Higher education institutions are required by law to make adjustments or modifications for certain classes or activities, to accommodate a student’s disability. These adjustments are known as “reasonable accommodations.” The purpose of reasonable accommodations is to provide students with disabilities the equal opportunity to perform, while not placing an overly heavy burden on the school to provide the accommodation.

You are responsible for making the request for a reasonable accommodation. You should make this request in writing to your school’s office that assists students with disabilities. The name of this office will be different for each school. It may be called the Office of Disabled Student Services or a Disability Support Program. Sometimes the Office of Student Services may provide assistance to students with disabilities.

This office can provide assistance in determining what support services or modifications can be made. They also may request that you provide documentation of your disability, such as by providing documentation from your physician or other qualified professional. The school will determine the appropriate adjustment based on your disability and your individual needs.

The requirements for requesting reasonable accommodations will be different for each school. Also, some schools require that you submit requests each semester, since your accommodations may be different depending on what classes you take. Make sure to find out the specific requirements of your school for requesting accommodations.

Good to know!

It is really important to understand that this is a student driven process.  There is no such thing as an IEP or 504 Plan, which you may have had in high school.  You cannot just provide the university a copy of your IEP and expect that they will follow it.  It is really important that you use the formal process and not rely on informal arrangements with specific professors.  Everything should be set up at the beginning of each semester.  If you encounter an issue with a specific professor, you should go through the disabilities services office to remedy the problem.


Classroom or Learning Accommodations

The most common type of accommodation in higher education is related to taking classes and studying.

Examples of reasonable accommodations that you may require are:

  • Note-taking assistance in the classroom
  • Braille class materials or textbooks or recorded lectures
  • Preferential seating in the classroom
  • Alternative testing methods
  • Physical accommodations in the classroom or laboratory
  • Assistive technologies, such as voice recognition or screen reading

It is important for you to understand that there are some limits to what your school needs to do, in addressing your request for accommodation. For example, the school is not required to:

  • Modify or lower the difficulty of the academic content
  • Provide devices or services of a personal nature, such as tutoring or personal attendants
  • Make adjustments that result in undue financial or administrative burden for the school


Housing and Transportation

Higher education institutions also are required to make common, essential spaces (such as the library, classrooms, and residence halls) accessible.[1] For example, a class that includes a student in a wheelchair must be held in a building with an elevator or be rescheduled to a classroom on the first floor.

Also, higher education institutions may not discriminate on the basis of disability in areas outside the classroom. They cannot discriminate in other areas where they provide facilities or services, such as housing, transportation, or extracurricular activities. You should know that these laws apply only to the facilities or services that the school provides.

There are other laws that prohibit discrimination in public transportation and public housing.

  • For example, the Delaware Equal Accommodations Law prohibits discrimination in places that serve the general public. See the section entitled “Delaware Equal Accommodations Law.”
  • The federal Fair Housing Act[2] and the Delaware Fair Housing Act[3] prohibit discrimination in housing based on disability. Because of these laws, there are several things that landlords cannot do. For example, they cannot refuse to rent to a person because he has a disability. They also cannot refuse to let you make reasonable changes to your living area, if you pay for it.

If you believe that another housing provider is illegally discriminating against you because you have disabilities, you may be able to file a complaint, by contacting the Delaware Division of Human Relations: http://statehumanrelations.delaware.gov/index.shtml.

Complaints about discrimination in public accommodations under the Delaware Equal Accommodations Law are handled by the Division of Human Relations. You may call them at (302) 577-5050 or visit their website at http://statehumanrelations.delaware.gov/services/discrimination.shtml

For more information, see Students with Disabilities Preparing for Postsecondary Education: Know Your Rights and Responsibilities, published by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights (http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/transition.html).

For an example of a Request for Reasonable Accommodation, see our “Sample: Request for Reasonable Accommodation Letter”!


Technology and Accessibility

Under the ADA and Section 504, higher education institutions are required to provide equal access to technology for students. This means that they cannot require students to use technology that is inaccessible to students with disabilities, unless they provide accommodations or modifications. (See “Accommodations” section of this guide.)

Usually the office of Student Services or Disability Services at a college or university can assist students in providing different forms of assistive technology for students who receive academic accommodations. One common example is called “alternate book formatting.” This accommodation allows a student to receive the information contained in a textbook in a different format – such as in audio files, enlarged print, or through screen reader technology. Other technologies may be available at your school.

Some examples of assistive technology are:

  • Electronic textbooks
  • Dedicated electronic book readers with text-to-speech capabilities to read text aloud and navigate menus. May also include special key strokes.
  • Screen readers, that read text aloud as it appears on the computer screen
  • Braille displays
  • Note taking tools
  • Voice technology


Filing a Complaint

Disability Coordinator

Most higher education institutions have a specific person who is responsible to ensure that the school complies with federal law regarding the rights of students with disabilities. This person may be called a Disability Services Coordinator, Section 504 Coordinator, or ADA Coordinator. If you are not satisfied with the accommodation that your school has provided, if your request has been denied, or if you believe that you have been discriminated against because of your disability, you may want to contact your school’s coordinator first.



In addition, your school should have a policy or procedure on how you may raise your concerns. This usually is called a “grievance procedure.” This procedure typically is included in the student handbook or a similar publication. You should become familiar with this publication and follow the steps provided to raise your concerns.


Academic Appeals

There is also a process for appealing your academic grades.  Please make sure that you are using the proper appeal route, or both if applicable.  If the issue you are appealing involves a grade, it is important to also use the academic appeals process.  Typically, there is a short time frame for these appeals, so check your student handbook to see what deadline your school uses.


Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education

Another option you have, if you feel that you are being discriminated against on the basis of disability (including being denied a reasonable accommodation) is that you may file a complaint with the federal Office for Civil Rights. For more information:

You should know that OCR complaints can be used for a single student or for a group of students.  OCR complaints must be filed within 180 calendar days of the alleged discrimination, except in certain circumstances.

[1] With some exceptions, such as buildings built before 1977 which  are exempt from Section 504, or pre-1992 buildings that are exempt from the ADA.  And, in some instances it may be an “undue burden” to retrofit a building.

[2] 42 U.S.C. § 3601 et seq.

[3] 6 Del. C. § 4600 et seq.