Students transitioning from secondary to post-secondary education should expect, and be prepared for, several differences. These differences are grounded in the legislation that governs services to students with disabilities in these educational settings. Prior to college, students with disabilities receive special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which entitles students to services in order to ensure that they are successful through the 12th grade. For some students, this involves utilization of programs specifically designed for students with disabilities, modifying curriculum, or reducing assignments. Students with disabilities in college do not fall within the scope of IDEA; the most important piece of legislation protecting them is the Americans with Disabilities ACT (ADA), which is anti-discrimination law that provides access to existing programs or services. Universities are not required to create special programs or modify curriculum or programs to ensure success. Instead, requested accommodations are considered based upon whether or not refusal would be discriminatory and would deny access to educational opportunities for students who are "otherwise qualified."
Students seeking services are required to identify themselves to Student Disability Services and be able to provide evidence of appropriate diagnosis or testing. This difference primarily impacts students with learning disabilities, who have traditionally be identified for evaluation by teachers or parents who have concerns about school progress. In post-secondary education, learning disability evaluations are not conducted by the school and faculty do not often pull students aside to ask why they are struggling. Additionally, students are often accustomed to parents having frequent contact with teachers and administrators, taking the lead in educational decision making. In college, parent contact is very limited, usually only to the initial meeting and, even then, only at student request.
With the added responsibility on the student in higher education often comes an increased desire for independence. It is not uncommon for students to want to attempt to be successful in college without using academic accommodations. These students are often not realistic in their expectations about the level and quantity necessary to obtain the grades they desire, particularly in reading. Students with a Reading Disorder, for example, may struggle with keeping up with college level reading if they do not avail themselves of resources or take very careful care in managing their study time. Identifying appropriate course loads (number of credit hours and course combinations) for students with disabilities can be an important factor.
Students With New (or Newly Identified) Disabilities
Some students seeking to register with Student Disability Services are completely new to the process. Students with learning disabilities may have gone unidentified until the challenges of postsecondary education finally pushed them beyond the limits of their coping skills. This is common in students who are very bright or who came from a smaller, more individualized high school (i.e. private school or small, close-knit community). This group of students also consists of those who become a person with a disability as an adult. Currently, this group consists largely of Veterans, although other students who have been in accidents or have become chronically ill fit this category, as well. These students are learning a new vocabulary (accommodation, documentation, diagnostician) that many of us assume they already have. They are also dealing with the change of their view of self due to identification as a person with a disability. New or newly identified students with disabilities are often in need of referral to appropriate resources (such as the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services), and may require more collaboration than other students who are more aware of their needs.