Transition 2: What Services are Available?


“I work with students with learning disabilities at the high school level. Many of them are hoping to attend college but few know what to expect. I am not sure how to help them. Can you provide some information about the transition?”—Timothy, Va.

Additional Info:

In Part 1 of our transition series, Jennifer Lindstrom described the differences in the legislation that guarantees equal access for students with disabilities to programs in postsecondary education. In this part, Dr. Lindstrom defines what services are available and how to obtain those services once in a postsecondary setting.


Reasonable Accommodations are NOT the Same as Services In K-12
One common myth surrounding the provision of accommodations in postsecondary settings is that the college will provide the same services and modifications specified in the high school IEP. However, the IEP is specific to K-12. Also, some services and adaptations to instruction provided in K-12 may be inappropriate in higher education (e.g., shorter assignments/exams). Accommodations in higher education are determined by disability documentation and substantial limitation due to the disability. Determining the availability of accommodations in college is NOT based solely on whether an IEP existed (or not) in high school.

Provision of reasonable accommodations and services is based on assessment of the impact of the disability on academic performance at a given time in a student’s life. Therefore, the disability service provider makes the best assessment of the needed accommodations using recent and appropriate documentation relevant to the student’s learning environment. Although the college may not always grant a student’s request for a specific accommodation, the institution is required by law to provide a reasonable accommodation.

What are Reasonable Accommodations?
Reasonable accommodations are modifications to policy, practice, instructional delivery, and the environment. These modifications include the provision of auxiliary aids such as assistive computer software or books on tape. Modifications that fundamentally alter the nature of the program, course, or evaluation of a student’s performance are not considered reasonable and are not required. The question of whether provision of an accommodation is required by an institution of higher education may not hinge on whether or not the person has a disability, but rather on whether or not the accommodation needed is reasonable (i.e., does not alter the fundamental nature of the program, course, or evaluation).

Examples of Reasonable Accommodations 

Test-taking alternatives, such as extended time, taped tests, oral tests, alternate test site, elimination of computer scored answer sheets and use of a computer or spell-checking device for quizzes and examsAccess to adaptive equipment such as closed caption devices, amplified telephone receivers, low vision reading aids, tape recorders, Brailleing devices and computer enhancements
Textbooks and other educational materials in alternative format, such as Braille, large print and audio-tapesOpportunity to make up quizzes, exams or assignments if the absence was disability-related
Access to educational materials in advance, such as class syllabus, study guides and taped lecturesPreferential seating in classroom
NotetakersExtension of timelines for completion of specific courses or program requirements
Permission to take less than full-time credit and still be eligible to receive financial aidExtension of timelines to complete certification or degree requirements
Foreign language course substitutions (e.g., option to take foreign culture class instead of foreign language)Early registration

What is the Process for Obtaining Services in College?
As with all college students, students with learning disabilities gradually assume control and responsibility for disclosing and advocating for their own needs. To obtain services, a student must contact the disability services office, meet with the Disability Service Provider (DSP), and provide required documentation. Most college programs have an office that provides services to students with disabilities. If not, the school will have a person who coordinates these services. Before arriving at the appointment, it is important to find out what documentation is required by that particular college by searching the institution’s web site or requesting this information at the time the appointment is scheduled.

After meeting with a student and reviewing the documentation, the DSP will better understand how the student’s disability impacts his or her learning and will identify reasonable accommodations for the student. The law does not state that all students with a disability must receive ALL accommodations. The DSP will also review with the student how to communicate with professors about the accommodations and what the student needs to do to insure that all accommodations are in place. It is important to understand that the student must request services from the disability services office each semester; a student will not receive services unless a request is made by the student.

What are the Documentation Requirements for Accommodations in College?
For many students, receiving disability support services in the postsecondary setting will be important to their success (National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities, 2007). Students must present comprehensive documentation to validate both their learning disability and their need for accommodations in order to receive disability support services. High schools, however, are not required by law to provide the type and form of documentation that many postsecondary institutions specify, which often results in a disconnect between the two settings (NJCLD).

Typically, students submit documentation to the postsecondary school they are attending or want to attend, and the DSP at the postsecondary institution determines the student’s eligibility for services after the student is enrolled. It is important to note, however, that the purposes and needs for documentation in secondary education differ from those in postsecondary education. As they transition, students find themselves moving from documentation for eligibilityinstruction, and intervention needed at the secondary level to documentation for eligibilityaccess, and accommodations needed at the postsecondary level. Documentation developed for the purposes of the secondary school often does not meet the needs or requirements of the postsecondary institution.

Documentation requirements may also vary from one postsecondary institution to another. Each institution has the right to establish its own guidelines for documentation requirements, so it is important to speak to each institution regarding their institutional documentation requirements. However, most colleges and universities have very similar requirements for documenting learning disabilities based on national guidelines (Association for Higher Education and Disability, 2004). These guidelines include the following components:

  1. Testing must be comprehensive (i.e., more than one assessment device should be administered for the purpose of diagnosis). Testing must address, at the minimum, the following three domains: aptitude, achievement, and information processing.
  2. Documentation must be current. In most cases, this means within the past three years. In cases in which documentation is more than three years old, the individual needs to have been tested at age 16 or older with adult-normed tests.
  3. The evaluation must also include a clear diagnostic statement, and evidence of a substantial limitation to learning or other major life activity must be provided. For instance, individual “learning styles,” “learning differences,” “academic problems” and “test difficulty or anxiety”, in and of themselves, do not constitute a learning disability.
  4. Professionals conducting assessment and rendering diagnoses of specific learning disabilities must be qualifiedto do so. Experience in working with an adult population is essential. Diagnostic reports must include the names, titles, and professional credentials of the evaluator(s) as well as the date(s) of testing. All reports should be on letterhead, typed, dated, and signed.

The transition to higher education will go more smoothly for students with learning disabilities who understand both the process for receiving services and the documentation needed to meet requirements.

Read the rest of Dr. Lindstrom’s response here.

To cite this article, please use the following format: Lindstrom, J. (2007, January 10). Expert connection: Transitioning from High School to College. Retrieved from