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I’m visually impaired. Does my college need to help with online classes?

On Behalf of | Jan 27, 2022 | Education Law

If you’re attending college now, you may already have experienced mandatory online courses. This could be due to the pandemic, or it may be that your college only offers certain courses online and you want to take one. What sort of disability accommodations does your school have to offer?

Getting an accommodation in college is somewhat different from what you may have experienced in high school. In K-12 education, schools are required to assess students with disabilities and work with them to provide appropriate accommodations. In college, you are responsible for requesting an accommodation and identifying what an appropriate one might be.

These types of accommodations, which are sometimes called “academic adjustments,” are required by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans With Disabilities Act. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) no longer applies to you, as a college student.

What types of accommodations are required?

Your school is required to provide accommodations in classes and housing, along with on-campus events and school-sponsored extracurricular activities. You cannot be denied admission or charged extra because you need an accommodation. You may be required to provide documentation of your disability.

Most schools have an office for disability services that is there to help you determine what accommodations you might need. You should expect an interactive process, where you propose an accommodation, and the school responds either by approving it or proposing an alternative. Your school can also choose to conduct a new evaluation of your disability at its own expense.

It’s important to understand that your school is not required to provide any and all accommodations you may request. It is not required to:

  • Lower or waive essential requirements for the relevant program
  • Make accommodations that would fundamentally alter the nature of a service, program or activity
  • Provide an accommodation that would pose an undue financial or administrative burden

Common accommodations that could apply to you:

  • Arranging for priority registration
  • Reducing the required course load
  • Substituting one course for another
  • Providing a note taker or recording device
  • Extending your testing time
  • Providing adaptive equipment for use on school computers

What about online courses?

Many students with disabilities find that they prefer online courses. It can be easier to access the information you need online. However, there can certainly be barriers.

Since online courses are usually taken from home, you will generally be expected to use your own screen reader, magnifier or other equipment. Even if the school would be required to provide these for use on school equipment, it probably won’t be required to provide them for home use.

What the school is required to do, in most cases, is to make the course accessible to visually impaired people. This could be relatively simple if you have adaptive equipment that you are accustomed to using.

It may require some changes in practice, such as having the professor type his or her notes into an accessible device instead of writing them on a whiteboard.

Or, as a fast pace can be a challenge when you have to adjust your equipment, you might ask for the professor to wait for your signal before moving on to a new topic.

Whatever your needs, it starts with a request for an accommodation or academic adjustment. If you feel you have worked hard to develop a workable accommodation plan, but your school has not provided what you need, you may wish to follow up with an education law attorney.

Leigh Law Group represents students in accommodation requests and other issues throughout California.