Starting College? Does the IDEA apply?

Submitted by Guest Blogger on Tue, 08/06/2019

The end of summer can mean returning to school or starting college for many of us.  This is an exciting time of change and opportunity for all, whether you are a parent or a student.  When your child or you are a person with a disability, this time of transition is critical to ensure that needed accommodations are in place for success.

There are a few key areas of note:

There are no IEPs in college as colleges/universities do not fall under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  Instead, colleges provide accommodations to persons with disabilities under the ADA. 

Students must ask for these accommodations, and this is typically done through the college’s disability services office.  The student must provide documentation of the disability, and it is important to reach out to that office to determine what type of documentation that school requires.  Again, this is all done through the disability services office, not through admissions.

The disability services office will work with the student with a disability to determine what reasonable accommodations are appropriate and needed. Reasonable accommodations are not the same as modifications, which may have been received while in high school.  Typical accommodations include:

  • Extended time on exams (not the same as “untimed” tests, which are not typically available)
  • Use of laptops for tests and exams
  • Use of calculators for tests and exams
  • Permission to make audio recordings of classes (some schools may loan out smart pens for this purpose)
  • Reduced course load (financial aid may be reduced as a result)
  • Priority registration for courses
  • Copies of notes from a classmate
  • Access to audiobooks
  • Access to voice recognition software
  • Access to text-to-speech programs

The disability services office will also write an “accommodations letter” for the student’s professors listing the necessary reasonable accommodations.  Each college handles this differently, some may email the professors directly, and some may provide the letter to the student, and the student then needs to deliver the letter to the professors themselves. 

If you are a parent, you are not directly in the loop regarding these reasonable accommodations at the college.  If you want to receive information or discuss areas of accommodations with the disability services office, permission must be granted, typically through a release of information form. High schools must legally grant parents permission, and colleges are the opposite: they protect students’ privacy. In addition, colleges will not provide new evaluations regarding a current or perhaps undiagnosed disability.

Further resources can include:

Job Accommodation Network

Transition from High School to College: 504 Plans

Colorado Division of Vocational Rehabilitation

Colorado Centers of Independent Living


This blog post was written by Jennifer Scilacci, Manager of Employment First Innovation Unit for the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

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