School can be a very uncomfortable place for students with special needs. About two-thirds of American public schools are not accessible to those with physical disabilities. At the same time, many educational institutions are hesitant to implement changes that could improve the students’ experiences.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) are two federal laws that protect students with disabilities from discrimination. These laws also guarantee them equal opportunities or the same access to education, benefits and services as other students without disabilities.
Under the IDEA, students with special needs are entitled to receive free public education and individualized learning and services. Meanwhile, the ADA requires schools to provide students with disabilities reasonable accommodation.
Examples of reasonable accommodation
Depending on their disability, students may require different forms of reasonable accommodation. Accommodations can range from allowing the student more breaks to providing audio recordings for those with trouble reading.
Below are a few more examples of the many ways schools can help students with special needs:
- Present text in larger sizes
- Allow students to take a test in a different room
- Allow students to sit where they are most comfortable
- Give students extra time to accomplish tasks and tests
- Create different projects or assignments for the student
- Grade the student using a different standard
Schools can only provide specific accommodations if they know of the student’s disability. Otherwise, they may refuse to make any changes unless they can verify the student’s condition.
When can schools reject reasonable accommodation requests?
The school may violate the IDEA and the ADA if they refuse to provide a student with a reasonable accommodation unless doing so would alter the program or pose significant financial or administrative difficulty.
Generally, schools can say no to requests that would give a student an unfair advantage or significantly change their course standards.
Accommodations of a personal nature are not the responsibility of schools either. Support animals, wheelchairs and reading aids fall under this category. The student would need to acquire those on their own.
Even if schools initially refuse a request, they might be open to providing alternatives after a respectful discourse. However, an education lawyer may be necessary if the school refuses to work with the student. They can assess the situation and fight for the student’s rights.