DART Toolkit II: Legal Issues — Questions and Answers

Q. How do the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 affect admissions requirements?

A. Psychology programs must not have eligibility requirements that screen out or otherwise discriminate against prospective students who have disabilities. A number of court cases and the U.S. Office of Civil Rights have supported the idea that if a student is disabled and qualified, colleges should try to identify and provide accommodations that allow the student to participate in its programs.

Woman studyingHowever, students must meet legitimate admissions requirements, and programs are not obligated to adjust their academic standards or criteria for mastery of critical skills (Stodden et al, 2001). Students must be able to meet the essential academic and technical standards which have been identified (Stodden et al, 2001). Federal courts have readily upheld insistence that students meet "academic" standards (for example, a requirement that all students meet and maintain a certain GPA) and "technical" standards (for example, a requirement that all interns administer, score and interpret traditional projective and objective assessment instruments). On the other hand, a student with a disability may be permitted a year longer to earn a degree in psychology than is accorded to other students. By advising academic programs to distinguish carefully between what is essential and what is tangential, the courts have used Section 504 and the ADA to create equal educational opportunities for students with disabilities without lowering academic standards.

Q. What are some factors to consider when reasonable accommodations are requested?

A. Students with disabilities are often in the best position to suggest appropriate accommodations, as they are most familiar with the strengths and weaknesses they present and with the best ways to adjust training situations and environments to address conditions related to their own circumstances. A Focused studentstudent may even bring an assistive aid or device he or she has used previously to the training site. However, while the preferences of students are and should be a factor in determining which accommodations will be provided, their preferences are not controlling (Leuchovius, 2004). That a student prefers or has always used a particular auxiliary aid, service or academic adjustment does not establish an entitlement to that particular aid, service or adjustment. The predominant issue is whether the accommodations offered are/or will be “effective” in providing meaningful access. Thus, accommodations should be chosen based on the specific nature of the person’s functional impairment and the environment in which the student will function.

Secondly, the evidence of disability and the need for a specific accommodation should be logically connected (Leuchovius, 2004). For example, an individual with lower-body mobility impairment may not necessarily require double time on an examination. Accommodations should be task-specific and are meant to eliminate or reduce the impact of the disability on a particular activity. In essence, in thinking about accommodations, there should be a demonstrated match between the disability and task requirements. More information on Reasonable Accommodations can be found on the APA's Disabilities Issues Office site.  

Q. Can the training program, college or university charge students for the cost of providing an accommodation?

A. No.

Q. Do students have to provide documentation of their disability to request accommodations?

A. Typically, the issue of documentation will be a responsibility for the student and the college or university’s disability services office. Training directors and psychology faculty can be an invaluable resource to new or incoming students by providing information about their school’s disability services office in admission or pre-admission materials.

Q. Are students with disabilities required to disclose their disability?

A. No. Students are not required to disclose their disability if they do not need or want accommodations. If they are requesting accommodations based on a disability, however, students are often required to disclose their disability to the disability services office. Training directors can assist with disclosure issues by providing information about the disability services office to all students and protecting the confidentiality of students who formally or informally disclose.

Q. If a qualified student with a disability requests testing accommodations, is my program legally required to comply with their request?

Graduating studentA. Yes. As a training director or psychology faculty member, you must provide reasonable testing accommodations to students or prospective students with disabilities (Thomas, 2000). This stipulation applies to entrance exams, licensure/certification tests, exams that establish credentials, as well as typical academic tests (Leuchovius, 2004). These accommodations allow students to demonstrate their abilities without being penalized or otherwise disadvantaged on the basis of their disability. Such accommodations are not designed to lower academic standards. Furthermore, you may work with the student to establish alternative, effective accommodations if you have concerns about the specific accommodations they are requesting. 

Q. What if a faculty or staff member in my training program refuses or neglects to make the accommodations a student requested?

A. As a training director, you share a responsibility with your school to educate faculty about disability laws and their application in an educational setting. You can also serve as a resource for providing ideas and assistance for providing accommodations, encouraging faculty to work with students and promoting a positive attitude about disabilities.

Q. Can my program get funding from the ADA if I have a student in my program with a disability?

A. No. The ADA is a civil rights law and does not provide any direct services or funding for students with disabilities.

Q. How can we enhance the accessibility of our program and services?

A. Accessibility is strongly related to the concept of universal design, "the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design." Universal design principles can be applied to the overall design of instruction as well as to specific instructional materials, facilities and strategies (such as lectures, classroom discussions, group work, web-based instruction, labs, field work, internships, etc.). Universally designed curriculum provides students with a wide range of abilities, disabilities, ethnic backgrounds, language skills and learning styles multiple means of representation, action and expression, and engagement (called Universal Design for Learning by the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST).


Americans with Disabilities Act. (1990). Public Law 101-336. 42 U.S.C. 12111, 12112.

Bowe, F. G. (2000). Universal design in education: Teaching non-traditional students. Westport, CT: Bergen & Garvey Publishing.

Gomez, C. (2011). Help students cope with subtle forms of discrimination. Disability Compliance for  Higher Education: Successful Strategies for Accommodating Students and Staff with Disabilities. 

Leuchovius, D. (2004). ADA Q&A: The ADA, Section 504 & postsecondary education. Minneapolis, MN: The PACER Center.

Stodden, R. A. (1998). School-to-work transition: Overview of disability legislation. In F. Rusch & J. Chadsey (Eds.) Beyond high school: Transition from school to work. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing.

Stodden, R. A. & Dowrick, P. A. (2000). Postsecondary education and employment of adults with disabilities. American Rehabilitation 25(4):19-24.

Stodden, R. A., Whelley, T., Chang, C., & Harding, T. (2001). Current status of educational support provision to students with disabilities in postsecondary education. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation 16(3/4): 189-198.

Thomas, S. B. (2000). College student and disability law. Journal of Special Education 33(4): 248-58.

**DISCLAIMER: The goal of this web page is to provide a general overview of major disability federal statutes and is intended to provide only general, non-specific legal information. This website and these articles are not legal advice and are not intended as legal advice.