When it comes to disability law, how are college and K-12 different?

There are several important differences between high school and college when it comes to disabilities and access services. Here are a few of them:

Special Education in High School:
Guiding principle: The environment is adapted to the student.

  • The relevant disability law is the Individuals with Disability Education Act (IDEA).
  • Schools must make available to all eligible children with disabilities a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment appropriate to their individual needs.
  • Behavior can be viewed as a manifestation of the disability and accommodated within limits.
  • The school is responsible for identifying and assessing a student’s disability.
  • The school and/or parent are responsible for advocating on the student’s behalf.

Disability and Access in College:
Guiding principle: The student adapts to the environment.

  • The relevant disability and accessibility laws are Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments (ADAAA).
  • Colleges are prohibited from discriminating against qualified students because of a disability.
  • You must meet the essential standards (educational, behavioral, and others) established by the college or university.
  • You (the student) are responsible for self-identifying as an individual with a disability.
  • You (the student) are responsible for advocating on your own behalf.

It is important to note that while special education in high school guarantees all students’ success, disability, and access services in college guarantees that all students have access to equal opportunities for success in the educational experience and the testing arena. The success part in college is up to you!

The responsibility to seek disability and access services now falls on you as the college student. You will need to advocate for yourself and seek out the services that you need. To help you prepare for this transition from high school to college, here are a few tips from St. Olaf Disability and Access Center:

  • Work on becoming 100% independent while still in high school. Start now! Keep track of your own assignments and schedule, use a planner, take your medication, get out of bed on time in the morning, make your own breakfast. These things will help you form good, independent habits now, which will help ease the transition from high school to college.
  • Work on understanding and articulating your disability and how it has an impact on your learning. This will help you anticipate the barriers that you might experience in college, what services you might need, and what compensatory strategies work best for you.
  • Know your rights and responsibilities according to the law. Check out this helpful site:
  • Hear what the experts have to say about the transition from high school to college at these sites:
  • Ask questions if you need more help. The St. Olaf Disability and Access Center Specialists are happy to communicate with you via email, phone, or an in-person meeting.