An Analysis of College Disability Services Websites
The 2011 final regulations which followed the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADA AA, 2008) sought to make it easier for individuals with disabilities to seek protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. The regulations noted that the definition of disability should be “broadly construed,” and that “substantially limits” should not be defined by the high bar previously applied by the courts (e.g., Sutton v. United Airlines, Inc., 1999). Of significance in the regulations was the statement that determining whether an impairment substantially limits a major life activity should not generally require extensive scientific, medical, or statistical evidence. In the following year, the Association on Higher Education And Disability (AHEAD) published a document titled Supporting Accommodation Requests: Guidance on Documentation Practices (2012) which elevated student self-report to be the primary source of information on disability and accommodations. The AHEAD document asserted that a student’s personal narrative regarding their experience in living with a disability and stated request for specific accommodations should be sufficient validation for ADA compliance. However, not all colleges adopted this guidance, and the problem a decade later is the lack of uniformity and/or agreement among postsecondary disability service providers regarding self-reported information in making accommodation decisions.
In a upcoming article to be published by the Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, Banerjee and Lalor of Landmark College, Madaus of the University of Connecticut, and Brinckerhoff of ETS sought to better understand the current state of accommodation decision-making in light of the growing importance of self-report and personal statements by individuals with disabilities as described on disability services websites. This study summarizes results from a survey of 118 disability services websites from four classifications of postsecondary institutions (i.e., associate, baccalaureate, master’s, and doctoral) regarding self-report, interactive process, documentation guidelines, and the protocol for receiving accommodations.
Results of the study find that the majority of postsecondary institutions did not mention the actual words “self-report,” “interactive process,” and/or “collaboration with students” in determining accommodations on their websites (n = 83, 70%). However, a majority of institutions asked students to engage in practices suggestive of an interactive process such as complete an intake interview/form, provide an accommodation request form," or write a personal statement. An intake form or interview can be expansive or limited, but it does provide self-reported information about the disability.
Disability services websites are the outward facing voice of the office. Clarity of processes used to determine accommodations and access is central to the website. Based on the findings of this study, the authors offered the following advice for disability services offices:
- Consider describing how the office uses self-reported information in making accommodation decisions.
- Mention that accommodation determination is an interactive process between information shared by the student, technical standards as established by the program of study, course expectations identified in the syllabus by the faculty member, and information presented in the disability documentation (Banerjee, 2015).
- Note on the website that exceptions to the requirement of disability documentation and documentation guidelines may be considered on a case-by-case basis. This recommendation takes on particular significance post COVID-19.
NOTES: For a more complete discussion and analysis of the findings, check out the upcoming issue of the Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability for Banerjee, Lalor, Madaus, and Brinckerhoff’s article: A Survey of Postsecondary Disability Service Websites Post ADAAA: Recommendations for Practitioners.
Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD). (2012). Supporting accommodations requests: Guidance on documentation practices. Retrieved from https://www.ahead.org/professional-resources/accommodations/documentation
Banerjee, M. & Brinckerhoff, L.C. (2015). Accommodation conundrums in assessing self-reported evidence for students with multiple disabilities. Concurrent presentation at the 27th Annual Postsecondary Training Institute, Boston, MA.