The options for postsecondary education for individuals with disabilities have changed in the last 10 years. Knowing what options are available for a graduating student is linked to the type of courses and the type of diploma the student earned when they graduated. In Florida, all students who complete their course of study graduate with a standard diploma. Before 2015 some students graduated with special diplomas or optional diplomas. Now all students who complete the required course work receive a standard diploma. The difference now is how the students were assessed when they left school. Students who took the Florida Statewide Assessment (FSA or End of Course) to measure yearly progress are eligible for a standard diploma that will allow them to apply to a college or university to earn a degree. Students who exit high school having taken the Florida Alternative Assessment (FAA or Access Points) are eligible for college but only for certificate or non-degree programs. The website Best Colleges has a resource that can be helpful in understanding how college works for students with disabilities.
The vast majority of students with disabilities who attend college use accommodations for success. To obtain any accommodations in College, students must “self-identify”. That means they must indicate to the disability support offices located on their college campus. The process of self-identification will require the student presenting documentation of the special education services they received in high school, like an IEP. They will be required to meet with a support counselor for an intake interview and may need to provide testing information regarding their disability. One resource that is helpful is the Rights and Responsibilities of College Students with Learning Disabilities brief provide by the LDA. This document clearly connects to the LD population, but everything that they describe is also true for any other disability covered by IDEA. Students with ASD, health impairments, or psychological disabilities follow the same process and have the same rights as individuals with a LD. The accommodations that a college or university may provide are those that can help the student have access to the curriculum. This means that the supports do not guarantee a grade of “A” for every class for every student. Rather, the supports allow the student to be on a more even playing field with other students. The student still has to put in the work and effort to earn the grade they get.
A brief word about accommodations versus modifications. Many student who transition from high school to college have accommodations provided when they are in high school classes. Some time they even have modifications provided. The difference between an accommodation and a modification is that modifications change the content that is provided. Chapters in textbooks may be modified for students by lowering the reading level or editing the text. Accommodations do not change the content of the material; rather the way the student may access it is broadened or accommodations are provided. For example, and accommodation for the textbook chapter might include an audio recording of the text, exactly as it appears in the textbook. In college, students typically receive accommodations, not modifications.
Students who do not graduate having been assessed on the FSA are assessed using an alternative assessment. This may keep them from attending a college to earn a degree. But it does not keep them attending a college to earn a certificate. The certificates that are available vary from state to state. In Florida, parents and students can see all the institutions of higher education that provide certificates by going to the Florida Consortium on Inclusive Higher Education or the Florida Center for Students with Unique Abilities websites and reviewing the schools and programs listed there. Both websites have program descriptions and links for more information. These programs are usually described as serving students with intellectual and developmental disabilities and provide technical or industry certificates or certificates of completion in employment and independent living. Click Here to look for college with Inclusive Education Programs in states outside of Florida, you can review the Think College website thinkcollege.net for a nationwide search.
Heath Resource Center:
Written by: Mary Louise Duffy, Ph.D. FAU-ACI and the Department of Exceptional Student Education