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UCLA Center for Accessible Education


  • Focus is on student success
  • Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
  • IDEA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act is implemented at the secondary school level with an aim toward success for all students entitled to a Free and Appropriate Education (FAPE) at their Local Education Agency (LEA).
  • Modification of instruction and curriculum are commonly provided in response to student learning needs.
  • The LEA is responsible for identifying a student’s disability, determining eligibility for services and implementing appropriate accommodations.
  • Individual Education Plans or 504 Plans are created to guide the student’s instruction and mandate services
  • Teachers and parents arrange services and assistance for the student
  • School-based services based on demonstrated need are put in place to promote success, such as: special education classes, co-teaching and resource room, assistants or personal aides, speech therapy/OT/PT
  • Personal aide services are arranged and provided by school district
  • Teachers and parents remind students to complete homework, help in exam preparation, and aid with time management
  • High school provides a highly regimented, closely monitored schedule with homework assigned at regular intervals
  • Parents communicate routinely with teachers, and can easily monitor student academic progress
  • Parents and teachers guide and intervene on the student’s behalf, recommending strategies and supports


  • Focus is on providing student access
  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA)
  • The ADA as well as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act guides college-level accommodation policy with an aim toward access for “otherwise qualified” students based on the colleges’ admission criteria.
  • Through an interactive interview process, reasonable accommodations are identified to ensure equal access and participation. Students are responsible for meeting the standards of the course, and essential elements of the course objectives are not modified.
  • Students identify their request for services to the disability office, and provide documentation that verifies eligibility for accommodations specific to a functional limitation.
  • Higher education institutions do not develop comparable individual education plans
  • Students must initiate request for services and arrange required accommodations
  • College accommodations are intended to mitigate the impact of disability based on eligibility to ensure access, such as: alternative testing arrangements, assistive technology/software, alternative formats
  • College is not responsible for personal aide services
  • Students independently plan homework and create reading and study schedules
  • College schedule has more free, unstructured time; classes meet less frequently, more difficult homework, and heavy reading load
  • Parents have no contact with instructors, and written FERPA consent is required to access info about student
  • Students need to self-advocate, articulate their needs for services and accommodations proactively, and pursue resources on campus for assistance

Source: University of Rochester, Incoming students- Differences between high school and college accommodations-The Advocacy Consortium and Learning Disabilities Association of America

Additional Resources

Summary of Legal Differences Between Secondary and Post-secondary Education

Federal Laws

  • Secondary Education: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA); Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973; the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).
  • Postsecondary Education: Section 504 (particularly subpart E) of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973; the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).

Purpose of Legislation

  • Secondary Education: To ensure that all eligible students with disabilities have available a free appropriate public education (FAPE), including special education and related services (IDEA). To ensure that no otherwise qualified person with a disability be denied access to, or the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination by any program or activity provided by any public institution or entity (504/ADA).
  • Postsecondary Education: To ensure that no otherwise qualified person with a disability be denied access to, or the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination by any program or activity provided by any public institution or entity (504/ADA).


  • Secondary Education: For special education services: All infants, children, and youth (0 through 21 years) with disabilities (as defined by the state Administrative Rules for Special Education, and/or the ADA).
  • Postsecondary Education: For disability services: Anyone who meets the entry level-age criteria of the college and who can document the existence of a disability as defined by Section 504 and ADA.


  • Secondary Education: School districts are responsible for providing trained personnel to assess eligibility and plan educational services.
  • Postsecondary Education: Students are responsible for obtaining disability documentation from a professional who is qualified to assess their particular disability.

Receiving Services

  • Secondary Education: School districts are responsible for identifying students with disabilities, designing special instruction, and/or providing accommodations.
  • Postsecondary Education: Students are responsible for telling Disability Services staff that they have a disability, and for requesting accommodations for each class. Accommodations (not special education) are provided so students with disabilities can access the educational programs or courses used by other students.


  • Secondary Education: Students with disabilities learn about their disability, the importance of self-advocacy, the accommodations they need, and how to be a competent self-advocate.
  • Postsecondary Education: Students must be able to describe their disability, identify strengths and weaknesses, and identify any accommodations needed and how to be a competent self-advocate.

Increase in Complexity and Unpredictability

The typical college environment is more complex and unpredictable than the high school environment in terms of daily schedules, course selection, course expectations, and access to resources.

Daily Schedule

  • Classes vary in length and number of days. e.g., 2 days for 90 minutes or 3 days a week for an hour.
  • There are no bells. Students must know when they need to be at class and monitor the time.
  • One class might be right after the other as in high school, or students may have a block of time between classes.
  • Students choose when they stop for coffee, use the restrooms, go to class, or study.
  • Classes may be in multiple buildings.
  • All classrooms may not be physically accessible, so students may need to register early to request an accessible classroom location.

Course selection and expectations

  • College course format, instructional strategies and expectations may be different than in high school courses.
  • There are more choices of instructors, courses and course requirements.
  • Students need to know how they learn best, what type of instructional formats and styles work best for them, and how to use this information in selecting courses.
  • There is no one person who ensures students complete the necessary courses and are on the path for earning credits toward graduation; students need to do this themselves or seek advice from academic or department advisers.
  • Instructors rarely teach directly from the text and often lecture for the entire class period.
  • Instructors often plan their courses so that students do a lot of their learning outside of class including acquiring knowledge and facts from outside reading and library research.
  • Most successful students expect to spend 2-3 hours of studying for each hour they are in class, and students with disabilities may need to plan on a few more hours.


  • Students need to identify and access any necessary support services.
  • Services on a college campus are often more expansive than in K-12 system (e.g., health center, bookstores, women’s centers, and mental health counseling).
  • Students need to know what supports they require and in what office they might find them.
  • Services are located in different buildings and often have different names than in high school.Change in Student Responsibilities
  • The type of high school a student attended, the expectations that their families placed on them, and the type of postsecondary program they choose to attend, may influence the differences the student will experience. Consider the following areas:

Student freedom

  • Students are expected to be responsible for their choices and, thus, need to have good problem solving, self-advocacy, decision making, and communication skills.
  • Faculty often will assist students if the student initiates the contact.
  • Support systems are available in college (e.g., academic advising, supplemental instruction, academic learning centers, resident assistant, disability services staff), but the student must seek those out, ask for the help, and follow through.

Life skills

  • Students who begin college after high school may not only be adjusting to a new learning environment but very possibly, even a new city and friends.
  • It may be the first time they are living on their own. They may need to learn to budget their money, cook, maintain an apartment, and learn how to live with a roommate.

Peer network

  • If peers do not attend the same college, students may be without a support system of friends.
  • During high school students often depend on their family and peers for support in problem solving, decision making and day-to-day activities, thus they may need a new support network
  • College activities, organizations, and support groups can help to build new networks.

Source: The University of Oregon, Information – High School and College: What are the Differences