Prospective Students


While there are many similarities in the support for students with disabilities in higher education, there are fundamental differences in the laws, services, and expectations that benefit students entering college to be aware of.

There is a fundamental distinction between the laws governing students with disabilities in K-12 and the laws governing students with disabilities in college that impact the practical differences between accommodations in these respective settings.

High School 

  • I.D.E.A. (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act)
  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 

Goal: Success


  • A.D.A. (Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990
  • A.D.A.A.A (ADA Amendments Act of 2008)
  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 

Goal: Access

High School 

  • I.E.P. (Individualized Educational Plan) and/or 504 Plan 


  • Dependent on the condition(s). Provides details of specific functional limitations of the disability (not just diagnosis) and the need for specific accommodations.

Difference: High school IEPs, 504 Plans, or Transition Plans are generally considered insufficient in Higher Education.  

High School 

  • Parents and teachers are the primary initiators.
  • Teachers will approach the students who they suspect have a disability. 


  • Students are responsible for initiating the process by self-identifying to Student Accessibility Services (SAS).
  • While open to providing support, professors expect students to initiate conversations related to disability and accommodations. 

Difference: In college, students must self-identify and self-advocate for their needs and accommodations.   

High School 

  • Teachers are expected to modify the material, check in with students for understanding, and reteach content. 
  • Tutoring and academic support are often built into the I.E.P. or 504 plan.
  • Teachers, counselors, and parents facilitate a student’s schedule and study time. 


  • Accommodations cannot fundamentally alter course requirements and may be deemed unreasonable for certain courses.
  • Professors are not expected to reteach material; students are expected to approach the professor if they do not understand it.
  • Tutoring resources are available to all students outside the accessibility/disability services office.
  • Students are responsible for abiding by expectations and deadlines outlined in course syllabi and managing their time accordingly. 

Difference: Accommodations are provided to students with disabilities who are otherwise qualified to meet the academic standards and behavioral expectations of the college.   

High School 

  • Parents have open access to student information.


  • Students’ information is protected under FERPA and can only be shared 1) when there is an educational need to know, 2) with the student’s permission, or 3) in the case of an emergency.

Difference: College students are legally considered adults, and thus access to their information is restricted.  

It is important to understand that IDEA strives for academic success while ADA/AA strives for equal access to all courses, programs, services, and activities. Many of the modifications and instructional supports mandated under IDEA are not considered to be reasonable under ADA/AA. This letter to parents from the Office of Civil Rights outlines the rights students with disabilities have in post-secondary institutions.

In addition, this Open Letter is written by a respected disability services professional and parent of a student with disabilities that addresses many of the concerns and unknowns presented to parents of students with disabilities entering college.


For more information or to discuss a prospective student’s individual needs, we encourage you to contact the Office of Student Accessibility Services (SAS) at 562.907.4825 or


For general information about accommodations, the process of requesting accommodations, and documentation guidelines: