secondary education, the ADA also protects students with disabilities at the university level. However, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act do not apply to university students.
ADA essentially says that universities, companies, and other places need to give reasonable accommodations to people with disabilities. Unfortunately, this leaves a lot of gray area for what “reasonable” is. A somewhat common scenario is that a student with a chronic illness may request a single in a dorm if it would better help them manage their symptoms, and a university may deny this request under the belief that their symptoms would not be better controlled in a single. At most universities, students can repeal this decision, but this varies per school.
If you are looking for university programs with more structured disability services, you should check out this list.
- When the Disability Office at College Expresses Ableism
- I’m the Student Holding a Hunger Strike on Princeton’s Campus for Disability Rights
- 6 Ways College Could Accommodate People With Chronic Illness Better